Interview: Darnell Hunt (Hollywood Diversity Report) — Part 3

November 12th, 2014 by

One of the aspects about what the Black List does I resonate with most is the number of initiatives it sponsors to open doors for writers outside the Hollywood system. Initiatives like:

Partnership with The Hasty Pudding Institute

Partnership with the NFL

I want to see a wider variety of scripted entertainment created a more diverse group of writers. Different types of narratives. Different subcultures explored. Different voices heard. Unfortunately Hollywood does not have a good track record when it comes to diversity.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Darnell Hunt, professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles and director of the university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American studies. There is perhaps no one more qualified to speak on the subject than Darnell for reasons that are readily apparent in this interview.

Today in Part 3, Darnell talks about the role of bias and some possible “best practices” that can emerge to address the issue of underrepresentation in Hollywood:

Scott:  It looks like what the bottom line here is there’s an institutional component, as well as a conventional wisdom or perception that’s out there.

That leads us to this: What to do. One of the areas of the 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report covered was to “identify and disseminate best practices for increasing the pipeline of underrepresented groups into the Hollywood entertainment industry.”

What are some of those best practices?

Darnell:  I’m going to plead the fifth here and say that we’re early in the process to be able to definitively and completely provide you with a list of things that need to be done right away.

Off the top of my head, I can give you a few things I think will be important. Part of the point of the review series is with each succeeding issue of the report the picture will become sharper and sharper in terms of what’s happening and what’s not happening.

For example, this year’s report, the 2015 report, is going to go beyond the 2014 report. In addition to just reporting ratings and box office for films and TV shows, we also had access to demographic information for the audiences.

We’ll be able to talk about not only the rating for a show that’s diverse, but also who is watching that show in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, household income, all the things that advertisers care about.

We’ll also do the same for box office, and we’re also going to be looking at content analysis of a select sample of TV shows that are diverse to get a sense of what are the images and portrayals that definitively point to what’s working and what’s not.

That is to say, over time, as we see the same patterns emerge, we’ll be able to say XYZ network is getting it right with this particular approach while this particular network or this studio isn’t. I think that’s the type of specificity we’re aiming for in terms of looking at the bird’s eye view, looking at patterns, and then figuring out who the exemplars are of the positive patterns versus the negative ones.

From that type of analysis, I’d say, probably in year two or three, a pretty clear set of recommendations will begin to emerge. I think, at the minimum, there needs to be an examination of the executive suite at the major studios and networks. That is to say, “Who’s making green‑lighting decisions. Is there diversity among that group?”

Again, the point you made earlier about Hollywood just wants a good script, that’s true, but how do you define a good script? That’s a very subjective thing largely a reflection of our cultural background, where we came from, our tastes, things that we know vary according to our ethnic and racial background and our genders.

The whole idea of what’s good needs to be expanded so the room is more inclusive and more people are participating in the process of deciding what’s good and what’s going to be green‑lit. The executive suites is an area that needs to be looked at, something we are going to look at in our reports down the line.

Another area is the project development process, the pilot process in television. Data I have from the Writer’s Guild, studies I’ve done in the past show that process is as bad or worse than what we see at the end of the pipeline in what makes it to the air.

The people who get to pitch, again, largely those who are represented by the major agencies and/or are “seasoned,” which means, they’ve been around before, typically white men have a leg up on new folks who may have interesting ideas, but who don’t have the clout to actually get an audience with the network or with an agency to help move that project forward.

What we also see is that writers of color and women who, again, aren’t “seasoned,” are often paired with white male show-runners to pitch these stories. Then you have dynamics in the writing room that don’t allow the story or idea to evolve the way it would if the person was just left to his or her own devices to develop the idea.

There are all kinds of structural things in place that make it really hard to get out of what amounts to a Catch‑22. It takes talent to get work, but you can’t demonstrate your abilities because you’re not working. It becomes very difficult to break out of this double bind.

With time, our study will be able to show the few examples — and there are a few examples — that have been successful in getting around this morass. Once we have that data, I think we can make some pretty profound and compelling recommendations.

Scott:  One thing that was interesting in the last couple of years on the film side: 12 Years A Slave, written by John Ridley, directed by Steve McClain, nominated for nine Oscars, winning three including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture. This year Belle, written by Misan Sagay, directed by Amma Asante did very well in the Indie film world. Then Ava DuVernay directing Selma.

All these African Americans or filmmakers of African descent, on the face of it that’s great. However each of these are racially themed stories so you wonder if it’s the people making the decisions saying, “This is appropriate for these filmmakers to be doing this because it’s something in their wheelhouse culturally and experientially.”

The question then becomes what about doing non‑racially themed movies? Why can’t women direct non‑gender based or why can’t African Americans direct non‑racially themed stories? You can even get conspiratorial. As if to say, “We’ll just give them these films that are in their wheelhouse and that should keep them happy.” I’m just curious what your perception of that is.

