Dear Mr. Cooper:

Some might say now is the time for MGM to stay conservative if it hopes to survive. That’s rubbish. Turnaround situations in the entertainment industry require bold vision and crackerjack execution. With Mr. Cooper joining the gifted Ms. Parent and Mr. Singh in the Office of the CEO, MGM has an opportunity not just to turn their fortunes around, but to speed past their competitors.

MGM has a golden opportunity to restructure operations, and to do so in a way that deploys capital more efficiently than other studios, while generating a higher ROI, and attracting outstanding talent in an extremely cost-effective manner.

MGM needs to create the 21st-Century version of the 1950’s studio system. It will give them enormous advantages over their competitors, which are mired in a highly inefficient, needlessly expensive, bureaucracy-driven manufacturing hellhole. I discussed this a few months back, but now that we have a studio struggling to survive, perhaps they’ll realize this is the answer to all their problems.

The current system for manufacturing product is a mess from an operational standpoint. Wasted productivity abounds. The process of reading through mountains of spec material, hearing hundreds of pitches, driving all over town for meetings –don’t tell me this filtering system works. Most films stink and most films lose money – a lot of money. It’s the blockbusters and occasional sleepers that generate Hollywood profits. Heck, if this level of wasted man-hours occurred in a regular corporation, the COO would be deservedly shot. But this is Hollywood, aka Opposite World.

No longer. Not for MGM.

Nor is the answer is not to just throw massive amounts of money at A-list talent. You save those for The Hobbit and James Bond.
Here’s how I propose MGM reorganize its operations.

As mentioned in my earlier articles, the fear inherent in the system results in the hiring of expensive talent in order to hedge bureaucrats against the loss of their job. So while there are talented “A-list” people worth every penny they are paid, it leaves a sizable talent pool underemployed. I call this pool the Bridesmaids. They have the following in common: 1) Exceptional and proven talent, 2) Never had a movie produced or TV pilot go to series, 3) Stay in the game because they are so close to having a movie or series produced, 4) Are paid well, 5) Are consummate professionals and great team members. There are dozens of these Bridesmaids.

The other pool is the Journeymen. They share all the traits of the Bridesmaids, but they haven’t yet had a shot at a pilot, have sold a pitch here and there, and have a modest rewriting or TV series staff career going. They are highly reliable, work quickly, and are hunting in a big way for the big dream. I’d also include older writers in this group – another pool of exceptional productivity callously tossed aside for no good reason.

Hire between 50 and 100 Bridesmaid and Journeymen screenwriters. Filter out those that specialize in self-indulgent personal crap. Find the people who can deliver. Throw in a dozen young new talents with original voices. Give them each an office in a central location, where they can all mingle, bounce ideas off of each other, bitch, moan, and do what they do best – create.

Give them weekend retreats at a nice resort with the marketing department. (Make that the new marketing department. MGM needs to rejigger that, too. I’ve not been impressed with their non-franchise-related advertising). Educate the writers on how marketing works. Yes, we know success is random, but marketing is a mélange of science and art and when it works, it really works. Bring the writer into the process. Vaccinate them further against writing self-indulgent personal crap.

Next, have Ms. Parent hire 2 lieutenants. Not career executives. They should have some kind of background in storytelling. That’s all they should focus on. Then Ms. Parent choose what movies she wants to make. She sets up the parameters. She’s being paid a lot of money. With great salary must come great responsibility. Does she want a thriller? Choose a writer and have him write a thriller. Don’t waste time hearing a pitch. The writer’s an employee. He gets it. Let him write something. If he doesn’t deliver, pass the project off to another writer or kill it.

Oh, and pay those writers. Pay them well by American standards: $150,000 per year, plus WGA benefits, increases per inflation rate. If the film they wrote gets made, a bonus equal to 2% of the production budget. And 1% of gross box office. Yep, you heard me. A gross point (I can hear the screaming in the corridors of power now). Why? Two reasons:1) The total amount of money spent under this scenario will be a fraction of what is currently spent under the broken system.
2) It changes what is currently a highly antagonistic employer-employee relationship into a partnership. Everyone’s interests are aligned.

Right now, most writers live in a world of hope. They waste productivity. Writers are regularly subjected to free rewrites, exacerbating their generalized rage disorders. The chances of a movie getting made are minuscule, writers know this, so they’re really only interested in getting paid out on their project. Total dollars earned are not reflective of total effort exerted.

But – BUT — can one imagine the levels of productivity a studio would see if a writer is handed a project that the studio has already approved of, that has a higher chance of being produced than under the current system, with a massive life-changing back-end as the carrot?

Wow.

Go read up on Southwest Airlines, and you’ll see what effect this will have.

[I’ve also just saved MGM hundreds of millions of dollars since there will never again be a labor action against them, because any writer who complains about this level of treatment has bigger problems than anyone can ever solve. The directors never strike, and SAG/AFTRA is such a cluster f**k that they couldn’t even mount a strike if they wanted to].



When the studio is happy with a script, THEN a producer comes in. MGM selects the producer who is the best fit based on their prior experience. Producer doesn’t like the project? They can’t find the emotional connection to the material? It’s not something they want to do? Then they should pass.

This system also eliminates 90% of the bureaucracy. All those executives – and apologies to those whom I’m friendly with – must move on. And they should anyway. You know why? They’ve been given impossible jobs that truly provide little room for advancement. Now I’ve seen people advance, but it’s about as frequent as the screenwriter who gets a movie made. The job isn’t about getting movies made. The job is about keeping the job. Who wants that kind of job?

All of MGM’s other problems still need to be tackled, of course. But we should assume they’ll come out okay, given the expertise at the helm. This system will give MGM everything it needs to stake out its territory and earn a competitive advantage over the other studios in town.

After all, it’s either this or business as usual. And that’s what got them MGM in the first place.

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