“If you want to make consistently lousy decisions, hire a consultant.” That was the defiant dictum that Ted Turner barked at me a few years ago when I was doing a column about his latest financial crisis. I had told him that one of his outside advisers had decreed that his decision-making process was “off the wall,” and Turner’s response was, as always, candid: “It’s my company and I don’t like other voices in the room.”
Turner’s high-decibel comment came to mind this week as I studied the proliferating squadrons of consultants and advisers being hired to deal with virtually every sector of the pop culture landscape. Turner would be bewildered if he knew that consultants were now advising directors on how to shoot love scenes; or advising cities on which historic statues to tear down; or advising networks on which shows to cancel and which classic movies to ban; or advising crime writers on how to depict police officers in books and movies.
I don’t believe Turner, or anyone, ever anticipated the range of positive, and negative, recommendations prompted by the demands of diversity. Greater opportunity must now be extended, and training vastly expanded; further, old habits and preferences should be set aside.
Is Gone With The Wind one of those “old habits?” John Ridley, a gifted filmmaker, pitched pulling the movie from the HBO Max lineup because it “romanticizes the Confederacy.” While he applauds the network for expanding its “breadth of programming,” he doesn’t include historic movies in that breadth.
John Fran, a novelist, argues in a New York Times op-ed piece that “white writers like me have valorized the police and hence justified police brutality.” Producers of crime shows who have traditionally used police consultants on tactical issues should now also employ them as anti-brutality advisers. Two TV shows, Cops (Paramount) and Live PD (A&E), already have failed the test and been canceled. Cops had a 32-year run.
Again, Turner might have argued that the voices in the room are becoming strident.
The new policies on love scenes best reflect these transformative attitudes. “When nudity was required in a scene, I always sat with the actress and we’d have a candid exchange,” comments one well-known director who doesn’t want to be named. “It’s one-on-one. We’re professionals.”
He winces at the prospect of including an “intimacy” adviser or a human resources executive in the conversation. “Suddenly an artistic choice becomes corporate,” he explains.
With diversity issues under fresh review, almost every major entertainment company has appointed a committee, commission or consultant to come up with recommendations, and has allocated substantial funding to support their work. Talking to these advisers, one comes away sensing both their dedication and their confusion.
“I just try to listen,” says one such executive. “My job is to make recommendations. Candidly, I’d make a bigger contribution if I were someone who could write and direct a brilliant movie that changed the audience’s attitudes toward their fellow man.”
John Singleton was one such individual – a black filmmaker who made excellent films (Boyz n the Hood) before he died last year at 51. “I always had trouble getting recognition at festivals for my films — getting critical attention and, most importantly, the right distribution offers,” he told me last year. “I hired consultants who always came up empty, until I finally decided I had to do it myself – raise the money, find the distribution – all of it.”
Singleton had great success with this formula, concluding, “It’s my movie and it’s my responsibility. No one else can really help you.”
Ted Turner would have been sympathetic. Pursuing his own chaotic agenda, he succeeded in building a network and a movie studio, among other achievements.
And all without listening to a single outside voice.