Fear the faceless corporation, says Ivor Goodproject

If you haven't seen Citizen Kane at least once, then you must. It's Orson Welles at (arguably) his best in the role of a media baron, bully, bastard, in a movie you'd be well-advised not to mention at a Hearst family...
July 1, 1999

If you haven’t seen Citizen Kane at least once, then you must. It’s Orson Welles at (arguably) his best in the role of a media baron, bully, bastard, in a movie you’d be well-advised not to mention at a Hearst family dinner party.

Thinly-veiled sniping at media moguls through feature film scripts didn’t end there. Watching a considerably more expensive (but not so radical) James Bond creation, Tomorrow Never Dies, we can all be forgiven for believing that the ‘villain,’ William Randolph Hearst, had become Rupert Murdoch – news manipulator, bully, baron, bastard, etc.

My view may not attract huge support from the assembled ranks of little good guys – independent producers, station managers, program buyers, etc. – but however a big mover/shaker is popularly portrayed (whether through fiction, which needs its heroes and anti-heroes, or factual reporting which needs stories, both true and false, aggressive and obsequious), they can’t be all bad if they continue to survive and expand in a free-market system. A market doesn’t expand without providing employment.

Not only that, but laws and ethical codes exist in most places to prevent grand media villainy from getting toeholds. (OK, that applies to murder too, but it almost works.) I’d also go as far as to say that founding bosses – the ultimate decision-makers – are accessible. If you can’t get an audience quickly and directly, there are ways and means; chains of command, friends of friends and those almost mythical ‘lucky breaks’ at some social gathering. Don’t be cynical – it happens. I once bumped into Lord Lew Grade in an elevator. I introduced myself, politely chatted about a project I had on the books, and was told to contact one of his executives, here’s the number.

Like/respect them or loathe/despise them, top dogs have personae. They are vulnerable and have doubts and successes like the rest of us, no matter who they employ to make their dreams (great things, these dreams) happen. The Turners, Murdochs, Gates’ and Berlusconis may have more to lose or gain than most of us, but I regard their eminence like their falls from grace – they’re natural. They become the dominant lion in the pride or the senior matriarch in the herd, and they are heeded and obeyed until they lose their footing or die. They’re a species one can study, and learn from.

The species that causes a very different concern is the faceless corporation, and in factual programming there is one growing bigger and richer by the day.

Working with a producer client recently – a great guy with a stunning knowledge of Africa and an eye to a gripping story – we got on the subject of rights and their value. Specifically, the rights that were left to him and his distributor after the U.S. cable company had made their offer against an already lean budget. He can deliver a handsome short series at a little over US$320,000 per finished hour – all original, no archive. He was offered a figure that measured a ‘maximum of 52%’ of the budget for non-standard tv rights in North America, Central and Latin America, most of the Far East, Australia, and just about everywhere in Europe.

Well, ‘non-standard TV’ precludes a decent deal with terrestrial TV in lucrative markets such as Benelux and Scandinavia, and to cope with this my producer pal ‘might’ be allowed a six-month window from delivery. We mulled this over with a calculator and a distribution veteran, and came to the inevitable conclusion that he was being offered ‘maximum 52%’ of a budget for 85% of the project’s true value in the global market place.

It’s tough enough getting to this first base – a deal of at least half your true costs – but what does it leave you with? Enough resources to get home? No, not unless there are deeper pockets, or a sponsor, or a bank loan and a dusting of blind faith.

Ivor Goodproject is in development, acquisitions and/or coproductions, depending on who you ask and when. He is, by all accounts, an altogether likeable fellow.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.