Tag: Hollywood

What’s a Film Director?


In the beginning of film, there were no directors; there were only cameramen. The first movies had no plot, only the real-life silent spectacles of 1890s street traffic, ballerinas dancing coquettishly, armies on parade, and most famously, in 1895, a locomotive that seemed to be bearing down on the thrilled, frightened audiences of the fairgrounds.

By the turn of the century, two new elements would give lasting shape to what we came to call “the movies”: scripts and actors. They’d been together in the theater practically forever, of course, and now those masks of comedy and tragedy had a technician with a cine camera to record them for distant audiences. Well into the first decades of silent, ten-minute films, their production was loosely supervised, usually by the main actors.

ABC, The Untouchable(s) Network


The American Broadcasting Company wasn’t like the first Big Two networks, both founded in the mid-twenties by pioneers of national radio. A funny thing about ABC: Time and time again, whether on the air or in real life, its history involved Washington hearings and federal task forces of one sort or another. FDR’s “new deal” Department of Justice ruled that the NBC radio network was too dominant, and needed to be broken in two. The lesser part, the Blue Network, soon to be renamed ABC, was spawned by court order in 1943 after five years of federal litigation.

By the laws of the time, the Feds had a point: NBC had so many affiliated radio stations, often competing with themselves in so many overlapping markets, that AT&T engineers needed red and blue pencils to trace the wires connecting them. The red pencils mapped out NBC’s main network, the archrival of the Columbia Broadcasting System. Blue was the next tier down in prestige and audience size, a network for up-and-coming or fading talent. The Blue Network was packaged for divestiture, as the US government demanded. It sold to Edward Noble, who made his multimillions from Life Savers candy. He immediately made plans to get into television.

20 Years Ago: The Prize


February 2003. The transatlantic forecast was cold and overcast, with winter squalls and a chance of chemical or nuclear warfare. The immediate post-9/11 era was not a great time to travel. I went to the Berlin Film Festival to present an American Cinema Foundation prize named for Polish director Andrzej Wajda, for merit and courage in filmmaking. Chosen by a jury from eastern and central Europe, that year the winner was Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov.

After months of a military buildup, much of the world was apprehensive to the point of dread about an impending special military operation: America was about to launch war in the Middle East, and we made no secret of it. Most of our allies begged us to reconsider. By 2003, the goodwill we retained from the end of the Cold War had waned; the worldwide admiration we’d earned with our prosperity was rapidly fading with it. Yet not one of the invited guests connected our American prize to war in Iraq. Russian, Polish, and German officials came to the award ceremony in a gesture of post-WWII, post Cold War reconciliation. Today, with Ukraine as the backdrop, the Polish Film Institute, the European Film Academy, and others are calling for boycotts of Russian films and cultural events. I understand the emotion, but I think it would be a mistake, not just culturally or morally. It would be a fateful blunder.

When the Star Dies Suddenly


I wrote an earlier Hollywood R> post, When the Star Gets Fired. When a high-profile firing happens, it’s bad, it’s a big deal, but it’s rarely much of a surprise. Studios have a much tougher time dealing with unexpected situations where the pink slip of termination has been abruptly sent by the Almighty Himself, with a total lack of regard for the almighty production schedule. When it happens to a star in the middle of making a movie, a studio has to make some very hard, unpleasant financial choices, and quickly.

If the movie is nearly finished, some tricks and cuts will usually get them to the finish line. With a film that’s more like 70% complete, it might be possible, using real filmmaking ingenuity. On the other hand, if the movie has barely started filming, the easy, sensible call is to bail out now, shut down production, file an insurance claim, and absorb some losses. It’s the cases in-between that are tough judgment calls. Costs are accruing at a rate of millions of dollars per week, whether the cameras roll or not. An expensive picture that’s only 40% complete is agony to walk away from, but you have no real choice, even if it contains Marilyn Monroe’s one, never-to-be-seen-till-now nude scene, in sparkling color and glorious CinemaScope.

Fate, and Two Film Festivals


This is one of Hollywood’s most exciting times of year, when the Sundance festival ends and the Oscar nominations for the previous year are announced. Sundance films have come to dominate other prestige awards, none bigger than the Oscars. Once upon a time, this Park City, Utah festival of independent films was the granola-crunching, Earth-loving alternative to conventional Hollywood thinking. By the early Nineties, it was anointed as Hollywood’s incubator of new ideas and new talent. It’s no exaggeration to say that for a third of a century, Sundance has played a major role in changing our culture in a more progressive direction.

