Hollywood: Change or Die

In the early aughts, a friend of mine was dating Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s assistant. I met her out a few times, with flocks of other creative, film-loving, dream-having L.A.-based thirty somethings. I was only a year off of making my one and only feature film. When this young woman told me, after I asked her what she did for a living, that she was “Bob and Harvey’s assistant” I didn’t need to ask for a last name. Everyone in the business by then was well-aware of who Bob and Harvey were.

I don’t remember many details from our three or four evenings out together (I never saw her again after she and my friend stopped dating), but I remember this, clear as day.

“Are they as bad as I think they are?” I asked her.

“Worse,” she said. “They are worse than you can imagine.”

So, when you read that everyone in L.A. knew what an epic sleaze Harvey Weinstein, was, and is: it’s true. In every sense, he typified apex predator success in the slimiest business on earth, and he out sharked all of them. In a business full of ruthless people, he led the pack. There is no way to overstate that. He bought the rights for films and shelved them if those films threatened the success of his projects. He destroyed careers if he felt like he needed to, and he did it all before lunch.

I can certainly understand why you’d want him as an ally. I can also understand — after hearing story after whispered “please don’t tell anyone, but…” story about Weinstein from the some dozen people or so I know personally that he screwed over — why no rational person would want him as an enemy.

I stayed away from the film business after having made only one film. Many people are turned off to that industry for countless, valid reasons. It’s impossible to describe how hard it is to make a film until you’ve done it yourself. It’s blistering. It changes you. Filmmakers need a thick hide. Every aspect of filmmaking is a battle. It’s hard to raise funds. You’re always fighting time and budget on the set (there’s never, ever enough of either). You spend your time awash in assholes, egos, broken promises, liars, failure, rejection.

I didn’t have it in me. I am not the right fit for that universe. Trust me: there are people who can get films in the can and get them out into the world and not turn into complete assholes. Many of them are very, very good friends of mine.

I continued living in the film factory town for over two decades because I love people who make stories for a living. They are my people. They shaped me into the grownup I’m proud to be. I love storytellers. I love them more than I could probably ever really verbalize. They have mentored me. I am the writer, the professional, the creative person I am today after being in the shadow of greater artists. I can’t emphasize this enough: there are lovely people, and plenty of them, to be found in that town.

I think of professional show business like Alice’s famous conversation with the Cheshire Cat.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

To make films, to dedicate your life to it, requires obsession-level commitment. I don’t think you could ever weed all the weird, eccentric-level crazy out of that business. It’s intense. It’s hard. It’s full of people driven by self-glorification and big ideas.

If, however, it doesn’t stop being driven by malignant narcissists who rape people: it’s going to die.

A Culture That Confuses Secrecy with Honor

People don’t keep secrets in Hollywood because they are being polite. They keep secrets because they want to get hired again. Industry pros who spill the beans on big personalities in that town stop working. That very understandable paranoia has turned itself into a culture that equates silence and compliance with a sort of professional honor code.

Here’s a true story that I have to couch in a ton of anonymity because I do not, in any way, have any permission to tell it.

An actor I know was a regular cast member on a big T.V. show. Another actor (unrelated to the show) stated in an interview that the star of the big network show my friend worked on was such an abusive prick, that actor left show business after they worked on a film together. I only know this because someone posted a link to that article on my friend’s Facebook page and said, in a nutshell, “I’m curious what you think because you worked with (name of star).”

My friend’s response? That the actor who’d been the victim of the big star’s abuse should “be grateful he was working” and “learn how to be discreet.”

Yep.

That wasn’t a story about rape, either. That wasn’t a young actress, an assistant of an assistant, a producer, a crew member, a neophyte breaking into the industry coming up against one of the most savagely competitive producers in town. That was a reasonable person (I would argue a very enlightened one, at that) I know shaming a fellow male actor for being honest.

To say that the business of show needs to reshuffle and reexamine its priorities is a massive understatement. To proclaim that it needs to balance discretion with reasonable expectations of safety, of dignity, of abuse-free environments is at the core of what’s been exposed right along with Weinstein’s predatory sexual assault.