Darnell:  That’s a good point. It’s the same type of thing we see with writers. I’m really familiar with the writing situation. I’ve been writing the Hollywood Writers Report now for eight years. We talk a lot about typecasting of writers.

It’s a very clear phenomenon. There was a whole cohort of black writers who cut their teeth on the rise of the WB and UPN back in the mid ’90s. All of those African American themed sitcoms cancelled when UPN went off the air and overnight almost half of all black employed writers were unemployed.

A lot of those writers never found work again because they were typecast as only being able to write black situation comedies, which of course, according to the Academy, aren’t very high‑quality. They’re not winning Emmys. I think you have the same type of thing going on with directors and writers in film.

There’s this presumption that people of color and women can only do niche films that pertain to topics that are relevant to the experiences of those groups and that they can’t do more universal films, for example. There are a few exceptions, of course, but, for the most part, that’s the presumption.

What it really boils down to, I think, is that, as I pointed out earlier, it’s a very lucrative industry, it’s a very competitive industry. Those who are in control do not want to relinquish control.

They want to do everything they can to affirm the belief they are in control, because they deserve to be, because they’re the most talented, they’re the most savvy, they’re the best writers, the best directors.

Everyone else is behind them in terms of merit as it relates to what the industry’s all about. If they can make this perception dominant then it becomes much easier for them to continue to profit from and benefit from their position in the industry and to keep others who would do the same basically at bay.

In the end, it boils down to that. The question is what do you do about that? I think that the business as a whole, the industry as a whole, has to see where the market is going, where the nation is going, and that’s towards diversity.

At some point, you’re no longer viable if you’re not recognizing that, if you allow the personal and individual agendas of those who currently control the industry to set the tone. I think that’s the message that we’re trying to communicate, and we’re trying to show ways that the industry as a whole would be advanced by just tapping into this diversity thing and running with it.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Darnell discusses the uptick in female-driven movie projects and the impact of the internationalization of the Hollywood entertainment industry on the issue of diversity.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

You may follow Darnell Hunt on Twitter: @darnell_hunt.

To download a copy of the “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect” mentioned in the interview, click here.

Interview: Darnell Hunt (Hollywood Diversity Report) — Part 2

November 11th, 2014 by

One of the aspects about what the Black List does I resonate with most is the number of initiatives it sponsors to open doors for writers outside the Hollywood system. Initiatives like:

Partnership with TNT/TBS

Partnership with Warner Brothers

I want to see a wider variety of scripted entertainment created a more diverse group of writers. Different types of narratives. Different subcultures explored. Different voices heard. Unfortunately Hollywood does not have a good track record when it comes to diversity.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Darnell Hunt, professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles and director of the university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American studies. There is perhaps no one more qualified to speak on the subject than Darnell for reasons that are readily apparent in this interview.

Today in Part 2, Darnell provides some thoughts on the institutional nature of the diversity issue in Hollywood and how the studios and TV networks are leaving money on the table by not casting a wider net in terms of the stories they choose to produce:

Scott:  It’s interesting because the report you did talks about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a contributing factor. The Academy’s membership is 93 percent white, 76 percent male, and the average age is 63.

As your report points out, when the award ceremonies come out and you see all these white, male faces, that tends to reinforce that perception, doesn’t it?

Darnell:  Absolutely. It also reinforces the perception of what’s quality and what’s not.

If older white males have a monopoly on determining, more or less, what merits accolades, recognition in the industry, either through the Emmys or through the Oscars, and those types of projects are ones white males typically make and minorities and women don’t, it’s unlikely that when minorities do make it in the industry that their projects are going to be recognized as quality.

It becomes this self‑fulfilling prophecy — they’re not quite as good. After all, the industry really does recognize talent, and talent rises to the top. Again, it’s a rigged game because the way talent is being defined and the way quality is being defined basically privileges the white men who have always controlled the industry.

In a way, the Emmys and the Oscars work to justify the system as it’s currently operating.

Scott:  We see the same sort of mentality with tracking services. So‑called ‘urban movies’ like Ride Along or Let’s Be Cops, the tracking services for both of those films underestimated their opening weekend grosses by at least $10 million. And the thing is, they consistently do this. Do you think that’s a reflection of a kind of ingrained conventional wisdom that underestimates the size and scope of, for example, the African American movie‑going audience?

Darnell:  Absolutely. One thing we know for sure is that people of color watch more television and they spend a larger share of their disposable income on entertainment activities like going to movies.

African Americans, Latinos are heavy moviegoers. Their populations are increasing. The headline’s on the wall. America will be majority minority by 2025 or so.

Business as usual today in the industry is just not sustainable, and that’s one of the things we try to point out in the report. Moreover, we find that the conventional wisdom just doesn’t hold up when it comes to what audiences, particularly diverse audiences, want to see.

One of the things we found in our study… I believe is the first time this has been documented certainly as comprehensively as we have… we found that films and TV shows that are more diverse in terms of their cast, particularly those that are from 30 to 40 percent diverse… right now, the American population is about 36, 37 percent minority… films and TV shows with casts that have diversity within that range, on average, do the best in terms of box office, and they do the best in terms of ratings.

