BY STEVEN SODERBERGH
Illustration by Gabriel Jacobs
This (personal) letter was written for me by the staff. I have not read it, approved its dissemination, or acknowledged responsibility for its content. I am, in fact, utterly and legally blameless.This letter will be familiar in tone, as though we know each other. Or, given the business we're in, as though we tell people we know each other.
I love being reminded of how brave and smart our predecessors were. The growth and maintenance of this Guild is a fascinating and very American success story. Today, in a culture where unions are shrinking, we enjoy an unprecedented amount of protection and support. Certainly it's safe to say a lot of families would love to scrape by on what I earned in residuals this year. Not to mention the health care and the travel perks. As for the organization, everyone I've encountered since the start of my service cares deeply about the future of this Guild and backs it up with hard work. All in all, top shelf.
But it's not enough.
It's not enough mostly because the burn rate of everything is accelerating, resulting in a precipitous economic trajectory (fierce competition for eyeballs; spending more to make less). Nobody on either side of the issue feels very secure, which means people take fewer risks, and that, ironically, stunts growth.2 Oh, and we haven't solved diversity, which, for some reason, always gets put on pause whenever any other issues require attention. And did I mention that what we do in the next five years will probably determine the next fifty? This isn't fear-mongering on my part - it's just what's happening. Talk to anyone, look at their faces. People feel something isn't right.3
Now, to fix it, we have to take a leadership position, because if we don't, I don't know who will. We have, in Michael Apted, a smart, compassionate president with a great BS meter, maybe the best I've ever seen (obviously I try to avoid his gaze). We have, in Jay Roth, an executive director of singular experience and real passion - for golf. (Okay, that was cheap, but he really does love that game.) We have a spectacular staff and members who are anxious to serve in the Guild. We have a collective DNA that hard-wires us to solve problems.4
Now picture me speaking through a loudspeaker to a stadium full of industryites (hope it has a huge VIP parking section), and challenging everyone in attendance - no, in earshot - to create a new idea of this business, a new paradigm; one with the strength, breadth, and flexibility to weather any future development. I'm talking about something so smart and so elegant it can be plugged in to other industries. A Big Idea. Nobel-level shit. "We can do this!" I bellow, before slipping on a spilled beer.
Step one is education. We need more data on the economics of the industry, from both sides of the table. This business is an ecosystem, and without a detailed macro-view, we can't figure out how to keep it healthy. Otherwise it's like looking at someone three feet away with a telescope.5
Step two is analysis. What does this data tell us? Which critical assumptions are true and which are false, and why? In this phase it is crucial that we remain ideologically agnostic and just listen to the facts. Let's get those Freakonomics guys. Or better yet, somebody just like them but cheaper.
Step three is the Idea phase. The key here is patience, because I promise you the Big Idea isn't just a few jam sessions away; your toddlers could be getting braces by the time this thing is street ready. Also, if we're truly open-minded, and if we truly believe - as I do - that the best deal for the most members is the best deal, then some tough questions could arise. Was that vague and ominous enough for you?
Step four is strategy. We've got the Big Idea (see? easy), but what is our plan for implementing it? How do we prove our case, and how much support do we need to achieve critical mass?
Step five is actual implementation. This means negotiating our asses off, in the event the Big Idea isn't warmly embraced. On the other hand, if the Big Idea is really that Big, maybe it won't be so hard. After all, the whole point is the new paradigm would result in a mutually beneficial outcome; each side should be rooting for the success of the other.6 And don't call me Neville Chamberlain when I say turning the people across the table into abstractions is a fatal mistake. We need more contact with the producers, not less, and I'm talking face time, not emails and phone calls. It's the only way each side can determine what really matters to the other.
As I said, the creation of a new paradigm will not be quick and it will not be cheap and it will not be easy. In fact, it might be impossible, and yet it must be done, or we're fools.
The founding director members, 70 years ago, imagined a better future and then did the hard work to make it real.
Now it's our turn.7
Yours in corduroy,
National Vice President
- 1. In the Cheney sense, not that dictator guy.
- 2. The author has no evidence to support this analysis. He just thinks it sounds good.
- 3. And not just that there are too many awards shows, although there are. I mean, really. It's like meeting someone who celebrates their birthday twice a week between October and March and expects a present each time.
- 4. This is the complex gene TBD-21, which occurs in two out of every two people
- 5. The author worked a long time on that example, and it shows.
- 6. The zip code in Fantasyland is 90013.
- 7. The author has a maddening habit of trying to create catchphrases and slogans, which stems from his first accidental success in naming his first feature.