THB #40: Thankful 2021

I am thankful to be healthy, COVID-free, and relatively sane after the last 19 months of madness.

I thank Netflix for launching into streaming, even before it made a ton of sense. Obviously, the technology has evolved quite remarkably (authored by many), but most importantly, it is making and will keep making the world smaller. This is a huge step for the filmed entertainment industry. But it is also a step for mankind… one that remains hopeful and hard to measure. While children are using weapons of war to kill strangers at protests and getting away with zero consequences, we still must acknowledge that the boundaries that separate us are getting smaller. The next generation will be better than the last. And the more that is shared, the harder it is to keep hate alive. Or… we can kill each other off more quickly. Let’s hope for the former.

Thanks for all the great work we got to experience this year. In spite of COVID and a quickly changing landscape, there was a lot of really fine work getting done. There has been an embarrassment of riches in documentary, especially. Every time a movie/show turned up and surely seemed the best of the year, a legitimate competitor arrived. And in so many categories. You have folks like Gibney, who does signature projects and also oversees a high quality factory of filmmakers. Or Liz Garbus, who directs and also has built up a company with collaborators who produce a range of films beyond her personal work. There’s teams like Chin & Vasarhelyi, who find a way to challenge themselves in new and unexpected ways every time out. Or Bill Simmons, who is more impresario than director, getting HBO to sign onto a series of somewhat obscure music documentaries (or were you expecting to see a great Kenny G doc this year?). And the entire world of documentarians that America has really slept on forever. Inexcusably. Because we have missed so much fascinating work for so long. And Matthew Heineman, I don’t know quite how you went to work on The First Wave every day and survived it without breaking down every day. Thank you.

I thank the movie gods for the fictional or fictionalized work too. The annual non-violent battle between A24 and Neon to see who the coolest distributor on the block is going to be this year. (“You got a David Lowery masterpiece? Well, I’ll raise you a Apichatpong Weerasethakul and we’re only going to release it on one screen at a time.”) We have a new generation of Searchlight and a new generation of Focus and an old generation of Sony Classics, all delivering year after year. It would be petty to do anything but thank Netflix for throwing money at brand filmmakers. (Except to say, send some money and that platform to Sayles and Brest and Michel Franco, wouldya?)

I am thankful for the 20,000 or so views that DP/30 still gets each day. I am saddened that my access has been nearly eliminated by studios that now service the Penske Cash Machine and little else. As a result, I have stopped calling DP/30 “The Oral History of Hollywood,” as it simply no longer is. It’s a great library that was ubiquitous for a decade or so. But the work is still a true pleasure. So I do it when talent - usually people who value the kind of interviews I do and the lack on sensationalism in promoting it - is willing. I miss hearing the stories. I miss the perspective it offers me and my viewers. But you can’t fight shitty haul. Still, I’m thankful every time someone chooses to share. It brings me so much joy.

I thank the publicists… the ones who remain supportive and those who have not. You all do a hard thing. And it’s almost never been about me, specifically, in the past… or now. When it is, I appreciate it. When it isn’t, I nod to “how things work.” It’s nothing new. I have had the rare good fortune to do things as I think best for a very long time. Things change. I’m still alive. My work keeps getting better (though at am a little rusty these days). And I have had more than my fair share of being how things work.

I’m thankful for journalists who make the effort to chase truth. There are fewer and fewer. And complain as I might - sometimes brutally - I don’t really blame most writers for trying to deliver what their bosses want. Obviously, one of the battles of the last 15 years has been about the theatrical movie business. Believe me, I have heard every argument made against it. I have researched every claim, so easily taken as fact by so many of my peers. I tend to think my arguments go in and out of the ears of most of those peers. I am not alone, but at I am a rarity. Easier to just keep saying what everyone else is saying… whether it’s true or not. But it’s not a conflict of opinions. It’s facts that don’t jibe with the trendy take. And no matter how often the facts raise their head, unavoidably, writers will pretzel themselves to maintain their previous misinformed ideas. Very frustrating. The coverage of a October box office is the latest example… and now November and December will be mostly misrepresented in the media. But again, I am thankful for those who try and for the many in the industry who know the realities. Unfortunately, this leads to much of the industry treating media like flunkies in their free publicity desires. I wish more of my peers would say, “No thanks” to that.

I am thankful for those in journalism who aren’t endlessly enraged by me being demanding of their work. The only people with thinner skin than execs and publicists are journalists.

Thanks to my family and friends for not only putting up with me, but in their support. It’s often easier to keep a distance from the guy who pisses people off. I’m really not trying to upset anyone or to prove my worth by provoking. For friends in the industry, I can be overwhelming. I get it. So for those with the strength to indulge and maybe even enjoy this flavor, thanks. Thanks to you, I haven’t cut my ear off yet. (This is where the angry ones hiss that I put myself in the same category as Van Gogh. Calm down. It’s about isolation and sanity, not genius.)

I always want to thank Scot Safon, the late great Andy Jones, and my MCN partner Laura Rooney for being there to create a foundation for my last couple decades of work. Ray Pride mastered the MCN headline gig for many years after I burned so many bridges in the early days.

And I thank you. If you are reading this, you are still on the journey with me. Maybe you are a recent addition. Maybe some are from the 1990s Hot Button and Whole Picture days. I have always believed in not singing to hear the response. But I have also loved the response. And I guess one must write to be heard. I love this madness. My brain needs to work to thrive. I love the puzzle of this industry. It’s an unsolvable Rubik’s Cube and every time anyone gets too comfy thinking they figured out, the pendulum smashes them in the head. I have been guilty of getting too comfy at times. It brings me shame. But then, I get up, bandage the self-inflicted wounds as best I can, and keep going.

So thanks again… and have a great Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving weekend, you and yours. Go see a movie in a theater. See something you aren’t so sure of… and see. Or watch something you aren’t sure you’ll like on streaming. Embrace your pleasure and reach beyond.

Until tomorrow…