If You Need An 'Inclusion Rider' To Make It In Hollywood, You Won't

If You Need An 'Inclusion Rider' To Make It In Hollywood, You Won't
Chris Donovan/The Canadian Press via AP
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While Good Will Hunting was released to critical acclaim and big box office in 1997, its eventual success was far from a foregone conclusion.  As Peter Biskind recalled in his 2004 history of independent filmmaking, Down and Dirty Pictures, the script written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon spent quite a lot of time in what movie insiders term “development hell.” The script kept being picked up by a studio, only for the same studio to sit on it. 

Eventually Good Will Hunting reached Miramax.  At this point Affleck and Damon were much wiser to the nature of Hollywood and its constant delays.  Asked to tweak the script yet again, they wondered if anyone was actually reading their changes.  Eager to find out, they inserted a rather shocking scene that would surely rate comment if their revised script were actually read. Soon after Miramax head Harvey Weinstein “green lit” Good Will Hunting, only to tell Affleck and Damon that they would have to remove the offending scene.    

So while it’s much easier now for Affleck and Damon to get movies made, the brief on their early struggles rates mention in light of a recent announcement from Pearl Street Films, the duo’s production company, about hiring for future films.  According to an account published at Fortune, “all of the company’s future projects will include inclusion riders, which are contractual clauses that insist on gender and racial diversity in the hiring of cast and crew on Hollywood projects.”

About this, it’s apparent that Affleck and Damon are putting political expediency ahead of quality.  Damon’s been on record in the past about the importance of awarding work in Hollywood based on merit, not to mention that the very notion of an “inclusion rider” runs counter to his and Affleck’s own experience getting Good Will Hunting made.  The extraordinary difficulties they faced are a reminder that in the film industry, everyone is discriminated against. It’s tough to get a movie made. Period.  This is true regardless of gender or race. 

If anyone doubts this, they need only consider Brian Grazer.  It would be hard to find too many film producers with track records that exceed his.  Movies produced by Grazer include Splash, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, and Parenthood.  Television shows produced by him include Arrested Development, Empire, and 24.  Crucial about Grazer is that it took him seven years to get Splash made.  As he put it in his 2015 book A Curious Mind, “only a thousand people in Hollywood told me we couldn’t make a movie about mermaids.” Splash wound up being a big box office success, but it, along with lots of future successes, didn’t change the on-the-ground reality for Grazer.  It took him no less than sixteen years – and the help of Mick Jagger – to get a movie about James Brown (Get On Up) made. 

Grazer describes Hollywood as the land of “No.” Nearly everything is rejected there.  “Everybody still says ‘no’ to me” despite Grazer’s impressive string of hits.  Movies are expensive.  Most never reach the actual movie theater.  Most television shows never get beyond the “pilot” phase.  Hollywood is a land of no for everyone, not uniquely for women and minorities. 

While it’s widely seen as one of the best movies of all time, Paramount Pictures senior VP Robert Evans had a terrible time trying to turn Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather into a movie.  Paramount suits told Evans that it was “a spaghetti gangster film. It’s never worked yet.” As for Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, word from Paramount’s parent company (Gulf & Western) was, “Will not finance Brando in title role.  Do not respond.  Case closed.”

The only reason ABC has Monday Night Football is that in the late 1960s, it was a distant third among the Big Three networks.  With NBC and CBS having swiftly rejected the then laughable notion that there was a market for professional football on Mondays, the afterthought network ABC was the only option for MNF creator Roone Arledge.  Notable there is that ABC, CBS and NBC all rejected David Chase’s television concept about a mobster and his family, only for The Sopranos to become one of the most successful shows in HBO’s rather garlanded television history.  Important here is that HBO has hardly batted a thousand when it’s come to picking shows. 

Indeed, HBO (along with the Big Three) turned down Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men.  While the latter eventually became a huge hit for AMC, it was hardly easy for Weiner.  He shopped the much loved series idea for eight years before AMC pounced.  HBO also turned down Breaking Bad.  More modernly, Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer were turned down by over fifteen networks before Netflix stepped in to produce a television show that few expected to succeed. 

The simple truth about Hollywood is that as opposed to inclusive, this most competitive of businesses includes almost no one.  Movies and television shows are once again expensive, the odds of failure are high, so the idea that there’s room to discriminate based on gender defies basic economic sense. And as Grazer’s story reminds us, even the best of the best experience a whole lot of “no.” Hollywood rejects everyone, not women and minorities. 

Back to Affleck and Damon, it would be cruel for Pearl Street Films or any production company to hire for any reason other than talent.  Too many good ideas wind up going bad thanks to good ideas not being matched with skill, so it harms women, men and minorities alike when anything but merit doesn’t inform cast and crew. To quote Pixar founder Ed Catmull, most Pixar films “suck” at first.  What ultimately makes them great is that some of the world’s best talent is employed by Pixar. 

Catmull’s quote instructs. Good and great movies are all about the people behind them, not the diversity of the people behind them. Inclusion riders call for gender and race to inform hiring decisions, and as such they call for the neutering of production teams that greatly enhances the odds of a production failing. In short, if you need an “inclusion rider” to make it onto a Hollywood project, you’re not going to make it in Hollywood. Neither will the projects you’re hired to work on. 

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). His new book is titled They're Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America's Frustrated Independent Thinkers. Other books by Tamny include The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at jtamny@realclearmarkets.com.  

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