Hey, Congress! For the sake of waiters and valets, Hollywood needs a bailout
EmptyDodd: I want to thank all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and House for accommodating their schedules to allow for this hearing on short notice. We have before us as witnesses representing the motion picture industry the chairmen of three of the parent companies of the major Hollywood studios: Peter Chernin of Fox, Jeffrey Bewkes of Time Warner and Philippe Dauman of Viacom. Gentlemen, welcome.
Chernin: Thank you, senator.
Dodd: The movie industry has made an urgent request that Congress provide emergency assistance to their companies. We have been told that without that assistance, one or more of the major studios will collapse, with severe repercussions for our economy: Thousands of people could lose their jobs, movie theaters would be shuttered, waiters would go without auditions … to say nothing of the fate of a legion of valet parking attendants. In fact, there have already been extensive layoffs.
Bewkes: That's right, senator. Our situation is dire, and without government assistance, it could become catastrophic. We used to think the motion picture business was recession-proof, but we're really suffering. Warner Bros. couldn't even open "Body of Lies," and we had Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Frank: I love Leo. I would have greenlighted that movie.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.: Gentlemen, no one can say you didn't see this coming. What were you thinking with "The Love Guru"?
Dauman: But senator, we had Mike Myers, Austin Powers. It was a tough opening weekend. We were up against "Get Smart" and the second week of "Incredible Hulk."
Bayh: You got killed. But gentlemen, I've read that attendance is up.
Chernin: Senator, with all due respect, you can't believe everything that you read about the movie business.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.: Mr. Bewkes, I'm confused. Your studio had "The Dark Knight" in 2008. How can you say your business is in trouble?
Bewkes: Representative Waters, our costs are enormous. That property is unrecouped — I can show you the statements.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.: I don't know … you gentlemen remind me of the heads of the auto companies who were here in December with your multimillion-dollar salaries and fat expense accounts, avoiding responsibility for your lack of foresight by blaming the economy. Maybe we should let you go bankrupt.
Chernin: With all due respect, senator, we at Fox have always run our studio business in a responsible manner. The motion picture business is too big to fail. Entertainment is a leading export, right behind aerospace, and equally vital to our national security. Moviegoers are suffering in this economy.
Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill.: Weren't they just suffering with "Meet Dave"? And what about "Australia"?
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.: I told you guys in the cloakroom that Nicole Kidman can't open a movie anymore.
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.: Gentlemen, is it your opinion that the problem doesn't lie with your product lineup, business plan or long-term strategy?
Bewkes: Warner Bros. has made mistakes in the past.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif.: I'll say. How about that remake of "Poseidon"?
Frank (leading a sing-along with Shelby): I loved the original. What a theme song. Come on, everyone, on both sides of the aisle … "There's got to be a morning after …"
Dodd (banging gavel): What in the wide wide world of sports is going on here?
Bewkes: I'd like the committee to note that all of our companies have implemented aggressive cost-cutting initiatives. Fox has slashed travel and entertainment budgets, Paramount canceled the skating rink at its Christmas party, and we at Warner Bros. didn't send out the usual holiday turkeys.
Shelby: Gentlemen, with all due respect, I'm not impressed. Why do movies cost $100 million, $150 million, $200 million? That's shameful.
Chernin: Senators, the people want tentpoles.
Shelby: Gentlemen, let me ask you this: Like your colleagues in the auto industry, would you work for $1 a year and accept government oversight over your operations?
Dauman: Like script notes?
Dodd: And I assume in exchange for government assistance, the taxpayers would receive an equity interest in your businesses.
Chernin: If you mean net profits, absolutely.
Corker: Well, we were thinking first-dollar gross. Really, gentlemen, I was expecting a more dramatic change in the way you operate.
Chernin: OK, senator, I'll give up my booth at the Grill.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.: That's a start. Gentlemen, the committee has one more question: How did you get here?