You're gonna have to learn that variety speak

Saturday, 14 December, Year 5 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

Let's start with something light (stolen from Randy Rogel) :

    In Hollywood, they have a special language that they speak.
    It's spoken by those folks who went to school for just one week.i
    It's found inside Variety, a magazine they use.ii
    And no one understands it when they read the movie news.

    Like "Hix makes pix but the flick needs fix" means someone made a movie that bombed.
    "The veepsiii in charge are now at large" means everyone involved is gone.
    "The plot conflix, no beautiful chix" so it's comin' out on video soon.iv
    "They're takin' their licks 'cause the critics say nix" and the editors are gonna try to fix it in the mix.
    "But the stock sees green" on page 13 means Disney's up a nickel a share.
    "Stallone cuts deal for a major reel" means Rocky number 6, so beware.
    If you want the poop or you need the scoop on Hollywood Town this week,
    You're gonna have to learn to talk that Variety speak!


    "A boffov smash makes Warner cash" means there's gonna be a sequel next year.
    But "Paramount hurts and they're losing their shirts" means Schwarzenegger's doing King Lear.
    "Oliver Stone does next Home Alone" means he's gettin' paid an arm and a
    The budget goes "crunch" but his name "packs punch" so they called up the accountants and they're gonna "do lunch".vii
    But "the ratings smile on the O.J. trial"... means a movie of the week to premiere.
    "Universal cuts deal with Mr. Spiel"viii to do a hundred thousand movies a year!

    Ya gotta play it smart if ya wanna be part of the crowd that's hip and chic!
    You're gonna have to learn to talk that Variety speak!


    Normal talk makes producers walk, you might as well speak Greek.
    You're gonna have to learn - or the meeting will adjourn - unless, my friends, you learn that Variety speak!


    In Hollywood, they have a certain way they like to talk.
    It's used by all those folks who can't chew gum and also walk.
    It's found inside Variety, a movie magazine.
    And everyone who reads it wonders what the headlines mean.

    Like "Mitch makes a pitch, and he's gonna get rich" means someone's got a movie that sold.
    "Brando's mad, says the screenplay's bad" means someone else was offered the role.
    "It's called Fargo Two with a story that's new" means they're gonna shoot it all in LA.x
    "The budget got maxed, so someone got faxed" everybody's on the carpet, so the writer got the ax.
    Well, "Merchandise scores in the theme park stores" and Disney is the king of the hill.xi
    "Michael Ovitz talks with 20th Fox" means he wants another ninety-three mil.
    If you want the poop or you need the scoop on Hollywood Town this week,
    You're gonna have to learn to talk that Variety speak!


    "Studio bombs, gets Oscar nom" means all the actors gotta be Brits.
    "Bronfman's play for MCA" means the Japanese are calling it quits.
    "No scripts are new" means Jurassic Park 2 and a trillion little dinosaur toys.
    "The cash flows nice, they're releasing it twice", since it isn't out on video, they're jacking up the price.
    Well, "Studio tsar wants unknown star" means they couldn't get Robert Duvall.
    But "They're in trouble again, doing Mice and Men" with Martin Short and Steven Seagal.
    You gotta stay alive and if you wanna survive in Hollywood Town this week,
    You're gonna have to learn to talk that Variety speak!


    Normal talk makes producers walk, you might as well speak Greek.
    You're gonna have to learn - or the meeting will adjourn - unless, my friends, you learn that Variety speak!

Now let me explain for your benefit how this business worked, back when Hollywood was still a thing and Variety didn't look like fucking Vice.

So, producers option material for scripts. Books, mostly, but not only. To "option" means to acquire the exclusive right to use for a specified purpose, but no obligation. The mechanism is used extensively in land development too, and in all those situations where you have to herd catsxii. This task is easily delegatable.

Then, the studio people in charge of trends and so forth assemble predictions and projections as to what's likely to be hot. This is nominally also a producer thing, but so often delegated it's hardly worth the mention on the producer's plate. (Except, of course, most producers think they know better than the focus groups etc. The better ones actually do. Sometimes.)

