Vol. 1 No. 4 2008



BEYOND BOOKS: Film


RONA’S REEL TAKE:


Fear to Live By

The Hollywood Dream


By Rona Edwards


Our society today is based on fear. Fear of walking down a street alone. Fear of not having enough money, of losing the one you love or worse, of never finding love at all. Fear of losing your job, having no savings to fall back on, and losing everything you have. We lock our doors at night for fear of someone creeping in and doing away with us. We fear death; we fear life.

And nowhere is this as prevalent as in Hollywood.

I’m not sure it was always like that. When I started out, it seemed the world was at my feet and I had nowhere to go but straight up. Blame it on youthful naiveté or a false sense of self, but as I grew older, I grew more fearful. Could it be the responsibilities of life? Or could it be an industry that changes with the tide (as well as mergers and acquisitions) or that the future had always been unstable and I just didn’t recognize it because of my innocence?

One thing is for certain, liberal Hollywood is right up there with the conservative business class in our Bush-whacked world where big business has gobbled up every small proprietor-owned company, where monopolies reign supreme (even though there used to be laws against such things), CEOs have parachutes of huge bonuses for their failures, and there is no regulation of prices (oil or otherwise) for the weary middle- and low-income class.

If you think about it, most every studio and network in the 80s (with Disney being the exception) had been sold off to corporations that weren’t really connected to the creative film industry; think Vivendi, GE, and Time. Then in the 90s, the studios were somehow allowed to buy networks (or visa versa) as well as theatres for exhibitions, something that was illegal pre-Ronald Reagan. So now what we have are studios such as Disney owning theatres to exhibit their movies, radio stations, ABC, ABC Family, Disney Channel, Lifetime while Viacom, which owns Paramount, also owns CBS and Showtime, and let’s not even talk about Time-Warner, NBC-Universal or Fox! What this means is that you have a few corporations controlling the airwaves as well as our news channels.

Now how does “fear” play into this for me and for other producers like myself? Well, I have always tried to be an optimist. I’ve always felt a good story will get made and that cream rises to the top – but if you can’t get in the door because only a chosen few are allowed to do so, how can your “cream” rise?

I used to believe that one movie I’d produce would lead to another and another and another. And that I would make more money with each movie I made, but the networks, in particular, have figured out a way to squeeze the creative producer in order to get more bang for their buck. The networks make “low-budget” movies of the week which are approximately half the budget of a regular TV movie. Well, they really don’t make them. It’s up to the producer to figure out how to make them for that kind of money and have the end product look as good as the higher budgeted movies.

The only way to do this is to shoot them in states that offer incentives and tax breaks (of which California, the entertainment capital of the world, has none) or to film them in Canada. If shot in Canada, these movies have to abide by the Canadian Audio Visual Certificate Office (CAVCO). It limits the number of “foreign” producers on a project even if the project began with you, you acquired the rights, developed the script, etc. The rules also put the Canadian producer in the responsible position, and the American producer takes a backseat and becomes a courtesy credit. CAVCO does this in order to attract employment for Canadians and promote production in Canada, thereby employing all the below-the-line positions (people on the crew) in Canada as well as most of the above-the-line talent (producers, stars, writers, directors).

Now, the Canadians were smart because they knew they could offer great tax break incentives to warrant Americans shooting there. Where else (even with our dropping dollar) can you make a $ 2 million film and have it look like $3 million or more? The Canadians’ pay scale is less than Americans’ and the tax breaks are great. The American Government doesn’t offer such incentives. We are capitalists. We make our own way. Our Canadian cousins (who are far more different from us than anyone can imagine – and I don’t mean that in a bad way) are socialists. And America fears that word – Socialism! But, I digress: Where does the fear come in for me?

I’ve sold a number of movies that became what is known as Canadian Content and even though, as a producer, I found the material, developed it with the writer and sold it, I then was cast aside in favor of a Canadian producer in order to get it made. Sure, I got some money for it and maybe even a credit, but I didn’t get to be on set and oversee the production of my project. And each of these projects was my “baby.” They were hard to give up. But in this fear-filled world of never having enough, and trying to survive financially, you accept the deal because it’s harder and harder to come by. Needless to say, it takes a lot of these movies to make a living. So you sell out, give them up in order to get some scraps and hope the next deal will be better. But how long can you keep living this freelance existence where the pay seems to be going backward?

The 80s are gone. That’s when you could make some real money in Hollywood .Unless you’re part of the top 5 percent echelon, you keep schlepping along with your wares hoping that the dangling carrot that is just within reach, yet somehow never within reach, will help elevate you to the next level of your career. And that’s what keeps you going. Hope.

This year we’ve had a writers’ strike which affected the networks more then they will care to admit, and now we’re faced with a pending actors’ strike (which appears to look less likely to happen). In this fear-based world, everyone is living in fear that it will happen and the work will just stop dead in its tracks, people will lose their income, their homes; some will get out of the business. I heard the other day that a writer who was once at the top of his game is now driving limousines. I’m fearful that could happen to me.

Maybe it’s because I care too much about what I do, that I allow the fear to enter my consciousness – but life is not a straight line, and maybe the guy driving the limo is happier than I am. Maybe he doesn’t live in fear anymore about when his next movie will get the green light or his next script sold? Or feel that anxiousness waiting to hear when his/her next paycheck or job might appear. The unpredictability of Hollywood is also what is attractive about it. You are never bored. It’s always different. So maybe that’s the tradeoff? Sameness versus diversity. Security versus fear. In this business, you live with uncertainty and no guarantees. The boulevard of broken dreams is not a cliché, it’s a reality.

Motion picture/ television producer Rona Edwards also writes music reviews for the Folk Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME) on the net, feature articles for Produced By Magazine. She is and coauthor of I Liked It, Didn’t Love It. (Screenplay Development From The Inside Out), Lone Eagle Publishing. She is also the co-founder of ESE FILM WORKSHOPS ONLINE nurturing filmmaking & screenwriting talent. Check out her blog here.

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