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Talking about a film project with business people is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to be sneered at. A few months ago, I chatted with a seasoned executive, a Fortune 100 type who had that bull-dog-in-cuff-links command presence of a former CEO. He was the very sort of guy one of my father’s salesmen would describe as “mentally tough, loved and feared.” Actually, I’m not sure about the “loved” part. This guy was very cranky.
He wanted to know who was funding our project?
“Funding?” I joked. “What’s that?”
(This was the part where he actually sneered.)
“Well if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.”
“Actually,” I responded, “my plan is 100,000 VOD viewers at $2.95 a pop.”
“How you going to get them?”
“I’m going to tell a good story and people are going to talk about it.”
“Good luck,” he said, in a way that made me think he didn’t believe in luck, and if luck existed he hoped it didn’t come my way.
It was one of those cold dashes of fatherly rebuke meant for a nineteen year old that you sometimes get, free of charge, even though you’re well past 50.
He’s not alone. A lot of folks who manage money and the shrink-wrapped physicality of the commercial world don’t understand what they probably think is child’s play — telling a story. Yes, they understand the sort of global revenue enjoyed by a mega blockbuster, but they consider it a crap shoot, or a revenue stream limited to insiders. I haven’t Googled this, but I wager Warren Buffett doesn’t invest in a lot of video entertainment. You can almost see the furry gray eyebrows knitting together in paternal scorn.
That’s a shame. It is short sighted, foolish and a really bad long term investment.
You’ve heard it said, “you are what you eat.” Well, a culture is what it watches and what it reads. Ronald Reagan’s American exceptionalism wasn’t the product of a youth spent on MTV or a young adulthood aping Roseanne Barr’s crabby monologues. The Greatest Generation would have cowered in their landing vehicles on Normandy Beach if they had ingested a cultural diet of nothing but Ferris Bueller and Glee. Of course there’s room in any diet for cotton candy, now and then, but you don’t nurture a nation on it, non-stop, and when a businessman stops to consider that his retail clerks, his customer service representatives are imbibing 8 HOURS A DAY of Jersey Shore dreck, you would think someone might start talking up a Food Matters for the soul. Ferris Bueller may be hilarious in the theater, but would you want him counting your inventory?
Again, you can almost hear the leather creaking under the chairs of the Warren Buffett set, the growling, the scoffing, the eye-cheats being put on to examine the short term gain. “What can we do about culture?” you hear them ask. “Not my game, not my business.”
Well, someone has been making those investments and if you think a nation almost suffocated with debt, a nation declining by almost every measure of academic achievement, a nation that doesn’t actually manufacture much of anything anymore (except for bad entertainment), then you have to ask yourself why was that ground abandoned? Why was the cultural investment ridiculed? Just this week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg publicly broke faith with the United States Constitution itself when she opined that more contemporary example would be better for nation-building. What is Ruth but a reflection of an American media culture that hates American history?
So, Mr. Smart Money, when almost all claims to private property — you know that thing guaranteed by the Constitution — are lost, will you pay attention to the effects of entertainment then?
If you don’t wake up soon, you are going to get what you didn’t pay for.