It's NOT About Art: The Film Industry Is About People Keeping Their Jobs

Avenue Q reminded us: The internet is for downloading porn. Well, do you need me to remind you that the film industry is for keeping the few jobs in film development, production, sales, marketing & distribution that still remain?

Don't forget that cats bark; they only meow when people are around. All creatures say what the people want to hear, and another thing when they think the coast is clear. I have a lot of meetings with people who tell me they want to make great films. When I am sitting next to them, it sounds like they are speaking the truth. It's taken me a long time to see that many of those in the "business" speak a secret language, or at least one the creative community will never understand. The decoder ring is that it is all about the job. Jobs are precious and few, and damned if someone is going to let a movie jeopardize that.

The core principal behind why most people do what they do in the film industry, is employment. Studio execs, agents, acquisition execs, and the like all must act so that they do not lose their jobs. They are not trying to make art; that's a luxury few can afford. They are not really trying to make money for their company; how is that going to benefit them? They are not dedicated to some higher principal; the daily grind eats any space that such lofty ambitions might foster.

It is risk mitigation and a concern to cover your ass that drives most of the behavior within the corporate structure of film. The logic of most corporately-employed professionals' actions is blatantly clear if you trace the motivation to this principal. I risk stating the obvious, because not only am I asked regularly, but I also have to remind myself: "why is it so hard to make good movies in this world?" A simple recognition won't make the pursuit of great work any easier, but it may help you endure the brutality of the struggle. If you base your actions around recognizing this motivating principal of others in our field, you will probably have an easier time.

Not so long ago, some folks recently expressed dismay at the number of sequels on Hollywood's slates, or the hope for the future of film, but it all makes sense if all anyone wants to do is keep their job. In Mark Harris' GQ article, "The Day The Movies Died", my former partner James Schamus points out: "Fear has descended, and nobody in Hollywood wants to be the person who green-lit a movie that not only crashes but about which you can't protect yourself by saying, 'But at least it was based on a comic book!' "

Harris states: "Give the people what they don't know they want yet is a recipe for more terror than Hollywood can accommodate."

I have always liked Alice In Wonderland's White Rabbit quote "I like what I get" for succinctly summing up most public tastes, but if you combine that with Cultural Gatekeepers fear of unemployment, what do we get? An industry that recycles last years ideas and a public that permits them to do so. It certainly doesn't create a culture that will live for ages. Sure we get an anomaly or two every year that manages to be truly original and wonderful, but that certainly doesn't justify the enterprise or the investment. What are we doing? There is another way, and it can generate both art and profits.

I reluctantly subscribe to the notion that change only occurs when the pain of the present exceeds the fear of the future. I also have read studies that show that neglect and the minor irritation can wreck greater havoc than pure trauma. If that is the case, we can't just let things continue on. We need to identify the symptoms of this job focused industry and reach higher. Since we don't have John Carpenter's magic TheyLiveEyewear, how do we spot the symptoms?

What is it that helps people stay employed:

Hire those that are like you. Hire those that will yes you. Yes those that hire you. Do what others in your position will do. Have a defensive position worked out in advance. Base new work on other work that has somehow succeeded. Don't trust your gut, trust the numbers. Subscribe to the popular philosophy. (I am sure you can add to this list. Please do.)

Now let's do something completely different from all that. Can we change our thinking to aspire towards great work above all else, even at the risk of losing our precious job? Wouldn't that blow your mind if a studio exec told you that they wanted to make a better movie even if it made less money? What if you didn't have to direct a successful Batman episode in order to create an original idea? What can we do to help both the creators and the audience demand originality and ambition from the entertainment industry? It's both a macro and a micro issue, political and personal: I know I have a problem meeting people that are considerably different than me, yet still hold common interests and principals. How do we break out of our small social & professional circles? Isn't that what the promise of the internet was, and still is? It can be done. I need to work harder. Do you?

What's The First Best Lesson You Learned About The Film Business?

