Sunday, October 07, 2012

You're fired.

This isn't a political blog. I think I've probably had two political posts EVER. However, I did want to make a few comments on the presidential election because DRAMA. No, I mean literally -- drama. You can't get anywhere in the world these days unless you are properly branded. It doesn't have to line up with exactly who you are or what you believe (clearly). It must just be clear, concise and consistent with how you present yourself.

Mitt Romney is having a tough time doing this.

Talking heads have gone on and on about what he's done wrong, how he shouldn't have said that, etc. Should he pivot more to the right? More to the center? Does he have his axel yet?

(no, he does not)

Romney's main problem, to me, is the lack of a throughline. When you're telling a story, you're defining a narrative and that narrative MUST be consistent for your story to work. When you are telling a story from a specific point of view, that point of view had better be consistent and defined. Romney has been neither consistent nor defined. I wonder if his folks even understand why people are so leery of supporting the guy. They couldn't even devise a narrative at their own convention. They had a video telling Romney's story, but that didn't even make it into prime time because Clint Eastwood had to tell a chair to fuck off.

What Romney is finding, I think, is that if you don't define your narrative, if you are constantly shifting position depending on who you're talking to, then people are going to have a hard time trusting you. Now he's decided, at least this week, that he's more moderate than he was before, but even that story doesn't stick because Paul Ryan. How do you explain THAT one? Ryan, on the other hand, is masterful at branding. When people talk about him, they generally say that he's a serious guy. He's a numbers guy. He's the intellectual of the party.

(I need a moment)

Regardless of how much like Patrick Bateman you think he is (LOTS), he's super good at branding. That's a guy who isn't likely to ever abandon his position, which would make a Romney/Ryan administration... interesting.

There's a month to the election, and Romney STILL has not branded himself. He runs towards and away from his privilege. Towards and away from the rabid right wing of his party. Towards and away from his record as governor. Etc. It's fascinating, and I can see how difficult it would be to just LAND on something already, because Bets Must Be Hedged.


This is, I think, a good lesson for anyone. Pick something. Decide. Commit.

Anyway, I've been intrigued with this story because it is, at its heart, a story. But during the first debate, Romney created another story. He clutched to his breast the old Republican trope of "Why the fuck are we funding edutainment??" He wants to cut the PBS subsidy, because when you cut 0.0014% of the federal budget, ALL IS FIXED FOREVER HUZZAH.

Now obviously, Romney is not stupid enough to believe this. And obviously, cutting the PBS funding is aimed squarely at those red staters who fucking HAATE themselves some Hollywood and don't think we should be funding anything so bloody frivolous. If you work in the entertainment industry and have family elsewhere (VIRTUALLY ALL OF US) then you get this on a pretty consistent basis. They complain about how Hollywood is full of liberals, which is supposedly a reason to bash it (I dunno). The only thing they hate more than the UN is the NEA, which is full of Nazis or fascists. They don't understand art, the point of it, or the power of it. But after they grunt and complain and whine that it's NOT FAIR that George Clooney gets all that money but schools don't, they flip on the TeeVee and watch their stories. They get their entertainment without even imagining a world where we no longer have it.

I'm SO SICK of the whole "education deserves George Clooney's money" trope. They are either being stupid, or cagily disingenuous for ignoring the obvious fact that while education is paid for by public funds, George Clooney is paid by private companies.

Now, while saying you're going to be the bad guy and cut PBS might make the right swoon, think about this for a moment. THERE ARE PEOPLE INVOLVED HERE WHO ARE GOING TO LOSE THEIR JOBS. But I guess that's okay, because those evil liberal jobs are the type you want to cut, right? A job entertaining your Goddam kids, teaching them how important and vital storytelling is to our survival, helping them to explore a creative side of themselves that might help them live rich, rewarding lives, IS JUST BULLSHIT BECAUSE IT'S NOT A REAL JOB.

If you grew up as a creative person, you lived through all the cuts in funding of arts programs. While the shitty football team got an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii, you had to sell frozen fish just to go on a band trip up the road. If you continued on in your life and chose (stupidly, let's face it at this point) a career in the arts, then you've been attacked as someone who just wanted to rake in the bucks and doesn't care about How People Really Live Their Lives. When we were on strike, this little pisher whined to us about how we all get to go back to our big houses at the end of the day.

This is what people think. That we somehow won some kind of a lottery and it's cocaine and hookers for the rest of our lives. It's not. Because people who work in entertainment are people too. Their jobs matter just as much as anyone else's. What's funny about it too is that IT IS FOR THE AUDIENCE. It is FOR those people!

