What’s a Movie Studio?

 

In October 2019, Tyler Perry made the news with the gala, all-star opening of his film and TV studio in Atlanta. Almost every Black actor of renown was part of the celebration. Plenty of younger actors actually cried on camera out of joy, at the thought that finally, finally at last there was a Black-owned studio. More established and experienced people, like Oprah Winfrey, just smiled, because as much as they honored him that night, they privately knew the quiet limits of his accomplishment, because they know what the word “studio” really means.

I’ve got nothing against Tyler Perry—quite the contrary. He proved there was a viable, profit-making business model making films for American Black audiences that wasn’t ‘70s-style blaxploitation, but were mainstream, family entertainment. There’s a lot of interest in making films and TV shows in the South, and there’s a good business case for building facilities there. But the question remains: in the real world, what’s a studio?

Everybody knows what it is, right? It’s a mini-city of huge soundproof buildings with well-guarded high walls, full of armies of workers, gorgeous actors, blindingly hot lights, some of the finest cameras on Earth, and all the action that the world’s most successful writers can imagine. That’s a studio, to most people.

But we use the same word to refer to two separate things that often, but don’t always overlap. The first is what you see: the physical sound stages and back lots of fake streets where filming is done. To insiders, the term studio usually doesn’t mean the physical plant, but the underlying business, the classic entrepreneurial company in Hollywood that pays to make the films, confident that it can get the money back, and more, through its deals distributing them. This can be a corporate behemoth, occupying expensive real estate and employing thousands of people whose full-time jobs are making screen entertainment. But it doesn’t have to be,

There was a running gag in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back about the “Miramax backlot”. There was no such thing. When Miramax made a movie, they rented facilities at the lowest price wherever they could get them, like every other small-time producer, and not a few larger ones. Make no mistake about it, though, Miramax was a real studio, because Bob Weinstein could pick up one telephone and get a substantial line of bank credit to make a film, then his odious brother Harvey could pick up the other phone and get a binding financial commitment to release that same film in theaters and on TV networks in Europe and India.

That’s all it takes. It can be a single individual, or a small risk-taking group, with no more than a minimal office staff, if it has the established connections to make those global distribution deals and a seriously strong checkbook. This has always been the case. United Artists was a major studio for sixty years without ever owning a physical studio to make the films in. When it launched James Bond or made The Great Escape and Midnight Cowboy, it didn’t own so much as a single movie camera, or so much as one square foot of backlot property. When billionaire Philip Anschutz decided to buy and make a Narnia series, Walden Media didn’t need any of that either.

At the top level, the international world of filmmaking is not nearly as snobbish as is popularly imagined. Fact is, if you’ve got money, you’re warmly welcome to pull up a chair and join the game. Made your money in the Russian mafia? Conflict diamonds in South Africa? Made a killing in Brazilian vehicle leasing, Burmese mineral rights, or selling EU stocks short? Come to Hollywood. So when it comes to nice, clean, well-regarded American companies like Apple and Amazon, why draw the line? Have a seat, fellas. For the right price, we’ll be happy to rent you everything you need to compete with us. Agents will help you hire our actors. If the finished product turns out to be good, we’ll buy it from you, or make a commission from selling it for you. We’ll treat you right. We’ve dealt with people like you before and taken them to the cleaners more times than you can count.

Studios, for all their superficial glamour, are banks, borrowing at advantageous rates due to their scale, their stability, and their collateral. They then loan it back out at a stiff markup to technically independent companies that produce the films that the studios will end up owning. This is why, even if you and 20 million other like-minded counter-culturals each put up a buck to produce a truly different kind of movie, thereby beating the necessity of getting the finance from the studios, you’re not in a strong negotiating position even if they do agree to buy and distribute the film. Consider: If you’ve got two movies coming out in May, one in which you’re risking already sunk cost of $150 million-plus a mandatory $150 million in marketing, and another in which you’re risking the paltry $10 million paid upfront plus a skimpy $10 million ad campaign, which one do you think will get the big push? That’s just business.

What you need–what, over the long run, defines a real studio—is an annual slate, a complete roster of investments, or bets, each year, come hell or high water. If most of them fail or merely break even, and most will, one or two of your hoped-for hits may wipe out those losses and more. Then you have more leverage with markets; they’re counting on you to fill a distinct interest or audience craving this year and the next.

