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EDINBURGH – Kevin Spacey on Friday reiterated his call for more TV executives to be as brave and risk-taking as people at Netflix and HBO, saying that sometimes established players become too lazy when it comes to looking for talent.
He also expressed support for day-and-date film releases and production tax incentives that some have criticized as government support for Hollywood people.
Speaking at the annual Edinburgh International Television Festival, he also said that the industry was likely to go to day-and-date film releases in theaters, online and on DVD over time. He predicted this could take “a huge bite out of piracy” and be “more effective” in terms of marketing spending.
He mentioned that the movie Margin Call, in which he starred, was made for slightly more than $3 million and was released on-demand and in theaters on the same day. “I believe that is probably where it will end up leading,” he said.
He also said Friday that industry executives, producers, writers and actors often become more conservative than is good for creative work when they have reached success and feel they must protect their reputation and salaries. Instead they should simply believe in creative ideas and support ideas they trust.
In the festival’s James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture Thursday evening, one of the annual highlights of the Edinburgh industry gathering in the Scottish capital, Spacey had criticized “network people,” ratings obsession and the traditional U.S. TV pilot system, saying that the TV industry was at risk of losing its recent momentum unless it adjusts to new consumer habits in the digital age, takes more creative risks and puts creatives and content first.
“It’s the creatives, stupid,” he said.
Discussing his Netflix experience with his show House of Cards, Spacey said Thursday: “Clearly, the success of the Netflix model – releasing the entire season of House of Cards at once has proved one thing – the audience wants the control. They want freedom.”
Asked on Friday if everybody in Hollywood had the wrong approach, Spacey said: “I wasn’t speaking about everybody. There are executives that do get it, but there are not enough.” He again cited Netflix and HBO as places that put creatives and content first.
Questioned what Hollywood people could do differently to be open to new talent, Spacey said: “People are too lazy.” Unknown talent is putting up shows in pubs, at underground locations and other small venues, but often, no agents or other industry people ever see them. “You have to get off your ass and go look,” Spacey said. “If you don’t participate, you are waiting for someone else to discover the talent.”
Asked if he was frustrated about bad TV shows, Spacey said he didn’t address that topic in his speech Thursday night, because “there will always be crap.”
Spacey also discussed his Thursday suggestion that the entertainment industry must try new models. “Some time someone will do 13 hours of [content] without breaks, and the audience decides when they want to pause it,” he suggested Friday.
He later also said why couldn’t networks start ordering four or eight hours of content instead of a traditional season.
Spacey on Friday shared how he avoided becoming too conservative in his own career more than a decade ago. “I completely changed my trajectory” and did something new by moving to London and taking over The Old Vic theater. And everybody in Hollywood thought he was crazy, he quipped, adding that the change was a big challenge for him at a time he could have continued to take on big Hollywood roles.
He also answered a question about production tax incentives, highlighting that House of Cards shoots in Baltimore, “because [it] has fantastic tax breaks and we can make it look like DC.”
Spacey added: “What we bring to the state of Maryland in terms of jobs and economy is extraordinary. We employ thousands.” So, incentives are not about tax breaks for simply a film company – or celebrities, as some critics have argued – but about employing people. “I think there is a lot of value in that,” Spacey said.
Asked about the differences between theater and film work, Spacey said movies “can be quite disappointing” after the editing process. He mentioned that at times films can end up “weepy” because editors focus on all the dramatic stuff. All in all, movies can feel like having “a lot of appetizers, but you go home hungry.”
One audience member Friday asked if he would ever shoot in Edinburgh. “I’ve never filmed here. I’ve never been asked to film here,” he responded before quipping: “Do you have money?” Turning serious again, he said: “If there is a [good] project that shoots up here, I’d love to shoot here.”
Asked about his House of Cards experience of shooting in Washington, DC, Spacey said politicians have embraced the show and have told him it was pretty close to reality.
When one audience member asked if he expected Netflix to make money off House of Cards, he mentioned recent Netflix subscriber gains and made a rough calculation that brought him to about $200 million of subscription revenue per year. “I’d say yes, they’re making money,” he concluded.
Spacey was asked about his comment Thursday that he was at times disappointed in his own work. He quipped Friday that generally he doesn’t watch his own films, but when he does, he sometimes thinks “that’s not as good as it could have been.”
In other stories, Spacey said Sam Mendes reshot the first day of American Beauty with changes to scenes, costumes and acting, telling him the material was really bad. But Spacey said Mendes loved that this meant the worst was probably behind the production team.
Spacey was the first-ever actor to deliver the MacTaggart speech. Asked Friday about his MacTaggart experience, he said: “It felt like I was talking in a church.” In talks with executives after the lecture and meetings with young, emerging talent, people told him they liked his comments.
Why did he agree to speak here? Joked Spacey: “There is really the money.”
He then said: “I knew about it. I felt that since I had just entered into television…even though not on TV..it was a good opportunity to look at where the industry is.” And he said he wanted to share some warnings “that maybe Hollywood and the industry isn’t hearing.”
Last year, Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of News Corp and 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch and chairman of TV producer Shine, gave the lecture. Google chairman Eric Schmidt, former BBC director general Mark Thompson, as well as Rupert and James Murdoch have been among the other people who have delivered MacTaggart lectures.
Spacey’s on-stage interviewer Friday morning also told the actor that he was the first-ever MacTaggart speaker to make impressions. Spacey had imitated his mentor Jack Lemmon. When the interviewer quipped that James Murdoch isn’t known for doing impressions, Spacey replied: “Well, he does an amazing impression of James Murdoch.”
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