The State of the ‘Business’ in Show Business

Earlier today, I read confirmation that Disney is buying 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion.  While I can see a couple of benefits personally, I think overall this isn’t a good thing, and I’m worried about what this could potentially do to the film industry (and possibly beyond that scope).

First, I want to mention two things, two disclaimers really.  I own some stock in Disney, nothing too crazy, but some, so consider that when reading this story.  The second caveat is that I love a ton of the films/properties that Disney owns, and some of those that they’re purchasing.

Ok, now with that out of the way, let me dive into my worries.  In case you missed it at the very beginning of this post, but they’re purchasing it for $52.4 billion dollars, so I hope that impresses upon you the size of a deal like this.  According to an article on fool.com “Disney currently has about 1.61 billion shares outstanding. With a share price of $94 per share, that puts Disney’s market capitalization at roughly $150 billion.” (This was in September of 2016, as of closing today their shares were at $110.57, which is $178 billion.)  That means that they are spending roughly 30% of that to purchase Fox, which is presumably worth that price, and therefore they’re taking on a potential 30% growth.

Growth can be good, but obviously, there should be some fear of monopolization, which is one of my own personal fears about this purchase.  Now to put some perspective into where the film industry stands (which can be difficult as it is constantly evolving) I want to look at films that have earned over $1 billion, not taking inflation into consideration.  As of today, there are 31 films that have reached the billion dollar mark at the global box office; to give you a break down, 15 of those are currently owned (they may not have been originally released but have been since purchased) by Disney, they will gain 2 more in purchasing Fox— including the reigning box office champion Avatar which hit the billion dollar mark nearly 3 times.  The remaining 14 slots in the billion dollar club are split between four other companies.  It is also worth noting that of the top 5 grossers under the billion dollar mark, they own 3. (According to Box Office Mojo)  While this may seem an arbitrary standard, I’m not sure what else to go with.

Now, with the purchase of Fox, Disney also gains some property that many would argue is ensured to do better financially with them than it did separate from them.  They will gain all of the old Star Wars catalog which had been produced before they purchased Lucasfilm in 2012; this gives them the ability to do promotional rereleases whether it be in theaters, home video, or digital release.  They also gain the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four characters, which essentially gives them the full range of Marvel characters (assuming their deal with Sony and Universal over The Hulk and Spider-Man stays in place).  Both of these aspects are likely to excite many fans, but I think there are large caveats with these.

According to a 2 year old CinemaBlend.com article, there’s been speculation by the comic-book community that Marvel Comics was showing preference to titles they owned the cinematic rights to, while they appeared to actively be working against the titles, like X-Men and Fantastic Four, for which they did not own those rights.  (In the interest of being fair, I thought I had read a similar article years before that, ultimately before Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment, and this article does make reference to “tensions” years earlier.)  This is troubling, because it is in someways a monopolistic move, and while securing the rights to those titles means they won’t need to do this any further in this case, it does show a potential problem with having them gain more of the film industry in general.

If Disney does rise to the standard of a monopoly, or operates in a way that is problematic with anti-trust laws, I’m not convinced that the government has the ability to correctly fix it.  In 1948, in United States V. Paramount Pictures, the Supreme Court ruled that a company couldn’t legally run the three key aspects of the film industry (production, distribution, and exhibition), and broke them into two categories.  You could produce and distribute a film, or you could exhibit it.  I may be in the minority here, but I believe a lot of the issues that we’ve had with ticket prices, and concession prices, and feeling gouged comes down to this break down.  The exhibitors are somewhat at the mercy of the production and distribution companies, and with only one leg under their control, they’re at a disadvantage in bargaining.  The government stepped in and in my opinion screwed it up even worse, so I’m not convinced that they can do much better in seventy years later.  As a lover of film, I don’t want to watch it crumble, or watch it be seized by any one entity.  I want it to have the ability to grow and change and thrive, and I think that the more control one company gets over it, the less likely that is to continue.

All of this doesn’t even take into consideration, how much more lobbying power companies have now, especially companies of this size. Now, speaking of Disney’s growth, and their ability to lobby, I think that there should be concern beyond the effect they will have on the film industry.  There is speculation that, when the copyright of Mickey Mouse was coming due to expire in 1984 (which would have been 56 years after his creation), the Disney company lobbied to change the copyright length to hold on to him longer. (According to Artrepreneur)  As of right now, they hold the copyright until 2023, and with that date fast approaching, I do worry about them gaining more lobbying power.  Sure, it may only be to hold on to their copyrights right now, and much of their other political activism I have agreed with, but this kind of power by corporations is a dangerous thing, and watching as yet another company grows and expands, and absorbs, I’m concerned about the future.

