Hangover or Hereafter?

March 28, 2011

On page 5 of  the March 27 Business section of The New York Times, Brooks Barnes wrote an article entitled “In Hollywood, a Decade of Hits Is No Longer Enough.”

The article is about Alan Horn, Warner Brothers’ president and chief operating officer for the last 12 years. Mr. Horn’s impressive array of hit movies is astounding, including films such as The Dark Knight, Ocean’s 11, and the Harry Potter films, which comprise the most lucrative franchise in the history of movies.

Under Mr. Horn’s leadership, Warner Brothers “has also been the No. 1 studio in market share the last 3 years.”

So, of course, Mr. Horn has just been fired.

Really. Fired.

Why?

Mr. Horn’s incredibly successful track record was not sufficient to save his job. According to Mr. Barnes’ article, Mr. Horn has been “squeezed out of the studio to make room for a new generation of of managers.” Reading further, Mr. Horn’s most egregious shortcoming in the eyes of his corporate bosses seems to have been that he “was not enthusiastic about making The Hangover” and was most proud of his relationship with Clint Eastwood. Under Mr. Horn’s regime, Warners financed and distributed the following Clint Eastwood films: Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, Mystic River, Invictus, and Hereafter. Eastwood won the Best Director Oscar for Million Dollar Baby and the film itself won Best Picture.

Mr. Horn’s response to his firing: ” I guess they wanted younger and better-looking management.”

Again, from the article: “…Hollywood’s clubby, insular business culture is fraying as studios grow ever more corporate and answer to multinational companies that either don’t know the customs of Hollywood or don’t care about them. ”

For those of you have read my book, this state of affairs will come as no surprise and, as such, it is gratifying that others are also noting the devastating effect that corporate oversight (not to mention ageist bias against anyone in Acts 2 and 3 of life) is having on Hollywood.

From Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

A Fever In The Blood

I want to note here that I am not in any way impugning the decency, integrity, or intentions either of the new corporate managers or of business in general.

I believe strongly in the profit motive structure of American business.

In addition, I’m sure that the New Hollywood executives love their families just as much as anyone else and that they would rather have a positive rather than negative impact in the world.

The baseline problem is not intent.

It’s orientation.

Asking a left-brained person to make right-brained decisions or vice-versa is a recipe for disaster in any business.

Put more directly, asking a Harvard MBA grad to make creative film decisions is likely to produce the same results as asking a cinematographer to teach nuclear physics.

Hollywood is definitely a business.

That’s why the phrase is indeed show business, not show art.

But you have to have the creative pulse of movies circulating in your blood and engrained in your soul or you cannot possibly make the hybrid creative and business decisions that lead to prosperous films.

That does not mean that all movie executives need to be filmmakers.  The legendary executives like Thalberg and Mayer were an alchemic blend of businessman, artist, and film devotee.

For these reasons, regardless of good intentions amid daunting challenges, the corporate managers of Hollywood today are pale imitations indeed of the dreams that once fueled the passion of the Laskys, Warners, Thalbergs, Zanucks, and Mayers who pioneered and built the industry.”

Zach Galifianakis triumphs over Clint Eastwood.

If any of the Old Hollywood moguls came back and saw the way movie decisions are made today, they would never stop throwing up.

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