For about two years, a New York–based business called Aereo has offered a useful service: It receives local TV broadcasts on thousands of tiny antennas, stores the programs on DVRs, and transmits them on demand to subscribers’ laptops, tablets, and phones. Today the Supreme Court told the company to cut it out: Reversing a lower court’s decision, it ruled 6–3 that Aereo’s activities violate copyright law.
The big broadcasters don’t like Aereo because it doesn’t pay the fees that cable and satellite companies pony up for the right to retransmit programs. So they sued, claiming that Aereo’s efforts amount to a public performance of their copyrighted material. During oral arguments, Aereo attorney David Frederick argued that this characterization of the company’s activities was wrong, and that it was merely “providing antennas and DVRs” that let consumers do things that are legal.
The Court sided with the broadcasters. Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer points out that Congress amended the Copyright Act for the specific purpose of treating cable broadcasts of local TV channels as performances. What Aereo has been doing, Breyer concludes, is similar enough to qualify as a performance too. Frederick had argued that even if this were so, that would not make its service a public performance, since each transmission is received only by the user who requests it—a private transaction. The Court was unpersuaded, deciding that in practical terms this was still fundamentally the same as cable.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent—which was joined by justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito—calls this an “improvised standard” that amounts to “looks-like-cable-TV.” The dissenters deny that the company engages in a performance at all, let alone a public one. An Aereo transmission “undoubtedly results in a performance,” Scalia writes, but “the question is who does the performing.” If the answer to that question is unpalatable to the TV industry, the “proper course is not to bend and twist the [Copyright] Act’s terms in an effort to produce a just outcome, but to apply the law as it stands and leave to Congress the task of deciding whether the Copyright Act needs an upgrade.”
As a filmmaker, my profession is ostensibly protected by this decision. In truth, it’s the Supreme Court overstepping their professed limits as legal adjudicators and interpreters and instead acting as legislators in looking out for corporate interests.
This is from a profile of one of the greatest film editors alive:
The critical buzz of Who’s That Knocking and the sensation of Woodstock should have propelled her career, but she ran into a roadblock from the industry’s editors union. “I’d never joined the union,” she said during an interview at the Museum of the Moving Image in 2002. “I hadn’t had to. Out in Hollywood, they were telling [Scorsese] that I had to start as an apprentice, and then an assistant, and seven years later I would be able to edit. So I couldn’t work for him for quite a few years. … He kept calling me and it was just impossible. The union wouldn’t let me.”
[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller, so we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience…That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [my co-director Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president’s kill list, preemptive technology.
Joe Russo, co-director of the new Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, on the critique his film includes of the President and the war on terror.
I wasn’t super interested in seeing this one in theaters — I’m more of an Iron Man girl, myself — but I think this just changed my mind.
I saw it yesterday. It’s not only fantastic in all the politically subversive ways it’s being talked about - taking on the surveillance state, drones, etc. - it’s also a ton of fun.
EconPop: The Economics of Dallas Buyers Club
EconPop is the YouTube series that sifts through the haystack of popular culture to find the needle of economics within . . . and then stabs you with it!
Starring comedian Andrew Heaton, EconPop takes a surprisingly deep look at the economic themes running through classic films, new releases, tv shows and more from the best of pop culture and entertainment. Heaton brings a unique mix of dry wit and whimsy to bear on the dismal science of economics and the result is always entertaining, educational and irreverent. It’s Econ 101 meets At The Movies, with a dash of Monty Python.
In this premiere episode of EconPop, Andrew discusses the economics of Academy Award winner Dallas Buyers Club. Subjects include public health and safety regulations, crony capitalism and the role of regulatory capture, the emergence of black and grey markets, and commercial exchange as a means for increased social tolerance.
So many possibilities tonight. First possibility: 12 Years A Slave wins best picture. Second possibility: you’re all racists.
— Ellen Degeneres’ Oscar Monologue (via corteae)
A little backstory on my personal experience with unions here. I’ve further discussed how the union creates artificial wage floors, a sort of protectionism against talented youth and inexperience in favor of established and connected veterans:
As a member of a Hollywood union, I face a sort of minimum wage hurdle of my own. The next step up in my career is a substantial one - and one in which I am more than capable of making (a position I held - with, in fact, greater pay - on a number of non-union reality shows). But because of the union, I cannot take that position without being paid the union minimum for that position. In other words, the studio and producers would have to pay me the same rate they would pay a multiple-Emmy winner with 30 years of experience. I cannot offer to work for less as an opportunity to prove myself. I have no leverage - I cannot offer any incentive - for producers to hire a [relatively] young and eager talent over a reliable veteran. And indeed, I have missed out on multiple jobs precisely because of this artificial price floor.