You would think that an industry predicated on profits would recognize this and suddenly shift its business practices to start making films and TV shows that target the sweet spot.

For the most part, this hasn’t happened. This year is interesting. ABC Disney, for example, has really gone out on a limb to tout the diversity of their new programs. There are a number of other programs that have cropped up on other networks.

I’m talking television right now. I’m really looking forward to our future data set that will actually analyze this year to see if, in fact, this is a turning point or whether or not it’s just an aberration and we go back to business as usual.

There hasn’t been the recognition of this reality in terms of business practices in the industry, which is why our report is subtitled is “Making Sense of the Disconnect.” This whole disconnect between underrepresentation on the one hand in terms of people of color and women in the industry, and the fact, on the other hand, that diversity actually sells. How do you explain that disconnect?

Scott:  Exactly. I remember there was a quote back in June from the CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners in which he said, “Hispanics are far and away the most important consumer at our cinemas, and that Hispanics go to movies six times a year on average compared to four for everyone else.”

When we see people in positions of authority like that publicly acknowledging these facts, do you feel like maybe it’s beginning to filter into the consciousness of the people who run the business?

Darnell:  Yeah, I think it is. It’s going to have to eventually if the industry is going to remain viable. If not, it’s going to be like a dinosaur.

There are going to be other ways that people will have access to the stories and the images they want to see. In fact, it’s no accident that web series, for example, are exploding right now. The Internet has created this opportunity for independent storytellers who can’t get work in Hollywood to go out and do the stories they want to do, and many of them are finding audiences.

Basically, the networks are like tents. Because of their profile, they can pull in millions of people. All they have to do is advertise their latest show and they’re guaranteed to get a certain amount of viewers. Whether or not they can hold the viewer because the show is quality is another story, but they have a very high profile and people are aware of them.

If you’re starting your own YouTube channel, no one knows who you are from Adam. You might have a great story to tell, but your challenge is finding an audience, bringing eyeballs to your YouTube channel.

That’s the struggle, I think, for people who have gone the independent route, but more people are doing it. More people frustrated with the same old story over and over again on the conventional networks and cable networks are turning to web productions for that very reason.

The networks in Hollywood are leaving money on the table because they’re not recognizing there’s a need out there or a hunger for this type of diverse storytelling they’re just not structured to tell right now. They don’t have enough people of color or women with green‑lighting authority or in positions to create content.

Not just to star in it or to be lucky to be in the writing room, but to actually create the concept that pretty much sets the thing in motion.

Scott:  Vamping off that, one argument I’ve seen, at least, in relation to screenwriting, is Hollywood doesn’t care if you’re white, black, male, female. All they want is a great script. Which I think, in theory, is true. No one’s stopping anyone from writing a spec script. Your report has a very interesting analysis about the corporate agency model. Could you talk a bit about that and why you think that may be a contributing factor to this ongoing issue of underrepresentation?

Darnell:  The three major agencies control a large amount of the packaging that goes on for television and movies. They essentially provide a service to the networks and the studios by selling them prepackaged goods.

In other words, they’ll bring a concept, they’ll have the script, they’ll have the lead actors attached, they’ll have the writer, they’ll have the director, and they’ll sell the whole package to the studio so they don’t have to go through the trouble of developing that part of it themselves.

They’ll do the same thing for a TV series. That’s what the agencies are in business to do. We spent a lot of time talking to the agencies, and the agencies say, “We are in business to sell to networks and studios. We have to sell them what they want. If they told us they wanted X then we would provide them with X, and we’re providing them with what they say they want.”

In other words, they’re passing the buck saying the fact our rosters are predominantly white and male is a reflection of what the networks and studios are telling us they want.

Again, you have this self‑reproducing machinery in place. Unless it’s short‑circuited somehow, you keep producing the same thing over and over again. The A‑listers are going to be white and male, for the most part, and the A‑listers are going to be the ones attached to the big, multi‑million dollar budget films that are going to receive widespread distribution along with everything else.

The same is true with the bigger TV shows that are produced and marketed and promoted, and so on.

As a middle man in the process, the agencies have a huge impact on who is likely to receive recognition and find their way to the market. There was a really important study done by sociologists back in the late 1990s. William and Denise Bilby, who actually used to do the Hollywood Writers Report for the Writers Guild before I took it over about eight years ago.

Documenting that if you don’t have representation by these major agencies, you have a much steeper climb in order to make it to the promised land in terms of getting that plum project, either on television or in film.

Having major agency representation opens doors for you. If the rosters are largely white and male then women and majorities are going to have a hard time finding their way through doors. That’s been, I think, the way that agencies factor into this problem.

Tomorrow in Part 3, Darnell talks about the role of bias and some possible “best practices” that can emerge to address the issue of underrepresentation in Hollywood.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

You may follow Darnell Hunt on Twitter: @darnell_hunt.

To download a copy of the “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect” mentioned in the interview, click here.

