Money Talks And Art Matters, Graham Taylor, LAFF 2011 Keynote
[Music cue: We Will Rock You by Queen]
Never in the history of the movie business has there been a better time for the Independents to be entrepreneurial. The balance of power between Studios, Indies and Consumers is changing. Whether you are a filmmaker, producer, financier, distributer, or executive, now is the time to embrace the change. We are after all in the middle of a revolution, and nobody puts baby in the corner.
I asked my friend Bill Pullman to say a few words on the state of the independent film business over the past few years.
[roll clip of Bill Pullmans infamous speech in “Independence Day”]
[Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft [filmmakers] from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial (festival) battle in this history of mankind [the movies]. Mankind [The movies] — that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps its fate that today is the 4th of July [LAFF], and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution [Harvey] — but from annihilation. We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist. And should we win the day, the 4th of July [LAFF] will no longer be known as an American holiday [film festival], but as the day when the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!” Today, we celebrate our Independence Day [Film]!]
Good Morning. Thanks to Rebecca Yeldham and LAFF for asking me to speak today and kickoff a series of discussions over the weekend. When I asked Rebecca had she in fact meant to ask Graham King to speak instead, her response (buried with a disarming Aussie accent) was “well love, he is smarter and more successful, but he wasn’t available.” LAFF titled this morning’s discussion “Money Talks and Art Matters.” The convergence of film, art and commerce. This is a subject I am pretty well versed on. After all, my dad was a PhD economist and my mother an artist. Both Berkeley grads and present during the era of the sit-down protest, our home in Portland, Oregon was littered with Econ theory books, paintings in progress, and Birkenstocks.
From a young age I was forced to read my dad’s anti-trust testimony on the Utility Industry (you know, the sexy stuff), and at the same time was winning the Oregon State Fair’s mother/son weaving competition. Yes, I had a mean cross-over stitch. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: like an even blend of both parents, as a former producer and now as an agent, I am still right in the middle of the relationship between the artist and the money. A couples therapist, if you will. I build companies, enable artists and activate content. For me it’s simple: I love movies and I and love the movie business.
Like all of us, I have unwittingly found myself front and center in the time of a revolution, when the only way to act is entrepreneurially. In order to operate effectively I have had to relearn lessons from the past. After all, in the movie business history has a funny way of repeating itself. Over the last 100 years, our business has had a few constants. Hollywood has produced and distributed content globally with more than 90% of it controlled by a handful of studios. In the 20th century, the greatest American export has been entertainment. The studios have operated sophisticated machinery that ships content globally, reaching anyone, anywhere.
At odds over economic realities, the relationship between the indies and the studios has always been a precarious one. This strained relationship has resembled an ad for the Olive Garden. The studio says “Hey, we treat you like family,” but instead they have consumed artists and money like the unlimited bread bowls put forth. In the same way that no self-respecting Italian from the old country would dine there, we as Independents have been forced to seek other options to carbo-load.
In 1919, when Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks created United Artists, it was an entrepreneurial reaction to the studio system. Artists and money banding together to create something different, introducing the idea of the “Independent.” At the time Metro Pictures head Richard Rowland said “the inmates are taking over the asylum,” in reference to the four actors starting UA and going up against the studios. People thought they were bonkers, but their passion and entrepreneurial spirit to create content and get it directly to consumers was an inspired mission. Sadly those principles at UA eventually disbanded 20 years later and the Golden Age of Hollywood settled in, effectively creating a caste system. Minus a few anomalies, it would again take the artists to rise up in the late 60s and early 70s, when a crop of groundbreaking films and entrepreneurs would take shape and give rise to Independents. A number of independent companies would fly high and fan out throughout the 70s and 80s and for the first time, the studios truly sourced outside financing, often from other countries.
In 1990, some pre-pubescent Mutant Turtles well versed in martial arts would kick the box office’s ass to 100 million. This showed the world the economic power of the independent film and institutionalized our peeps. The studios in turn responded, opening “indie divisions” and giving Independents a real seat at the table for the first time.