Tuesday, April 6, 2010

MBAs Running Showbiz

MBAs running showbiz is like having a doctor hang ceiling tiles: they might get it right, but why would you ask them to try in the first place? To have MBAs, general business people, in charge of entertainment companies makes little sense in the final analysis. Sure they might know about allocating money and saying what stockholders, the board and colleagues want to hear, but they aren't showman (and show-women; show people).

Too many decision makers didn't come here to entertain anyone. The influence, power, money and glamor appeal to many, but few continue on in their motives and aim to change minds and hearts, move people, innovate or change anything but their own position and accolades. Most executives, and those aspiring to be executives, are skilled at one thing truly, and at the exclusion of other interests it's all they do: Most executives just move piles of money around.

Please don't mistake my meaning. Using resources well is vital for most things in life, be it rolling a tube of tooth paste from the bottom, or keeping a multi-billion dollar diversified media and entertainment company from going broke. Capital allocation, putting money toward what it makes sense to put it towards, is good business, and part of 'show business.' But making money is only part of show business. There is so much more that can be done in addition.

Show people, like Walt Disney, Cecil B. DeMille and P.T. Barnum, can make fortunes to be sure, but that's not all they do. In addition to making money, show people's efforts transform or create entire industries/genres/cultures and expand the thoughts/feelings/actions of countless millions of people for multiple generations.

Shakespeare was a very successful business person profiting from his own acting, writing and theatre ownership/management. He owned a stake in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later named the King's Men), the leading theatre company in London (and therefore England) which built the Globe and owned other very successful theatres. He likely originated (i.e., was the first to play) some of the most re-performed acting roles ever written (by him) and in plays by others. He built a fortune in the late 1500s and early 1600s when if you were born without a lot money, making a lot money was very difficult. But Shakespeare's financial success is a footnote to his accomplishments.

  • affected all of Western Culture
  • transformed and created huge portions of the English language itself
  • touched and touches millions of minds, hearts and dreams
  • created 37 plays and over 150 poems, often considered the most important literary works ever made
  • keeps and has kept thousands of publishers/typesetters/editors/actors/directors/etc. gainfully employed for the last few centuries

And his accomplishments show no signs of slowing down anytime in the foreseeable future. No media company has even tied him, on any one of them. They should try.

To hope to keep a business running and growing is to lack ambition. Being concerned with dominating an industry, or increasing customer 'touch points' (the times and ways a company interacts with customers) and ignoring the need for good quality entertainment, entertainment that the audience so desperately craves, is to call a failed professional life a financial success and then give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back.

Yes, all things must sustain themselves or they are not healthy. A child's lemonade stand ought to make it's money back or (and this may not be a bad thing) it's subsidized playtime. If the child dilutes the lemonade to make the stand financially profitable, have they succeeded? They succeeded at making money while disappointing every customer and learning that cheating can get you loot. Empty, unfeeling, void of true value, loot. Instead, if the child makes the lemonade so tasty people pay a premium for it, then the loot can come in piles and buyers are happier/less thirsty too. Everyone can gain, no one need lose, and the world can become a better place.

Annual financial reports, no matter how large the numbers on them are, will never be able to have the worth of good financial results from the massive creation of value at a Shakespearean level. You say you're no Shakespeare? Good, we already had one of those, but never has there been another you. Make great work. You say that's hard? Yes, it's hard, harder than we can almost imagine; it is very hard to create great work. That's why it is called work and being hard makes it no less worth doing.

By all means make money, and don't ignore the day-to-day need to pay-the-bills. And create value while you make the money.


Alicia said...

Bravo!!! to this entire article! Why can't we have an industry that creates great stories AND thrives, instead of recycling ideas over and over (unneeded sequels) just for the bottom line? Artists-maybe learn to be a bit more business savvy (I'm speaking to myself here as well) and business people--listen to your artistic side a bit more. Let's all aim a little higher--to make films, television, theater, that really counts.

Screenwriter Chic said...

Very good blog and well written! Thank you for your insight!