That’s Inappropriate!

In my book, I wrote an essay about “words we need to get rid of,” and I’m afraid that the 10 people who’ve read my book, didn’t get the message across. One of the big words that I championed getting rid of, was the word ‘inappropriate,’ and yet it is still extremely overused, and so I’m going to talk on here, perhaps more concisely about why this word is getting fucked up.

Here is the thing about the word, it’s subjective, and yet people use it as if it is objective. Not a day goes by that I don’t see some headline that says “hilarious but inappropriate.” What does that even mean? Today, I saw an article about people who were counter-protesting against pro-life protesters at an abortion clinic. The headline declared not only the sign’s hilarity, but again it’s inappropriateness. I clicked the link, and looked through reading the different signs, and while they were very funny, and perhaps slightly confrontational, there was absolutely nothing inappropriate about them (by my standards, but honestly I think they were pretty tame by most standards).

So, I guess I’m not sure what people think inappropriate means. Are they meaning confrontational? Controversial? Do they mean awkward? There are a dozen different words that more accurately describe whatever emotions they’re trying to conjure up. But inappropriate sells the point to other people who don’t have the best words as well.

Here’s the problem with using inappropriate when meaning something else. Inappropriate, isn’t only a subjective term, and also a contextual term, but its a judgment. Inappropriate means it shouldn’t have been said or done. Controversial doesn’t inherently mean that, neither does confrontational, or awkward, or uncomfortable. It’s ok for something to be any of those things, but ultimately, it is not ok to be inappropriate. All of those other terms can be necessary, there are controversial new medical practices, and confronting something wrong can obviously be right, and an awkward pause on a first date can lead to something awesome. The same cannot be said about inappropriate.

Lastly, the idea of context. The word is used in such a manner that implies inappropriate-ness as a blanket statement, but it is really dependent on situation, for example, it is not inappropriate for two grown adults in a committed relationship to have sex in their own bed, but it would most likely be considered inappropriate if those same adults had sex on the table during Thanksgiving dinner, with all of their relatives looking on. Very few actions, or statements are inappropriate across all situations, the only two that I can think off of the top of my head would be rape and genocide, those are both inappropriate no matter what, I would however argue, that perhaps using the word inappropriate is an understatement in this context.

So please, this is what I’m asking, let’s use other words. I would argue, that maybe, until we have managed to gain a better understanding of this word that we stop using it. Try to only use the word when it is truly appropriate.

The Preoccupied Richard Miller

“Thank you for coming on the show Mr. Miller,” Barbara Lopes said in a soft voice, from across a desk, and behind a large microphone, nearly obscuring Richard Miller’s view of her entirely.

“Thank you for having me Barbara.”  He smiled nervously and gave a slight nod of the head that was barely more than a tic.

“In your newest book, Premium Thursday, you write about kids who are transitioning from college into semi-professional jobs, but maintain—or perhaps are trying to maintain—their college party routine.”  Richard nodded along as Barbara talked.  “What inspired you to write about this?”

“Um… Well, I myself only worked a regular job for about six months before my first book came out, and then my life became devoid of most schedules, with the exception of self-imposed ones.  So I suppose, that I am similar to these kids in this book, and I’m a bit fascinated with the process of transitioning from college life to real—full blown adulthood.”  His voice was a little more nasal than he thought listeners were probably used to, and he cringed at the sound of his own voice through the headphones he had been provided.

“That makes sense.”  Barbara shuffled through some index cards for a second before resuming.  “You have said in the past, that everyone of your books has a character in it that is you, almost a carbon copy placed into the story.  There has been a lot of speculation that in this book, the character of the Brandon Hull, the CEO of Bombard is the ‘you’ within the story.”

Richard smiles, knowing that he has been caught.  “Yes, Brandon is me.  He’s a guy who lucked into starting his own website, found more success than he’s probably worthy of, and never had to hold a real job.”

“Yes, that makes sense.”  Barbara nods.  Her face becomes more grave.  “Brandon dies by the end of the novel, in a rather horrific way.”

“Ah! —Spoilers, Barbara,” he says feigning offense.