By those standards, there have been Black studio bosses for at least fifty years. We associate Berry Gordy and Motown with ‘70s extravaganzas like The Wiz. We seldom think of him in connection with films like The Last Dragon, or his protégé, Suzanne De Passe’s successful productions of Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo. These are not cliché “Black film subjects”. Johnson Media, publishers of Ebony and Jet Magazines, put up risk capital to promote the Vietnam war drama Hamburger Hill.

Richard Parsons ran much more than a mere movie studio: he was CEO of TimeWarner, presiding over a sprawling empire of films, TV, news, and cable. Yet Dick Parsons isn’t somebody you’d have been likely to recognize on the street.

Oprah Winfrey is probably the most obvious public example of an entertainment phenomenon, but someone like Shonda Rhimes, who once filled a sizable portion of ABC’s primetime week, is as big a mini-studio as Desilu was in its ‘50s glory days. When Rhimes went to pitch shows at that network, she was selling to another Black woman. Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios is a regular television factory, operating mostly under the radar. Black people calling the shots isn’t the novelty it used to be.

That might have been going through Oprah’s mind as she stood in front of news and interview cameras and smiled while excited younger people praised Tyler Perry for having his name on a studio. No, Tyler Perry Studios isn’t Paramount Studios…but even if, as more careful later articles spelled out, it’s really a production rental facility— it’s far from a negligible achievement just getting the doors open.

There have been times when owning physical facilities was a bad bet, like the late Fifties through the mid-Seventies, when selling it all off and redeveloping the real estate seemed to make more business sense. There was improved technology that allowed many more scenes to be filmed in real locations; maybe we wouldn’t need those sound studios so much. Columbia Pictures believed it. They sold their historic studio lot and spent the rest of the swinging ‘70s cohabitating without so much as an engagement ring with Warners in Burbank. Then the Lady with the Torch moved into the wide-open, vacant-but-storied MGM Culver City property. It’s not like MGM was using it for much. The pendulum began to swing the other way, and a Lucas/Spielberg generation of directors raised on movie magic shied away from the Kitchen Sink school of realism. Yeah, said the Boomer execs, better hold onto those studio lots after all. Sony bought Columbia from Coca-Cola and turned the Wizard of Oz lot into the Hogwarts of digital filmmaking.

Especially for television. Even with the tremendous boost in TV’s prestige since roughly the turn of this century, it is still regarded as the factory assembly line of Hollywood. Filmed TV series with outdoor and location scenes are expensive, so many shows, especially comedies, rarely if ever leave the sound stage. Even a fledgling show with a network commitment to air a half dozen episodes is likely to tie up at least one sound stage with its main sets for several months. With a hit show, that occupancy can last anywhere from seven to twelve years. If your company does a lot of TV, then it needs to have ready access to plenty of sound stages.

And if you’re flexible enough to produce shows outside of New York or Los Angeles, that’s where Tyler Perry comes in. Long term, nobody knows how he’ll do, but he’ll rent to everybody. He doesn’t need blockbusters. Cable cooking shows are fine. Come on down and save some money. As long as Tyler’s name is on the gate, he holds the keys. I wish him luck, I bet he’ll do all right.

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  1. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey: We associate Berry Gordy and Motown with ‘70s extravaganzas like The Wiz. We seldom think of him in connection with films like The Last Dragon,

    Gotta disagree with that last part, Chief.  It’s hard not to make the connection when the actual name of the movie is Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.

    • #1
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: We associate Berry Gordy and Motown with ‘70s extravaganzas like The Wiz. We seldom think of him in connection with films like The Last Dragon,

    Gotta disagree with that last part, Chief. It’s hard not to make the connection when the actual name of the movie is Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.

    Oh, well, jeez, if you’re going to get all technical on me…;-)

    • #2
  3. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey: Filmed TV series with outdoor and location scenes are expensive, so many shows, especially comedies, rarely if ever leave the sound stage.

    Hence the canned establishing shots of the exterior of the house or business or whatever the usual location might be.  We see the Douglas house before going inside to spend time with Steve and the boys.

    • #3
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: Filmed TV series with outdoor and location scenes are expensive, so many shows, especially comedies, rarely if ever leave the sound stage.

    Hence the canned establishing shots of the exterior of the house or business or whatever the usual location might be. We see the Douglas house before going inside to spend time with Steve and the boys.

