Is Hollywood Doomed for Broke? (And 5 Ways to Be Invincible)

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Sometimes I’ll listen to a negotiation and be stunned by the clarity of thought of certain lawyers and agents. Recently, a lawyer reserved Author Written Sequels (AWS) — which is standard practice in our deals. Justifying “why” proves more and more difficult as the studios, banking on the franchisability of a project, aim to retain AWS. When pressed, the lawyer: clearly explained our interest in protecting our client’s AWS, and proposed two methods to meet the interests of both parties.

On other calls, the bullshit detector rings off the hook the moment someone opens their mouth. This happened recently on a conference call, after a studio executive was the last person to jump on the line.

He apologized for his tardiness, then quipped, “Listen, if you last long enough in this business, they can’t kill you.” Everyone agreed. You could practically see their monkey heads, bobbing up and down in agreement with headsets in-ear and the exec’s metaphorical banana in-mouth.

If only he told us sooner! If only we knew! We could have called the Music Industry on the way home, before plugging in our iPhones and listening to downloaded music on our commute. We could have emailed the Newspaper Industry, even as we tabbed through Deadline Hollywood, Variety Online, and online news aggregators opened on our browsers. At night, we’d slip the word to Bookstore Owners and the Publishing Industry via text message before opening up our Kindles and iPads to read the latest Tom Clancy novel.

music industry

 

The Fall of Industries

All these industries shared the same thought, didn’t they? If they lasted long enough, you couldn’t kill them. Tower Records certainly believed it and why wouldn’t they? They had the perfect industry: multiple sources of free advertising (radio and MTV), a cheaply produced physical product, and a chain of distributors who paid them to house their merchandise, and the attention of anyone who wanted to buy music.

The Tribune Company, the country’s second-largest newspaper company, seemed invincible. The trouble with “invincible” though is you start believing it. Start believing it, and you stop trying to be the best, and you stop trying to be first (as in the number one company, and first to break the story.) Until it’s 2008 and you’re filing for bankruptcy. Then it’s 2012 and media moguls the likes of Rupert Murdoch are all jockeying for position to buy you out, which is a preposterous notion since you’ve “been here forever,” yet here we are.

The Big 6 Publishers thought they were invincible as well. They had a chokehold on the five components of publishing: curation, production, distribution, marketing, and access to shelf space.* The Big 6 did these things better than you or I, on a scale no independent could compete with. As long as these functions remained crucial to book publishing, the Big 6 remained invincible.

Then came widespread freedom of information.
Then the connection revolution.
And the birth of the e-book.

Suddenly, three of the five components (production, distribution, shelf space) became completely moot. Only curation (and to a lesser degree, marketing) really mattered. They became just another industry with its knees cut out from beneath them.

Every one of these industries bought the idea “if you last long enough, they can’t kill you.” They were wrong. Despite these past demises swirling around them like Tsunami Wakethefuckup, Hollywood executives eat up the fortune-cookie soundbyte like gossip about Jay Penske possibly letting go of Nikki Finke. Lynda Obst points out what happened to executives who clutched to this idea until it was too late:

“They’re completely broke,” said a studio head, when asked… how different things were these days. He spoke about famous players who regularly came to him begging for favors—a picture, a handout, anything… “They have extremely high overheads,” he said to his guest with me listening in. “They have multiple houses, wives, and families to support. They’ve made movies for years, they were on top of the world and had no reason to think it would end. And then suddenly it did. They’ve gone through whatever savings they had. They can’t sell their real estate. Their overhead is as astronomical as their fees used to be. They’ve taken out loans, so they’re highly leveraged. It’s a tragedy.”
Source

 

20th

 

The Fall of Our Personal Finances

Not all that shocking, given the evidence above, is our Bosses (and probably our parents) apply the same approach to their personal finance: “Well, I’ve lasted this long, hopefully this month’s credit card bill / this car payment / this recession won’t kill me.” Rather than learn from this, 90 percent of us (loosely defined as 22 – 35 years old persons, college educated, working in entertainment for a pittance) are making the same mistakes! We’re all clamoring to hold onto the the same sinking boat, hoping it won’t kill us because we haven’t drowned yet.

We will.
See the industries above. This isn’t a battle won on endurance, but on education, understanding your weaknesses, and taking control by putting 90 percent of your finances on auto-pilot. If we (as a whole, as the next generation coming through the entertainment ranks) don’t take these steps now, we’re doomed to be the executives “looking for a handout.” It won’t happen tomorrow, or next year. But years from now, we’ll find our feet planted firmly in their Canali waterlogged shoes.

What kind of strategy is that?
Here’s why we adopt that strategy for our finances: it’s the strategy we’ve seen implemented all our lives. It’s a strategy that’s difficult for most people to change, because we’re conditioned to believe certain things about money, like:

  • Having regular, open discussions about money is rude.
  • We’re embarrassed about our habits. If we’re not embarrassed, we’re afraid we’ll come off as bragging.
  • Only the head of the household should be concerned with handling finances.
  • More money = more security (in reality, money is just a component of security)
  • Buying stuff makes you happy
  • Buy it if you feel like “you earned it”
  • In our culture, making more money feels like winning, and winning feels like the point.”
  • You’ll have plenty of time to learn about all this when you’re older

 

If You Really Want To Be Invincible

Here are some ideas instead:

  1. Make conscious decisions about what’s important. Focus on these things, and cut out everything else. You don’t need to know where to put every cent. Start here.
  2. Save and invest automatically. If you’re unsure of the where/how, create an electronic account through CapitalOne 360 (formerly ING Direct) and start with automatically saving $20 / month. You can figure out the rest later.
  3. Spend less than you earn. This practice alone won’t build wealth but it’s a great place to start.
  4. If you have a steady entertainment job, today start thinking abut how to create a side income for tomorrow.
  5. Change with the industry. Don’t get caught with the laggers. Clinging onto a method because “it’s always been done this way” fails more often than not. See examples above.

 

adoption curve1 

Is working on this list harder than weathering the storm? In the short run, yes. However, the long run (e.g., your lifetime) seems an awfully long time to work if you’re just avoiding getting killed.

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*Ideas borrowed from Seth Godin’s speech to independent book publishers, an amazing presentation which I can’t seem to locate on the Interwebs.

Photo Credit: John Curley

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