Friday, August 22, 2003

The following is an e-mail going around--major elements of "kids get off my damn lawn" but some good stuff as well. worth a read.

Frank Pierson is a writer/director. He is presently president of the

Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences and formally the president of the

Writers Guild of America, West. He has directed a Star is Born, Citizen

Cohn, Conspiracy, and most recently the critically acclaimed Soldier's

Girl which is playing on Showtime. His writing credits include Cat

Ballou, Cool Hand Luke and the Oscar winning Dog Day Afternoon.

Frank's speech to graduating students:

I've been around a long time. As I look out at all of you graduating

today, I think back to my graduations. All the kids in my graduating

class from elementary school are dead.

All the people in my junior high school graduation are dead.

All the people in my high school graduation are dead.

The people I graduated from college with are all mostly dead.

Are you all feeling okay?

You will soon be the Hollywood of tomorrow, and I'm here to give you a

little taste of the past. And my sense of the future you face.

Hollywood was once a small company town, where everybody knew everybody,

and if you dropped your pants at a party or punched a reporter or danced

with a prostitute in the parking lot, it wasn't on Entertainment

Tonight-tonight. It was even hard to get arrested. Every studio had a

publicity department which paid the Los Angeles cops to stay away from

show business people. The police didn't arrest movie people. They drove

them home.

We all went down to the film factories every day-at Warner Brothers even

actors, directors and writers punched a time clock until the mid

forties. We ate in the studio commissary, where the writers' table was

preferred seating because the jokes were better there. If the New York

writers were in town, slumming, sneering at the movies and cashing big

fat paychecks you found yourself sitting next to Dorothy Parker or F.

Scott Fitzgerald. You could wander off to a sound stage and watch John

Huston or Willy Wyler shooting a scene with Bogart or Hepburn or Peck.

No security. We all knew each other.

It was up close, and personal.

In the thirties screenwriters formed a union. Their first and only

demand was that producers give writing credit only to writers who

actually worked on the film. They were denounced on the floor of

Congress. Variety said they were Communists. Darryl Zanuck, the head of

Twentieth-Century Fox, dictated a letter for all of his contract writers

to sign. It was on their desks when they arrived for work; a letter of

resignation from the new Guild. With it was a note from Zanuck ordering

them to join a union Twentieth -Century Fox was forming especially for

them. If anybody refused they were fired.

Philip Dunne, an ex-New Yorker writer, and one of Fox's major talents,

went to Zanuck and told him nobody was quitting the Guild. Furthermore,

he pointed out that if Zanuck fired all the writers who were Guild

members, he would be firing the front line of his championship polo team.

It was the start of the Writers' Guild.

Up Close and personal. We knew the boss. And we certainly knew who was


Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia, was a legendary bully, who admired

Mussolini and had his office designed to resemble Mussolini's-with a long

approach into blinding lights, and himself behind a desk, raised a foot

above the floor, ranks of Oscars his studio had won behind him.

He said he made only pictures that he wanted to see, and once the public

stopped wanting to see what he liked, he'd quit. Not for him delegating

decisions to demographers, pollsters and marketing experts. Nobody knew

what a demographer was in those days.

In the sixties, when the old glove salesmen and carnival touts who built

the studios began to grow old and retire to play golf or try to gamble

away their fortunes, their grip on the business loosened. For a while

independent producers flourished. New companies, new writers and

directors burst the bonds of studio imposed style and discarded the

habits of the stage.

In this fluid and diversified atmosphere there was freedom and

creativity, and a minimum of bureaucratic control. The sixties and the

seventies produced movies now looked upon as a Golden Age, The Godfather,

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dr. Strangelove, The Taxi Driver,

Chinatown, Clockwork Orange, Annie Hall, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance

Kid, Midnight Cowboy, Mash, All the Presidents' Men, Network, Bonnie &

Clyde, and a couple I like, Dog Day Afternoon and Cool Hand Luke. Even

Easy Rider a wild card that symbolized the anarchistic spirit of that

drug ridden time was a Columbia Studio release.

Then, on Wall Street, it began to be noticed that a single blockbuster

movie could make in a weekend what a substantial business made in a year.

Warner Brothers was bought by Seven Arts, Seven Arts was bought by Kinney

Services, which consisted of a chain of mortuaries and liveries, and the

whole mess now is owned by America Online/Time/Warner along with HBO,

Warner Books, Turner networks and CNN. Viacom owns Paramount, CBS,

Showtime Cable and the Blockbuster chain of video stores. Of the 100-odd

primetime shows that will premiere on the four networks this fall and

winter, more than 30-including CBS newsmagazines-will be made by one or

another company owned by Viacom. Another 25 or so will be made by Rupert

Murdoch's News Corp, which owns Fox network. That is almost fifty

percent of the new shows controlled by two companies, one owned by a man

notorious for his micro management, narrow right-wing political

philosophy, and his willingness to use his ideological power.

We had been having too much fun to notice -the barbarians were inside the

gate. The polo games, the writers' table, Jack Warner's lunch time

tennis matches with Errol Flynn, the cops as our friends, all were a

thing of the past. We began to see Harvard Business School MBAs sit in

on story conferences.

Lawyers multiplied.

As the huge debt created by mergers was added to the rising costs of

making little but blockbusters, the risks of making a film forced the

businessmen to be risk averse, to play to the least critical audience:

Teen-age boys with disposable income.