Interview: Darnell Hunt (Hollywood Diversity Report) — Part 1

November 10th, 2014 by

One of the aspects about what the Black List does I resonate with most is the number of initiatives it sponsors to open doors for writers outside the Hollywood system. Initiatives like:

Partnership with Fox

Partnership with The Walt Disney Studios

I want to see a wider variety of scripted entertainment created a more diverse group of writers. Different types of narratives. Different subcultures explored. Different voices heard. Unfortunately Hollywood does not have a good track record when it comes to diversity.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Darnell Hunt, professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles and director of the university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American studies. There is perhaps no one more qualified to speak on the subject than Darnell for reasons that will are readily apparent in this interview.

Today in Part 1, Darnell talks about the work of the Bunche Center, his involvement with the Hollywood Diversity Report and a litany of numbers demonstrating the sorry state of underrepresentation in the industry:

Scott Myers:  You’re the Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American studies at UCLA. Could you tell us a bit about the Bunche Center and your responsibilities there?

Darnell Hunt:  The Bunche Center was created in 1969, which means we’ve been around for 45 years. It was created out of the Black Struggle, the movement for Black Studies across America. We were one of the first research centers established. From the very beginning, it was all about conducting large‑scale research projects that probably wouldn’t otherwise be done.

Today we have about 75 faculty members, professors throughout UCLA across the campus — social sciences, humanities, professional schools — who are affiliated with us.

We raise money through foundations, from private donors and corporate donors to do large‑scale research projects that typically wouldn’t be done in academic departments. We’re independent. We’re like a think tank and the Hollywood Diversity Project is one of our core projects.

Scott:  What was the impetus for the report?

Darnell:  I’m a sociologist and I’ve been studying Hollywood diversity issues in the industry for about 20 years.

When I became director of the Bunche Center 13 years ago and we were laying out a research agenda, I knew that this was going to be one of the areas we must pursue. In the early 2000s, we did a series of studies called “Primetime in Black and White,” where we looked at primetime television and tried to gauge the representation onscreen of African Americans and other groups, as well.

That was the beginning of the center’s foray into this particular area. Over the last five or six years, we’ve been meeting with people in the industry, TV networks and movie studios, trying to get a sense of what the conventional wisdom is about this diversity issue, trying to figure out where the obstacles are and what the best practices are,

We have met with independent producers, actors, advocacy groups like the NAACP and the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Out of all those conversations came the idea for this particular study.

We realized there was a huge gap in what we know about diversity or the lack thereof in the industry. Anecdotally, we know it’s not a great picture, but no one had really mapped the entire landscape and done so on a continuing basis like we’re proposing to do with this project.

Scott:  You basically took a snapshot of diversity in the industry in the year 2011.

Darnell:  That’s correct. This is an annual report, we’re currently working on the 2015 report now. We’re always about a year, a year‑and‑a‑half behind, and the reason is, we have to wait for a season to end completely before we have comprehensive data.

Then it takes time to analyze the data. This is an incredibly labor‑intensive process. Our data set has like a hundred thousand cells in it, in terms of the data. We have multiple variables for every single TV show.

For example, last year we looked at 1,061 TV shows, believe it or not, across 60‑something cable networks and all the broadcast networks, as well as the top 200 films according to the box office.

It’s an incredible amount of data, and it takes a while to actually pull it all together, to clean it, to analyze it, and write the report. This coming report that we’re going to release in February 2015 is going to look at 2012 and 2013 in film, and the 2012‑2013 season in television.

Scott:   Could you top-line some of the more notable examples in which there is a significant underrepresentation of women and people of color in the entertainment industry?

Darnell:  One of the things that we note in the report is what we call the degree of representation. What we do is look at a given group in society, like, say, women, and look at their share of the population and how that relates to their share of different types of positions in the industry. We do the same thing with minorities.

If you look at underrepresentation, what we found is among film leads, minorities are underrepresented by a factor of more than 3 to 1; women, by a factor of about 2 to 1. If we look at film directors, we see that minorities are underrepresented by, again, a factor of about 3 to 1, but women, believe it or not, 12 to 1. Women are egregiously underrepresented among film directors.

Film writers, minorities, about 5 to 1; and women, about 3 to 1. In other words, you’d have to have three times as many women film writers before they would reach proportionate representation. We’re talking about pretty severe underrepresentation.

If we look at broadcast comedies and dramas and the lead characters, minorities ‑‑ underrepresented by a factor of 7 to 1. Women, on the other hand, reach proportionate representation in this area. In other words, their representation on the screen among leads in broadcast comedies and dramas is about what it should be.

In cable comedy and drama, leads ‑‑ minorities are underrepresented by a factor of more than about 2 to 1. They’re doing better in cable than in broadcast, largely because a lot of the cable stations are for a niche market and target certain groups. You have your BET’s, so African Americans are picking up some leads there they don’t see in broadcast.

About women, a little bit less than 2 to 1 underrepresentation, comedy, drama leads. For cable, reality, and other leads, minorities were underrepresented by a factor of greater than 2 to 1, and women right about 2 to 1.

