Hollywood loves whistle blowers. Every year, several highly-acclaimed features emerge from the bowels of Tinseltown, telling the stories of some put-upon liberals who see the light and learn to rage against the machine. There’s only one problem: Hollywood is the machine.
As every aspiring filmmaker in Hollywood knows, the distribution system means that the studios screw the talent on a regular basis. Take a look at Peter Jackson’s lawsuit against New Line, in which he alleged that New Line had shortchanged him big bucks on the profits for “The Lord of the Rings.”
The profits, he alleged, had been eaten up by the vertically integrated company, which he said was “self-dealing” in rights. As the New York Times reported at the time, “Mr. Jackson’s status in the business could encourage other directors and stars who take a percentage of gross revenues to look more carefully at the accounting on their films.” That’s why the studios often settle such lawsuits. The last thing they want to do is open their books.
The unspoken secret of Hollywood is that fuzzy math predominates – hence the phrase “Hollywood accounting.” It’s because of that fuzzy math that it is so difficult for aspiring filmmakers to get a fair shake. Distributors routinely jack up their supposed prints and advertising budgets when they have a hit on their hands, in order to grab more cash. Studios engage in similarly funny accounting. The stories are endless: Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, was given a percentage of profits … but the studio claimed the film didn’t earn a profit based on such odd numbers. Art Buchwald sued Paramount and won after the court found that the studio’s accounting was “unconscionable.” According to the studios, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, one of the most successful indy films of all time, actuallylost money.
So here’s calling all you liberal Hollywood whistle blowers. Want to change the industry forever? Bring us the real numbers from inside your studios. Show us where that cash is actually going. Bring some transparency back to the business. Put your whistle where your mouth is.