By Callie Oettinger | Published: September 25, 2015
[I forgot about this post from Aug. 30, 2013, until I ran into Kevin Spacey’s speech again. Take a look and scroll down for Sir David Lean, too. For as much as things change, they stay the same. — Callie]
At about the 1:20 mark in Kevin Spacey’s MacTaggart Lecture, given during the Edinburgh International Television Festival, he looks straight into the audience and says, “It’s the Creatives, Stupid.”
It’s a television festival, so he keeps on the “television” theme, but that deeper thread is about change and taking risks.
When facing one of his first offers for a television role, he contacted his mentor, Jack Lemmon. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to take part in a television program that network execs had their hands all over—poking here and there within the creative process . . .
So . . . he calls Jack, and asks him about those “golden years of television” that Jack always spoke about—those years when Jack had first started out. “Was he being nostalgic or was there something different about the way television was back then?” Jack replied:
You have to understand, kid, that television was brand new back then. I mean, it was a new medium and nobody knew if it was gonna last—so you could try anything. Comedy one week … a drama the next… a musical… I mean…. It was terrific. It hadn’t been commercialized yet and no one knew it was going to be around that long. There was this sense of total abandon. Total abandon.
Total abandon. . . Not exactly the words we think of when television, films, music, books, or any other “creative industry” is mentioned today.
Within his talk. Kevin also mentions attending the 1990 American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement award for Sir David Lean—and how Sir David “dedicated his acceptance speech to the idea of promoting and supporting emerging talent. It turns out he was concerned, perhaps frightened by the film industry’s lack of commitment to developing talent and the greater and greater number of films the studios were making that appealed only to the pulse and not to the mind.”
Only to the pulse . . . not the mind . . .
Kevin goes on to quote some of Sir David’s speech. I’ve pulled the entire speech, as there are some nuggets that were left out:
Noel Coward once said to me during our early days, “My Dear, always come out of another hole.” Now, he said a lot of other things, but, I find myself thinking that nearly everything he told me—and everything I learned—in those early days seems to be contradicted today. We don’t come out of any more new holes. We try to go back and we come out of the old holes—parts I, II, III and IV. And I think it’s terribly, terribly sad.
Looking at this list here, in this wonderful program . . . Nearly everybody there is an innovator, a pathfinder. They found new things to do in the movies—and all of us live on new things. Okay. Do old things—parts I, II and III—but don’t make them a staple diet. We’ll sink if we do.
This business lives on creative pathfinders—and there are a whole lot of you here. I terribly miss—we all miss, I think—somebody like Irving Thalberg. He had a foot in both camps. He understood us people, and he understood the money people.
We’re in terrible danger. I think there are some wonderful new filmmakers coming up now. They are going to be our future. Please, you chaps in the money department, remember what they are. It’s a very nervous, nervous job making a film. They need help.
I would like to read you something. It came from my old friend, Fred Zinnemann. He found something that was said by Irving Thalberg. He said, “The studio has made a lot of money—and they could afford to lose some.”
I think the time has come where the money people can afford to lose a little money, taking risks with these new film makers. I think if they give them a break, give them encouragement, we’re going to come up and up and up. If we don’t, we’re going to go down and television’s gonna take over. (laughter from the audience here) Anyhow . . . Wish them luck—I do.
It’s interesting, that in 1990 he spoke about television taking over film, and now we’re seeing television being eclipsed by non-traditional creative outlets—like Netflix. And Netflix, of course, is the outlet that brought us Kevin’s House of Cards.
This past week, Netflix has been in the news quite a bit. Its programming is up for 14 Emmys—and it’s inking headline-making deals.
Netflix came out of a new hole—and further confirmed that consumers don’t care about the medium. They care about the story.
“If you watch a TV show on your iPad, is it no longer a TV show?” Kevin asks later in his speech. “The device and length are irrelevant … For kids growing up now there’s no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game Of Thrones on their computer. It’s all content. It’s all story.”
In the Los Angeles Times article “Netflix executive upends Hollywood,” Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Chairman Bruce Rosenblum said:
Television no longer refers to the box sitting in your living room—television refers to storytelling. The method by which our viewers experience those stories is truly irrelevant.
Within that same Times article, director David Fincher’s response to Netflix releasing all 13 House of Cards episodes at once is shared:
“My attitude was, that sounds awesome,” Fincher says. “As television becomes more and more like literature, I’d love to be able to set the book by the nightstand when I want to. It seemed like the natural progression of things.”
