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March 13, 2012

“Nobody knows anything” Pt. II

by Howard Suber

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy,

they first make mad”

… ancient Greek proverb

 I would add my own corollary to this: those whom the Gods would destroy, they first cause to believe they are gods.

I assume you’re getting tired of reading about John Carter, so I promise this is my last commentary on the subject. The press and the web are full of people trying to explain why the film failed. There’s an article in today’s Los Angeles Times “Calendar” section titled “Crash Landing” (online, the title was changed to “Why did Disney’s ‘John Carter’ flop?”) that focuses on studio leadership – or lack of it.

Yesterday’s New York Times Business Day section had “’Ishtar’ Lands on Mars” that splits its focus between the executives and Andrew Stanton. The web site has what I thought was the most interesting of the three articles, “The Inside Story of How John Carter Was Doomed by Its First Trailer” and focuses much more on Andrew Stanton’s role in dooming his own film.

I’ve thought further about my comments in an earlier blog in which I referred to that Great Hollywood Copout, “Nobody knows anything.” If that’s what you really believe, who does know something? Well, the gods of course.  This is another way of saying it’s all up to fate. The trouble is, if you’re a producer, writer, director, etc. and you say this to the people who you want to give you money, they won’t give you money. And if you’re head of the studio, you certainly don’t say that to your stockholders. People pay you to know, and if you don’t, they’ll find somebody who claims they do.

Steve Jobs spoke often about the need to “impute,” which is one of the reasons all Apple products are so beautifully designed and beautifully wrapped. He believed, as Walter Isaacson said in his book, that we do indeed judge a book by its cover. You see this in the film and television industry all the time. If a director has made huge amounts of money in animation, studio executives impute his power to make huge amounts of money in live action. If someone did well on Madison Avenue, executives impute their power to advertise and market movies. If people did fairly well as television executives, they are imputed to have the knowledge it takes to run a film studio. (I’m referring to people who were involved in John Carter.)

It’s hard enough to know one thing well. When you begin with the assumption that nobody knows anything, you don’t have to even know that one thing – anybody can do anything.

John Carter is the latest example of how pernicious this view is.

Copyright (c) 2012 Howard Suber,0,1528115.story



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