Then the producer sits down with these two sets of data and tries to decide what the fuck to make. Sometimes this results in more focus groups being ordered, some other times this results in option hunting expeditionsxiii. Often enough the data from accounting is strong enough that the result is unquestionably Rocky 6. It's a business, after all. But in most cases the result is, "write me a treatment for X with Y and Z constraints in mind".

This is an order, and it goes to the screenwriters, the people who write for the screen. They are NOT motherfucking creative in the broad, general, architectural sense kids imagine. They are creative in the minutiae sense art actually requires of underlyings, which is what they are. The producer, the director and the lead actor(s) make the broad, general, architectural decisions in this art. Not the gofers, not the screenwriters.

Sometimes people who are too stupid to understand how stupid they are imagine they can bypass the entire system just because they want to, much in the way children would behave (before being housebroken, at least). So they bust down the doors of people's offices with "their script". As if there can even be such a fucking thing, "a script" in and of itself. Why not "their tree trunk", without roots or leaves ? But nevermind, what are the noobs to know.

Once a few things are picked, they get ok'd. This is where all a studio's producers meet with the top brass and explain "what they got". Some things get ok'd, meaning the studio will back them. There is infinite space for human interaction here - because the producers understand money, audiences and the process of production well but not perfectly, and the check management can put on their activity is mostly trying to keep them from doing obviously stupid shit that sits in their blindspot. So, a studio is likely to let a star producer do pretty much anything he wants to, if he insists. Except then there's human emotions at work, and the usual deadly sins, and all the circus of mankind. So it can get pretty livresque at this spot - the only problem is that it's so much of an in joke it can't really be made into a movie. Except it has, of course, multiple times.

Once some things are ok'd the horrid shuffle begins. Who can we get to star in this ? Who's available ? Who are they working well with ?xiv Who aren't they working well with ?xv

This is where an agent makes or breaks an actor's career. Because if the agent has a relation with the producer (based on past success) and insists, he may get away with anything he wants. Much like the producer could get away with anything he wanted in the earlier step, and for exactly the same reasons. Basically the system is constructed so that everyone who's someone can, at some point in the deal, get anyway with bloody murder if he so wants.xvi

So now, they've gone through the list of 500 possible people, and managed to break it up into sets and shuffled and reshuffled them together and "done lunch" to the point everyone's geting bulimia but finally managed to arraign a cast. This gives the movie its budget, because as a rule of thumb you're going to spend as much on everything else as you're spending on the actors, and if Tom Hanks wants 12 million pay-or-playxvii and his co-star then wants 1.6 even if his previous rate over the past 5 years averages .9 because hey, fuck you, you're going to end with a 15 mn set and a 30 mn budget. Which you'll overshoot to 53 million and there you go, maybe make a quarter billion at the box office. It's been known to happen.xviii

So the producer takes the budget to the studio, which puts some of its own cash on the thing and opens the rest to outside investors. Which has been going on for a hundred and more fucking years by now, just fine, and apparently "the SEC" has not yet hauled Hollywood to Alcatraz. Just a thought.

And that's about it, the movie is made or not, released or not, promoted or not, bombs or not. The story ends.

Congratulations for making it this far. Now let's wrap this up :

  1. The job of the chief stategist of a field is to identify the bits of history that may be productively employed to understand said field. Left to their own devices, tacticians (such as generals) will gleefully fight the present war as if it was the last war, because that's what's fresh in their memory. The job of the general staff is to find which old film we're seeing again now. And that's exactly what I'm telling you : Bitcoin is the rehash of Hollywood's golden age, or more generally 1950s to about 1990 or so. The exact same constraints operate, the situation is exactly the same in the broad strokesxix and eerily identical in all minutiae.
  2. Much like "nobody knows how to make movies" was generally true in Hollywood, "nobody knows how to make Bitcoin businesses" is generally true in Bitcoin. Nevertheless, this does not logically follow into "so then everyone has the same chances, noobs and veterans alike". Such a proposition could not be further from the truth, because the veterans have the sizable advantage that they know all the ways movies can't be made. That's what they've been doing with their years and the investors' money up to that point : not coming one iota closer to knowing how movies can be made, but establishing vast inroads into the obviously endless topic of how they can't in fact be made. Noobs bereft of this very valuable (in that it's very expensive) knowledge ain't got a prayer.
  3. Learn to fucking talk the Variety speak. In Bitcoin this means irc, and WoT and a small amount of phone number. And let this be perfectly clear to you, that if you haven't as much as found fucking Variety, you ain't a "mover & shaker", you're that weird dude working odd jobs that tells starlets he's a producer. You know, like Kramer, CEO of Kramerica Industries. "We only provide fantasy corporate experience".