Additionally, as some of you may know, I try to keep my personal details at a minimum on this blog in order to obscure my identity and thus avoid the intolerant backlash the Hollywood industry is known for. As such, the following account will be only as specific as necessary.
I have been teetering between my current position and the next (final) step up for a couple of years now. The last 18 months have been relatively good for me, as I have been able to craft three episodes at the step up I’ve been gunning for, though as an occasional opportunity and not a permanent move up.
Earlier this month, I was asked to help out on someone else’s episode because the network had accelerated its air date. It worked out because the two weeks they needed me were, more or less, between when the heavy work would be for my primary episodes. They offered me the usual temporary bump up in pay and even an “additional” credit (which would be at the end of the show instead of during the second act). These terms were fair and acceptable to me - I was just an extra pair of hands and the main “guy” (again, I’d rather not be specific as to what I do) was still the “guy.” In all, they paid me for nine days, including two weekend days and some OT, at the higher rate and I get another notch on the resume.
So, as is customary, credits are signed off by everyone and then sent to the unions by the studio.
Well, “my” union called the studio and told them that they needed to pay me at the new rate for days I wasn’t actually working in the capacity of the new position. The minimum to receive the credit I am receiving, they told me, is five consecutive days of work starting Monday and going through Friday (although the actual rule is simply one paid day of work). Well, I worked nine. But I started work on this new episode on a Thursday and the union demands that I get paid starting that Monday (something they would not demand if the show had instead hired someone already established at the position) because I cannot be “pro-rated” at the lower rate. And while that may sound like they are coming to my defense, I must reiterate that I already agreed to all terms and found them acceptable. The pay and credit I negotiated with my producers and the studio was completely fair given the work I was asked to do. But that’s not all. The “or else” in their threat: if the studio did not pay me the higher rate for the three days I didn’t actually work in that higher capacity, then I could not receive screen credit for the higher position. The union even explained that had the studio paid me for five days starting Monday - instead of nine days, including time and half weekend days plus overtime, starting Thursday - there would be no problem. Additionally, per my conversation with “my” rep, this is part of some continuing struggle with the studio going back a couple of months. I’m convenient collateral damage in this spat. It’s never good to be the rope.
There are literally no winners in the union’s interference here, and the only loser is me: union-dues-paying chump. The union - “my" union, which ostensibly "represents" me - screwed me out of the credit I agreed to and earned.
Collective bargaining, like other forms of collectivism, simply subjugates the demands and desires of the individual in favor of a majority or other connected interests.
For decades, no art form was more meticulously regulated by the government than television. For decades, no art form was more relentlessly bashed by its critics. Amazingly, nobody ever seems to make a connection between these two facts.
If we had a U.S. Portraiture Commission with the power to investigate whether Willem De Kooning controlled too much of the abstract impressionist market; or if Philip Roth had to worry about losing his novelist license over those scenes in Portnoy’s Complaint with a hooker defecating on a glass-top coffee table; or if some agency, every few years, held hearings in which the public was invited to comment on Oliver Stone’s qualifications to make films—doesn’t it seem possible that painting and literature and the cinema would be different, and probably worse, than they are now?
What makes this blind spot about regulation’s effect on art even more curious is that over the past two decades, as TV has increasingly slipped the bit of government regulation from its mouth, programming has dramatically improved. The latter event, anyway, has not escaped attention. Critics and television historians have arrived at a consensus that the Golden Age of television was not the 1950s but right now, and that it was ushered in by HBO, which shattered the TV programming mold with The Sopranos. …
But the question rarely asked and never answered in these discussions is: Why HBO? As the ratings for The Sopranos steadily climbed—the premiere episode of its third season, in 2001, drew 11.3 million viewers, which would have been a good number for a broadcast show and was a staggering number for a cable channel that reached fewer than a third of American homes—a growing buzz was heard from not only critics but even television executives themselves: Why doesn’t broadcast television have anything like this?
