By Stephanie Weier
2016 in Hollywood is not that different than 1916 in Hollywood. If we claim that we are different, it is only to make ourselves feel better. The diversity trends in the entertainment industry are more like a terrifying roller coaster than a ladder to opportunity. In 2013, the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies announced that more minorities were cast in entertainment projects from 2011, yet there was a setback in lead women in scripted shows from 30.8% in 2012 dropping to 25.3 in 2013 (lower than even in 2011 at 25.6%). Then there is the widely discussed disparity in pay. For every step forward, is it acceptable to have such a slip back when women make up 50% of the population and viewership of content? In other words, how can we even begin to address this skewed representation of women and minorities in our industry when the imbalance starts at the top and it has always been that way?
As a woman who has enjoyed the good fortune to work inside the Hollywood system for the past 21 years, I can report that the discrimination against women and minorities is not just about discussing minor changes from year to year. The situation is more insidious because the Hollywood Machine was custom built to promote and protect a very narrow group of people. It’s wrong. It’s unfair. It sucks. But it is real.
To be truly successful, we need to face these facts as realities that are not changing anytime soon, look at new options and take action to control our own creative visions. Yet, there are some real trendsetters able to see the disparity and take action to help others. On March 1st director J.J. Abrams announced that his production company, Bad Robot, wants to receive women and minority job candidates from agencies and movie studios proportionate to the US population. This effort to allow inclusion is going to take a swell of support to keep the momentum going.
Each of us has a unique way to contribute this positive leap forward. A few years ago, I reached an epiphany. I was tired of helping the elite 1% of players, including the productions and brands I worked with, get all of the spoils of Hollywood, while denying access and opportunities to thousands of aspiring filmmakers and emerging products. I wanted to open the gates of Hollywood deal making to more participants, with diverse backgrounds and talents, in more entertainment platforms and territories. You might ask, “After 100 years of closed door deal making, without considering women and minorities, why would the Hollywood elite listen now?” But I believed in my heart that change was possible.
I started to get new insight into how others view Hollywood, especially brands and audiences and I started seeing a new philosophy emerge:
- Hollywood is not a geographical place anymore but a state of mind. You shouldn’t have to belong to the same golf club or go to the same cigar bar to make deals. You don’t even have to live in the same town or country as Hollywood.
- Content is streaming globally, instantly reaching consumers in every corner of the world, and exposing viewers to every possible culture. The global culture is here and that means cross-over content from one region to another is only getting more popular. Cloud-based technology is helping align these efforts for instantaneous matches of content to distribution.
- Regular people all over the world have the tools to become content creators, producers, distributors and celebrities. They are picking up cell phones and video cameras, learning to edit and publish their stories. The pre-requisites of film school or years of union experience are things of the past for many as the technology is cheaper than ever before. New celebrities are coming from YouTube, Vine, and eSports.
- Consumers control how they consume content and many ignore traditional interrupter advertisements, by skipping or blocking ads or paying platforms to access content ad-free. Advertisers that rely on paying for exposure and producers and their networks that rely on ad revenue are both panicking and are looking for creative ways to weave product stories into the content to maintain the financial yield of their business models. There are alternatives that do not interrupt the viewer experience and give ROI data back to the brand. We are developing ROI tracking for branded entertainment deals with a partner.
- These trends were all made possible by the unbelievable advances in cloud computing. Some of the most valuable companies in the world don’t focus on owning assets like cars (Uber & Lyft), real estate (Airbnb) or retail inventory (eBay). Instead, they focus on connecting the buyer and seller in an effortless way online or on mobile devices. We can do the same for Hollywood.
These technology-powered disruptions inspired me to look beyond the hazy horizon of what has been possible for 100 years. I formed a vision for an online marketplace, open to both entertainers and advertisers, that would empower them to connect with each other and collaborate on marketing deals. This innovation has the potential to send shockwaves through both the entertainment and advertising industries and change the way they do business together.
When we launched Brandwood Global® at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, the vision became real. Now productions and celebrities can aggregate deals with multiple brands quickly, and brands can reach out across a wide variety of media platforms to put together innovative new entertainment marketing campaigns to saturate their niche with branded content. Strangers who would never meet in real life were quickly made an integral part of the entertainment marketing deal making scene. The net effect? Diversity x 100.
Brandwood Global complements the existing agent system as well, providing an efficient tool to improve service and streamline the dealmaking process. We are champions of inclusion, and invite all of the players in Hollywood and around the world to join the branded entertainment revolution.
No, you cannot control or change the old paradigm of Hollywood. If you want to see a new Hollywood Paradigm, try to understand the existing rules, open yourself to imagine new ones, and explore how technology can help the industry innovate to achieve real inclusion. Let’s take bold chances, tell better stories, launch better products, and give some much needed diversity to our range of talent on and off the screen.