Barbara smiles.  “Sorry to all of the listeners out there who haven’t read the book yet, but I can assure you that isn’t much of a spoiler.  In fact the reason that I bring it up,” she shifts so that she can see him better from behind her microphone, “is that you have killed the character based on you, in every single book so far.  …And they’ve all been brutal, graphic, and otherwise unnecessary to the story within the book.  In this one, the outcome is not at all altered by the death of Brandon, and yet you have him killed by a falling air conditioning unit.”

Richard laughs.  “Well, you need to be careful when installing those units.  They can be very dangerous, especially in the city.”

“What I’m most curious about, is why you kill a character based on yourself in every book?”  Barbara is still soft spoken, but her glare—that only Richard can witness—is anything but.

“I find it fun.  I don’t know.”  Richard rolls his eyes, hoping that there won’t be more interrogation.  “I know there has been a lot of speculation about it online, but it’s not really something I think about, I just find it interesting to me, personally.”

“You don’t think that it is something to be concerned about?”

“Not really, lots of people die in literature, and in movies.  Steve Buscemi dies in like every one of his movies, and no one thinks twice about it.”  He leans back in his chair, his face far away from the mic.

“Steve Buscemi doesn’t write the scripts for his movies.”

“Exactly, people like the Coen Brothers do, and they tend to like killing Steve Buscemi.”  Richard laughs a humorless cackle.

“So, there is nothing wrong with you… with you writing about this?”

“I don’t think so.  I think a lot about death, about the best ways to die, about the worst ways to die, and ultimately when I think of something that I think is interesting I decide to use it in a book, and if I do it to the character of me, I don’t have to do it to any of the good characters.”

Barbara gave a polite laugh, and moved on.  “This book deals in part with the idea of not only these characters transitioning from young adulthood to working adulthood, but also the transition the generation is making upon what that itself entails…”

Richard answered the rest of the questions—much dryer and academic questions—without much humor or passion.  He hated being asked about the deeper meanings in interviews, because the person asking the question already knew the metaphor, or whatever else he tried to be subtle about and was really just showing off to the audience that he or she had been clever enough to figure it out.  It was a game that Richard hated, but he knew it was part of his job.

A few minutes later, the segment ended, and he removed the headphones, and made sure he wasn’t at all wired, and got up and walked over to Barbara, shaking her hand before walking out of the studio.

Josh, the producer who had helped set up the whole interview with Richard’s agent, met him at the door to thank him again for coming in.  Richard was much more comfortable with Josh, with all of the Joshes behind the scenes than the “On-Air” talent.

Richard stepped out into the early afternoon air, and it felt crisp and fresh.  Just cold enough to perk up his body, as he walked across the front walkway wondering if he had made of an ass out of himself—something that he worried about every time that he was interviewed.  He stepped onto the street, while reaching into his pocket to get out his car keys, making his way across to the parking garage.

He felt an immediate rush of overwhelming pain in his left shoulder and hip, followed by a moment of blurriness, a moment of darkness, and then nothing.  The courier service—who had been carrying three copies of Richard’s book, unbeknownst to the driver— had managed to immediately stop his heart.  The autopsy showed that he was likely dead before he hit the ground.  Had he lived even five more seconds he would have been pissed off that he hadn’t written about this type of death yet.

Poem: They Could Be Greener

I looked into her eyes, and admitting my mistake said,
“Oh I guess they ARE green,
but they could be greener.”
Her eyes opened wider,
shock shimmered across her wholly green pupils.
“How could they be greener?
They’re all the way green.”

I felt humidity rising from under my collar,
sticking to my face.
“Um… like more emerald-y” I stammered.
I knew what I meant.
The words were in my brain,
but dissolved before they reached my lips.

‘Your eyes are forest green,
Without much light they appear brown,
No less beautiful, just unidentifiable.
Unlike the glowing green of a lime.’

But my lips and tongue had been rendered useless,
newly dried out, tangled up in each other,
a string of cords woven together accidentally,
incapable of being straightened quickly.

Her cheeks are tomato red.
They could not be redder.
Although I cannot see it,
I know she is exhaling steam.
Finally her lips curl up at the ends,
turning into the grin of an animal
before it finishes off its prey.
Again words fail me,

‘Thank you.
I don’t want brighter,
I don’t want more vivid.
I want to see them as brown, in the dark.
I want to see them as green, in the light.
I don’t want them to be greener,
But they could be.’

 

(This poem is from my book, “Everything I’ve Got.”)