Why every Hollywood movie is a superhero movie

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Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther”

On Recode Media, “The Big Picture” author Ben Fritz explains how Disney keeps on winning.

Big-budget movies have been a mainstay of American cinema since the release of “Jaws” in 1975. But increasingly, it feels like action-packed CGI-laden superhero-friendly fare is one of the only things showing at your local movie theater — and there’s a good reason for that.

It may sound obvious, but it’s true: People don’t want to leave the house if they think they’re not missing anything, journalist Ben Fritz says. In his new book, “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies,” Fritz explains that the two types of movies that get people into theaters reliably are spectacles and cultural events like “Get Out” or “Black Panther.”

“One of the few advantages the major studios have left is Netflix and Amazon don’t seem to [know], how do you create an event?” Fritz said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “When the movie comes out, you see it on billboards everywhere, it’s playing in a local multiplex near you, and people who are seeing it are all seeing it together, or seeing it at the same time. It’s not just ‘on my queue, I’m gonna get to it.’ We’re all seeing ‘Black Panther’ right now, it’s a major event.”

And indeed, Marvel movies like ‘Black Panther’ are a benefiting from the evolving movie business in a big way, while Fritz’s book explains how studios like Sony that have rowed in the opposite direction have lost their way. For the movie industry, he said, brands are now more important than people. Original films led by name-brand stars and directors have been relegated to “the fringes of the business.”

“You buy an Apple product because you love Apple,” he said. “You go and see a Marvel movie because you’re loyal to Marvel. This has transformed the economics of the business.”

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On the new podcast, Fritz also explained how Sony fumbled its early superhero success story, “Spider-Man.” Basing much of his book on emails from the 2014 Sony hack, he said the studio misunderstood why the franchise was popular with audiences.

“The thing about ‘Spider-Man’ was that it was, in their minds, attached to the talent,” Fritz said. “It was attached to Tobey Maguire, the star, and Sam Raimi, the director. As they got more and more powerful and demanded more and more money, the profits from those movies went down and they creatively got worse.”

When Bob Iger came in to run Disney in 2005, he focused the company’s movie division on brands, which has led to an impressive decade-plus of film hits from Disney-owned studios like Pixar and Marvel. In Fritz’s view, Iger understood a truth that Sony did not: That with the right people making the creative decisions, the brand of a “Marvel film” would turn into a money machine.

“Sony had the opportunity to buy the movie rights to virtually every Marvel character for $ 25 million,” he said. “And the response of the executives was, ‘Who’s ever going to be interested in seeing a movie about Iron Man or Captain America or Black Panther? Nobody cares about them!’”

Oops.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, answers all of the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Peter. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Recode Media!

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AI reveals even more about Hollywood gender bias

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Here's what we know about how women are portrayed in Hollywood cinema: Male characters speak far more often than female ones. Men talk more about achievement, whereas women tend towards positive and emotional language. The majority of best picture wi…
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Hollywood producer Jason Blum thinks movie studios and theaters have already lost the battle to Netflix

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The filmmaker says it’s “preposterous” that some studios insist on their movies being seen in theaters.

Filmmaker Jason Blum thinks that the battle between studios, theaters, and streaming services like Netflix over how movies are released is basically over — and his industry lost.

The movie industry has long been debating when films should be offered outside of theaters. Simultaneously? After weeks? After months? Well, Blum said Saturday that during that negotiation, companies like Netflix and Amazon won by creating their own content that effectively allowed them to usurp the studios.

“We in the movie business kind of missed the boat,” Blum told Recode’s Peter Kafka at SXSW in Austin, Texas. “While we couldn’t figure out an agreement to let people do what they wanted to do, Netflix said ‘You guys keep fighting. We’re going to give the consumer what they want, and we’re going to give them movies at home’’.”

Blum, who is obviously a fan of the communal experience that comes from watching a film with others in a theater, said it’s a “shame” that happened. But there’s no turning back: “The horse is gone.”

Known for his low-budget horror films like “Get Out” and “Paranormal Activity,” Blum had a lot to say about what he saw as his industry’s strategic mistakes. While there had been some recent momentum toward a grand deal that would allow providers like Netflix to show films sooner than when they were shown in theaters, Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox is seen as a major setback given Disney’s affinity for the in-theater, blockbuster experience.

The cultural impact of studios losing the fight? Blum said he worried that the entire movie industry would not stay relevant if it kept demanding that a younger generation of content-viewers only view content the way that Hollywood demanded.

