I attended the panel yesterday, which was subtitled “Rebels With a Cause.” The “rebels” in this case would be conservative writers and producers in Hollywood, who are often on the outside looking in on the industry today. It is a pretty established fact that sometime around the 1970’s a sea change began. Studios, writers and actors that were predominantly conservative grew stagnant and a new wave of liberal filmmakers entered the fray with their visions of Vietnam disillusionment and Watergate malaise. The prevailing attitude since that time has been that liberal ideology reigns supreme in this town. If you are a conservative, you are either a square, a greedy corporate overlord, or Hitler. Maybe even all 3!
The Liberty Film Festival was established to provide a mechanism for conservative filmmakers to be heard and have their films seen. So far the majority of offerings have been documentaries, but there were some narrative short films in the mix this year, including a screenplay contest, so I expect this event to continue to grow and become the alterna-Sundance. Based on how the event has grown from last year (its first year) and this weekend, I’d say the future looks bright.
Anyway, back to the panel I attended. It was moderated by Michael Medved. Participants in the panel included Frank Price, a former studio head at Columbia and Universal; Joel Surnow, creator of 24; Cyrus Nowrasteh, writer of The Day Reagan Was Shot and the upcoming 9/11 TV miniseries for ABC; Warren Bell, executive producer of According to Jim; Scott Gardenhour, producer who works with Michael Bay; and Doug Urbanski, producer of films including The Contender.
Quick note: the questions/answers below are paraphrased as I took notes at the event. If I find a transcript, I will post it.
Michael’s first question was “What can conservatives contribute to Hollywood?”
Cyrus Nowrasteh: Conservatives can start by “telling the truth.” He thinks shows like 24 show how conservative (or traditional) values are relayed in a story. He also felt that the docudramas he has written have not had many problems and when he has wanted to include elements of the 9/11 story which are rarely told, ABC has supported him.
Joel Surnow pondered whether the truth can sell. He felt that the truth can be rather ambiguous and the key is to tell a good story and don’t be afraid to tell the story the way you want to tell it.
Frank Price agreed, adding that you have to make a good picture that someone wants to see. If you are driven by a political agenda, it will be apparent in the writing. He cited The American President as a film which starts and ends with a political agenda and it alienates half the audience because of it.
Warren Bell gave voice to the capitalists stating that ‘we are all in the business to make money’. He felt that a return to traditional entertainment means giving people entertainment they will enjoy. He cited Napoleon Dynamite as a family friendly film that seeks to entertain its audience. He can watch it with his kids because it has no sex, no profanity, no violence [well, unless you count being hit with a steak violent] and its funny.
Scott Gardenhour noted that the material needs to be resonant, that for it to be made it has to have a voice…[I may have missed something about his comments here, sorry]
Finally, Doug Urbanski laid it out; Conservatives are the butt of jokes and it isn’t the executives that keep perpetuating this. It’s the rank and file, the disconnect happens in the front office. 100% of the companies passed on The Passion of the Christ. Producers have to stop practicing moral relativism and cutting off half their audience in the process. If they do that, they will see a box office boost.
Someone (don’t remember who) said that Hollywood is starting to wake up to the fact that not everyone voted for John Kerry. They actually need help reaching out to conservatives, since they don’t really know how to do it.
The next question from Medved: “What is your favorite RECENT film or TV show which illustrates respect for traditional values…and you didn’t create it?”
Cyrus: The Passion of the Christ and To End All Wars
Joel: I have young daughters and shows like That’s So Raven and Gilmore Girls are great entertainment.
Frank: The Passion and Farenheit 9/11 (audience laughs) It isn’t that Michael Moore’s film illustrated traditional values, but both of these films had passion behind them from their makers and that is what makes them interesting (He also noted he probably would have passed on The Passion also).
Warren: The Incredibles which wasn’t afraid to entertain adults as well as kids, but had strong messages and illustrated a healthy marriage and 24, his vote for the best show on TV.
Scott: The Incredibles
Doug: The Chorus, a great French film and Batman Begins which was filled with clearly good people and bad people.
Question to Scott Gardenhour about The Island — was it a pro-life movie?
Scott: Definitely a pro-life, pro-human movie. He talked to Dreamworks (who distributed domestically) about tapping into the same groups who showed up for The Passion, but they didn’t know how. Also, Dreamworks complained the movie was late and there was nothing the marketing department could do to publicize it properly (which Scott called B.S. on because Bay has done this with all of his movies and they have all made large sums of money). Scott also noted that it did well overseas, where Warner Bros. distributed it. He did note that Dreamworks was afraid to reveal the film for what it was and decided to keep the cover on it instead, which may be another reason no one saw it.
Question to Frank Price — what happened to Cinderella Man, which has a very traditional values message?
Frank: It’s a bad title, bad marketing. The movie was great, no one knew what it was.
Questions from the audience:
“Is the American actor completely screwed?” [Because of reality TV and more work abroad]
Joel: I don’t think so. There are more channels than ever and a need to fill the pipeline with programming. The danger is shrinking budgets, but new technologies may be able to solve that problem.
“How do you get more conservative views on TV?”
Scott: It isn’t all about money, it is about good material. Write a good script.
Doug: It starts with getting conservatives in the executive suite who recognize the audience wants this kind of viewpoint expressed on TV.
“Is Hollywood afraid of showing Islamofaschists as ‘bad guys’?”
Cyrus: At least as far as the 9/11 movie goes, no. They are using their [the terrorists] own words. There will be no actor portraying Osama Bin Laden.
“On Into the West mini-series how did you [Cyrus] deal with showing the times America was wrong [in treatment of Native Americans]?”
Cyrus: I can’t speak for the other writers, but on the episode I wrote, I focused on the wagon train and the hardships of moving out into the frontier.
“Does the power of the international box office [which presumably likes some of the leftist slant of films] work against conservatives?”
One of the panelists, I didn’t note who, thought no, because box office is not the big picture anymore. The future is in alternative distribution, DVD and VOD.
“Do you have advice for film students/new filmmakers?”
Scott: Use the internet. That is where the future is in terms of getting your work seen [presumably talking about short films].
“What one project would you like to get made if given unlimited money/resources?”
Cyrus: I have a project about “The Battle of New Orleans” which I feel is a great allegory for the War on Terrorism.
Joel: I’ve been talking to Ann Coulter about doing something about the REAL Joe McCarthy.
Frank: Two projects, one about the a turning point in the French and Indian War, which cemented the ‘Indians as savages’ meme in America for the next century. And he has a project about the Mayflower Pilgrims, because he feels that story has never been properly told.
Warren: Project about John Brown and he pitches to Scott G. a Robin Hood project, where he feels the Sheriff of Nottingham is the good guy!
Scott: The 50 States Media project he is working on.
Doug: Working on a Joe McCarthy project [hey, maybe he should talk to Joel!]
Someone mentioned (may have been Medved) that any biographies of the founding fathers do big business and Doug Urbanski noted that HBO has a series on John Adams in development.
That was it, I hope you found the info interesting. Certainly was a fascinating look at the business by some pros.
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This post was written by Shawna on October 24, 2005