If we look at broadcast, the comedy/drama creators, the people who actually come up with the concept and pitch it to the networks, minorities are underrepresented by a factor of nearly 9 to 1.

In other words, minorities may be working in the industry in front of the camera, but when it comes to actually creating the ideas that lead to the show concept, they’re virtually invisible. Women, about 2 to 1 underrepresented.

Finally, with cable comedy creators, minorities are doing a little bit better, but not great, underrepresented by a factor of about 5 to 1. Women, by a factor of greater than 2 to 1.

Lots of underrepresentation, lots of ground to cover. In fact what we’re seeing is if you look at the big picture over time, yes, clearly minorities and women are doing better today in television in film, then, they were say in 1970. Guess what? America is a lot more diverse than it was in 1970.

In fact, the gap between where we are and reaching proportion of representation has actually gotten bigger over time, not smaller.

Scott:  On my blog, I have a database with every spec script sale made public since 1991. Some readers went through and tabulated the number of deals made by male and female writers, and the numbers there have actually been going down.

It was 14 percent from 1991 to 2000, 13 percent of women from 2001 to 2010. Now, 10 percent from 2011 to 2013, which is interesting, because 1 out of 2 New York Times bestsellers are women. Basically, 1 out of every 8 spec scripts sold is about a woman.

Those tend to align with what you found here. This is not anecdotal. This is like hard, actual evidence, right?

Darnell:  Yeah. There’s a real structure operating in Hollywood that erects all kinds of obstacles and barriers for minorities and women. It’s very hard to overcome.

You have your examples like Shonda Rhimes, who is just a wunderkind who owns Thursday night on ABC. She happens to be a minority and a woman. She is by far the exception to the rule. It just doesn’t happen all that often. I gave you the stat for women directors in film. It’s just abysmal.

The question is, “Why?” There are obviously lots of talented women as you point out, bestsellers, and in other arenas, other cultural arenas women are doing really well.

What is it about the Hollywood industry? Part of it is, it’s a very insular industry. It’s an industry that has always been dominated by white males. It’s a very lucrative industry. People make lots and lots of money.

I do the Hollywood Writers Report for the Writers Guild. There are some incredibly high‑paid writers in the industry, who happen to also be show runners, and producers, executive producers, et cetera, who make a lot of money.

Once you get your foot in the door, and you become one of those “elites” in the industry, it’s almost like a revolving door of opportunities for you. You are constantly under trial, trying to get work, trying to increase your portfolio of projects. You want to make sure what you produce is successful, you tend to hire people you feel comfortable with.

What that typically translates into is white men are going to hire other white men, occasionally maybe a white woman. Someone who is “seasoned,” which means they’ve already been in the system which — guess what? That’s not minorities and women for the most part.

It becomes like this self‑reproducing machine that tends to turn out very similar types of projects that fit neatly into established genres that are dominated by white men. It becomes really, really hard for people of color and women to break into that clique.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Darnell provides some thoughts on the institutional nature of the diversity issue in Hollywood and how the studios and TV networks are leaving money on the table by not casting a wider net in terms of the stories they choose to produce.

You may follow Darnell Hunt on Twitter: @darnell_hunt.

To download a copy of the “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect” mentioned in the interview, click here.

Update: Mystery Hollywood round-up

May 10th, 2014 by

Back in September 2013, I posted this, an aggregation of all the Mystery Hollywood Twitter handles I could find. The subject came up yesterday — where else, but Twitter — and I know some new Mystery Hwood types have emerged, while alas some appeared to have gone dormant. So here is an updated list.

@MysteryExec
@MysteryVP
@MysteryBritExec
@MysteryCr8tve
@studioexec1
@MysteryPres
@MysteryActress
@MysteryProducer
@MysteryHelmer
@Mystery_LP
@MysterySW
@tempdiaries
@mysteryflmstdnt
@Mystery_Intern
@anonymousexc
@crankyintern
@MysteryMailroom
@DevtHell
@MysteryStarlet
@MysteryTVWrtrAs
@MysteryMailGuy
@MysteryGroupie
@CAAsshole
@MysteryBlond
@MysterySR
@mysterystaffwri
@MystMystFollowr
@MysteryActorGuy
@MysteryAdExec
@MysteryPA
@literarymanager
@mysterygrip
@MysteryScWriter
@MysteryUPM
@MysteryDPDude
@worstdpever
@MysteryVFXSuper
@Mystery_LP
@MysteryMarilynM
@mscriptshadow
@MysteryProdAsst
@MysteryAD1
@TalentAgentUK
@MysteryLadyExec
@MysteryUKFilmSt
@MysteryGameD3v
@MysteryInternLA
@LAJackass
@POedActorWriter

It all started with @MysteryExec. You can read a first-person essay from him here.

If you aren’t following at least some of the Mystery Hwood types, you should. Even though we don’t know their identities, their collective content is often funny and generally insightful into the nature of The Biz.