“I really disagree with filmmakers telling the audience they have to see a movie in a movie theater. What that did, in my opinion, is make television series much more culturally relevant than movies,” he said. “The notion in 2018 or ‘19 of telling the consumer — of telling an 18-year-old — where he should see what you made is preposterous.”

You can watch Blum’s full interview from SXSW below.


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Recode Daily: Billionaire investor Peter Thiel is leaving too-liberal Silicon Valley for Hollywood

Plus, Coinbase drains the bank accounts of some crypto customers, a history of the NDA, and how she cracked Facebook’s algorithm and tortured her friends.

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel is moving to Los Angeles from San Francisco and has considered scaling back his involvement with Silicon Valley — perhaps even leaving Facebook’s board. A co-founder of PayPal and an early Facebook investor who funded the lawsuit that shuttered Gawker, Thiel is said to be frustrated with what he sees as intolerance of conservatism in the tech industry. [The Wall Street Journal]

Swiss pharma giant Roche is buying Flatiron Health, a cancer focused startup, in a deal worth $ 2.1 billion. Co-founders Zach Weinberg and Nat Turner sold their first startup to Google for around $ 70 million; Google invested in their second company. [Christina Farr / CNBC]

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase withdrew unauthorized money from the bank accounts of some customers, in some cases draining their accounts and incurring overdraft charges. The company said the multiple charges are “in the process of being refunded.” Coinbase had a busy week: it temporarily halted PayPal withdrawals and released a new product for merchants called Coinbase Commerce — all as the price of a bitcoin hit $ 10,000 again after falling for almost two months. [Adrienne Jeffries / The Verge]

Andreessen Horowitz has hired away Uber’s head of growth and turned him into a venture capitalist. Andrew Chen is the newest general partner at Andreessen; the firm still doesn’t haven’t any female general partners. [Theodore Schleifer / Recode]

Google’s increased traffic to publishers is replacing the traffic publishers lost from Facebook. Digital publishers used to build their business around Google, and now they might do the same thing again. [Rani Molla / Recode]

Here’s how nondisclosure agreements became a tool for powerful people to block journalists from informing the public. Once a legal quirk of the tech industry, which used them to protect trade secrets, NDAs have proliferated across the business landscape, placing every secret and item of misconduct out of range for inquiring journalists who might want to expose a misdeed. [Michelle Dean / Columbia Journalism Review]

Top stories from Recode

Tech companies like Twitter, YouTube, Amazon and Verizon are competing to stream the NFL’s Thursday Night Football.

It’s likely that the NFL will sign a multiyear deal.

Watch the full Code Media interview: Disney’s Kevin Mayer talks about the Fox acquisition and what that means for Hulu.

Disney is one of the biggest media players in the game.

This is cool

How I cracked Facebook’s new algorithm and tortured my friends.


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Facebook’s body-swapping AI has Hollywood written all over it


If you thought DeepFakes, the AI that swaps celebrity faces into any video (like porn), was scary wait until you see what Facebook’s DensePose can do. Facebook’s AI research (FAIR) division last week revealed the details of a neural network that maps 2D images to humans in videos. Basically the team taught AI how to add “skins” to people in videos – in real-time. If you’ve ever wanted to live in a world where, at the push of a button, you could turn all the people in any video into a Wookie (for example) this is fabulous news for you.…

This story continues at The Next Web

Or just read more coverage about: Facebook
The Next Web

A look back at the state of racial representation in Hollywood this year

2017 was a good time for racial representation in movies. From films like Hidden Figures to Coco, it seems that Hollywood is more invested than ever in telling stories with diverse leads. Not all of the news is good, however; the past year also saw two more whitewashing controversies thanks to the live-action Ghost in the Shell and Netflix’s Death Note, and people of color on the big screen still lag far behind their populations in real life. Although it’s difficult to square all these trends into one easily understood narrative, especially as no single report out there has all the numbers and data, we can still piece together a general idea of how this year stacked up against years prior.

Get Out, which premiered in February, explored…

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Full transcript: The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters on Recode Media

Her publication is on the forefront of the cascading sexual harassment scandals.

On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, veteran journalist and editor at large at the Hollywood Reporter Kim Masters calls in to talk about her reporting on the ongoing sexual harassment scandals that are toppling powerful men in the media industry.

You can read some of the highlights from the interview here, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me, I’m part of the Vox Media podcast network. I’m not at Vox HQ, this is a special episode we’re taping in Standup, New York, home of Cadence 13. That’s a lot of information for you.