It’s also an annual film industry center of competitive buying frenzy, as fierce, all-night bidding wars take place in $40,000-a-week rental chalets. Fox Searchlight was one of the more experienced, successful predators in those bidding wars. It pushed 12 Years a Slave all the way to the Oscar for Best Picture. Now, convinced it could do it again, it bid a breathtaking $17,500,000 for the rights to new phenomenon The Birth of a Nation, a low-budget independent film that boldly took—some would say, appropriated–the title of the pioneering D.W. Griffith film on its centenary, for a black man’s vision of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831. The filmmaker, an experienced actor, and first-time director named Nate Parker, was ready for his “rocket push”—a term for the most that Hollywood and modern public relations can do. But there was a flaw, a hidden problem here, and it would turn this into a cultural and financial disaster story. Do you know this story? I didn’t.

In Hollywood, even the most prosaic activities often involves a complex dance of priorities, rank, and egos. This week, Rob explains the complex politics and power moves behind setting a meeting time that works for everyone’s schedule. But that exercise pales in comparison to figuring out who is in what position on which project, which often requires an advanced degree in calculus to understand, but also why (according to Rob), you can get by just as well with good grasp of the concept of dithering.

In the entertainment business, pitch meetings are an essential part of selling ideas — and getting jobs. So as a public service, Rob gives his expert guide to pitch meeting success, starting with what beverage one should order (it matters!) and ending with the post-pitch conversation in the car.

In this week’s episode, Rob Long tackles the idea that entertainment is a risky business that takes a lot of intuition and nerve. Things are going to fail, and sometimes, weird long shots do pay off. But that doesn’t stop networks from using methods to try to predict what shows will and won’t be hits. Rob reminds all network executives that they are in the business of taking chances, and reveals the clever way studios mitigate risk by using a highly technical financial instrument: OPM — a.k.a., other people’s money. Okay, it’s not very technical and it’s not really an instrument either, but it does mitigate their risk.

Screamers, show consulting, Stanford, seniority, status, and Stalin’s chair. These concepts are all linked, in this parable on power in the entertainment business. Listen and hear how.

This week, Rob give his notes on network notes. Some writers consider them the bane of their existence. Others carefully parse them like a detective at a crime scene for subtle clues that may (or may not) signal whether their script will move towards production. But what if your script receives the unusual but occasional “we have no notes” response? Well, that’s the dream, right? Rob explains why it may indeed mean you have turned in the perfect draft that answers all of the network’s questions and fears and your pilot is now on the fast track to the Production Promised Land. Or it may mean something more ominous….

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This is your reminder that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. We do not need or want more reminders.  The latest reminder is another horrific and senseless snuffing out of young and innocent lives by a deranged person, this time at an elementary school in deep southwest Texas. It was followed by the predictable […]

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As the entertainment business slowly becomes a form of television and everyone slowly realizing that the television business depends on the management skills and personal discipline of…writers, some show runners are finding themselves replaced at alarming rates. Rob — who has run a few shows in his time— has some words of encouragement and yes, advice for those people who find themselves in precarious employment situations. And in the process, talks himself out of a job. Oops.

In Hollywood, everyone is an artist. And as artists, they often feel they are entitled to a certain amount of eccentricity and perfectionism, including but not limited to having their cake and eating it too (metaphorically speaking).

Rob explains why managing “the talent” —which includes anyone who interacts with studio management— sometimes calls for techniques that are more commonly associated with calming infants. Or 19th century schizophrenics. Rob also reveals the strategy to winning any exchange involving talent, notes, deals, or even controversies that play out in the media. He guarantees it. Are you listening, Mr Chapek?

Nurses: The TV Show


I often think that a TV show about actual nurses would play well.

Not the TV show about nurses that Jada Pinkett Smith did, but a show about what actual nurses do and live and feel.  I can’t help but think that the drama of actual life, being yelled at by physicians over things not in our control, being yelled at by family members, finding patients hiding drugs in their bed and overdosing while admitted, finding patient family members unlocking syringe boxes to steal used syringes for whatever, and families being elated at the last moments of recovery and lucidity right before death…

On this episode of The Federalist Radio Hour, Chris Fenton, author of “Feeding The Dragon: Inside the Trillion-Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, & American Business,” joins Federalist Culture Editor Emily Jashinsky to discuss the dangers of communist China’s grip on Hollywood and now the global stage by hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics.


On this episode of “The Federalist Radio Hour,” Federalist Publisher Ben Domenech joins Culture Editor Emily Jashinsky to discuss their favorite and least favorite films of 2021 and evaluate whether movies finally made a comeback from a pandemic-induced cinema drought.

In Los Angeles, everyone’s in show business. Everyone.

There’s only one phrase a scriptwriter dreads more than “we love it, but we have some notes”: “we love it and have no notes.”