Please let me know any further additions or deletions to this master Mystery Hwood list.

Mysterious Hollywood round-up

September 3rd, 2013 by

If you are on Twitter and follow my feed (@GoIntoTheStory), you will have seen my weekly #FF Mysterious Hollywood tweets each Friday. It started out with one tweet, then as more mysterious Hwood types emerged, became two, and now sits at three.

This is currently who I have aggregated in the Mysterious Hwood twitterverse:

@MysteryExec
@MysteryVP
@MysteryActress
@MysteryProducer
@MysteryHelmer
@MysterySW
@tempdiaries
@mysteryflmstdnt
@Mystery_Intern
@anonymousexc
@crankyintern
@MysteryMailroom
@DevtHell
@waltercabss
@MysteryStarlet
@studioexec1
@MysteryTVWrtrAs
@MysteryMailGuy
@MysteryGroupie
@CAAsshole
@MysteryBlond
@MysterySR
@mysterystaffwri
@MystMystFollowr

Then there is Mysterious Marshmallow: @StayPuft, who belongs because I believe in promoting diversity and I think we can all agree imaginary marshmallow figures pulled from Ghostbusters have been ignored long enough!

Now I had no idea anybody but myself and a few other Twitter types really cared about my weekly #FF tweets, but lately I have received some twitter flack (“twack”? “flitter”? “flacker”?) due to my ‘sins of ommission’. To wit:

Needless to say, I added @mysterysffwri and @MystMystFollwr to my active lists, although the appearance of the latter has officially moved us into Meta World whereby there is a mystery denizen who is noteworthy for following Mysterious Hwood types.

So what’s my point?

First, I wanted to make folks aware of this particularly entertaining aspect of what transpires daily in the Twittersphere. Are these people actually who they claim to be? Who knows, but that’s half the fun. You can imagine them in their bungalow office on the Universal lot live-tweeting while rolling calls and keeping one eye on the CNBC stock market scroll or in the basement of their parents’ house in Minot, North Dakota sucking down Grain Belt beer while temporarily out of jail on probation for lewd behavior with a yak.

Second, I feel like I need some guidance from Mystery Hollywood types. I can’t follow all of you because I use Twitter largely to track news related to the movie business and screenwriting, so a couple of things:

* Please look at the overall list and let me know if there are any inactive feeds I should remove.

* If there are other Mysterious Hollywood accounts I’ve not included, please give me a heads-up about those.

And then I’m thinking this: What if we rank them, something like they do in sports?

The Mysterious Hollywood Top 25 Poll

The poll could not only be helpful for people trying to figure out who to follow, but also perhaps serve as motivation for the Mysterious Hollywood crowd to be even more entertaining and informative about the business.

I would imagine @MysteryExec lands at the top of the list, but again while I’m happy to promote the entire Mysterious Hollywood crowd, I only officially follow a few for reasons stated above, so maybe a poll would provide a more ‘official’ assessment of the whole MH phenomenon and give us a few surprises on the popularity front.

Or perhaps the poll is just a shitty idea.

Anyhow a Hat Tip to all of you Mysterious Hwood types. You entertain us 140 characters at a time.

Phew, after all that typing, I need a drink. Let’s see, where’s that bottle of Chivas 18…

UPDATE: @BittrScrptReadr informs me that @DevtHell has been inactive for awhile. So unless I hear otherwise, I will hereby scrub him/her from the list.

Polone: “Why Everyone in Hollywood Is Paying More for a Manager”

July 11th, 2012 by

Agent turned manager-producer Gavin Polone has a must-read weekly series with Vulture. Today’s article provides excellent insight into what is going on in Hollywood in terms of agencies and managers. Here’s an excerpt:

When I started as an agent in 1987, talent managers were most commonly thought of as appendages of musicians and a minority of actors. If someone said “manager” to me back then, I would have thought of Colonel Tom Parker, who guided the career of Elvis Presley for a reported commission of 25 percent (most managers today, like agents, take 10 percent). The majority of actors and practically all writers, directors, and producers only had agents, who not only found jobs and set up projects on behalf of their clients, but also were hand-holders and career strategists. Agents have a franchise, established by state law, which says that they can procure employment and negotiate deals, while talent managers, who are unregulated and solely provide career guidance, are technically prohibited from those actions.

Now it seems that almost all actors and a high percentage of writers, directors, and producers have managers, and those who don’t are thinking about getting one. The reason for this change can be found in the news reports written about talent agencies these days, most of which involve a cycle of mergers between agencies and the subsequent firings of suddenly superfluous agents. And the few remaining agencies are financially restructuring and making high-profile investments in side businesses, as ICM did in buying out a majority of their former owners and changing their name to ICMPartners, and CAA and WME did when they sold part of themselves to, respectively, private equity funds Texas Pacific Group and Silver Lake Partners. Whenever I read one of these stories, my first thought is, Great for the talent managers — because all of this distraction and job cutting only means that agents don’t have the time nor interest to be as attentive as they once were and that gap in the process of representation still needs to be filled by someone.