    Shows like Kojak and CSI:NY were primarily studio shows shot in L.A., with an annual week or two on location filming Telly getting in the car, getting out of the car, at night, in the daytime, in a snappy suit, in summer shirtsleeves, on the right side of the car, the left side of the car. By the time of CSI:NY, Los Angeles location managers had online access to every Five Boroughs-looking location in easy driving range. It was a local fistfight when the city painted bike lanes green, because there’s a stretch of downtown L.A. that’s been used as downtown Manhattan for generations, and it doesn’t match. 

    Comedies often shoot on the lot even when there’s no economical reason to. Comedies seem to work best when they’re in their own bright, shiny bubble, separate from reality. 

     

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    If you’re Christopher Nolan, making a production deal with Warners, you have pretty much unlimited power to decide where, when and how you’re going to make a movie. If you’re a lesser luminary, you may be gently urged to film on the Warners lot, where needless to say, you’ll pay the same rent as anyone else–$20,000 per week per stage and up.

    And if you’re producing a TV show for Warner TV, you’ll shoot on the lot, with studio-rented cameras, lights, cables, and microphones, and studio-charged air conditioning, security, maintenance, and parking. You’ll record and mix your theme music on the Burbank lot, unless the studio decrees you’re not important enough. Various levels of catering are provided by third-party companies, all with their own rake-off deals to Warners. 

    • #5
  6. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Gary, where did you get all of that inside information about Hollywood?  You really sound like an insider.

    Great post.  Posts like yours make Ricochet go.

    • #6
  7. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Gary, where did you get all of that inside information about Hollywood? You really sound like an insider.

    Great post. Posts like yours make Ricochet go.

    Damn, Kent, what a kind comment. I used to do this stuff, and I know how it’s supposed to work. I know how it could have worked. And I have to admit, that’s not the way it turned out. But if it’s ever going to turn out differently, we need practical, nuts-and-bolts knowledge of how it’s done. 

    • #7
  8. Freeven Member
    Freeven
    @Freeven

    Great post, Gary. I enjoy these insider accounts of yours.

    From your article, I’d have assumed that anyone can play in this arena, as long as they have the money and the talent to make money for others. Yet I’ve heard many stories from Andrew Klavan and others that open conservatives struggle to find work and get projects developed. I’d be interested in your take and experiences on this aspect of the business (if you feel comfortable sharing it, of course).

    • #8
  9. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Freeven (View Comment):

    Great post, Gary. I enjoy these insider accounts of yours.

    From your article, I’d have assumed that anyone can play in this arena, as long as they have they money and the talent to make money for others. Yet I’ve heard many stories from Andrew Klavan and others that open conservatives struggle to find work and get projects developed. I’d be interested in your take and experiences on this aspect of the business (if you feel comfortable sharing it, of course).

    Yes, I am comfortable sharing it…in fact (doing a Jim Carrey voice from The Mask), try and stop me! But it’s almost 3 am here, so I’ll log off until later, when I’ll properly thank you for raising this crucial question, and try to answer it!

    • #9
  10. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Cheers was written by New Yorkers filming in LA. It perfectly captured the caricatures that New Yorkers think Bostonians are like. :-)

    Several times for Cape Cod beach scenes, the backdrop consisted of the rolling hills with the beautiful velvet-like matted-down tall grass so distinctive of California. Pretty, but nary a Cape Cod sand dune in sight. Too funny. And I could not believe how many times the actors said they were going “up to Cape Cod” from Boston. Do they ever look at a map in LA? :-) :-)

    • #10
  11. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    This is a great and accurate description of what a studio is.

    Thank you, Gary, for yet another inside view into the business of filmed entertainment.

    • #11
  12. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Cheers was written by New Yorkers filming in LA. It perfectly captured the caricatures that New Yorkers think Bostonians are like. :-)

    Several times for Cape Cod beach scenes, the backdrop consisted of the rolling hills with the beautiful velvet-like matted-down tall grass so distinctive of California. Pretty, but nary a Cape Cod sand dune in sight. Too funny. And I could not believe how many times the actors said they were going “up to Cape Cod” from Boston. Do they ever look at a map in LA? :-) :-)

    Oh, we do it here as well. On Two and a Half Men, the teenage kid in Malibu was constantly sneaking off (on foot) to meet his friends at the Santa Monica Pier. T’ain’t walking distance, but it simplified things. 24 supremo Joel Surnow, stone-cold conservative, used to ruefully joke that when 24 got near the end of a season, that’s when you’d suddenly find out that the anti-terrorism unit was conveniently located near the airport, because they couldn’t spend on-screen time on it and when you’re 20 episodes in on a 22 episode season, you’re more inclined to say, “Screw it, so let’s cheat the location”. 