It's what it is.

  1. This seems like a jab, but it isn't.

    You see, school as practiced by the middle class, as the complete absence of any education papered over with "important" yet meaningless "certificates" was useless for any sort of practical purpose then, too. And as the sorts of people involved in this business handled reality rather than government subsidies for a living, school did them no good. In fact, taking more than a week to figure out school is not [useful] for you didn't particularly speak well of one's intelligence in their eyes.

    Always keep an eye for the jabs that really aren't, the easiest to find door into any closed paper bag. []

  2. The one, the only, the original trade rag. []
  3. VPs, ie, Vice Presidents. The exact equivalent of Bitcoin's "CEO" or, if you prefer, "we", in the sense that there was such a deluge of them nobody was seriously keeping track or score. []
  4. The snark rests on understanding that at the time bypassing the theatrical release was not unlike marriage that bypasses honeymoon. The cinema was where the money came, and stuff going direct to video abdicated the chief symbol of even being a movie in the first place. []
  5. Carny for "very good". Yeah, alright, I know, they're not really carnies, they're in show business. Har. []
  6. Because it costs a lot of money to make someone smart do something stupid. This, incidentally, is yet another way to explain why government never works in practice and all bureaucracies degenerate into meal tickets for the retarded. []
  7. I am unequal to the task of writing the dictionary entry for "do lunch". It's where it's at. []
  8. Spiel, of course, means game, but also the heart in the machine and the gremlin in the clock. In jewish, which is what most people in showbiz are and were - not because of any other reason than that their cvasi-religion doubles as a self-shrink kit and so generally allows them fewer fucking mental issues and therefore less fear of dealing straight with reality nude. In this case Mr. Spiel is Steven Spielberg. Who isn't Jewish. Narf. []
  9. For the record, the chorus is naked girls. Because that's what it fucking is!

    2012 Jun 14 18:38:33 jcpham based on the naked chicks, I'm saying mircea_popescu values aethetics

    2012 Aug 01 23:54:53 Hollywoodundead get everyone distracted by the naked girls eh?

    Aug 02 10:20:51 mircea_popescu quoted for 62 year old woman skype-ing naked suv gambling goodness

    And etc. []

  10. Because they used to do this, and to a large degree still do it : oh, cars work great on roads ? How about on water ? Let's try driving a car on water see what happens then! []
  11. Because that's what Disney does, much like cigs were a "nicotine delivery vehicle" for the seven dwarves, "movies" are a cheap-bits-of-colored-plastic delivery device for Disney. See "toyific" to be thoroughly exposed to this horrific construct. []
  12. Meaning, situations where trying to replace the plowing ox with 1024 plowing chickens work out more akin to getting 1024 small blowjobs instead of the usual half-and-half. []
  13. Such as "get me O.J. Simpson exclusive cinematic rights"! []
  14. People in general judge actresses by how big their tits and narrow their waistline, if male, and by how damp they make down there, if female. Nevertheless, a select few still consider "how well they can act". Well, the fuck's that mean ? O, the ability to "project emotions" and such jazz ?

    None of that matters in Hollywood. What matters is how well an actor plays with other actors. Take Helen Hunt : she's not much, but she can stand up to Nicholson, and that's something. The Pfeiff is a great actress not because you'd fuck the living daylights out of her - you'd do the same to any of ten thousand starlets born 21 years ago each year of her 21 year long career. She's a great actress because she can play with anybody, literally anybody. That's a huge something. It's the one something that matters. []

  15. Consider the Brando-Sinatra couple, it's the stuff of legends. []
  16. Which leads us directly into the concept of "turn", a concept so heavy and important it almost rivals "call". Speaking out of turn is not like and not comparable to speaking of out line. The people who get a line are soldiers, not officers. The officers get turns, and when it's their turn they can go for what they actually want to get. But when it's not their turn, they are indistinguishable and not to be distinguished from simple soldiers. This is how tinseltown worked, and this is how any device predicated on building skyscrapers out of tin foil will ever work.