As far as aspiring screenwriters are concerned, managers have become an almost indispensable part of the process of breaking in and getting established:

* There are a lot more managers nowadays compared to agents.

* Managers are much more open to receiving unsolicited inquiries.

* Managers are more committed to working with writers to develop material, shape pitches, etc.

* Because managers get commission plus producing fees, they can be more motivated to seek out fresh talent and develop them over time.

Obviously these are all generalizations, each agent is different, just like each manager is different. But as Polone points out, the changes that are occurring in Hollywood with agencies, basically now only two-and-a-half major ones left, are making managers that much more important in a writer’s career.

For the rest of the article, go here. And seriously, you should read Polone’s column every week.

What was Hollywood’s first spec script?

February 11th, 2012 by

In 1967, William Goldman wrote and sold Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for a reported $400,000. While we may consider it the first spec script of the contemporary era, it is not Hollywood’s first.

The 1942 movie Woman of the Year is often cited as the first spec script, but not if you believe Katherine Hepburn who claims she passed along an outline written by Garson Kanin to MGM who bought it for $250,000 — half for the story rights, half for Hepburn to appear in the movie.

No, as best I can tell, the very first spec script to sell in Hollywood was The Power and the Glory by Preston Sturgess. Per Wikipedia:

He also sold his original screenplay for The Power and the Glory (1933) to Fox, where it was filmed as a vehicle for Spencer Tracy. The film told the story of a self-involved financier via a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, and was an acknowledged source of inspiration for the screenwriters of Citizen Kane. Fox producer Jesse Lasky paid Sturges $17,500 plus a percentage of the profits, a then-unprecedented deal for a screenwriter, which instantly elevated Sturges’ reputation in Hollywood – although the lucrative deal irritated as many as it impressed. Sturges later recalled, “The film made a lot of enemies. Writers at that time worked in teams, like piano movers. And my first solo script was considered a distinct menace to the profession.”

This historical footnote is supported by Sturges’ son Sandy who created this overview of his father’s life and career. Under the heading 1933, he writes this:

  • Sells original screenplay, The Power and the Glory, to Fox.
  • Writes original screenplay, The Great McGinty. No takers.
  • So in fact, Sturges not only wrote and sold the first spec script in Hollywood, he was also wrote the first spec script not to sell.

    Well, not immediately. In 1939, he sold The Great McGinty to Paramount for $1 [later bumped up to $10 for legal reasons] to allow him to direct the movie.

    To acknowledge Sturges’ role in the history of the spec script in Hollywood, here is a clip from the movie The Power and the Glory. Pay special attention at the :30 mark in the credits where it reads “Original Screenplay by Preston Sturges”.

    And here’s to you in hopes you may join the ranks of those writers who have sold an original screenplay to Hollywood.

    “Stars Diss Hollywood”: Or why are there so many “shit movies”?

    January 23rd, 2012 by

    A Huffington Post article today accumulates a lot of F&S-bombs lobbed Hollywood’s way by some well-known actors. A few excerpts starting with Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, Warrior):

    “I have an issue with the commercial aspect of moviemaking: I don’t see why a movie can’t make a lot of money and also be good. We see at least two or three of them every year,” he said. “But there is some shit movies out there now. It fucking pisses me off – and I hate it when a shit movie comes out that’s obviously made just to make money, and it does make that money and it lets everybody know that it’s okay to make shit movies because you can get rich off of it. I hate those people.”

    Edgerton put his pen [or computer keyboard] where his mouth is by writing and selling the recent spec script “One Night Stand”.

    Then there’s Daniel Craig:

    “You swear that you’ll never get involved with shit like that, and it happens,” he told Time Out London. “On ‘Quantum,’ we were fucked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, ‘Never again,’ but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.”

    There are quotes from George Clooney, Megan Fox and a link to a Robert Redford bromide against “robot action flicks.” But it’s Ben Kingsley who really runs with the ball:

    “If we deviate from them and go to a film that is basically a string of sensationalist effects, the thread will snap and we’ll find that people will stop going to the cinema, because people always look for the story,” he said. “I think that once you start to make crucial decisions by committee and each member of that committee is extremely anxious about his or her job, then you’re not going to have the right decisions made. You’re going to have decisions that are fear-based, you are going to have decisions based on what they think they should say, or what they think their boss needs to hear, rather than going out on a limb and being actually creative.

    That’s the reality of Hollywood, something we’ve discussed here ad nauseum: Fear is a big factor in decisions about what gets greenlit and what doesn’t. With millions of dollars involved, it’s essentially about risk assessment.

    But that’s not the whole thing. Since there are no certainties for success, there will always be a leap of faith involved, the decision to make a movie not strictly based on numbers. So a smart writer will write something that’s in the wheelhouse of what Hollywood does well, then make sure to create dynamics and elements in the story that will generate an emotional resonance with a potential buyer. Because if your script causes them to feel something strongly, there’s a chance the buyer will act on the belief the audience will feel that way, too.