In Graham Taylor's rousing cry for more entrepreneurialism in the film biz (aka LAIFF Keynote), he stated: "my 1st important lesson in Hwood: the most dangerous thing in this biz is apathy & cynicism" . That got me wondering. I tweeted: "What's the best first lesson you learned about the film business?" I got a lot of good responses. These are some of those: AlexanderBaack Alexander Baack That it's called "breaking in" for a reason.

wvfilmmaker Jason Brown whether you believe you can or you believe you can't - you're right. The people you need to support you can tell and react to that.

pedramfd Pedram F Dahl It is not your "cool" idea per se that will attract people but the hard work you're willing to put into it.

dnbrasco David Davoli Choose your partners wisely.

Sasha Waters Freyer I saw this post earlier but didn't have a chance to respond. Around 1994, one Mr. Hope gave me a excellent piece of advice: "sometimes, one of the best things that can happen is for people to say 'no' quickly." I have never forgotten it, and it's proven to be an enduring truth!

sokap1 David Geertz "what are you prepared to risk to get the risk capital? First you make a film, then you make a deal" AND via my boss in 96. "I know how and what you want to make Dave, but who's going to fund it and allow that visionary path to happen?"

Dealfatigue Peter Kaufman It's about equity (script is given)

Phillip Lefesi know what you're doing and get it in writing.

yodapoda Iris Lincoln No one knows anything :)

FilmmakerMag Scott Macaulay Best lesson? I wrote about this in the mag, and it comes from James S. in 1994: "Get people to say no and then move on."

mlmower Michelle Mower There are hundreds of people out there lining up to steal your baby. Don't let them.

jeffrichards Jeff Richards Best lesson: few will actually follow through and be genuine, so have lots of irons in the fire and be one of the few.

ScreenSlate Screen Slate eavesdrop on everything

vivesmariano Mariano Vives concentrate in the solution not in the problem, that's already happened and blaming someone is not going to take it away

im2b dl willson ok last one promise - Figgis again taught me the right way to make actors feel safe so they can fly & no one will get hurt.

im2b dl willson Tyne D. telling me "time to take filmmaker hat off." then as I settled into being her son, taking my hand-"focus on me"

gerwinters geraldine Winters talentless shit with connections get to the top

evermorefilms Andy Wright "Why should YOUR screenplay be made into a film?" bit.ly/jKBthA

Kleb28 Mitch Klebanoff Know your audience.

Baanzi Larry Long if you want to direct, then direct. Don't try to work your way up through the ranks. Make it happen! Should have listened

cassianelwes cassian elwes its about the script

im2b dl willson as a director/producer Mike Figgis "90% of the director's battle is won or lost in casting"

im2b dl willson as an actor.. Julian S. & Bill Paxton told me "learn not to blink"

im2b dl willson the first line producer on first film "1st job of PA... keep your mouth shut and ears open"

TheLoneOlive Amanda Lin Costa never expose film to light #thegoodolddays #filmschool #bolexmyfirstlove PS Martha May Marcy Marlene looks so good!

mattob34 Matthew O'Brien Love your audience, start with the script.

garyploski Gary Ploski "It's who you know."

adamstovall Adam Stovall Work hard, and know it's not up to you when you're rewarded.

David_Fulde David Fulde If you are 'on time' you are late. Show up early

mattob34 Matthew O'Brien Your movie is only going to be as good as your worst actor.

MalcolmIngram malcolm Ingram People fail upward.

1982moro Valerio don't be late! Never! even when it's late!

ngerger Nicholas J. Gerger Be able to throw out the schedule and shoot at least a 12 hour day.

convercinema convercinema What is the first best lesson you learned about the film business? <<< Collaborate with care!

shericandler Sheri Candler it is full of a lot of talk and everyone inflates everything!

mattob34 Matthew O'Brien Always have the next thing ready.

Andy Wright: "Make sure you have your walkie talkie switched on, or else you will be shouted at by the 1st A.D. in front of the entire cast and crew...

Brian Linse: "Good, Fast, Cheap - pick two."

Scribbler Jones: "Get a shark for an entertainment lawyer."

Michael Gaston: "Get it in writing."