A breakdown of the film industry shows where the power resides in Hollywood, and how a figure like Harvey Weinstein could go unchecked for decades.
To begin to answer the complex question of how movie mogul Harvey Weinstein could allegedly harass and assault women for decades without detection — 83 have now stepped forward, triggering a cascade of accusations against Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., James Toback, Brett Ratner, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, among others — is to understand the ever-evolving Hollywood power structure and how movies get made.
Six corporate-owned major studios remain at the top of the Hollywood movie pyramid: Paramount, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. All serve as one-stop production houses — producing, marketing, publicizing and distributing big-budget films such as Justice League, Warner/DC Films’ latest superhero movie.
The bottom line-oriented majors rely on safe, tested concepts, with release schedules that are heavy on sequels, franchises and branded content (from Rocky to Harry Potter) — the so-called “tentpole” movies that are reliable moneymakers in an era when cinemas face strong headwinds.
“If you look at the constantly moving power among Hollywood studios, producers and directors, the pendulum has swung over to the big studios right now,” says Stephen Galloway, executive editor of features for The Hollywood Reporter.
Two companies co-founded by Harvey Weinstein (seen here at the 2014 Academy Awards) have produced or distributed films that have been nominated for hundreds of Oscars. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Weinstein became a larger-than-life figure in Hollywood as co-founder of the “mini-majors” Miramax (started in 1979) and The Weinstein Company (2005), producing and distributing awards-friendly films.
The domineering studio head was able to amass tremendous influence with his strong personality, his ability to identify and champion artistic projects, and his track record of Oscar success — the latter cemented when Weinstein’s Shakespeare in Love was a shock best-picture winner over Steven Spielberg’s heavily favored Saving Private Ryan in 1999.
“The way he leveraged and grew his power was in the Oscar race,” says Sasha Stone, founder and editor of AwardsDaily.com. “When people see you can perform awards miracles, they think you’re God. That’s why he got away with his behavior. If you’re an actress walking into a room with God and he asks you for a massage, what are you going to say?”
The mogul’s power had eroded somewhat in recent years from rising competition, including streaming studios Amazon and Netflix, as well as major studios’ specialty divisions, such as Fox Searchlight and Sony Classics.
But Weinstein had the muscle to keep his victims silent and avoid exposure, even using spy agencies to investigate journalists and potential whistleblowers before stories broke (Weinstein has denied all allegations against him).
“He may not have been the Harvey Weinstein of his peak in the 1990s, but he was still a very dangerous man at the time these women came forward and these reporters were writing,” says Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California. “They caused a dam to burst.”
List: All of the Hollywood power players accused of sexual assault or harassment
More: A complete list of the 83 Harvey Weinstein accusers
Miramax Films’ Harvey Weinstein and director Brett Ratner in Beverly Hills in 2005. Multiple women have made sexual harassment allegations against both men. (Photo: Frazer Harrison, Getty Images)
Producers work behind the scenes, bringing a film together from beginning to end, with tasks that can include securing rights to stories, hiring the writers and director, and lining up financing. Studios tap trusted producers to execute their tentpoles.
Multiple companies can be involved in making a single film in an increasingly partner-filled business that spreads the risk.
“It’s become a big quilt of producers, with a number of names and companies,” says Pete Hammond, awards columnist for Deadline.com. “If you look at the producers’ credit on a movie, it now takes a village.”
But producers still wield significant power in Hollywood. “They are the ones getting the movies made,” says Hammond.
They also share the task of hiring with the director, including the hiring of actors. The majority of Weinstein’s accusers met with the mogul in his capacity as a producer, often in hotel rooms, told they would be discussing projects or parts.
“Weinstein was the quintessential example of someone using his influence” to make careers, says Handel. “A good role for an actor can be the difference between being an Uber driver and being a star.”
The creative force behind the camera has less power when corporate studios finance the filmmaking: The majors seek reliable overseers and affordable rising talent to helm their tentpoles, not personalities bigger than the franchise.
“Studios aren’t hiring directors for their franchise movies who are visionaries with clout and reputation. Because they want the control of the product,” says Galloway.
Just look to the Star Wars franchise: For his fourth feature film, Rian Johnson inherited the billion-dollar reins of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (in theaters Dec. 15) for Disney and has earned an expanded trilogy. Meanwhile Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Solo: A Star Wars Story) and Colin Trevorrow (Star Wars: Episode IX) exited their projects after losing creative battles with the studio.
