Speak Up, Hollywood!

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

Before she came to Hollywood and before she became host of the business here on KCRW, Kim Masters covered politics for the Washington Post. She told me that it was easier to get people in government to speak frankly and on the record about substantive policy issues than it is to get a studio exec to say their latest action flick flopped – even when the box office numbers are printed in the paper for everyone to see.

Why is honesty such a lonely word in Hollywood? That? Because failures are always someone or something else's and in success, everybody can take credit. The result is that show business is a very insecure business and people who are scared don't speak out. And just because you have a corner office and a rolls doesn't mean you're not scared.

And now that the changing entertainment landscape has made the future of the business itself uncertain, the willingness to speak out has become even more rare. And when someone does say what they think, everyone takes note.

Take for instance SutterInk – that's Suttter I-N-K – the blog of Kurt Sutter, the, uh, plain-spoken creator of the FX Network biker drama Sons of Anarchy. Here's a post entitled "Why Most Network Scripted Dramas Suck."

I have a director friend, let's call him… CJ, who says the job of a network executive is to turn everything to ****. They hire you to stop them from doing that. Unfortunately, the ****-turners are winning. Nowadays it's all about formula. You get rights, attach a hot writer, develop it into the ****ing ground until it's so middle-of-the-road it has no point-of-view, then attach a waning movie star, throw tens of millions in promotion at it and hope that no one notices that it's the same old crap repackaged. But folks always do.

Why does Kurt Sutter feel free to say such things? Because that's the kind of guy he is. Because he's at the top of his game. And because the shows he works on, like Sons of Anarchy and The Shield before that, only seem more legit each time he uses the "S" or "F" word.

But the fact that he says what he thinks is more than just a sales pitch for his show or catharsis for him or fodder for gossip for the rest of us.

Because of the aforementioned changing entertainment landscape, saying what you think could save the business.

Movies and TV are in a fight for their very life; the same fight that the music industry lost a decade ago. And they lost it in large part because there wasn't an open and honest discussion of the issues and a willingness to try scary new ways of doing business. They forgot Norman Mailer's law of life: "grow or else pay more for remaining the same."

Hollywood needs to be more Kurt Sutters out there to force that growth; people who can stir the pot and challenge the orthodoxy. Not wanna-be's kvetching about the business, but people in the know who can talk from experience about how to make Hollywood's entertainment more compelling and the process by which its made and sold more successful.

You can argue with the way Sutter expresses himself, but you have to applaud that at least he does express himself. At least he's not so timid about losing his house in the hills that he's willing to let the business go down without so much as a peep. I can't wait until some development executive starts a blog and returns fire at writers like Sutter. It'll be good for the business.

I'd love to know what you think. You can comment on today's Business Brief or subscribe to the podcast at KCRW.com/TheBusinessBrief. For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman.



Matt Holzman