No Appreciation for Art: Manipulation of Work in Hollywood

What I thought Hollywood was like as a kid.

Growing up, the Hollywood movie scene seemed like a magical place. People could live off of making movies and playing music and writing funny pieces for television. It was a place I wanted to be. However, my younger self romanticized the movie industry. The older I got, the more I realized that it is a difficult business to get into. It’s about being better than the person next to you and knowing people to get an in. To an extent, it’s still where I want to be, but the more and more I learn about the creative industries, specifically film and television, I start to feel more pessimistic about this career path. My main intent is to create art, but Hortense Powdermaker dispels the many romantic notions of creating art in the film industry, in her book, Hollywood: The Dream Factory.

Powdermaker goes into the specific roles of the major characters in the film industry, specifically, directors, producers, writers, actors, and the front line. These are the careers I had romanticized, and Powdermaker lays out the reality of each position. “There is an obvious dependency of each group on the other, and at the same time a constant struggle for control and domination” (29). I understand that the movie business is about collaboration and compromise, but to be in constant competition for control and domination seems too aggressive and moving farther away from creation of art. For me, art is a way of expression and how I view the world (such a cliché definition), but business aspect starts to draw away from creativity. This is where I find myself second guessing this artist industry.

While earning money in the creative industries is certainly an issue, I am concerned about creating ethical and educational content. A classmate brought up his concern about creating films that have a greater purpose than entertainment. A piece that would leave the audience with new ideas, a new outlook, or questioning morals. In the film industry, if the film doesn’t have the potential gain revenue, then directors, writers, producers, have to tailor them to make it more entertaining. I strongly identify with this situation. I want to create content that doesn’t sacrifice moral messages and ethical takeaways, and is accepted by the business end of the industry.

Looking at this issue from the perspective of a writer, we can have a better understanding of how work can become manipulated. If I was a writer, I can write a script that has a larger moral message and sell it, but once it is sold, I would lose all creative control to what happens to the script. “It is the director’s job to translate [the screenplay] into a film,” leaving a lot of room for creative interpretation (185). Producers have a lot of control, playing God, and “tend to project onto the movies their own personalities, their ideas of love and sex, their attitude to mankind, and their ‘solutions’ to social problems” (116). Powdermaker suggests, “one possible solution to the problem of control is for a writer to attempt to make it part of his contract that not changes can be made in his script without his consent,” but this is highly unlikely (181).

A writer, under the alias, Mr. Cynic says, “he never goes to see any of the movies on which he has worked because…all the original meaning has been taken out and he cannot stand looking at them” (140). There is so much manipulation of work for the sake of gaining more money, that the artist’s ideas are lost.  

Art does not have to please everyone. Art is subjective. Not everyone enjoys art of electronic music and not everyone enjoys pointillism paintings. Under this logic, if film is art, not everyone has to enjoy a film. However, there is still a tug-of-war between creating something meaningful to the artist and having it appreciated by large audiences. My hope going into the creative industries that that I don’t “sacrifice [my] artistic aspirations for the security of a weekly pay-check” (176).

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