    And which also leads us to understanding that corruption is a virtue not a sin. []

  17. That's the contract you sign with talent : the project either plays, as in, theatres, or else you pay them. No way out, which as a side-effect ensures the film will be made if you can help it. []
  18. And moreover, one can trivially spend 20 million on a film that rakes in two hundred bucks in total sales, so the point that "this is the budget, don't overrun it" can't be forced too easily. []
  19. Just consider : everyone can tell you if a movie bombed or scored a week after the premiere, and nobody, not even the most subtle and refined mind can tell you the same a week before the premiere. You are competing for a fininte amount of viewer attention. Every year, yes, but every year finite. Everyone chases the same buck, and nobody has a fucking clue how to make movies. The list is endless. []
Category: 3 ani experienta
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31 Responses

  1. Funny how re-reads years later (and with more life experience) illuminate points that were missed on the first pass.

    I think I get it now; like many Trilema pieces it has multiple layers. The first layer is the literal "speech" portion of "Variety speak", which is the only layer I penetrated on that first pass. Going deeper, though, I think I understand the point about "turns". The speak here is ~= action. More importantly: structured action at a specific point in the deal, and completely dependent on existing trust with others in the deal.

    My thinking that it was time to evaluate my standing in the republic (and "decide", no less) before it was actually time to do so (or that it was even up to me to evaluate) all within the span of one day or two is not unlike the producer taking the budget to the studio before even sifting through his two stacks of data and deciding what movie to make, or a screenwriter bursting through a random office door with his tree trunk, or a lead actor passing on an imaginary film while talking to his lamp. It was out of turn, and didn't make much sense.

    Something like that, maybe.

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Thursday, 26 September 2019


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  10. [...] to know all about astronauts, or dinosaurs, or whatever the Hollywood gang thought they could make the best selling toys that decade. I have always said that a new kind of civil society has emerged in Iran, so there is nothing new [...]

  11. [...] [↩]Obviously, red. For blood and socialism and whatnot. Or whatever. [↩]Speaking of things : Yiddish. It's a language. [↩]Customarily collected in a sottisier. [↩] Category: [...]

  12. [...] is exactly what bars me from a private adventure with the alien : my perception that I don't speak the language, and as such there is no basis for intimacy with that guyiv and hence it makes exactly zero sense to [...]

  13. [...] variety speak is not mere conceit. It's not there to be aesthetically pleasing. It's a way of life, born out of [...]

  14. [...] imagined for her, with an eye to their own pecuniary benefit. The actual way out starts with the Variety Speak, of course. That old whistling into the modem [...]

  15. [...] is based on the entropy contained, then they statistically are equivalent. Now, if someone has my key, that someone can write a 1kb string which decrypts to something. If he does not have the key, [...]

  16. [...] case I'd simply destroy, them. Because the article was written in English, and to read it one needs to speak English, much in the same way when trying to read an article in Romanian one has perforce to learn some [...]

  17. [...] strings, or in other words the assumption that other people's communication presents itself in plain text is nonsensical, unwarranted and generally dangerous. ———"Real programmers" would [...]

  18. [...] are low for reasons. [↩]This is important. Cant names exactly what I was discussing under "Variety Speak". Every activity that attracts its own group develops its own speech. This is how English came to [...]

  19. [...] the printing press worked their social effects principally through its mediation. [↩]What in modern parlance is referred to as "their L2" [↩]Obviously the number's smaller, due to overlap : one's [...]

  20. [...] This is exactly how I have lived too, at that age, and how healthy people I am persuaded always live. If you are meritous enough, "no" may not be said to you. [↩]Note that Latin takes a capital, [...]

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  22. [...] from a tribute to the chief insider made by the very people in the very profession, is replete with Variety speak, so much so that I doubt the innocent viewer understands a third of what's going on. Don't think [...]

  23. [...] Stanwyck [↩]Here's a bit of period lulz : Selznick, who was an asshole, took out ads in the trade papers saying "Since You Went Away are the four most important words in movies since Gone With The Wind". [...]

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