And when the President or anyone talks about jobs, a word I am SICK TO DEATH OF AT THIS POINT, they mean a very specific TYPE of job. A job that a construction worker can do. A retail job. Never. Ever. Ever a creative job.

(do not get me started on the so obviously focus-grouped detestable phrase "working families." Just do not)

The irony, of course, is that those who are whining the loudest about this have the houses and the vacations and the retirement funds and health care.

And if we're talking about people who got lucky and are rolling in money, then isn't that Mitt Romney?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Idea Factories

Oh hello.

Thank you to everyone who boosted/tweeted/liked the page for our IdeaBOOST project. We've made the next round! Now it's up to A Specific Group of People Who We Do Not Know But Greatly Admire to choose the projects that will participate in the project. We should know around the middle of October.


You know how you think 1990 was ten years ago, but it was really over 20 years ago and when you realize that you want to primal scream in the middle of Target? I think the TeeVee business is like that, too. It's changed a ton since we first got in, but mostly you're just trying to keep up so you don't take a moment to look around and see what's happened.

Ratings are substantially lower than they were when we were on Millennium because if we got those ratings NOW, we'd be a monster hit. We lost a broadcast network when the WB and UPN merged, which sucks, even though most of you would probably make fun of it because you're awful people. We've gained cable, but that's not quite the job boon you would think. Staffs all around are about half of what they used to be. The rise of PODs as studios has helped bloat budgets. Episode orders are smaller (which is excellent creatively and would be a good thing if they could work out a more stable business model for it). Pilots are massively more expensive than they've ever been, used as dazzling sales tools to wow the advertising folks. Feature producers, writers and directors are abandoning their dead business to take over television.

A good entertainment futurist (a new job I've just invented and I will be the first one) could have predicted all of this. Pretty sure nobody in the business did, though.

There are more layers of executives and producers to get through before you can even pitch your idea. Networks are looking for things that are infinitesimally specific and hugely vague at the same time. While they haven't abandoned their desire to hear the stories YOU want to tell, they just can't be in the business of relying on a writer's vision. Not unless it's a giant ape (nomenclature reserved for the biggest names in Hollywood, you know who they are). Things are too expensive and jobs are too fragile to take a flyer. So writers are desperate for information, just for something upon which to build their pitch. Because even if you have something great, if that's not what people are looking for you'd better be the most highly sought-after writer in town or else you're going to get a pass.

So I guess it makes sense, to a certain degree, that writers aren't really developing their own ideas anymore. Or they write them as specs, which is something I find intriguing and a possible basis for a whole new television business model, only it's just taking root in my mind at the moment and not in the Real World. And then there are the feature writers, who are used to going in and pitching on specific projects with fifty other feature writers. NO WONDER THEY ARE COMING TO TELEVISION I MEAN MY GOD. Not being a white male feature writer, I don't know what it's like when you go meet TeeVee producers and executives, but my notion that it's similar to what it's like for me, only with much more excitement, is apparently mistaken. Something is happening out there. I don't know if it's specific to feature writers because of how their business has devolved, or if seasoned television writers are going this way as well.

Writers, it seems, have stopped coming in with ideas. That sounds ludicrous, right? Since ideas are our products. A writer without ideas is just some asshole endlessly procrastinating at Starbuck's. Now, television is turning into features in that the networks seem to be mostly interested in Things That Came Before, whether that be modernized versions of classics or adaptation of Scandinavian or Israeli shows. So at a certain level, it makes sense that some higher profile writers just wait to be pitched to. It's stupid, BTW, to go into a pitch meeting and not have a pitch, but okay, player. I'll give you that one.

Apparently, though, this is becoming a problem. I've heard rumblings from people about how writers go in for meetings and want an idea handed to them. This doesn't appear to be an isolated incident, which I discovered via Stephen Gallagher's blog. Hence THIS blog post. Is this a new generation thing? Is it only because of the massive influx of damaged, beaten feature writers? Is it about writers realizing that the system is running no matter what they do, so they've just given up? I have no idea. But unless I know going in that the producer or executive has something they want to pitch, I can't imagine a scenario in which I walk into a room and demand an idea. We've had meetings that are supposed to be general but turn into pitch meetings and guess what? We always have half a dozen or so. Going into a meeting without ideas? How can you call yourself a writer?

I know ideas don't come easily to everyone, and some writers struggle with finding the ideas about which they can become passionate. Everybody works differently. But you WORK. The business has gotten weird and intractable and almost impossible, but then you have to work harder to find the right match for your idea. Sorry, but that's the way it is. If you're going to give up even finding ideas, then just give up altogether. It's embarrassing.

Anyone else had experience with this bit of strangeness?