Today, a video appeared on my facebook wall that had Rosanne Barr in it, talking about Hollywood and how people in Hollywood are too scared to break ranks and stand for anything. It was a news interview, but some interesting points were touched on.
In her view, Hollywood is full of people that are worried that they will never work again. It’s a real threat and danger, too. People have been blacklisted in Hollywood. Careers have been ruined for holding to viewpoints that were at odds with the powerful. This kind of self-censoring group-think was, in Rosanne’s view, at the core of what was wrong with Hollywood and explained why so many stars are prepared to deliver messages in films that they simply do not agree with in life. They’re too scared not too.
Rosanne, having made some money, is less afraid of being outspoken and recounted how various stars would sidle up to her at parties and whisper how grateful they were to her for speaking out. They wanted to, but were too scared to. They were in the thrall and control of the studios.
My personal experience with Hollywood is that it is disinterested in democratising the means of storytelling, so that more people can tell a greater diversity of their truths. That’s the last thing they want. They want to sell you car chases, destruction, conflict, war, fixed agendas and fluff. They make little investment in the tools of movie creation, because they know that controlling the makers of these tools, by keeping them beholden to them, but skint, prevents other people from making movies in opposition to them. The gear, other than what they already own, simply isn’t available.
One thing that Rosanne noted was that even if the contentious viewpoint held by the star that breaks ranks subsequently becomes widely held, the first person to challenge the power structure and openly espouse it is never forgiven. They’re frozen out permanently, with no mechanism of appeal, even after everybody else is saying what they first said. It’s not the viewpoint so much as the challenge to authority and hierarchy that is being punished by exclusion.
I once had a conference call with a very powerful man in Hollywood (now deceased, I think), explaining some technical routes to deterring piracy of movies. His concern was that once the image had been rendered to the screen, how could you control the ownership of the photons travelling through the air to your eye? At that juncture, I could hold my tongue no longer and poured some bemused scorn and derision both on his proposition and on thinking his movies such valuable property that you had to lock down ownership of photons, somehow. His response was vintage Hollywood. He said that it sounded like the view of a rabid outsider. That was code for “you’ll never work in this town again”.
And so I haven’t, but I’m ok with that. If the price of admission to Hollywood is to never challenge insane notions of power and control, then why would I want to work for an industry that props that sort of thing up? I did that for long enough, deluding myself that I was making better tools for storytelling and democratising the process. As it turns out, my contribution to Hollywood didn’t end up edifying humanity much at all, despite the long hours, the frequent international travel, the stress, sleep-deprivation, sacrifices and sweat. Continued access to being able to keep doing that, for peanuts, required that I not challenge the power brokers. No thanks. I’d rather be a rabid outsider.
Today, a production company can make a video of a guy playing a video game, in good production quality and release it to YouTube, where it will reach an order of magnitude more viewers in a week than an independent feature film will reach in its entire lifetime. Hollywood films and sitcoms are under threat. Soon, the things we all watch will not be controlled by the old guard. Hopefully, they won’t sink their claws into the new production companies, but that’s not guaranteed, of course. It relies on their psychological inertia and crazy world views (which means we might be safe for a little while longer, at least).
The thing about being a rabid outsider is that you can also be a rapid outsider. If I make any story telling tools in the future, they will be outside of the mainstream. They will seek to become the new mainstream. But all that’s as maybe. For now, at least I am not required to spend my working life trying to copyright and rights-manage light.