    Here’s a subtle trick you might not have noticed: When a California beach is being used as an east coast shoreline, they usually arrange the action so the camera points south. Why? So that the land is on the left of the screen and the water is on the right, subconsciously matching the way the US looks on a map.  

    • #12
  13. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    When a California beach is being used as an east coast shoreline, they usually arrange the action so the camera points south. Why? So that the land is on the left of the screen and the water is on the right, subconsciously matching the way the US looks on a map.

    I found that out the hard way. I loved Murder, She Wrote mostly because it was filmed in Maine. Ha! It was completely filmed in Mendocino! After I found out, I couldn’t figure out how they got the sunsets and sunrises right! Mendocino looks just like Maine. :-) Thank you for explaining that. :-)  Interestingly, the writers and producers did a good job with portraying Maine and Mainers. :-) They must have had some deep family connections to people in Maine. It was clear that they really knew that region.

    And in similar vein, wow, I love how fast the CBS NCIS heroes get through LA traffic. You’ll hear them on the phone with someone who has a gun pointed at them, “I’ll be right there.” It’s gotten to the point that we just laugh out loud now. The CBS magic carpet! :-)

    LA is huge. That’s why they can work within the city limits and still capture the variety of scenery. It’s about 500 square miles. New York city is about 300 square miles, as is Cape Cod. Interesting how these cities developed.

    • #13
  14. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Clavius (View Comment):

    This is a great and accurate description of what a studio is.

    Thank you, Gary, for yet another inside view into the business of filmed entertainment.

    Quite a compliment from someone who couldn’t possibly be any more “inside”! (If that doesn’t sound too much like an old joke about Errol Flynn). From the Twenties through the dawn of the Seventies, the lot where Clavius works was the center of an empire. MGM was right up there with other American companies that dominated their markets–Pan Am, TWA, General Motors, US Steel, Eastman Kodak, RCA. By the time I got to town, MGM was a ghost town, a nearly lifeless lot surrounded by once-prosperous businesses that catered to the thousands of MGM employees. Now, thanks to the company Clavius works for, the lot is totally rebuilt, and busier than it’s ever been. 

    • #14
  15. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    MarciN (View Comment):
    LA is huge. That’s why they can work within the city limits and still capture the variety of scenery. It’s about 500 square miles.

    It used to be. Now it’s Downers Grove with palm trees.

    • #15
  16. Midwest Southerner Member
    Midwest Southerner
    @MidwestSoutherner

    Great, great post. Thanks @garymcvey.

    • #16
  17. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Gary McVey: Come on down and save some money.

    But, don’t the woke want to boycott Georgia?

    • #17
  18. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: Come on down and save some money.

    But, don’t the woke want to boycott Georgia?

    They do, but even Stacey Abrams and Jon Ossoff are now begging outsiders to stop calling for boycotts. It’ll settle down and Tyler Perry is waiting it out. It would be exceedingly tough for studios to give up Georgia’s production subsidies, among the highest in America. 

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Freeven (View Comment):

    Great post, Gary. I enjoy these insider accounts of yours.

    From your article, I’d have assumed that anyone can play in this arena, as long as they have the money and the talent to make money for others. Yet I’ve heard many stories from Andrew Klavan and others that open conservatives struggle to find work and get projects developed. I’d be interested in your take and experiences on this aspect of the business (if you feel comfortable sharing it, of course).

    One of the most successful conservative screenwriters, Lionel Chetwynd, had a succinct way of putting it. It’s not always a minus; if you’re talented, you’ll work. But it’s almost never a plus.

    Compare it to something like being gay in Hollywood in the Fifties. It sure as hell is no social advantage, but it’s not exactly a dealbreaker. Everybody knows a couple of people who “are” (“And you’d be surprised! They seem so normal!”) They’ll tell jokes behind your back. You might lose marginal jobs if you’re marginally gifted. But I have to say–keeping this comparison going–that in both cases, genuine experience of prejudice does get mixed with sour grapes and excuses, some of them self-pitying and lame. 