That’s interesting, isn’t it? A television show as a book. Makes sense. It’s hard enough to wait for the next book in a series to be released. I don’t know that I could handle it if the book was released chapter by chapter. I’d want it all. At once. I want my books in “binge-happy bundles”—which is how the Times described Netflix’s all-at-once release method. And, I’d say, I’d take the binge-happy bundle for film and television, too.
Binge-happy should apply to multiple formats, too.
The tradition in publishing is to release the hardcover, then the paperback. When audiobooks started to rise, they inserted themselves in with the hardcover release—or just after the release—of the hardcover. E-books followed in audio’s footsteps.
With film, there was the theatrical release and then a delay between DVD and cable releases.
The fear is that if all of the formats are released at once, the ones that often make the publishing houses and studios money—the hardcover and ticket showings—won’t be bought or attended.
But, we do continue to buy the hardcover or go to the theaters, because there’s something special about them.
I cherish the copy of Profiles in Courage that my father inscribed to me. I’m looking forward to passing down my hardcover set of Nancy Drew books to my daughter, when she is old enough to read them. And, my son has already filched numerous books off of my office shelves. I can’t imagine holding onto an e-book with the same memories, not being able to pass on yellowed, dog-eared pages I once turned for my daughter to turn herself, or having my son try to pull something off my iTunes library instead of my physical shelf. It’s the romance and the community.
In the same vein, John Murphy wrote about the “communal experience of experiencing something with a roomful of moviegoers ” in his piece The Future of Movies:
I actually find the human connection we get from great stories and entertainment even more special. It’s like the “water cooler” days of Seinfeld, when coworkers would reminisce about last night’s episode around the water cooler at the office or on the factory floor. It’s that shared, after-the-fact connection that brings us together. . . Whenever I see something great I tell friends to see it. And when you meet someone who has seen something you love, you instantly connect. You discuss its qualities. You discuss how it surprised you, or touched you, or shocked you, or made you laugh until you peed a little. The movie or the TV show or the YouTube video or the Vine or the novel or the Tweet or whatever—it connects you to other human beings in an increasingly disconnected world.
So that focus on providing one format at a time? Shouldn’t be a concern if the story is a good one.
“I knew the stakes were high, in terms of the size of the bet,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, in the Times story. “But if we believe all those things we say we believe in— that television is going to be mostly on-demand and mostly delivered [digitally]—then someone had to lead that charge. It had to be something as good or better than anything on TV.”
It had to be a good story.
What does that story look like? What does the voice sound like? It’s not just the medium or the format that are changing.
In his book Chronicles, Bob Dylan wrote about working on an album with Danny Lanois.
“Danny asked me who I’d been listening to recently, and I told him Ice-T. He was surprised, but he shouldn’t have been. A few years earlier, Kurtis Blow, a rapper from Brooklyn who had a hit out called “The Breaks,” had asked me to be on one of his records and he familiarized me with that stuff, Ice-T, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run-D.M.C. These guys definitely weren’t standing around bullshitting. They were beating drums, tearing it up, hurling horses over cliffs. They were all poets and knew what was going on. Somebody different was bound to come along sooner or later who would know that world, been born and raised with it . . . be all of it and more. Someone with a chopped topped head and a power in the community. He’d be able to balance himself on one leg on a tightrope that stretched across the universe and you’d know him when he came—there’s be only one like him. The audience would go that way, and I couldn’t blame them. The kind of music that Danny and I were making was archaic. I didn’t tell him that, but that’s how I honestly felt. With Ice-T and Public Enemy, who were laying the tracks, a new performer was about to appear, and one unlike Presley. He wouldn’t be swinging his hips and staring at the lassies. He’d be doing it with hard words and he’d be working eighteen hours a day.”
The voices of our stories continue to change. They don’t always fit in the neat little Part III version of our favorite hole. They’re often scorned upon appearance—and then decades later called revolutionary. Hindsight… Don’t wait for it. Get the blinders off today.
Four more lines from Bob Dylan, via The Times, They Are A’Changin‘:
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
I don’t think he was referring to industry execs when he wrote the song, but they sure do apply.
Those who are stallin’? They look like Elmer Fudd staring down a rabbit hole. Thinks he’s a threat . . . Just a loud annoying guy wasting his time on an old hole, while Bugs always comes out of another hole. Bugs is the Creative, the Netflix, and Fudd is that old television station, movie studio, publishing house, music label . . .
Stop stallin’ and come out of another hole.