Bob Wright, NBC’s CEO at the time, grew so irritated by the grumbling within his own ranks that he sent tapes ofThe Sopranosto some of his colleagues with a memo asking if anybody thought the network could possibly air it. (Coincidentally or not, the episode Wright sent out included a notoriously brutal scene of a psycho Mob boss beating his stripper girlfriend to death in the club parking lot.) The answer, of course, was a unanimous “not on our corporate lives.” When HBO bosses heard of the stunt, they took it as an insult. But Wright regarded it as a simple recognition of reality: A premium-cable network beholden neither to the Federal Communications Commission nor to advertisers was more free to unleash flying lead and billowing bosoms than its broadcast rivals. …
[T]he regulations on the ownership and syndication of TV shows that the FCC imposed in 1970 to prevent TV networks from producing and owning their own programming—what the industry called fin-syn rules, for financing and syndication-were not a boon for quality television, as Martin suggests, but a setback. Most broadcast television programs lose money during their first run. They make it back (by the truckload) when they’re sold into syndication, where they can run forever with virtually no overhead. That means financing them up front represents a leap of faith. When the networks, the savviest and most deep-pocketed backers, were excluded by government from the pool of potential financiers, producers got more conservative, going with the same simpering sitcoms and predictable cop dramas that had always worked rather than experimenting with new ideas. It’s no coincidence that the wave of shows that launched what we’re now calling the Golden Age of Television started rolling only after the fin-syn rules were repealed in the 1990s.
These rules had nothing to do with the interests of viewers. They were, like so many regulations in so many fields, intended to re-slice the economic pie to the benefit of politically favored classes. And the idea that the government would take action to force the networks to produce “better” shows is, if anything, even more horrifying. We don’t expect or want the government to intervene to promote its ideas of good novels or movies or rock ‘n’ roll records. Why should television programming be any different? …
The FCC did not immediately sense the potential for competition with broadcasters when commercial cable was created in the late 1940s to aid TV reception in small rural towns where the signals from distant big cities arrived faintly if at all. And as long as cable functioned as nothing more than a community antenna in small-town America, the FCC paid it little heed. (In fact, one of the commission’s protectionist gestures toward broadcasters—freezing the issuance of new station licenses between 1948 and 1952—gave cable an inadvertent boost, spurring its growth in cities that didn’t have their own stations yet.)
But as soon as cable owners started linking their systems together via microwave, in effect creating their own television networks, the FCC went for their throats. Initially the commission simply used its licensing authority over microwave companies to prevent them from doing business with cable. But by the mid-1960s—armed with court decisions giving the commissioners authority to regulate cable, even though it didn’t make any use of the broadcast spectrum that the FCC was created to allocate—the commission began to clamp down. …
In 1965 the FCC imposed the twin doctrines of “must-carry,” compelling cable companies to include all local channels in their service, eating up much of their carrying capacity, and “distant signal,” which required the 100 largest cable companies to prove that importing out-of-town stations was in the “public interest.” (Shockingly, it almost never was.) The two requirements effectively restricted cable to functioning as a sort of enhanced antenna. Incredibly, DeFino refers to this crippling blow as an attempt by the FCC to give itself “breathing room.” Two years later, breaths apparently caught, the FCC commissioners explicitly acknowledged that they saw their mission as the protection of the broadcast monopoly, which they did with a brutal set of “anti-siphoning rules” designed to keep cable from competing for viewers. HBO’s antecedents were prohibited from showing series, movies between two and 10 years old, and any sporting event that had been televised by broadcast networks during the previous decade.
Periodically, some inventive cable company would find enough wiggle room in the rules to offer subscribers original programming. [O]ne of the most interesting early experiments [was] what was then called “pay television”: a California outfit called Subscription Television Inc. This Western renegade offered a three-channel system featuring major-league baseball, first-run films, and a handful of tony cultural and educational programs. Put together by Pat Weaver, the disgruntled former NBC programmer who invented both the Today and Tonight shows, Subscription Television created so much buzz during its few months on the air in 1964 that it triggered the greatest Hollywood miracle since Cecil B. DeMille parted the Red Sea: America’s TV executives and movie-theater operators, blood enemies from birth, united to make war on the newcomer. Running ads with headlines like “This Could Be the Last World Series on Free TV,” they launched a pogrom that ended with a public referendum outlawing pay TV in California.
The spectacle of industries using the ballot box to outlaw competitors without even the faintest pretext of nobler purpose was so appalling that Time was moved to wonder if it would become a regular feature of the American economy: “A united front of gluemakers, for example, might collect enough votes to ban the manufacture of Scotch tape. Chrysler could war on General Motors. Whichever collected the fewest votes would die a corporate death.” Courts would eventually overturn the referendum, but by then Subscription Television’s contractors and investors were gone with the regulatory wind. …
What really opened the doors for HBO to change from a regional boutique into a national network was the federal courts, which in the 1970s and 1980s began dismantling the protectionist bunker the FCC had built for broadcast television, plus a startling burst of deregulationist fervor from a little-known Nixon administration fiefdom, the White House Office of Telecommunications. Run by a young electrical-engineer-turned-economist named Clay T. Whitehead (with able assistance from a hard-nosed attorney named Antonin Scalia), the office mounted a bureaucratic insurgency to permit private companies to launch communications satellites.