    Financiers and big producers can easily be conservative, like Gerry Molen, who produced Schindler’s List and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Or Jerrold Perenchio, who was Norman Lear’s longtime partner, or Jerry Weintraub, George H.W. Bush’s chief fundraiser in Hollywood. (Why these particular rightwingers all have variations of the same first name is a mystery.)  Frank Price, who was on our American Cinema Foundation board, has been boss of Columbia and of Universal. The other biggest group of Hollywood conservatives are the technicians (they have to actually know something to do their jobs) and the muscle–the grips who move sets and props, the Teamsters who deliver them, the studio guards. The most left wing branch of filmmaking are the writers.

    Actors, maybe surprisingly, are more politically mixed than you read about. The reason is, they’re primarily chosen on the basis of looks, and good looking people can come from anywhere, including the South and the mountain west. But actors are also the most vulnerable people in town, to political boycotts allegedly driven by the public or by unspoken prejudice by casting directors. 

    • #19
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Some of a Hollywood conservative’s best customers can be outright liberals. Jerry Offsay (another one of the Jerries!) ran Showtime in its years of greatest growth, and he sought out quality conservative scripts. This shocked some of his friends, who knew he was a mainstream, Truman/JFK liberal. He always said, why? We’re cable; we’re supposedly here for more daring, controversial entertainment than you can get on the networks. Well, what could be more daring and non-conformist than occasionally irritating liberals? He was right. 

    Or Les Moonves, one of the last of the genuine, up-from-the-ranks moguls, who took CBS when it was on its last legs and made it back into a giant. He knew, as did Offsay, that there are vast numbers of people out here in TV land who aren’t of the Left and he went out of his way to court them. Gary Sinise and Tom Selleck think he was a hero; he was their champion and their protector. He got pushed out in one of the weakest of #metoo cases, largely because he dared to challenge a woman, Shari Redstone, whose father sort-of bought control of CBS. Moonves was then castigated in the press as someone who kept booking shows with strong male leads. The horror!

    • #20
  21. Taras Coolidge
    Taras
    @Taras

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Some of a Hollywood conservative’s best customers can be outright liberals. Jerry Offsay (another one of the Jerries!) ran Showtime in its years of greatest growth, and he sought out quality conservative scripts. This shocked some of his friends, who knew he was a mainstream, Truman/JFK liberal. He always said, why? We’re cable; we’re supposedly here for more daring, controversial entertainment than you can get on the networks. Well, what could be more daring and non-conformist than occasionally irritating liberals? He was right.

    Or Les Moonves, one of the last of the genuine, up-from-the-ranks moguls, who took CBS when it was on its last legs and made it back into a giant. He knew, as did Offsay, that there are vast numbers of people out here in TV land who aren’t of the Left and he went out of his way to court them. Gary Sinise and Tom Selleck think he was a hero; he was their champion and their protector. He got pushed out in one of the weakest of #metoo cases, largely because he dared to challenge a woman, Shari Redstone, whose father sort-of bought control of CBS. Moonves was then castigated in the press as someone who kept booking shows with strong male leads. The horror!

    I would be interested to know the titles of some of the programs that resulted from those “quality conservative scripts” sought by Jerry Offsay.

    Les Moonves deserves credit for recognizing that an upcoming CBS docudrama about Ronald Reagan was grossly biased and unfair, and shifting it to Showtime.

     

    • #21
  22. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Here’s a subtle trick you might not have noticed: When a California beach is being used as an east coast shoreline, they usually arrange the action so the camera points south. Why? So that the land is on the left of the screen and the water is on the right, subconsciously matching the way the US looks on a map.  

    So the camera is pointing in the direction of the sun?

    • #22
  23. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Very informative post, btw. Thank you.

    • #23
  24. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Here’s a subtle trick you might not have noticed: When a California beach is being used as an east coast shoreline, they usually arrange the action so the camera points south. Why? So that the land is on the left of the screen and the water is on the right, subconsciously matching the way the US looks on a map.

    So the camera is pointing in the direction of the sun?

    Some portions of the coast run nearly east-west, others a north-south diagonal. Based on the time of day they’re shooting, experienced location managers know how to read the almanac well enough to have the sun in, or not in, the picture. This is especially true of “bounce card work”. Bounce cards, which have all sorts of routine uses in photography, are big laminated sheets that are usually silvered on one side, white on the other. In daylight, especially harsh sunlight, they are held off-camera to reflect enough light to fill in shadows. They are especially useful for what is euphemistically called beach glamour photography, or colloquially, “bounce card roles”–bikini-clad women. 

