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February 21, 2012

Contradictions in the System

by Howard Suber

The article linked below by Los Angeles Times columnist,  Patrick Goldstein (my favorite, because he’s so knowledgeable), discusses how the current crop of Oscar nominees are not getting the usual “Oscar Bounce” from their nominations, and he also talks about the contradictions between the kinds of films the studios make and the kinds of films that are nominated for Academy Awards.

Since, by definition, the majority of members of the Academy include most of the people who make the decisions about what films to produce, what we clearly have in the film industry in our time is cognitive dissonance, “anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald put the idea this way:

 “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

 For about the past five years in interviews about the Academy Awards I’ve found myself saying, “Isn’t it interesting how four out of the five leading nominees [depending on the year] are films that were turned down by every studio in town but are now being hailed by the same people who didn’t dare make them.”               

I do not suggest this is further evidence of the total hypocrisy in Hollywood. I do suggest it’s the result of the conflicts and contradictions that currently the actions of studios.

The average tenure of the head of production at a studio is about 18 months. (As with everything, there are exceptions.) If you hold the green light button in your hand, you know that a single film can end your tenure in this lofty position, you are, of course, going to be ultra-cautious.

But if you have ascended to this position, like most other people in the contemporary studio system, you probably not only went to a decent college, you may even have an advanced degree or two and are probably pretty smart. You probably have also read some masterpieces of fiction, seen some great plays, watched classic films, gone to museums and concerts, and are part that elite Republican candidates love to attack.

So, it’s not that you don’t like interesting, innovative, creative films. It’s that you don’t dare to make them because the chances are very high you’d lose the powerful job you currently have.

However, when you fill out the Academy Award ballot, you can vote for what you really like. This process tends to increase the cognitive dissonance between what you would like to do and what you actually do.

So, who does put their money where their mouth is and make the artistic films that win awards but take in little money? Pay careful attention to all those production entities whose names are placed at the beginning of the film. The odds are good many of them won’t be in existence five years from now, but while they’re still around – go after them.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/20/2651877/oscar-nod-doesnt-mean-oscar-bump.html

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