Monday, October 24, 2005

Film/TV Panel @ The Liberty Film Festival

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.


Christian Johnson said...

Thanks for posting information on this panel. I was unable to attend any of the events this past weekend and am glad to find accounts from people who were.

The Constipated Writer said...

I would love to see the real MCcarthy film get made. But it'll be hard going with the political climate as it is.

Joshua said...

Ann Coulter just recently said that she didn't believe in the first amendment, that anyone who opposes the conservative view ought to have their freedom of speech suppressed.

That's not an American thought. This country was founded on freedom of speech.

I cannot believe what I've read here.

Conservatives are the power in this country right now. They run the House, the Senate and have their President in the White House. If there's a reason that they are a the butt of jokes in the entertainment world, it's because they're botching the job so badly. Because a whole passel of them are about to be indicted. Because they preach moral values while they lie, steal and torture people.

If I were conservative (and I have some of those beliefs) I would be really pissed off at what's been done in my political name and I would be ashamed.

Joshua said...

These are all conservative members of the party of moral values -

Republican County Constable Larry Dale Floyd was arrested on suspicion of soliciting sex with an 8-year old girl. Floyd has repeatedly won elections for Denton County, Texas, constable.

Republican judge Mark Pazuhanich pleaded no contest to fondling a 10-year old girl and was sentenced to 10 years probation.

Republican Mayor Philip Giordano is serving a 37-year sentence in federal prison for sexually abusing 8- and 10-year old girls.

Republican County Commissioner David Swartz pleaded guilty to molesting two girls under the age of 11 and was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Republican legislator Edison Misla Aldarondo was sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping his daughter between the ages of 9 and 17.

Republican anti-abortion activist Howard Scott Heldreth is a convicted child rapist in Florida.

Republican anti-abortion activist Nicholas Morency pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography on his computer and offering a bounty to anybody who murders an abortion doctor.

Republican campaign consultant Tom Shortridge was sentenced to three years probation for taking nude photographs of a 15-year old girl.

Republican racist pedophile and United States Senator Strom Thurmond had sex with a 15-year old black girl which produced a child.

Republican pastor Mike Hintz, whom George W. Bush commended during the 2004 presidential campaign, surrendered to police after admitting to a sexual affair with a female juvenile.

Republican legislator Peter Dibble pleaded no contest to having an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl.

Republican advertising consultant Carey Lee Cramer was charged with molesting his 9-year old step-daughter after including her in an anti-Gore television commercial.

Republican Congressman Donald "Buz" Lukens was found guilty of having sex with a female minor and sentenced to one month in jail.

Republican fundraiser Richard A. Delgaudio was found guilty of child porn charges and paying two teenage girls to pose for sexual photos.

Republican activist Mark A. Grethen convicted on six counts of sex crimes involving children.

Republican activist Randal David Ankeney pleaded guilty to attempted sexual assault on a child.

Republican Congressman Dan Crane had sex with a female minor working as a congressional page.

Republican activist and Christian Coalition leader Beverly Russell admitted to an incestuous relationship with his step daughter.

Republican congressman and anti-gay activist Robert Bauman was charged with having sex with a 16-year-old boy he picked up at a gay bar.

Republican Committee Chairman Jeffrey Patti was arrested for distributing a video clip of a 5-year-old girl being raped.

Republican activist Marty Glickman (a.k.a. "Republican Marty"), was taken into custody by Florida police on four counts of unlawful sexual activity with an underage girl and one count of delivering the drug LSD.

Republican legislative aide Howard L. Brooks was charged with molesting a 12-year old boy and possession of child pornography.

Republican Senate candidate John Hathaway was accused of having sex with his 12-year old baby sitter and withdrew his candidacy after the allegations were reported in the media.

Republican preacher Stephen White, who demanded a return to traditional values, was sentenced to jail after offering $20 to a 14-year-old boy for permission to perform oral sex on him.

Republican talk show host Jon Matthews pleaded guilty to exposing his genitals to an 11 year old girl.

Republican anti-gay activist Earl "Butch" Kimmerling was sentenced to 40 years in prison for molesting an 8-year old girl after he attempted to stop a gay couple from adopting her.

Republican Party leader Paul Ingram pleaded guilty to six counts of raping his daughters and served 14 years in federal prison.

Republican election board official Kevin Coan was sentenced to two years probation for soliciting sex over the internet from a 14-year old girl.

Republican politician Andrew Buhr was charged with two counts of first degree sodomy with a 13-year old boy.

Republican politician Keith Westmoreland was arrested on seven felony counts of lewd and lascivious exhibition to girls under the age of 16 (i.e. exposing himself to children).