There are still risk-takers who earn big budgets for original stories, such as Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, thanks to their successful box-office track record. And independent auteurs like Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson are able to work with investors to bring their ideas to the screen on a scaled-down budget to minimize financial exposure.
Casting is a key source of influence, which can be exploited in the wrong hands. Multiple actresses have claimed director James Toback used casting as a lure for lewd conduct.
The director is the boss on the set, which leaves actors vulnerable to the sort of verbal abuse Ellen Page says she experienced on the set of X-Men: The Last Stand, alleging that Brett Ratner aggressively outed her in front of her castmates.
It’s difficult, even for an established star, to speak up against these forces, Page wrote on Facebook, saying she was harassed by other directors she would not name.
“If I, a person with significant privilege, remain reluctant and at such risk simply by saying a person’s name, what are the options for those who do not have what I have?” Page asked.
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With the exception of the biggest names in the business, who can call their own shots — Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, George Clooney and Tom Cruise, for starters — most actors compete for desired projects. But the marquee value of even the top stars has diminished in the past decade.
“There is not one star that can open a movie the way they used to be able to,” says Hammond. “Now people line up to see Star Wars, Pixar or Marvel films. The studio movie content is the star.”
Stars, who are essentially free agents, have strong incentive to keep good relationships with powerful people across the industry with whom they might work. “This is a town built on relationships,” says Hammond.
Actors who speak out against abuse could be labeled problematic, making it difficult to find work. “There is the ‘You won’t eat in the town again’ problem if you’re viewed as a troublemaker,” says Handel. “The prevailing logic has always been that you could get blackballed for speaking out.”
Still, actors also derive tremendous popular influence from their universal fame and appeal, and victims and observers alike have hesitated to speak out when it’s a star doing the abusing.
“This town does coddle ‘the talent,’ ” says Handel. “Up until (the scandal broke), it was tolerant of sexual misconduct. But these instances will likely be called out going forward.”
Exhibit A: Production shut down on Kevin Spacey’s Netflix series House of Cards in October after an anonymous group of current and former employees described a “toxic” work environment in which young male crew members allegedly were sexually harassed. Production will resume in early 2018 — without Spacey.
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Talent agents work with producers and studios to secure projects for actors, directors and screenwriters, negotiating the deal and taking a fee percentage.
Manager and agents are similar, both serving as middlemen between the talent and the production/studio side. Managers work with smaller client lists, executing a long-term strategy, and are prohibited by law from negotiating deals for specific roles, which the agent executes.
Talent agencies such as Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and William Morris Endeavor (WME) are major shakers, working with the biggest stars and clients.
“The top tier agents are among the most powerful forces in Hollywood,” says Violaine Roussel, author of Representing Talent: Hollywood Agents and the Making of Movies. “Even the biggest star knows that star power is not enough, they need a powerful agent. It’s a small world of players and it’s crucial to be part of that. Where there’s this power, there’s the potential of abuse of power.”
Terry Crews has accused a high-level agent of groping him at a party. The actor dumped his talent agency, WME, a day after filing a report with the Los Angeles Police Department.
CAA fired agent Cameron Mitchell after actress Demi Mann filed a lawsuit claiming that Mitchell promised to secure a role for her in a Marvel TV project in order to manipulate her into a sexual relationship.
Actor Terry Crews cut ties with his talent agency, William Morris Endeavor, after accusing a high-level agent of groping him at a party. (Photo: Kevin Winter, Getty Images)
Film screenwriters don’t have the clout of their compatriots in the writer-is-king medium of television, according to Bryan Michael Stoller, independent filmmaker and author of Filmmaking for Dummies.
Movie scripts can be worked and reworked multiple times, with different writers taking a crack at it until the producers or the studio are pleased with the final product.
“Screenwriters are often seen as expendable or changeable,” says Stoller. “And it’s often done in offices, homes or coffee shops. It’s solitary work.”
And they have to network in the industry, leaving themselves open to potential abuse. Actress/screenwriter Louisette Geiss said she was harassed by Weinstein when he invited her to his hotel room in 2008 to pitch her screenplay during Sundance Film Festival.
“Really, no one is the industry is immune or safe from abuse,” Handel says.
But the last eight weeks have seen historic movement, since the Weinstein accusations brought significant cultural change well beyond the movie industry.
“These are uncharted times for discussion and change. We’ve never seen anything like the intensity and volume of this discussion these Weinstein revelations have triggered,” says Handel. “The big question is whether the change is going to be permanent.”
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