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Finding Hope During the Strike(s)
It's hard to feel hope when CEOS seem to loathe artists. But, your boy is gonna try.
Jason Blum, the ultra-successful founder of BlumHouse Productions, was on Deadline’s podcast last week. There was a striking moment on the show where his voice cracked. He was getting emotional.
“Our beautiful business that we love is built on the great work of artists. It drives me crazy that no one is saying, ‘Hey, you all are amazing, thank you for the work that you do. We may not see the deal eye to eye. But we couldn’t survive without your work.’”
Blum interfaces with studio heads in a much different way than artists do. He goes to CEO camp with them. The fact that he’s flummoxed to the point of tears says a lot.
It’s been over 100 days since the WGA struck, and no CEO has voiced a desire to work with artists. In fact, many corporations are bragging about how much money they’re saving by…not making anything.
Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, called the strikes “unrealistic” and “disturbing.” What’s crazy is that HE was considered the most artist-friendly CEO of the bunch. Many even believed he would step in and mediate at the 11th hour, be the town’s savior. But it turns out he wasn’t the guy.
To quote Fran Drescher, SAG president:
“(Bob Iger) stuck his foot in it so bad. Telling us we’re unrealistic when he’s making $78,000 a day. How do you deal with someone like that who’s so tone-deaf? We need someone with character and courage to go into those boardrooms and say, ‘Listen, we’re doing this all wrong. Why are we doing this anyway? We’re in business with these people. They are who we are building our business off of.'”
Okay. You’re probably wondering when I will pivot to the “hope” mentioned in the title. I’ll get there.
Screenwriter Evan Ball recently wrote a great Twitter thread that details our current moment. It’s a concise read that zeroes in on the feeling permeating the town. I’ve truncated it below. And then, I swear, I’ll get to the hope part.
“At stake is whether the studios want to be businesses that value making a good product that consumers will pay for, or... do they want to be accounting wizards that pull whatever levers they can to manipulate the value of their stock prices?
CEOs now see their job responsibilities as maximizing the value of the company on paper, by any means necessary. Under this incentive structure, the goals are to extract the maximum amount of money from anyone who interacts with the company (employees & consumers alike) while providing the absolute minimum value in return.
Firing hundreds of employees or cutting/denying wages is just as valuable on the balance sheet as a mega-hit movie. Except one is much easier to execute on a whim. This drives a business philosophy that is inherently risk-averse. One that sees employees as obstacles to profit (or at best necessary evils) instead of generators of profit. It values quantity (especially with clickbait value) over quality. And one that values harvesting new consumers over valuing repeat consumers.
We've all seen how this plays out. The increasing dependence on IP, reboots, sequels, and franchises instead of developing new ideas or talent. The devaluation of labor at the heart of this strike. And the raising of prices, crackdown on password sharing, and addition of ad-based streaming on top of the monthly fee you're already paying. -- Studios taking more from everyone, while offering less in return.
Think about the world the AMPTP is proposing. A world where AI writes 1000s of scripts a day, AI is used to bring back past movie stars or own the rights of current actors that could've been movie stars, and the employee count in the industry is drops by orders of magnitude. A world where we're chasing the brilliant creatives of the past so much that we don't allow room for the creative talents of the future to develop their skills.
They're literally willing to destroy an entire industry, one of America's greatest cultural and economic exports. All this so they can reduce movies and television into little more than clickbait marketing tools to keep you watching ads on their platforms, or sell you electronics and cheap trinkets on their marketplaces.
That's not a future we want to see. And that's why we're on strike. But the battle lines aren't just writers & actors vs. studios. They're actually the pillager CEO class vs. writers, actors, directors, crew, junior studio execs, any other industry employees, AND consumers. And THIS is why we must win.”
The fact that statements like this are going viral gives me hope.
A few days ago, underpaid and exploited VFX workers voted to unionize at Marvel. A historic and crucial next step against bloated IP insanity. (If you don’t know how these movies are made, read this.) News of the vote to unionize almost made me tear up.
For years we’ve all pretended the industry was fine. And for the first time (in my lifetime), people are starting to call bullshit. There’s a refreshing transparency, a lack of airs floating around right now.
Writers and Actors are all sharing horror stories online.
There’s no more posturing, no pretending that you’re doing well. For anyone who has worked in Hollywood, you know this is a cardinal sin. You must always appear like you’re doing well because the appearance of success leads to actual success.
Or so we’re told.
Artists are banding together in an unprecedented way for something bigger than themselves. A future that values their work. A course correction for the corporate destruction of America’s greatest export.
We won’t get all the things we want. But there’s hope in finally talking about it.
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