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David Poland

By David Poland

Minefield of Sunlight: Part 1 – Follow The Money

In the context of show business, if real change is the goal when victims decide to strip away the silence that allows bad actions in the industry, they need also to be willing to expose themselves, not just the alleged victimizers.

I understand the idea that a victim should not be forced to do anything, lest they be victimized again. And when individuals – especially those without significant public profile – expose abuse, this is certainly the right standard. But if the goal is to reshape the world (or at least one industry) rather than to primarily deal with the rights and needs of individuals, the standards change.

The accepted resolution of the All The Money In The World incident did not end up with a public rebuke of Michelle Williams’’ agent, Mark Wahlberg’s agent, or their shared agency, WME. Why? Because they maintained the privacy of all by paying cash to a good cause.

But even that well-intentioned act is an act against progress.

Despite headlines, the real assault was in the details, not the broader idea of pay inequality. Who knew what and when? Did Ms Williams and/or her representative know the circumstances as they played out? What role did budget have in the choice to go ahead with the reshoot and would the effort continued had the re-shoot budget expanded by a couple million dollars more? What was Sony’s position on the added spending and how much of it was out of the company’s pocket? And most dramatically, did Mark Wahlberg and/or his rep indeed threaten to hold up the re-shoot over money regardless of his participation as an actor?

Only with the answers to all of these questions, and more, can the public – and any movement – assess the degree of bad behavior involved.

There is no reason that this won’t all happen again. Today.

Not literally, obviously. There will be no more reshoots caused by the exposure of sexual abusers on this film. But deals are made every day. The entire range of negotiations and results will continue to take place. Some actors will be paid more than actresses, and it will be entirely reasonable, based on status. And there will be other cases in which the spread is greater than reasonable, mostly out of habit… mostly the habits of agents who live within the structure of history. There will also be, to be fair, women who get paid more than men based on status. And there will be cases when the pay imbalance would seem wrong to some eyes if it were to be made public and less so to other. (This will be much, much more rare than the male-over-female example.)

It is possible that the reason why the All The Money situation wasn’t more publicly addressed is that Michelle Williams didn’t want her overall salary exposed, whatever its relation to Wahlberg’s. And perhaps she loves her agent and doesn’t want to fire him. More questions.

When Jennifer Lawrence’s financial back end on American Hustle became public, there was complaining… but not a firing of the agent that made that deal.

I have nothing against anyone’s agent. But complaining about the broad issue does not make change. Specifics need to be offered. Sacrifices need to be made. And when one of the 10 most powerful actors in Hollywood (Ms. Lawrence) complains publicly, but does nothing but get overpaid on her next movie with the studio as a way to make up for past history, nothing changes, aside from her bank account… and her agent’s bank account, who made the bad deal in the first place.

The “lesson learned” lie is one of Hollywood’s favorites. The only lesson here, as with so many pay-offs over the last decades, is that the rich can buy their way out of public trouble.

We must all be willing to be (figuratively) naked if we want our positions to be grounded in reality as well as a new degree of equality when we go back to our individual journeys.

Somehow, we must find a way to protect ourselves and those around us from giving in to the comfort of shifting our collective focus back onto the very real challenges of the work. Time’s Up is building a legal defense fund. (I’ve donated. I hope you have or will.) This is part of the very complicated work of creating a safe space for victims to speak out without fear of being victimized yet again by the financial power of those who have already victimized them. Studios, unions, guilds, and all industry companies need new rules that create safe space for complaints and investigations.

At the same time, the legitimate questions about salary inequality must be addressed head-on.

An actor friend has told me and others the story of one of their female friends of a high status in show biz who was paid a small fraction of her male counterpart’s salary, doing similar work on the same film. This is obviously wrong. But the anonymous story isn’t enough to make change. And I know that the person I know would never expose someone else without their approval. But I am sorry… you want to shake it up? Make it real. Real names. Real numbers. Real change.

I suggest an experiment. Let’s expose the top acting salaries in major studio movies that have big enough budgets to be relevant to the studio conversation for a few months. Here are the upcoming movies I suggest…

Maze Runner 3
50 Shades Freed
Black Panther
Game Night
Red Sparrow
Tomb Raider
A Quiet Place
Avengers: Infinity War
Deadpool 2
Life of the Party

That’s about 30 – 40 salaries of interest to look at, a big enough, complicated enough set of films and salaries to start to get some sense of what the reality is. The deals are already long made, so there is little chance of the deals being done to placate the politics or the public.

Is it fair to ask this randomly picked actors/actresses to expose their personal business dealings? No. But would it help start a fact-based discussion? Absolutely.

Real names. Real numbers. Real change.

If you want a revolution…. even if you want slightly better than incremental change… caution will not do the job.

It’s all hard. Yet it’s all a lot simpler than it feels like it is.

There is only one standard in a moral revolution… truth. Unvarnished… unprotected… unsympathetic… uncontrolled… truth. When we start telling that on a broader context, real progress will be made.

