Quote of the Day: Can Hollywood Solve the World’s Problems?

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From director Steven Soderbergh, singing the glories of Hollywood’s ideology-free, can-do attitude:

One thing I do know from making art is that ideology is the enemy of problem-solving. Nobody sits on a film set and says, “No, you can’t use green-screen VFX to solve that because I’m Catholic.”….I look at Hurricane Katrina, and I think if four days before landfall you gave a movie studio autonomy and a 100th of the billions the government spent on that disaster, and told them, “Lock this place down and get everyone taken care of,” we wouldn’t be using that disaster as an example of what not to do.

Hollywood! The place that brought you Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar! The place where a cartoon director was handed $200 million to direct John Carter, no questions asked, because hey, how different can live action be? The place where studio chiefs practically quiver in fear over green lighting a movie that’s not a comic book or a sequel. The place with executives so easy to parody that it hardly even seems worth the bother anymore. The place that spent years trying to ban VCRs. The place that’s spent the past two decades trying to figure out the internet without any notable success.

How is it that smart people can be so dumb about government? Does Soderbergh seriously think that Hollywood is a poster child for the efficient use of budget dollars? Does he really believe that Hollywood is ideology free? Is he aware, for example, that our copyright law is the shambles it is largely because of Hollywood lobbying? Does he realize that governments deal with problems just a wee more important and less tractable than which green-screen technology works best? Does he have the slightest idea how the real world works? Apparently not. Here’s his answer to the obvious follow-up question:

Okay, so here’s your chance: What is the efficient way to run a railroad or a government, as the case may be?

I’m of the minority opinion that presidents should be given more power for less time. Let him—no “her” yet!—put the ideas he campaigned on into play, like a new tax code, and let’s see if it works or fails, quickly. If it doesn’t, then two years later the people who said it would never work get their chance.

Sounds great! I wonder if Soderbergh realizes that lots of other countries work pretty much exactly this way? And that for most problems complicated enough for anyone to care about, figuring out if something “works or fails, quickly” isn’t quite the same as releasing a movie and seeing how it does at the box office?

Via Sullivan.

UPDATE: Obviously this particular excerpt from the interview annoyed me a wee bit. Soderbergh is basically saying that if everyone agrees on what needs to be done, things can get done pretty efficiently. And that’s often true. But it’s hardly an insightful critique of government, which has to deal with lots of hard problems that we all disagree about.

That said, the rest of the interview is pretty interesting. Here’s an unexpected admission that comes after Soderbergh has complained that the folks who finance movies these days interfere relentlessly with directors:

An alarming thing I learned during Contagion is that the people who pay to make the movies and the audiences who see them are actually very much in sync. I remember during previews how upset the audience was by the Jude Law character. The fact that he created a sort of mixed reaction was viewed as a flaw in the filmmaking. Not, “Oh, that’s interesting, I’m not sure if this guy is an asshole or a hero.” People were really annoyed by that. And I thought, Wow, so ambiguity is not on the table anymore. They were angry.

So the money folks interfere, but apparently they have a pretty good sense of what audiences want. Fascinating.


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