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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
That is both your challenge-and your opportunity.
God speed and good luck.
We count on you.