Monday, December 5, 2011

Reader question: "Will Hollywood liberals hate my script if it doesn't lean left?"

David writes in with a question:

I know getting my action novel made into a movie is a million-to-one longshot.  In your opinion, given my story's theme doesn't lean left like Hollywood, do those odds decrease to a billion-to-one?  Or are producers progressives at cocktail parties, but capitalists when deciding what to finance?

I've touched a little bit on the risks of writing political material in this post here, so that older post might be worth a look, even though it doesn't directly relate to the question above.

Honestly, I think too much is made of "liberal Hollywood's" supposed bias.  Yes, there are ranting lunitics in the Deadline Hollywood comments who seem to be ready to foam at the mouth at anything they see as a leftist lean, but most of those lowlifes are devoted Drudge readers - and not even the intelligent ones at that.  The only people on the right who really get stirred up by this are the extreme rightists, and they've attempted to create a climate where "you can't trust those people" simply by repeating their lies and outrage enough.  You can recognize these idiots because they'll "defend" Mel Gibson against a liberal Hollywood that wants to punish him for racist slurs, yet attack Morgan Freeman and wish all sorts of ill on him for stating his beliefs about the Tea Party.

I think conservatives are far more aggressive in trying to squash a message that they don't believe in than liberals.  I'm old enough to remember back when the movie Primary Colors was made, and there were all these voices from the right screaming, ranting and raving about it was deplorable that liberal Hollywood was making a love letter, nay, propaganda that was aimed at glorifying President Bill Clinton, who bore something of a resemblance to the main character of that film.  They even pointed to the fact that Clinton buddy John Travolta played the character as evidence this was a pro-Clinton puff piece.

I'll pause for effect before I drop the bomb that the major revelation of the film is that the Clinton character is later revealed to have had sex with an underage black girl during his campaign.  Yes, this is the pro-Clinton message that Hollywood in its liberal bias made.  This is the part that Bill Clinton's good friend took.  If my "friend" took a part that was a clear pastiche of me, and that character was revealed as an adulterous, statutory rapist, I'd never speak to them again.

That's why I was at a loss to understand why the right was so threatened by this, that they thought such an association could ever be positive for Clinton.  Were they upset that the statutory rape was sanitized by not being directly depicted on screen?

Let's go with a more recent example, George Clooney's The Ides of March.  In it, Clooney plays a Democratic governor trying to win his party's nomination for President.  Some might describe him as a liberal's wet dream, but I actually see him more as a moderate's wet dream because he's not an extremist and he doesn't show a particular blind devotion to the more extreme elements in his party.  Having said that, it's clear he's left-leaning and the first third or so of the story is devoted to getting the audience to really like and empathize with this guy.


So naturally, he's revealed as having feet of clay when it turns out he slept with a 19 year-old intern and got her pregnant.  Clooney's campaign manager cleans up the mess, taking the girl for an abortion, but when he's fired from the campaign, she ends up committing suicide.  When Clooney finds out about this and the consequences start to fall, suddenly this "good guy" becomes a lot less admirable.  The principled Democrat is shown to be morally weak and corrupt.


And yet I'm sure there's some conservative blogger out there ranting about how that film too is an example of Hollywood pushing a liberal agenda.  My real point is that Hollywood has never been afraid to make a film that casts the left in an unfavorable light.

My first question about your script would be: is it a good story?  Or is it a bully pulpit wrapped up in a three-act structure?  Is the aim of the story to entertain, or is it an anti-leftist rant?

Here's a good example: a few years ago, there was a glut of Iraq War scripts, all of them sermonizing against the war, the Bush Administration, the dishonest way the American people were "sold" the war, the neo-cons who manipulated the public and the campaign from the begining, and pretty much everything else along those lines that you could imagine.

And I passed on ALL of these.  Including Fair Game and Green Zone, both of which leaned to the left in their politics.  The issue wasn't so much that they were badly written scripts - it was that I didn't see a market for either film or those like it.  The Iraq War was dominating the news most weeks, and the longer it raged, the more polarizing a topic it became, contributing greatly to the extreme political polarization we now face today.

In that climate, who would want to go see a film that's basically a lecture on the corrupt practices of the Bush Administration, the quagmire that Bush's War became, and the living hell that life in Iraq was?  Both scripts were what I called "eat your vegetables" movies - they were more concerned with the message than the entertainment.

(Full disclosure: I've not bothered to see either film, so it's possible those issues were moderated.  All I can say is at the script stage, my reaction was "Great, another anti-Bush piece.  Wonderful.")

So look, if you've got a great, engaging story that's wild entertainment and just happens to be conservative in it's politics, you probably don't have much to worry about.  But if you're going to shove a plate of broccoli and brussel sprouts at me, pry my jaw open and force it down my throat, odds are I'm going to resist swallowing.

Okay, that's a weird analogy.  What I'm getting at is, if the politics are at the forefront of your story, you've made a sale harder because doing so makes the script less marketable.  It's no sinister liberal conspiracy - it's more of a capitalist one, I suppose.  If Hollywood sees money in a property, they'll make it.


  1. What about rabid leftists who rant and rave too? Don't forget there's extremists on both sides who spread lies.

    I'm a republican but I hate Mel, just FYI.

  2. Oh boy, politics!

    Let's not forget that there ARE a lot of right leaning people in Hollywood. I'm not going to name names but the industry consists of more than just the actors. There are producers, execs, writers, directors, etc. Not every one of these groups is heavily dominated by left wing views. Some are more moderate and some even lean slightly to the right. And even within the actor ranks there are plenty of very hard core right wingers.

    That said, I agree that no one wants to watch a movie that sits squarely on the left or right. Give us a mix, an interesting point of view and we'll be much more inclined to watch.


  3. Anyway Fair Game and Green Zone were both entertaining movie, and FG was an universal story of man vs system. I would have not passed them. But I am an Italian leftist...

  4. As a full on lefty liberal, I walked out of the preachy, condescending, obnoxious snooze-fest that was Lions for Lambs. Further, I've been re-watching some early West Wing seasons and have found that, while I broadly agree with the views of Bartlett et all, there has been a handful of times I've been more conscious of Sorkin's politics than the characters', and I've found myself rolling my eyes.

    So I agree here that it's not about agreeing with the politics of a film (or series) or not, it's about preaching a message at the expense of drama.

  5. I think Fair Game is a good movie in its own right, but the fact is that the way things happened in real life makes the characters a little weaker than should be for comfort, and that's the problem with the movie. I don't see anti-Bush bias as a problem unless it is meant as a characterization shortcut or gets in the way of the story. As long as the story works. Not the same happens if the movie leans right, but that's because that slant usually gets in the way of the story. And yet Clint's (to name one) whole filmography is like that and he is a Hollywood darling from both the right and the left, regardless. So, as long as POV is sincere and it is deftly handled it's okay. If your point is to have the point, then you don't have a point.