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If you could change one thing in Hollywood, what would it be?
I put that question to several dozen industry members last week and got some surprising answers. In an era of transformation, I’d expected most people to focus on the big stuff: diversity, gender, streaming, the agencies’ packaging fees. I was wrong. By far the majority of respondents complained about …
That was one veteran screenwriter’s single-word answer.
“Meetings to get ready for meetings,” was an awards campaigner’s lament.
“A lack of kindness, compassion and polish,” groused a publicist, especially with the “screamers, mean and nasty, [whose rage] seems to have escalated to a whole new level.”
Among the respondents, it shocked me that only women mentioned women’s struggles, only persons of color mentioned race. Two older men mentioned ageism; two younger women of color spoke of bias against African-Americans and Hispanics. Several used the broader term “diversity,” but only a few.
One publicist in his 60s actually did the opposite, bemoaning “the overly slavish commitment to PC thinking, which will eventually backswing, as all politics eventually does.” He especially rejected “the utterly self-destructive notion that a non-black or non-Asian or non-Latino cannot direct a film with a protagonist [of color].”
Far more typical was the gripe about “people who don’t call you but email.” Doing so, said the female agent who made that point, meant “they can’t show their passion.”
Well, speaking of emails and passion, here’s a combination of the two. I’ve agreed to keep comments anonymous and have edited for clarity and length.
Change the power equation between artists and owners to allow artists to make films unlike the sequels, remakes and franchises of today. The French word “renaissance” translates into English as “rebirth.” I believe changing that power equation could result in a Hollywood renaissance, something we all would be proud to be part of.
Change how Hollywood views the power that our media possess. The more Hollywood realizes it holds the greatest power to influence, the more we can treat that as a privilege and with deep care. We’re nurturing the minds of generations to come, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Change the nepotism, the un-level playing field, the culture, the privilege, the superficial layer, the ignorance or lack of cultural awareness, the lack of diversity. All those things have one thing in common: the unspoken system. The system that allows only a certain type of person to have access to this industry, to be in the rooms where decisions are made, to be the people who get to make those decisions. This unspoken system sets unspoken constraints.
Make Hollywood more respectful of tradition. The Hollywood of today is built on allure, glamour and storytelling and yet it lacks tradition. The era of the Goldwyns respected both industry and community.
Stress integrity — especially when promoting the next generation of leaders. From the moment new talent enters the workforce, we seek out those willing to make any sacrifice, those dedicated to the pursuit of power. It’s a slower path to success for those simply committed to doing great work. That wouldn’t be the case if leaders valued integrity first. It’s meaningless to enforce punishment on those without a moral compass if we are the ones shepherding their ascent to the top.
PRODUCER / EXECUTIVE
Eliminate the fear-based decision-making that plagues our industry. Content creation always requires a leap of faith — from the writer, director, the financier, the distributor. But our industry has drifted away from valuing the courage of conviction. Existing legacy systems (studios, agencies, networks) are clogged by panic over making the wrong decisions. What we do is so hard; we make it harder by operating increasingly from fear.
I’d love to see the end of metric-based decision-making, a return to gut emotions and good, old-fashioned courage when it nears time to greenlight a project, rather than the it-violates-this-year’s-mandate thinking that sands down every original idea.
Believe in the original idea. Movies were once mirrors of reality, historical and thought-provoking, but today they’re all about branded content. I fear there are few films made today that will be remembered as classics. We’re in a place where films are decided by committee, by many [people] who have little film literacy. So most films become regurgitations of their older brothers and sisters.
Change Hollywood’s obsession with control. The studios [have] continued to obsess over control by focusing on marketing, scientific-based research and a risk-averse, profit-driven strategy over a good story well told.
Every agency, management company, studio and streaming service should make new employees watch the best American films from the ’70s. The lack of interest in what great filmmaking looks like is painful. It’s like an untrained surgeon not understanding why an incision cut the wrong artery.
I wish the gatekeepers wouldn’t confuse heat with quality. The herd mentality leads to 30 people chasing something, leading to the in-breeding that has diluted quality in the mind of the consumer. Every year, vision, advocacy, courage and tenacity are in shorter supply.
