“How did we get a Trump?” is the breathless question still being asked by tons of people too smart for their own good. If you really don’t know how we “got a Trump” you aren’t as “woke” as you might think you are. It’s all very simple, really. When people literally vote for DECADES, in hopes of having their elected officials (on BOTH sides) fix certain things; healthcare, immigration, North Korea, tax reform, radical Islamic terrorism, etc, and NONE of it gets fixed …ever …OR, it gets made worse, eventually the voters throw up their hands and say, “Fine! Let’s see if this asshole can get any of it done. We’ve tried everybody else. And all we got were transgender integrated toilets. What have we got to lose? Let the foul-mouthed, crazy Twitter guy take a shot.”
It is no more complicated than that. Every elected official who ever said to him or herself, “I’m not dealing with that right now. It’s too much of a hot button,” or “North Korea can be the next guy’s problem,” or “I tried all I could to get healthcare fixed …oh well, sometimes you just have to admit you can’t really do anything,” created the dirt from which a “Trump” grows. See, when all the sane, well-spoken, polished autocrats shirk their responsibility and play it safe, the PEOPLE will go looking for someone who won’t.
Again …for me, this always goes back to individualism: the minute you decide you’re not as important as the next person, you allow yourself the luxury of constant compromise. And when you do that, you abdicate your spot in the world. That always leaves room for an uncompromising person to take your rightful place. And they might not be as righteous as you. That’s why YOU are important.
The same mindset, fear and frustration that created a “Trump” also created a Harvey Weinstein. Let me explain …
I don’t get indignant over a lot. I offer a lot of grace to the human condition. I need that grace most of the time. But one thing I DO get downright fighting mad over is people who say they want to be in the arts, but who aren’t willing to bleed for it. The art life is not supposed to be comfortable and buttoned down. It isn’t supposed to be a retirement plan. Art isn’t an annuity. It’s supposed to be unpredictable and wild and tumultuous and uncertain.
If you aren’t willing to lose your house or pawn your wedding ring, please leave the arts now. You have no guts. You might have talent, but that’s just the beginning of a true artistic journey. Talent is merely the raw material needed to communicate your truth. TELLING your truth is a much bigger deal. And a much harder deal. Making something that is relevant and substantial and that reverberates, requires RISK …sometimes EXTREME risk. And the garden variety record executive or movie producer isn’t going to invest in or green light something risky.
In that aversion to risk …is where a Harvey Weinstein is built.
Harvey Weinstein was a Hollywood wild man (in more ways than one) and took risks for his projects. He produced everything from Doctor Doolittle to Kill Bill; Shakespeare in Love to Pulp Fiction. That is a lot of width and breadth and depth. He was a man who said “yes” to things and then put his money where his mouth was. People who say “yes” to art are harder to find than Faberge eggs resting on unicorn wings. Most people who are behind the business of artistic endeavors say “no” …a lot. And that leaves a void for people who say “yes” to come in and and own the moment.
The fear that built Harvey Weinstein and allowed him to flourish was extremely sinister yet extremely simple: “I want to be famous. I want to get my project funded and produced. HE will do that. All I have to do is look the other way or not say anything about this or act like it didn’t happen. The upside is worth it.” And it is no more complicated than that. If Harvey Weinstein had been a janitor from Queens, he would’ve been in prison years ago. But he had audacity and he would do what other people WOULDN’T do. And he would Get. Your. Movie. Made.
When you read about the super star who wanted to do a certain project for years, but they couldn’t “get it funded,” THEN you read (in the very next paragraph) that they have a $200 million dollar net worth, and you wonder to yourself, “why don’t they just put up the money themselves?” you’re getting closer to the answer. The answer to THAT question is the reason a Harvey Weinstein exists. No one will risk their own money when there’s a guy out there who will risk his. And hey …he might be a sexual predator, but apparently that’s the cost of doing business.
I haven’t worked with a record label in literally years. I don’t even walk inside them if I can keep from it. NO record label has ever funded a Regie Hamm project. My big artist record deal was actually a licensing deal. And I paid for the initial production myself (I still haven’t recouped my initial investment …but I digress). This isn’t me patting myself on the back. I just came to the realization, one day, that I was responsible for my art …not someone else.
The truth is I have a hard time being around “investors.” Most of the time they want to own as much as possible while risking as little as possible. That is good investment strategy. But it sucks when it comes to making art. Because you can’t look at art as JUST investment. You have to be willing to go out on the limb and roll the dice. You have to believe in the vision and then put yourself out there for it. If it goes over budget …it just does. If it takes twice as long …it just does. But it could be the difference in The Godfather and a made-for-TV movie of the week about a comical Italian family of olive oil dealers. Their catch phrase could be, “leave the oil …take the cannoli.” Not to worry. The laugh track will pull it all together.
And the world doesn’t have the Godfather.
When we as artists compromise to conform to “budgetary concerns of the label or studio,” we create a Harvey. When we refuse to take our own risks for our own work, we create a Harvey. When we refuse to stand up for what’s right because we are afraid it will torpedo the project – and there’s no place to go if THIS studio turns off the money faucet – we create a Harvey. When we are willing to sell our souls for a dream …we create a Harvey.
And when those behind the scenes treat the business of artistic endeavor like nothing more than a banking ledger …THEY create a Harvey. When they say, “this is a great project. But it’s just a little too risky for us,” THEY create a Harvey. When they operate out of fear instead of passion …THEY create a Harvey.
Because for every frightened executive out there who is actually a good person, with an opportunity to change the world, but is afraid to go out on the limb and risk something, there is also a broken, damaged, Harvey Weinstein who ISN’T afraid to go out on the limb, spend the money and get behind the project.
The difference is he might hurt a whole lot of people in the process.