Make Hollywood Great Again – Open Letter to LA Film Czar Kenneth Ziffren

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Dear Ken,

What a time to be serving as Hollywood’s Film Czar.

I know your job entails reducing legal impediments that stand in the way of winning tax breaks for zillion-dollar studios and millionaire production companies, but Hollywood is in crisis and we’re not talking Lady Gaga’s acting chops.

In the last few years, Hollywood has certainly taken it on the chin—and elsewhere—with sensational story after sensational story that has left heading bowed and shaking:

–Allegations of sex rings involving A-listers.

–A coroner’s report on Oscar-winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman that shows he died of a cocktail of illegal drugs.

–Robin Williams committing suicide.

–Woody Allen’s family matters.

–Faith-based moviegoers complaining about “Noah.”

–John Travolta making up the name Adele Dazeem when introducing singer Idina Menzel at the Oscars.

–North Korea (or somebody) hacking into the corporate emails at Sony Pictures Entertainment and revealing that the studio boss was making fun of President Obama.

Now comes the gold standard itself: The Academy Awards.

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The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is in upheaval over complaints that the nominees lack diversity. Spike Lee and power couple Jada Pinkett and Will Smith say they won’t attend the Oscars this year because of the controversy and Oscar host Chris Rock is said to be rewriting his opening monologue to bash everybody before 1 billion television viewers.

It’s obvious that something needs to be done—and fast.

Someone needs to ride to the rescue. Someone who’s held in high esteem. Someone of moral rectitude. Someone of good will and sound judgment.

In other words, the L.A. Film Czar.

A czar is needed when there’s chaos and division in the land.

A czar is needed when the people seek answers from their leaders and discover that the leaders have no answers to give.

A czar is someone who doesn’t delegate authority. A czar IS authority!

Up to this point, the ridiculously overblown title of L.A. Film Czar has been used to tout the importance of tax breaks for the film industry. But if you really want to leave a legacy, Ken, then leave that petty chore to someone else by designating a new post of L.A. Film Accountant.

The L.A. Film Czar, as the title implies, should aim higher, be bolder, have a vision beyond pedestrian activities. Like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or, perhaps, billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump, you should seek to recapture the glory and greatness of a bygone era.

As a long-time entertainment attorney, Ken, you know how to broker deals and solve disputes that have many people tearing out their hair.
Take the Academy’s decision to alter the time-honored tradition of who gets to vote on the Oscars.

Because the last two years have produced white-centric nominees, the Academy has decided to take the historic step and double the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.

“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership.”

As a result, the Academy said that beginning later this year, “each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decades. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars.

As you can well imagine, a backlash has developed. A former studio exec and well-known producer I know wrote an open letter to the Academy board saying that while the Academy should recruit a young, diverse membership, he also warned of making “hasty decisions driven by desperation.”

Ken, Hollywood needs you to step forward and heal the divisions that have opened.

Why you? Because as Film Czar you have friends in high places, like all the studio and television network heads. You know L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appointed you Film Czar following the death of former Film Czar Tom Sherak, the greatly missed and highly respected one-time studio executive.

If Sherak were still around, I’m pretty certain he could be called upon to put a good face on a grim situation. His charming smile would instantly begin improving Hollywood’s ruffled feathers. And, as the one person the whole town would listen to, we’re also sure that Tom could have pulled it off.

Alas, Tom’s not here anymore. So, what to do?

Some suggestions:

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–Immediately hold a press conference. At this gathering, televised live by all the cable news channels, he should announce the following:
1–Hollywood is shutting down for 90 days and everyone who works in the industry is entering rehab. During this 90-day cooling off period, there will be no Oscars, no premieres, no red carpets, no gifting suites, no press screenings and no celebrity Q&A’s.
The L.A. Film Czar will tell the paparazzi that if they want to shoot pictures of actresses falling out of their gowns, then go to St. Tropez.
“Not in our town—not for 90 days,” the Film Czar should say with a glare as steely as Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.