These Kids Today

When I grew up, way back in the 1970s and 1980s, the movie studios and music business had a stranglehold on American youth culture. They were literally the only shows in town. My friends and I went to see movies at least once a week. We’d see a pile of garbage shot on celluloid just to get out of the house.

Before the Internet and democratized information, studios could keep anything and everything quiet. Along with their insular relationships with newspapers and magazines, it was nearly impossible to get a story out there about a star or a producer that the studios didn’t want out there. Obvious scandals like Polanski, Woody Allen, and a few others were equally impossible to shield from the public because they were public stories. Outside of those: studios drove whatever narrative they wanted.

They can’t hide anymore, though, and movies aren’t so consuming in American culture. Gen Z, the group just behind millennials, probably won’t pony up $20 to watch a known sexual harasser star in an Oscar-caliber film. (It’s equally likely that they won’t watch the Academy Awards at all.) Gen Z is savvy, grew up with the Internet, and has no tolerance for bullshit.

Millennials, on average, love low budget horror films and comedies. Art house fare is dying and moving to small screens. This doesn’t leave much room for prestige fare, the very kind on which Weinstein hung his hat, and career. Millennials are the first group more interested in YouTube stars than the kind of icons that spring forth from Hollywood.

The movie biz already had its fare share of problems before the rats started fleeing the Weinstein ship. It needs to change directions if it’s going to remain relevant with the upcoming generations. Why? Outside of other forms of entertainment (video games, food culture, social media) Both Gen Z and Millennials also trust and value companies with strong social values. From an April, 2017 Inc. article:

“More likely to embrace brands making a difference, Millennials want to align themselves with organizations doing good in the world and use their purchasing power to support companies that have similar values.”

Does Hollywood, and its culture of secrecy, really want to bank its future on how the largest consumer group in the country feels about an industry that enables pederasts, misogyny, racism, and, um, oh yeah…fucking rape?

This isn’t just about women. This is about power. This conversation is about predators who are given safe harbor in an industry that prizes prestige and rewards silence with career stability. We should have been having this conversation when Bryan Singer was outed for assaulting underage boys. The world should have come to a halt when Singer’s accusers led to revelations about sex parties with young boys and powerful, gay, Hollywood elites.

A few years back, I was consulting for an OTT (fancy speak for companies like Netflix) startup looking to make some connections with the studios and I was helping with that. I bought a friend lunch to pick his brain and get him to set up some meetings for me. We were discussing something remarkably idiotic that some studio had just done and he said, “Rachel. Were you expecting rational behavior from the film business?”

No one expects studios to do rational things. It’s a business stacked to the ceilings with nut jobs and egomaniacs. The next generation of young people looking for entertainment, though, will not be so understanding. Why, on earth, would they?

I’d like to think that the producers I know, the good and decent ones who respect people, honor their colleagues, who always, 100% of the time do the right thing can find a future and a job in that town. I’d love to think that prestige dramas, the kind that Miramax came to define, have a future. Miramax represents one of my favorite periods in film. It’s an era that showed me what kind of an artist I wanted to be. It was the golden era of Sundance, when indie films stomped the studios at awards ceremonies and sometimes the box office. It was thrilling. Honestly: I miss it a little.

I’m not a big enough fan of anything, though, to support an art form that can only flourish under these conditions. I don’t love anything enough to believe that the ongoing culture of rape and silence can coexist. I know I’m far from alone. In fact: I think we’re all pretty fed up.

Hollywood, Bubbie, from one film lover to another, I have this to say: change or die. It’s all out there on the carpet now, your massive, craven, inexcusable bullshit. It’s been spilled, like blood or wine. These stains aren’t going anywhere. You can’t sweep this mess up. We’ve seen too much. It’s up to you now.

You’ve been at this for over a century now. Sort it out. If you don’t: it’s at your own peril, and no one, not even me, will shed a single tear over your well-deserved extinction.

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