Projects are still funded by a narrow cross-section of privileged individuals and interests, often through the lens of narrowly defined social paradigms and evaluated by outdated success metrics. Consequently, a rich and diverse bounty of stories and storytellers — of cultural truths and virtues — never reaches the screen. If I could change one thing, it would be that our decision-makers reflect more inclusively the world in which we live, particularly in this political climate.
Abolish the political correctness that drives the ragtag army of cultural commissars who are [scared of] their own shadows. Otherwise, we’ll soon have people saying of Picasso’s 1939 Female Head, “Hey, that painting should be banned, women don’t look like that!”
The [women’s] movement has a long way to go. We’ve seen repeated instances where media companies ignore unacceptable behavior, even when they know there’s a good chance [it] will be exposed publicly. Unfortunately, men are not the only ones who enable this. Real diversity in executive offices — in terms of gender and every other respect — is the answer [but] the industry has failed to groom strong executive talent of any color or background. That’s not only the result of the longstanding sexism, but also what happens when corporate overlords feel comfortable with a certain species of guys in ties: lawyers, MBAs and marketing executives. Safety first is not necessarily a good motto in the entertainment business.
Diversifying the movie Academy, they’ve over-reached. AMPAS is inviting too many non-qualified people into the organization who don’t have the right credentials to vote on the Academy Awards. This self-imposed need to diversify membership with massive new numbers every year has watered down the pedigree of who’s in the club. Are they adding just to add, or are they adding the right people?
Change people’s manners. Is it my imagination or are fewer drivers troubling to use turn signals these days? As the frenetic pace increases, ordinary civilities are jettisoned in favor of speed. This occurs to me as I contemplate the non-returned calls or silent responses to submitted scripts that a friend has described as “the new No.” Manners help keep us civilized.
The personal publicists could use an attitude overhaul. Their monstrously aggressive gatekeeping and deafening barks (sometimes bites) have allowed them to wield too much power. Leading with positivity is all-around better. In a time of heightened negativity, the entertainment business is ready for a new breed of PR practitioner, [ones] who can do their jobs with softer hands.
I’d like to get rid of jealousy and the constant elation when people fail. Hollywood loves a winner, but loves a loser even more. Seems like a lot of people in the industry exhibit sheer happiness at other’s misfortunes — especially if the other person is more successful.
The real culprit is the capitalistic money culture in the U.S., where the only real object of worth is the dollar. Hollywood is just an extreme example of how American greed operates. If money stopped being the principal motor that got films made and artistic value and social relevance were the goals, that would be a major change. Solution: No fee beyond $1 million.
Eliminate the profit motive in the creation of filmed entertainment. Of course, that’s preposterous. These are businesses: huge, highly diversified, multi-national corporations whose sole function is to generate profits. So, if we can’t eliminate the root cause of the problems, [at least] set up a kind of Kickstarter model to nurture new voices — foster collaborative modes of production based on business models where everyone has an ownership stake in the final product.
The proliferation of tax incentives, schemes and rebates has irreparably altered the landscape of film production in Los Angeles, creating a global mad dash to secure the best incentives. The ultimate cost may be that an entire industry is no longer based in Hollywood.
Going to the movies has simply become too expensive — why should it cost the same to play in an empty theater on a weekday as it does during prime viewing hours? Like live events or airline tickets, we need dynamic pricing in order to encourage the audience to leave home. We need subscription services that allow the audience to see more films in the theater without busting their budget. The studios and exhibitors are in this together; we must figure out a way to implement these changes or we’ll see the end of the communal theater-going experience.
Change the place, not the institution. There are so many iconic spots in Hollywood proper, but it’s become a run-down dump, with almost as many vagrants and druggies as Walk of Fame stars. This depresses local business and tourism, as well as morale. Let’s take a little pride in our community and restore some of the class and glamour of yesteryear.
Ageism. There’s always been a Hollywood bias against older writers, directors and actors, but today it’s a wildfire raging across town, burning to the ground employment possibilities for writers of a certain age. When I was in my 50s, I wrote a successful movie of the week about 15-year-old girls, and a network executive whom I’d never met told my agent I was the voice of teenage America! When it comes to creativity, age and experience are not liabilities but advantages.
Only the young are given credit for effecting any change. If you aren’t young, you’re considered part of the problem.
Get rid of the cynicism. That has its place in entertainment and in general, but there’s a growing loss of joy.
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