    • #24
  25. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Taras (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Some of a Hollywood conservative’s best customers can be outright liberals. Jerry Offsay (another one of the Jerries!) ran Showtime in its years of greatest growth, and he sought out quality conservative scripts. This shocked some of his friends, who knew he was a mainstream, Truman/JFK liberal. He always said, why? We’re cable; we’re supposedly here for more daring, controversial entertainment than you can get on the networks. Well, what could be more daring and non-conformist than occasionally irritating liberals? He was right.

    Or Les Moonves, one of the last of the genuine, up-from-the-ranks moguls, who took CBS when it was on its last legs and made it back into a giant. He knew, as did Offsay, that there are vast numbers of people out here in TV land who aren’t of the Left and he went out of his way to court them. Gary Sinise and Tom Selleck think he was a hero; he was their champion and their protector. He got pushed out in one of the weakest of #metoo cases, largely because he dared to challenge a woman, Shari Redstone, whose father sort-of bought control of CBS. Moonves was then castigated in the press as someone who kept booking shows with strong male leads. The horror!

    I would be interested to know the titles of some of the programs that resulted from those “quality conservative scripts” sought by Jerry Offsay.

    Les Moonves deserves credit for recognizing that an upcoming CBS docudrama about Ronald Reagan was grossly biased and unfair, and shifting it to Showtime.

    It should be pointed out that Offsay was gone from Showtime by then, replaced by Robert Greenblatt, a woke agenda guy who moved on to run NBC Entertainment and was recently canned by AT&T. Moonves deserves a lot of credit for guts; even when politics isn’t involved, dumping an already produced program attached to Barbra Streisand’s company isn’t something that network chiefs often do. Normally, there are all sorts of Japanese-style evasive terms to balm the egos of people who you might have to work with again someday. Something like, “We’ve looked at Reagan and as excited as we are about it, we’ve put a procedure in place for historical review, so when we receive their report, at that time we’ll make a determination…” and then silently drop it. Everyone knows what happened, but few feelings are hurt. Instead, Moonves says, flatly and publicly, “This will never air on CBS”, and has the personal clout to make it stick.

    Here’s a couple of the films Offsay green-lighted: DC 9/11: Time of Crisis; Color of Justice, which would never be made today; The Siege at Ruby Ridge, which incredibly was shifted from Showtime to CBS.

    • #25
  26. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    I just came across this article that seems like it ought to be included here.

    • #26
  27. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):
    Color of Justice,

    I love those kind of movies.  Thanks.  

    • #27
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):
    Color of Justice,

    I love those kind of movies. Thanks.

    One reason it was filmed in Canada was the difficulty in getting Black American actors to agree to appear in it. If Spike Lee wanted a white villain for his movie, he has his pick of anyone he can afford to hire; almost nobody will say no based on content. But if a white filmmaker needs a Black villain, it’s a far tougher case. Finally Gregory Hines took the Sharpton-esque role.

    Lionel told me that a semi-comic part of filming Color of Justice was trying to make assimilated, middle class kids from Toronto acting schools into scary American ghetto street warriors. “Eh, get off the davenport, you hosers, and let’s head down to Tim Horton’s”. 

    • #28
  29. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    I just came across this article that seems like it ought to be included here.

    A great find, Matt. That article is about a strata of filmmaking much cheaper than what the OP is mainly about, but it’s all part of the same world. This has been going on for decades: a movie gets pre-sold based on a title and a poster image. The Cannes film festival is actually about seven or eight film festivals at once, plus a market. The “marche” is in the basement of the weird, ugly-modern Palais du Festival. Much of the real action of Cannes happens there. The rights to big movies are sold, with daily trade papers heralding each sale, but many of the deals are just like the ones in the article Matt linked. India, South America, Africa and other territories like violent action revenge plots, starring guys like Malcolm McDowell, Don Johnson, or David Caruso. 

    I used to see an Asian seller/buyer who was the ultimate one-stop shop: pull your car up at the loading dock and he’d literally sell you a movie for your territory, placing two cans of 35mm film in the trunk and handing over a signed contract. 

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