More information: I’m talking to Kim Masters, who is not in the studio either, she is in Los Angeles, via phone. Hello, Kim.

Kim Masters: Hello, Peter.

Kim is … What’s your title at the Hollywood Reporter, Kim?

Editor at large.

Editor at large of the Hollywood Reporter, chief muckraker on the West Coast. You host a podcast for KCRW?

Yes, I have The Business, which is a KCRW radio show and podcast.

You are a veteran Hollywood entertainment media journalist.

Yes, that’s euphemism for been around a really long time.

Well-regarded, that’s another euphemism for been around a long time. But you’re great, and I wanted to have you on because you’re great, and two because you’ve been doing really important work on a story that has transfixed everyone for the last few months: The sexual harassment in the entertainment business. And obviously we’re now seeing stories spreading throughout various industries.

You’ve written several important stories but you had one of the first, right, of the newest crop, when you wrote about Roy Price and Amazon this summer?

Yeah, I think Roy Price was the first executive to be called out in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story breaking.

But you actually wrote about him and sexual harassment issues prior to those Weinstein stories coming out. We can talk about the chronology of that, I wrote a story about it as well.

Yes. I went through a long struggle and I did publish the first story before the Harvey story broke, yes.

So we’ll go backwards in time and talk about that. But I wanted to start off, because people are gonna listen to this over Thanksgiving, I wanted to tape this intentionally as close to the air date as possible, in case someone else was brought down by harassment allegations. It’s 2 p.m. Eastern time, Tuesday, before Thanksgiving. I don’t think anything has happened yet today but there’s still plenty of day left.

Yeah, don’t count on it not happening.

You maybe got one to go. So yesterday we had Charlie Rose, Glenn Thrush from the New York Times, late in the day John Conyer from Congress. Again, we’ve been seeing a wave of these stories come out, and a lot of them are happening on your beat in your backyard, in Los Angeles, in Hollywood.

I wanted to start off by talking about how your job has changed in the last few months, now that it’s become the dominant story. Are you not covering things you would’ve covered, because you’re covering this full-time?

Yeah. There was just such a rush of news right after the Harvey story broke. It opened the door for the Amazon Studios story that we mentioned earlier, and all of a sudden people were calling and emailing and really, I keep saying it’s like that scene in MASH when the helicopters start landing. It’s like triage, we had to have a Kevin Spacey person, and this person who was handling whatever else was coming up.

We were evaluating constantly, what can we get? What stories are the most important? What are the most gettable? Should we try this right away? Should we put this one aside for special concentration because the allegations are so egregious? And everything else started to seem less important.

We’re still interested in things like the Trump administration possibly blocking the AT&T acquisition of Time Warner, that’s important. But a lot of stuff, day-in, day-out coverage just began to feel like not really a priority right now.

How much of this is, “We’ve always had these stories, we’ve always heard rumors, we’ve always been close to reporting a story about so-and-so but we couldn’t get it done, let’s go chase it down,” versus stuff coming in over the transom and people wanting to tell you stories about people that maybe you weren’t thinking about?

It is both. I would say it’s very hard to distinguish. Because some of the stuff that has come over the transom, we’ve maybe had a notion about before. Some we didn’t. And some of this stuff has been people telling their personal essays and recollections. Someone called me early on, or emailed me, and told me this anecdote about something that happened to her years ago on “The Gary Shandling Show.” And it just felt like a really great potential first-person story. So I said, “Can you write that?” And she was like, “Give me half an hour.” And she wrote a really powerful essay. We’ve had several like that.

So it’s this blend of circling back to people we may have heard about before, and just seeing whether we can shake something loose or reacting to tips. I don’t know if I can even begin to separate those things.

So I talked to you this summer about the story we will talk about. And you said, “The Times and the New Yorker are going after this Weinstein story again.”

So you knew it was coming. When those stories hit, first the Times, then the New Yorker, did you go, “Oh, wow. This is going to change everything. This is going to unearth all these stories,” or did you simply go, “That’s an amazing story,” and not consider what might happen after that?

I was thrilled after years that somebody was breaking the Harvey Weinstein story, so that was my primary feeling at that point, was relief. But I also did think, I had a key source in the Amazon Studios Roy Price story who had been deeply ambivalent and not gone completely on the record. She’d given statements, but they weren’t exactly confirming what happened in this incident.

And I had this thought that maybe the sight of Ashley Judd going on the record about Harvey, and all these other women then coming forward, would resonate with this woman Isa Hackett, who had been at the center of that part of the Amazon Studios story. And to be honest, I did not circle back to her, because I had spent months trying to ask her to help us get that story published, but not trying to pressure her to the point where I was just inflicting distress on her.