Whitehead’s “open skies” policy became law in 1974. When RCA launched its Satcom 1 satellite the next year, HBO was its first television customer. Showtime, TBS, C-SPAN, and the channels that would eventually become the USA and Christian Broadcasting networks were quick on its heels, and the cable revolution had begun. Freed of the need to manage long chains of microwave repeaters to relay their signals, cable channels flourished and multiplied. The stage was now set for Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw to make their entrance.
Live-tweeting ain’t easy.
Our government is yet again marching us towards a war of choice in the Middle East and our non-partisan, peace-loving celebrities have gone missing since late 2008. We fear the worst.
This is great.
It’s an open secret in Hollywood that before the MPAA reviews many movies, the Pentagon does. David Robb documents the practice in his book Operation Hollywood. Whenever movie producers want to use Pentagon equipment: helicopters, bases, submarines, etc. they send a request to the Pentagon, along with five copies of the script. The Pentagon replies with proposed changes to the script, which the producer must either accept, or forgo the equipment (which disinclines studios to finance the film, since it entails extra costs). Then, while the movie is shot, a “minder” hangs along, to ensure the director sticks to the script. Final approval comes from Pentagon brass who pre-screen and censor the film. …
Movies that garnered approval include Pearl Harbor, Top Gun and GoldenEye. Movies that had to due without include Forrest Gump, Platoon, Independence Day and Thin Red Line. Among the taboo subjects for the Pentagon: anything that will decrease recruiting, alcohol or drug use, aliens overpowering the military or any military personnel depicted in a negative light. Forrest Gump failed to procure funds for implying that the Army was staffed by “soldiers of limited intelligence” and for the scene in which Hanks moons the President. In the original GoldenEye script a Navy Admiral sells state secrets, the final version, it’s now a Frenchman. …
The Pentagon claims it aims to “portray the military as it actually is,” but don’t planes sometimes have technical difficulties? Doesn’t torture sometimes lead to bad information? Don’t soldiers come home with post-traumatic stress because the enemies are human, not vague abstractions? Does the Pentagon truly want to “accurately portray” history? Let’s examine two cases studies. The first is the 2000 movie, Thirteen Days, in which the military brass urges President Kennedy to engage Cuba militarily. David Robb recalls that Pentagon pushed the producers to tone down the implications, but they refused and went without military assistance – a risky move since, “most studio heads tell their producers, ‘We’re not going to make this film unless we get military assistance, because it would be too expensive. So you’d better make sure the script conforms to what they want.’” One such case is Charlie Wilson’s War, the movie about Charlie Wilson’s attempts to aid the Mujahedeen during our proxy war with Russia in Afghanistan. In the original script, says Matthew Alford, in an interview with Al Jazeera [30:00] “there is a very clear link between the U.S. arming the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the causes of 9/11. Now, we know from a CIA advisor who was on set, he says ‘we deliberately made sure we excised that film.’” I asked Alford, author of Reel Time: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy, whether the Pentagon’s thumbs down had ever silenced a movie entirely. He cited Countermeasures, a 1994 movie that requested an aircraft carrier but was turned down because, “There’s no reason for us to denigrate the White House or remind the public of the Iran-Contra affair.” As to the “accurate portrayal” question, he replied, “Since when was it ‘realistic’ for the US military to go to war against Transformers?”
The CIA has recently gotten into the racket. The Los Angeles Times reports “The CIA has kept an entertainment liaison on staff only since 1996. At that point, the Cold War had ended, and the agency was fighting for its budget and its existence on Capitol Hill. The new mission was clear: to overcome the CIA’s image in popular entertainment as incompetent, evil or rife with rogue employees.” Bill Harlow, the CIA public affairs chief is quoted saying, “I made that a big priority, and we did a lot more with Hollywood than ever before.” Tricia Jenkins reports in her book The CIA in Hollywood that the CIA was “influenced” the production of Argo, which is why the movie is essentially an ad for the CIA. She reports that the underlying theme- that the public never finds about the CIA’s successes and only its failures- is one of the narratives that the CIA constantly encourages producers and directors to relate.
