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Reel power: the struggle for influence and success in the New Hollywood.

Reel Power: The Struggle for Influence and Success in the New Hollywood.

Mark Litwak. WilliamMorrow, $18.95. For all the ink that is spilled chronicling Hollywood, very little gives readers a sense of how the movie business operates on the nuts and bolts level. Even Indecent Exposure, probably the best business book about Hollywood, is really more about the pathology of corporate boardrooms. Serious business journalists tend to avoid Hollywood, probably because they figure it's too weired to offer lessons for the rest of us. That's too bad, because what Hollywood is all about--the pursuit of creativity--is also something that other industries, in less extravagant ways, aim for. How that pursuit is corrupted or goes awry in Hollywood can help us understand how creative impulses ought to be nurtured in other businesses.

Litwak's book, funded in part byRalph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law, helps fill the gap. Litwak has taken a thoughtful look at the movie business, without getting sucked in by the glamor of Tinseltown on the one hand or the power politicking of corporate executives on the other.

The movie business would seemto represent the entrepreneurial ideal. The studio system is today largely extinct, having been replaced by a proliferation of independent production companies. But as a result, much of what was good about the old, oligopolistic ways has been lost. Back when screenwriters were studio employees, one former Columbia contract writer told Litwak, "We would have lunch together and talk about our mutual problems. If you ran into a script problem you would have somebody to go and bullshit with.' Most writers today work for themselves at home, without the benefit of such mutual support. Meanwhile, the executives who remain at the studios, now reduced largely to making deals to market and distribute films made by outsiders, don't seem as passionate about movies as the unschooled immigrant-moguls of the past. To grab their attention, producers need "high-concept' ideas that can be expressed in a sentence, or, even better, a "jingle'--a story that can be reduced to a single phrase.

Litwak unfortunately relies toomuch on quotes, rather than analysis, to prove his points. And although he offers some criticisms of Hollywood unions (which parody the wage demands and work rules of the rest of American labor), he does not hit them as hard as he should. As a writer, he shows special solidarity with oppressed screenwriters, who get paid for more than writers in any other field. Describing one screenwriter's triumph over the Hollywood system, Litwak quotes him without irony as saying, "I drive a Mercedes, I feel good about myself.'

But while Litwak's Naderite sensibilitymakes him reluctant to ridicule Hollywood's working class pretensions, it also leads him to discover that Steven Spielberg's film "The Goonies' received $100,000 from Nabisco in exchange for depicting a young boy and his gruesome friend sharing a Baby Ruth.
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Author:Noah, Timothy
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1987
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