Republican anti-abortion activist John Allen Burt was found guilty of molesting a 15-year old girl.

Republican County Councilman Keola Childs pleaded guilty to molesting a male child.

Republican activist John Butler was charged with criminal sexual assault on a teenage girl.

Republican candidate Richard Gardner admitted to molesting his two daughters.

Republican Councilman and former Marine Jack W. Gardner was convicted of molesting a 13-year old girl.

Republican County Commissioner Merrill Robert Barter pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual contact and assault on a teenage boy.

Republican City Councilman Fred C. Smeltzer, Jr. pleaded no contest to raping a 15 year-old girl and served 6-months in prison.

Republican activist Parker J. Bena pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography on his home computer and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and fined $18,000.

Republican parole board officer and former Colorado state representative, Larry Jack Schwarz, was fired after child pornography was found in his possession.

Republican strategist and Citadel Military College graduate Robin Vanderwall was convicted in Virginia on five counts of soliciting sex from boys and girls over the internet.

Republican city councilman Mark Harris, who is described as a "good military man" and "church goer," was convicted of repeatedly having sex with an
11-year-old girl and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Republican businessman Jon Grunseth withdrew his candidacy for Minnesota governor after allegations surfaced that he went swimming in the nude
with four underage girls, including his daughter.

Republican director of the "Young Republican Federation" Nicholas Elizondo molested his 6-year old daughter and was sentenced to six years in

Republican president of the New York City Housing Development Corp. Russell Harding pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography on his computer. He was also found guilty of embezzlement and fraud. Harding was appointed to his highly paid and influential position by Rudy Guliani, despite the fact that he had no college degree or training, but Harding's father was Rudy's biggest supporter.

Republican benefactor of conservative Christian groups, Richard A. Dasen Sr., was found guilty of raping a 15-year old girl. Dasen, 62, who is married with grown children and several grandchildren, has allegedly told police that over the past decade he paid more than $1 million to have sex with a large number of young women.

And I haven't even touched on Iraq, Katrina or the Plamegate indictments that could come this week.

I'm sure that someone could dig up some dirt on a few liberals (and for the record, I don't consider myself a liberal) and democrats if they looked hard enough, but neither of those groups tout themselves as the "Party of moral values".

Maybe, just maybe mind you, conservatives should consider cleaning up their own back yard before complaining about anyone else's.

Shawna said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shawna said...

Thanks for the feedback, Joshua. I always enjoy hearing your point of view, even if we disagree.

And yes, I had a much longer response, which I have deleted, because I just don't care to get into a political debate.

Joshua said...

Hey Shawna,

You are welcome to come to my blog and chat whenever you wish - I don't think that you are a bad person, if you got that impression, I apologize - and on some issues, we might even agree.

But some of what was spoken about at the forum, which you reported, made me upset (particularly the Ann Coulter-real-McCarthy story bit) because I also think the hollering that the conservative point of view is repressed in entertainment is not valid. If fact, I find it absurd, to tell the truth.

The Hollywood system does not serve any political agenda, just a profit-bearing one. Rogers over at KF monkey did a long breakdown of this awhile ago, in which he was probably more verbose than I could be. All the folks that turned out Passion of Christ also turned down Farenheight 9/11 - both made hundreds of millions.

But I don't understand how can anyone rationally state that the conservative viewpoint is being overlooked? Every time I turn on the television to the news I am hit with it. They have their own news channel. They have there own President. They own the House, the Senate and the judiciary.

I don't think that the conservative viewpoint is being overlooked. I think folks are very familiar with the conservative viewpoint and leadership and they are rejecting it, for good reason.

You're right that I am angry, not at you, but what's been done the past few years. I am angry about the hypocracy, I really am - If the panel had been christian conservatives addressing the hypocrasy and corruption done in government and church in THEIR NAME and what THEY can do about it, you would have heard a huge cheer from me. But by ignoring the corruption and anger toward what's been done, and is still happening, to the public is in part what is hurting their movement, that's made them, again just in my eyes, just as hypocritical.

And talk about Ann Coulter, she is as repugnant a person as any of the radical right examples you listed. She's on television on Fox News VERY often, and also on Bill Maher's show as well, and Leno. She is hardly overlooked.

And by the way, Pat Robertson has ready access to the President whenever he wants, both he and James Dobson, and Robertson has his own television network that reaches out to millions. They are not crackpot individuals within the movement but influential men with millions of followers.

I'm not trying to change you, Shawna, you are your own person. We are part of the same community but we are individuals who make our own choices. You posted this on your blog, about a community I work in, you posted it for public dissemination and I responded with my thoughts and feelings. Why else put it here if you didn't want people to talk about it? If you didn't want a debate, why bring it up?