    Then there’s going the other way: The independent route. The article mentions how more and more actors “have created their own production companies, to finance smaller films.” Good for them. Now comes the test: When confronted with the same sphincter-tightening fear about committing dollars to a project that studio execs confront on a daily basis, will these actors have the courage to say yes to creative, interesting, and different movies when its their own funding?

    For more of the Huffington Post article, go here.

    “Gender inequality still has a starring role in Hollywood”

    December 4th, 2011 by

    Several things have popped up recently about gender inequality in Hollywood. First this LAT article:

    Cinema trends ebb and flow, but one facet of Hollywood moviemaking proving remarkably consistent is gender inequality, according to a study being released Monday by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

    In a survey of the top 100-grossing movies of 2009 — including “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” — researchers found that 32.8% of the 4,342 speaking characters were female and 67.2% were male, a percentage identical to that of the top-grossing movies of 2008.

    “We see remarkably stable trends,” said USC Annenberg associate professor Stacy L. Smith. “This reveals an industry formula for gender that may be outside of people’s conscious awareness.”

    Slashfilm dug into the numbers of the Annenberg study and found this:

    * When women do appear in films, they’re more likely to be eye candy. Jokes about Taylor Lautner’s frequent shirtlessness in the Twilight franchise notwithstanding, it seems that if a character is scantily clad, she’s stil more likely to be female. Female characters were more likely to wear “sexy attire” (25.8% of females versus 4.7% of males), “expose skin” (23.6% versus 7.4%), and be described by other characters as “attractive” (10.9% versus 2.5). What makes this more icky is that this sexualization applies even to younger female characters, with similar statistics for those in the 13-20 age range as those in the 21-39 group. Meanwhile, those figures dropped sharply for women aged 40-64 (14.1%, 14.1%, and 3.9% for attire, skin, and attractiveness, respectively).

    * Hollywood is not kind to older actresses. Maybe that anonymous actress who sued IMDb had a point — youth really is king in Hollywood, especially for women. The gender disparity was lower for characters in the 21-39 range, with females making up 36.9% of speaking roles, but in the 40-64 group, only 24% were female. Or to look at it another way: Over half (56.6%) of female characters were depicted as being between 21 and 39 years of age, while just 22.2% of them were in the 40-64 range. In contrast, 48.7% of male characters were 21-39, while 35.2% were 40-64. Well… at least older women characters get to keep their clothes on?

    Indeed we have evidence of gender inequality with the various recent THR Roundtables:

    Nary a female in sight.

    Then I bumped in this blog post from filmmaker and writer Katrina Richardson:

    But because I am a woman, and because I am a woman of color, it will of course be about those things in the same way that a white male writing about a film, whether he knows it or not, cannot divorce his experience as a white male from any essay. Since “white male” is the world’s (and Hollywood’s) default setting, he believes that he moves through life race-less and gender-less, and so quite naturally, many of his reviews will not include mentions of gender or race. So deeply rooted is the white-male default viewpoint, even I find it hard to escape this thinking. When I think about script ideas, very often times I realize that the character I’ve been imagining is unconsciously a white man. From the moment he is born the way a white male sees the world, the way he forms sentences, the angles that catch his eye, will be different from a woman’s or a person of color’s. [emphasis added] Of course this is the case for every person, but race and gender, along with class, are the largest dictators of how the world interacts with us, yet speaking explicitly from these experiences (as opposed to the implicit white male speech) has long been diminished or dismissed as a niche. When you write about a film, you write about yourself, and if you are not, it is bullshit.

    As writers, at least we can try to do something when we crack open a story: If our default is to start with a male, why not brainstorm the character as a female? I’m not talking about taking an already fully developed character and swapping genders, as that is the height of outside-in thinking, imposing our writer’s will on an existing flesh-and-blood character. Rather I’m suggesting that at the very inception of our story characters, we consider their gender. Straight from the get-go, before they are formed and shaped. That simple choice, a major fork-in-the-road — male, female — can not only widen our story’s cast of characters to be more of an accurate reflection of the real world, it could lead to more interesting characters.

    Of course, choosing to write a female version of a character rather than a male is not a panacea. What we do with each character, the plethora of choices we make developing their personality and psyche is the critical process. However what if at the very beginning of that process, we simply ask a question: What looking at this character not as a [default] male, but as a female?

    What say ye? A case of political correctness? A false way to approach storytelling? Or a mindset that can not only over time lead to more gender equality and perhaps even more interesting characters

    [Of course, the same is true regarding race. Why not widen our perspective to think beyond a default mode of white characters?]

    THR’s Next Gen 2011: 35 under 35 Hollywood up-and-comers

    November 7th, 2011 by

    Per THR about its 18th annual list:

    Meet THR’s 18th annual 35 under 35, the industry’s next big superstars poised to lead a town’s uncertain future.

    Here are links to the entire list:

    Agents

    Digital

    Film

    Legal

    Management

    Publicity

    TV

    Writers and Directors

    Actresses

    Actors

    Hopefully someday you will make this list!