The problem is how to keep this "average" moviegoer, male, 16 to 25, high

school education at best, doesn't read books, gets his news from the

eleven o'clock news if he bothers at all, never heard of Mussolini and

thinks Korea is another part of downtown LA-this couch potato, this

pimply undereducated oversexed slob with the attention span of a

chicken-how do we keep him awake and interested, while staying awake and

interested ourselves.

We have to remind ourselves that this viewer is only another aspect of

ourselves, that we have also in us-as he does-a better part, that needs

to be cultivated and to express itself. There is no single audience with

a single personality. There is the larger audience-currently

under-served-that has vast variety of appetites that we can, we must,


We do manage every year to make a few films that satisfy both the lower

appetite for thrills and excitement and at the same time provide the

deeper satisfactions of art and truth for the viewers who are equipped to

experience it.

To reach and touch the angel in the beast.

Everything else is just working for wages.

In justice there are great things that have been achieved by these

companies-in 1960 to see a black, a Latino on the stage floor except as

an occasional supporting actor would have been unthinkable. Now the mid

level of the corporate bureaucracy and the working place are far freer

and inclusive.

What has happened in Hollywood has happened to us all, because the focus

of international business has shifted from production to distribution.

And further-whoever controls distributions shapes what is produced-to

what will fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment.

Agribusinesses have Kamikaze researchers trying to produce cube shaped

tomatoes easier to pack in boxes (and that will taste like the boxes if

past experience teaches us anything) And of course we already have milk

that all goes sour the same day. Watch the odd, the old, the personal,

the traditional, the idiosyncratic, the family made or the regional

disappear from supermarket shelves that are rented by the foot to

international companies that then stock them with their own water and

sugar products.

Our defense is the farmers' market, the yard sale, the auctions. We had

hopes for the Internet, but that's being turned into a marketing tool.

In the field of entertainment and the arts our last defense may be Tivo

and the remote control.

Liberal critics have raised the alarm over corporate censorship, the

exclusion from theaters and TV of anything except what seems marketable

and the eliminations of anything that might offend somebody anywhere.

But the danger of censorship in America is less from business or the

religious right or the self righteous left, than to self-censorship by

artists themselves, who simply give up. If we can't see a way to get our

story told, what is the point of trying? I wonder how many fine,

inspiring ideas in every walk of life are strangled in the womb of the

imagination because there's no way past the gates of commerce?

This has not happened to us without warning. A rancorous idealist living

in London during the Industrial Revolution wrote the following:

"Corporate globalization has left remaining no other connection between

man and man than naked self interest, than callous 'cash payment.' in

place of chartered freedoms [it] has set up a single unconscionable

freedom called Free Trade. It has converted the physician, the lawyer,

the Priest, the poet, the man of science into its paid wage laborers.

By the immensely facilitated means of communication, corporate

globalization draws even the most barbarian nations into civilization.

The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it

batters down all Chinese walls.

This constant change, uninterrupted disturbance of all social relations,

everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the present from all

past times."

I've cheated a little. In this "quote," I have substituted the phrase

"Corporate Globalization" for the word "Bourgeoisie." The actual

quotation is from Karl Marx, in the Communist Manifesto.

Marx's idea of how to solve the problems he raised we now know to be

fatally flawed, establishing as deadly a repressive society as the one it

briefly replaced, and as dull and one-size-fits-all as the one

globalopoly threatens to smother us with now.

Marx went on to say this: "All that is solid melts into thin air, all

that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober

sense the real conditions of life and his relations with his kind."

Could any conservative preacher state the case more clearly or with more


You can seize the opportunity to set about meeting Marx's challenge-to do

something about it.

You are now our future, and this is the challenge you face. It is a

bigger challenge than it seems because you cannot recapture something you

never knew. It is your gargantuan task to create this spirit out of thin

air, in the face of resistance and lack of interest, in your own style

and out of your own imagination. Something new and as yet unknown.

To the studios the art of film and TV is a by product of their main

business, a side effect, and like side effects, more likely to be a

noxious nuisance than a benefit. I cry out to you to become a noxious

nuisance, to make a personal investment of passion. It is a moral

responsibility that arises from the role of movies in society.

Movies are more than a commodity. Movies are to our civilization what

dreams and ideals are to individual lives: they express the mystery and

help define the nature of who we are and what we are becoming.

You must become writers with ideas and passion, who write with force and

conviction; you must become directors who have minds enriched by your

lives and not a library of stunts and special effects. Be critics

centered in you feelings and ideas in the culture and society, not in

comparing grosses and applauding computer generated ballets of violence.

Go and make a cinema and TV that express our history and our ideas, and

that foster respect for a civilization in real danger of self

destruction. Be decision makers with dreams and hopes instead of raw

ambition. Tell stories that illuminate our times and our souls.

That waken the sleeping angel inside the beast.

We need this from you as we need clean drinking water and roads, green

parks and libraries; it is as important as the breath of democratic

life. Somehow we need to keep alive in our hearts the vision of

community, shared interests and understanding of our neighbors' needs,

the sense of connection this fractionated society is losing.

We need to recapture the spirit of Main Street. Up close.

And personal.

That is both your challenge-and your opportunity.

God speed and good luck.

We count on you.

No comments:

Post a Comment