I'm always open to changing my view if a better, more humane and rational one comes along. But I think Medved and company are really doing a disservice to you and everyone by ignoring the obvious.

Joshua said...

I understand - my previous post was in response to you longer one - feel free to cut if you like from my comments - it's your blog, after all - I'm simply sharing what I see and hear from where I am on the East Coast - I mean you no personal emnity.

Joshua said...

And I like tea, too.

Clark said...

Hot post, Shawna! Thanks for the overview. This is not an event I would go to, but I really appreciate your interesting rundown.

(For what it's worth, I think -- maybe naively -- that most Americans, if they just sit down and talk to each other calmly, would find that they share beliefs on as much as 90 percent of all issues. It's that ten percent that's tricky.)

Was there any further discussion of Clooney's GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK? It stuck closely to actual events (memoirs of CBS executives, and even actual footage of McCarthy defending himself). I know Coulter's a big McCarthy defender, but I wonder if her version of history would adhere to this level of accuracy (and, if so, how exactly that would exonerate anything McCarty did).

It's interesting that Surnow was there, because the major thing that agonizes me over 24 is its constant use of torture and civil liberty violations for the greater good. (Torture has also become a volatile plot point on the second season of Battlestar: Galactica, as well).

I think Hollywood is well-aware that not everyone voted for John Kerry (and it's just as aware of recent polls showing a majority of Americans now wish they had). But while the stereotypical Hollywood liberal remains the hired help (actors, directors, writers ... egads, even gaffers?), are most Americans aware that almost all of the entertainment CEOs contribute heavily to the GOP? When you follow the money, Hollywood isn't any more liberal than any other industry.

And I like the emphasis on the bottom line here: studios want to make money, period, and they don't care how they do it. This trumps politics left or right. Always has, always will.

The Constipated Writer said...

Good God, what the hell transpired here?

CharlieDontSurf said...

The only thing I would question about this discussion is the fact that Joel would use Ann Coulter as his main source/authority on the historical subject of Joe McCarthy. Coulter is not a historian or objective in any sense. She is a partisan for the right and is only interested in being controversial in order to sell books...much like Al Franken and Co. on the left.

Every story has multiple sides to it and I actually think a bio-pic of Joe McCarthy would be a very interesting long as you didn't go the Oliver Stone/Mel Gibson/Ann Coulter/Michael Moore route where you distort the historical truth in order to put forth a distorted reality that fits you own personal political belief.

writebrother said...

I'd be interested in reading what you posted before you decided to delete it. I certainly will disagree with the bulk of your political views, but you opened a can of worms here so we might as well see what your take is.

Tom Rath said...

The Sheriff of Nottingham as a good guy? Is that a joke? I could see him as a bad guy protagonist, maybe, but that's a stretch. Is the audience supposed to feel sympathetic toward the rich stolen-from and anger toward the poor given-to?

Shawn said...

What really bothers me are conservatives who latch on to movies as confirmation of their beliefs as if that were the intention of the filmmakers. Warren Bell mentioned The Incredibles as demonstrating so-called family values (as if a loving family is solely a conservative or even political ideal to begin with.) I believe Brad Bird set out to make a good movie regardless of what message he was trying to convey, which to me comes across as being anti-suburban life--Mr. Incredible is bored with punching a clock and coming home to his family every night; he wants to live his life as he wants, not according to what society wants--a very liberal ideal.

Another film that wasn't mentioned is March of the Penguins, which pro-life groups (people who protect the fetus, but not the baby once he’s born) used as confirmation of their beliefs, and even claimed it confirmed intelligent design (a cruel designer, if you ask me, to put those cute friendly creatures through utter hell just to have offspring.) Family values, or whatever you want to call them, have always been a staple of Hollywood; just think Leave It to Beaver. But it's never been an accurate portrayal of how America has always been: A violent culture both obsessed with and repulsed by sex. I think today's entertainment more accurately displays how wanton, hypocritical, pious, disturbed and self-obsessed we have always been. And that’s what true art should be—a reflection of who we really are.

Joshua said...

That's the thing about a point of view in the arts - it's going to be held up to critical scrutiny - and in my experience, conservative folks don't want their views debate, criticized or scrutinized - they just want their views affirmed without question -

Debate, give and take, those things are good for us as a culture and as a society - I don't see that a lot, again this is just in my experience, coming from the right side of politics. Change is a good thing.

If a social / political view is just and correct, eventually reason and time will bear it out - we've seen this with women's rights and civil rights and eventually we'll see it with gay rights. Note that artists and writers hit those issues first in a lot of ways, through books and songs and artwork.

But not debating or talking about it because the idea is fixed in mind regardless of empirical evidence, that's when I get worried.