I cannot claim to have read the book yet, but after Kyle Smith’s write-up about it in the New York Post, you can bet your ass that I will. Screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon have recently published a book titled ‘Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too!‘ In it, the duo bluntly lay out their brutally harsh opinions about the current state and problems with Hollywood.
Most well known for writing the series ‘Reno 911!’, Lennon and Garant have a terrible list of film credits including ‘Balls of Fury’, the ‘Night at the Museum‘ movies, ‘Let’s Go to Prison’, ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded’, ‘The Pacifier’ and ‘Taxi‘. These two have scraped the bottom of the barrel. They have nothing to lose and they’re not afraid to voice their brash opinions or bite the hands that feed them, just to give the rest of us an insight into the funk that Hollywood is (allegedly, of course) stuck in – and it’s absolutely entertaining to read.
Keep in mind that the following ideas are expressed in Lennon and Garant’s book. I did not come up with this flow chart. They did.
Lennon and Garant’s causal reason for Hollywood sucking begins with Wall Street. We all know at least one person from high school or college who has accidentally become filthy rich due to Wall Street. As Smith puts it, “Hollywood is happy to cash checks from Greenwich horndogs who want to meet Anna Faris. So way too many movies get made.” Because of this, actors without any actual star power are still pushed as if they were stars. Just because an actor makes a film that earns boatloads of money does not mean that he/she has power; however, every star thinks that he or she is powerful.
Movie stars have way too much power. They try to rewrite scripts as they see fit. If a writer doesn’t incorporate an actor’s suggestions, said writer is fired. On the flip side, if a writer’s work earns the respect and approval of an actor, then said writer is set golden.
Despite not being the highest person on the Totem Pole of Authority, actors certainly have a huge influence over their directors as well. Lennon and Garant believe that “Director is the only entry-level position left in the movie business. You can’t START as the property master or sound mixer. Or even as the assistant director. You have to work your way up. The only job you can get on a movie set with no experience whatsoever is: director. So is it like joining the Army and being made a four-star general on the same day? Yes, it is. And it happens all the time.”
Of course, directors have to answer to studios – but guess what? According to Smith, studios suck too. Studio executives are so frequently hired and fired that one must step on egg shells to make a long-term career. If an executive makes a movie similar to a past release, he/she can defend the decision by claiming, “It worked before. Who knew it wouldn’t work again? Can I please stay in this nice comfy office?” Now you know why content déjà vu is so prevalent these days.
The fact that nepotism is alive and well within Hollywood doesn’t help much either. The unqualified grandchildren of studio heads are clogging the system. Uneducated in the art of film, they keep their jobs due to family connections – not because they do anything to better the family business.
Which leads us to the final problem with Hollywood: it’s run like a nothing more than a business. Smith uses the example of the upcoming ‘Red Dawn’ remake, which has changed the story’s villains from Chinese to North Korean in post-production simply so that the film can play in the lucrative Chinese market. It’s all about business.
In my interview with ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ creator Phil Rosenthal last week, he criticized the Hollywood system for its overuse of merchandise-friendly films. “It’s very hard to get a movie made nowadays if you’re not selling a toy,” he said. See Morgan Spurlock’s documentary ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ for real-life examples of how product placement damages the integrity of the art.
Marketing, product placement and sequels are destroying original filmmaking, but ultimately, the audiences who attend such terrible films are primarily to blame. If the masses would stop handing over their hard-earned cash for sub-par entertainment, Hollywood would stop churning it out. Unfortunately, until that happens, nothing will change.