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13 Responses to “Minefield of Sunlight: Part 1 – Follow The Money”

  1. Night Owl says:

    I take your point on this entirely but to be honest I’m far more troubled that to my understanding, agents and managers who knowingly or with at least some idea were sending victims to Weinstein (and…others) are still working? Has this really been addressed? If actors don’t have personal safety and protection from predators is it any great shock that their financial interests aren’t being protected?

    You are quite right that this needs to be addressed but…have we missed a step?

  2. Samson says:

    One large studio franchise entry in 2018 has the male lead being paid $20m to the female lead’s $4m.

    Neither were needed to come back, the studio wanted both back, these were the amounts settled on respectively.

    When you see the film, and realise her role in the narrative comparatively to his, this pay gap will appear to be even more egregious.

  3. The Last Brack says:

    Jurassic World sequel?

  4. PcChongor says:

    Publicists, agents, and executives have formed the web in which the various spiders have caught their prey over the years, and it truly boggles the mind that not a single person has been brought into the light for willfully enabling or covering up this kind of behavior (both in terms of sexual harassment and egregious pay gaps). Perhaps it’s because articles about those behind the scenes are less sexy and don’t generate nearly as much buzz or ad revenue, but the spiders will continue to have a nice and cozy web if no broader systemic changes take place within the industry.

  5. Hcat says:

    If I would guess what Samson was referring to I would hazard that Dark Phoenix would be likely. Neither Magneto or Mystique is in the original story but both are appearing in the movie. Though it would seem mindboggling to me that she would only take 4 million for a large budget sequel when they altered the entire franchise to make her the focal point, so this is purely speculation on my part.

  6. Miger says:

    Has to be Jurassic World. Pratt is a big enough star to get that type of money and it seems more like Bryce Dallas Howard’s movie from the trailer. I can’t think of another big tent pole sequel coming out where the female lead is really the star but the male lead has enough juice to get paid that much
    It’s definitely not Dark Phoenix, pretty sure Lawrence was contracted to do another XMen movie

  7. PcChongor says:

    Either that, or Avengers 7 with ScarJo and RDJ?

  8. Jean says:

    Not 100% certain what that sentence mean, exactly:

    – It is possible that the reason why the All The Money situation wasn’t more publicly addressed is that Michelle Williams didn’t want her overall salary exposed, whatever its relation to Wahlberg’s. And perhaps she loves her agent and doesn’t want to fire him.

    From what I understand the agent employer here work for WME entertainment not Michelle Williams, I am not sure she has the power for them to fire him ? They can ask the agency to fire them I imagine….

    For that part:
    – What was Sony’s position on the added spending and how much of it was out of the company’s pocket?

    The news does seem unclear, but apparently it was the production company Imperative Entertainment that was paying for those reshoot.

  9. PcChongor says:

    “All The Money” seems to be less about a pay gap (since it was such an absurdly specific scenario where Michael Williams purposefully eschewed negotiating a new salary [which still likely would’ve been much lower than Wahlberg’s]) and more about how Wahlberg lacked empathy for the situation and was willing to watch the world burn over a bit of cash (which, somewhat ironically, seems to be the theme of the movie itself).

    Him donating the money to the TimesUp charity was a masterful PR move that was no doubt concocted by some crisis management firm that probably once helped prop up Weinstein’s kingdom and are now figuring out a way to Mel Gibson his ass back into the industry by 2028.

  10. PcChongor says:

    ^^^ Michelle! My auto-correct is clearly being run by the HFPA.

  11. sam says:

    There’s one analysis that says that while Wahlberg has the better BO track record, when it comes to this kind of movie, Williams is the player here. For sure, Marky Mark was in Boogie Nights, but that’s already 20 years ago and let’s face it – no one’s accusing the Daddy Homes movies of being Oscar bait. For the most part, when Williams is in a movie, there is awards talk.
    So, based on that, she deserved a few more shekels unless there’s some algorithm that states that his fans in the international market will come out and push this to a $100 million plus gross!

  12. Jean says:

    Not sure it require an algorithm, Sony in recent time tend to pre-sales International market quite a bit:

    Sony is pretty much only distributing in the UK and USA according to mojo and IMDB, they (or the producers side) probably pre-sold most of the others market.

    If those buyer were offering more if Wahlberg was in the movie and made him a necessary condition (like is team told some media), that will be something really easy for is team to monetize (and can make talk of being overpaid a bit silly, if you get 14 million in pre-sales instead of 9m because of the presence of an actor, it is just easy and normal for the actor to get a lot of that extra money).

    Not that we know how much both made to play in the movie

  13. Hcat says:

    Jean hits on a strong point. Anyone know what their quotes were when they were hired? And did Williams make more than Spacey, who seemed to be the focal point of the marketing before the reckoning?

    And doesn’t Scott Free cover the overages? I am never sure how it works with outfits like theirs and New Regency or Media Rights Capital. Some like Dune are check writers while others develop and fund the projects and own the copyrights in some regions and presell them to fund the film. I always thought Scott was one of the latter.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

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