I’ve previously noted my personal experience with the “tolerance” of Leftywood here.
I hate this industry.
Officially pushing government propaganda (as opposed to unofficially pushing it, which is its modus operandi) right before an election.
Government propaganda has reached a new extreme. Soon couch potatoes will be inundated with propaganda about centrally planned healthcare. ... The evil bastards at Accenture have a contract to build the evil government healthcare destruction enrollment site. It’s Big Consultants supporting Big Pharma and Big Insurance:Abby Goodnough of The New York Times is reporting as the California state government is setting up its ObamaCare exchange, the exchange has hired a PR firm (with federal government money)."Realizing that much of the battle will be in the public relations realm, the exchange has poured significant resources into a detailed marketing plan — developed not by state health bureaucrats but by the global marketing powerhouse Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which has an initial $900,000 contract with the exchange," she wrote. Ogilvy’s plan is to tap major network TV shows like "Grey’s Anatomy" and "Modern Family" to sell Americans on the health care law:Hollywood, an industry whose major players have been supportive of President Obama and his agenda, will be tapped. Plans are being discussed to pitch a reality television show about “the trials and tribulations of families living without medical coverage,” according to the Ogilvy plan. The exchange will also seek to have prime-time television shows, like “Modern Family,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and Univision telenovelas, weave the health care law into their plots.
“I’d like to see 10 of the major TV shows, or telenovelas, have people talking about ‘that health insurance thing,’ ” said Peter V. Lee, the exchange’s executive director. “There are good story lines here.”Although the exchange will not start advertising until next year, the California Endowment, a foundation that has spent $15 million promoting the law, is running newspaper and television ads, including one in which the television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz exhorts viewers to “get educated, get engaged, get enrolled.” That campaign has targeted Hispanics, who make up more than half of the state’s uninsured population.Goodnough added “The exchange itself has so far been financed by three grants, worth $237 million, from the federal government. Most of the money is committed to consultants, including Accenture, which has a $327 million contract to build and support the initial operation of the enrollment portal.”
10 Years, written and directed by a good friend, premiered in theaters yesterday.
It’s funny, warm, features great music, and has an amazing cast (Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson. Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Oscar Isaac, Scott Porter, Kate Mara, Lynn Collins, Justin Long, Ron Livingston, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Max Minghella, and others).
I highly recommend it.
“I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off.” “To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.”
“I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off.”
“To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.”
In my years in this industry, easily 80% of the notes I’ve gotten from BS&P have been with regards to nudity and sexuality. The rest were mainly profanity and logos. I can’t even remember one note ever having to do with gore or violence.
I’ve discussed before how those of us who work in the tv/film industry and are not proponents of a big and meddlesome government tend to be marginalized by those others who are. This is why I call it Leftywood: the non-leftists are a very tiny minority.
A few years ago (2008, before the election), some producers were in my office and had spent a fair amount of time discussing the messianic qualities of Barack Obama. When I tried to steer them back to the task at hand, one of them turned to me and said something along the lines of “You’re latino. You must be so excited.” I winced at the employ of latino, and simply stated that I wasn’t going to vote for Obama. They looked at me as though I had just bitten the heads off a half-dozen live bats. If I hadn’t pulled the weight on that show that I did (and, frankly, wasn’t as well-liked as I was), I may not have stayed employed.
This is why I keep my identity generally under wraps on this blog. My coworkers and employers know that I’m libertarian, but there’s no telling what the consequences would be if the statists in the industry knew the extent to which my anti-statism reached. (The more I advance in my career - and the more clout and connections I have - the more open I become.)
Well, today I met another libertarian in the industry, a stunt coordinator who specializes in working with motorcycles. As a matter of fact, he lives directly across the street from me (he approached me while I was doing some sprinkler repair).
Apparently, working on a movie a few summers ago, his political affiliation was discovered. Like me, he was an anti-union member of a union (see my personal note on unions here) - a libertarian who would not support Obama.
That night, he returned to find his bike vandalized. The next day, he was met with cold shoulders and bad attitudes from his coworkers and especially his employers. Two days later, he was out of a job - and his employers made sure he understood that they were only looking for “team players” and wouldn’t tolerate “enemies within their ranks.”
Now this is the kind of story that would normally make the left’s blood boil. Here was an employer using his authority to squelch dissenting opinion. But when the opinion is anti-left, then I guess the normal rules don’t apply.
Hollywood is every bit as left-leaning and state-loving as it’s made out to be - but less tolerant than it wants the public to realize.