2—Scrap all R-rated sequels and replace them with G-rated sequels.
Force the studios to remake Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Love Finds Andy Hardy, Lassie Come Home, The Yearling and Singin’ in the Rain.” And, if they want to recast these classics with diverse casting, that’s OK because the Film Czar has spoken.
What? There aren’t any directors capable of making such films these days? They all want to revel in strangeness, bleak futuristic landscapes, kinky sex and apocalyptic storylines? Then strip them of their membership in the Directors Guild of America. And that goes for Steven Spielberg, who has been exhibiting darker tendencies in recent years.

3—For two years, you and you alone have total veto power over what movies will be made in Hollywood and which scripts will be placed in turnaround. Studio executives have failed miserably in this regard and should no longer have the power to greenlight until they attend a reputable film school.

4—Seize Charlie Sheen, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and remove them to western Kansas, where they can begin re-indoctrination at a boot camp under the direction of the 4-H Clubs of America.

5—Lower ticket prices to one penny for a period of six months as a goodwill gesture to America. If the studios and theater owners object, tell them to screw themselves.

6–Take the Oscars. It’s common knowledge that the movie-going public has had enough of the Academy Awards always honoring films that nobody in Middle America can see at their local multiplex. So, henceforth, as Film Czar, order the Academy’s Board of Governors to immediately adopt a new rule requiring that all nominated films be seen by a minimum of 10 million moviegoers or they won’t qualify for an Oscar. If the governors balk, lock them out of their offices.

If you really want to make amends with American, appoint Ellen DeGeneres as Hollywood’s Ambassador of Good Cheer.

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The industry has been in need of a goodwill ambassador since Johnny Grant died. If Ellen can’t—or won’t—become the newly-created Ambassador of Good Cheer, or if Samsung has her booked doing selfies at other appearances, then order Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan to tour the Heartland as Hollywood’s Roving Couple of Good Cheer.

7—Ban Woody Allen from ever making another film.
Sorry, Woody, we love you, but until you get your sick, twisted personal life back together (OK, so it may not be sick and twisted, but it sure ain’t as sweet as cherry Jell-O), we can’t have you churning out films that serve as a constant irritant to Mia).

8—Ban all film schools.
One primary cause of Hollywood’s descent into madness is that today’s filmmakers prize form over substance. All Howard Hawks wanted to do was make an entertaining movie. Today, college professors are feeding their gullible classes with so much nonsense that it’s a wonder that their students even know what a good script reads like?
And no more dissections of Chinatown, please. Yes, we know, it’s a great script but why aren’t today’s film schools studying The Thin Man?

9—Shutter CAA, WME, ICM and all the other agencies until further notice.
The agents, of course, will be entering rehab for 90 days along with the rest of the town, but they will be allowed to take unread scripts along with them. Imagine? They will actually have to read a script since they’re always farming them out to script readers.
And let’s abandon this hair-brained idea that there are all these great and glorious unproduced scripts out there as reported by industry professionals in their annual “Black List.” All of the blacklisted scripts are crap. Besides, they won’t be needed in the New Hollywood where remakes of Dumbo and Darby O’Gill and the Little People will serve as touchstones of creativity.

10—Henceforth, all Hollywood productions will cost no more than $15 million.
Enough with huge budgets, huge star salaries, huge star trailers, huge stunts, huge CGI, huge catering and huge wardrobes. If America’s medical care costs are soaring out of sight, what about filmmaking costs?

Here’s a thought. Appoint Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to oversee all Hollywood production budgets.
And let’s not kid ourselves about where cuts can be made.

Business Insider reported awhile back that on one of his films, Will Smith’s one-of-a-kind, two-story trailer nicknamed “The Heat” cost $2.5 million and came with 14 TV screens, $30,000 worth of leather, and $100,000-$125,000 worth of technology. That’s ridiculous. In the New Hollywood run by a Film Czar, the stars can retire to canvas tents purchased at Big 5 and munch on Cheetos between scenes. Directors will provide their own chairs.

The L.A. Film Czar will then leave the press conference without taking questions.

A new era has begun.

That’s it, Ken. It’s now up to you.

Yours truly,
A fan of Cecil B. DeMented

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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