And a version of that happened with the Harvey story too. At one point I was talking to Ronan Farrow. First of all, he was working on it for NBC, and then when he was working at the New Yorker, and he just wanted me to talk a little bit about the experience I had with Harvey. But I also knew of someone who potentially could help him. And I wanted to help him, so I connected him through a friend of this woman.

And this friend called me after Ronan talked to her and said, you know, he’s kind of put her into such a state of conflict. Because she feels that she’s failing womankind if she doesn’t come forward and speak, but at the same time, she feels like she’s putting herself so much at risk, and it’s really, really … He almost regretted having gotten her involved with the Ronan interview.

And I knew from talking to Isa Hackett that she was going through similar feelings. I think it’s very useful to us as reporters to really get in touch with what these people go through. To us, there’s a little bit of an impulse to say, “Gimme, gimme, gimme, I want the story.” But we have to pause, and we have to say, “How hard is this for these people?” So I had been trying hard not to lean on Isa, to make a long-winded thing, but I was hoping that she would circle back to me, and that’s exactly what happened.

And did you think, again, when the Weinstein story broke, was the story already written about Roy Price? You said you didn’t go back to her initially. But did you think, “Oh, there are a list of well-known people that have had rumors circulating for a long time, I predict that the Louis C.K. story’s gonna come out.”

Well, we had a separate thing with Louis C.K. where we had booked Pam Adlon on the radio show and we knew that story was coming. Some of it had been on the internet. We’d had Louis C.K. on the show when Horace and Pete came out. But we felt like the reporting on it didn’t rise to the level where we were gonna be able to say, “Can you address this?”

But by the time Pam Adlon came on the show just a couple of weeks ago, I felt like, “Okay, we really are gonna have to ask her about this.” And it felt somewhat unfair, because what did she do? We don’t know that she did anything, except there’s a lot of people who are pulled into this, because he is co-creator of her show, he has co-written every episode of the second season of her show “Better Things.”

So I didn’t sandbag her, I told her we were gonna have to talk about it. And she said, “I wouldn’t even have come for the interview if I’d known,” and I said, “Look. You can step out, you can talk to your publicist, you can decide to address it, you can decide to say no, you don’t want to address it, or you can leave. But one thing I can tell you is, you’re gonna be asked this question.”

And just to be clear, this is right before the New York Times story broke. Maybe a week and a half. And I said, “You will be asked about this, so you can decide to do this now, or decide to do this later.” And she did, to her credit, great credit I would say. She did step out, she came back, she said she would talk about it. That’s the first thing we did, just to get that out of the way. And then she pivoted and did a great interview about her show “Better Things.”

So I listened to that podcast last night. The interview’s great. And then it’s fascinating to listen to the beginning, when you do ask her about Louis C.K. And she says, “I feel terrible that all these rumors are out there, they don’t make any sense to me, they don’t sync with the person I’ve been a close collaborator with for a long time.”

I wrote down the quote, “He should be celebrated,” and then within a few days that story’s out, and she had a statement saying, “I feel heartbroken that he has done this.” She’s done equivocating.

You said something interesting, in between the segment where you talk to her about Louis C.K. and then when you get to the meat of the regular interview, you say something to the fact of, “It’s too bad that so many people have these demons that they can’t control.”

And I thought, “Boy, that is the most sympathetic public discussion of the men accused of harassment that I’ve heard to date.” Most of the public discussion on Twitter, the stories, is, “These men are bad.” You can discuss whether it’s structural or symptomatic, but it’s black and white, and no one wants to allow, in most cases, any sort of gray area, or sympathy or empathy you might have for the men.

Have you reconsidered that, or is that still how you feel about the men like Louis C.K. who are accused of this stuff?

There’s a continuum of conduct. On one end there’s the Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, seemingly criminal misconduct. And I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those people at all. I think they deserve whatever befalls them.

And then at the other end — and I’m not addressing Louis C.K. specifically here, because he’s somewhere in the middle of the two extremes of that continuum for me. But far extreme on the other end, there are people who are obviously, in my opinion, borderline pathetic, but also sick.

Some of these people, and this does include Louis C.K. and other names that haven’t become public yet, but I can tell you there are names you wish to unhear. I think Charlie Rose is a name a lot of people would wish to unhear.

And you can see from just the morning-after presentation on the CBS “Morning Show,” how excruciating it is for people who worked with him, maybe did or did not know. Say they did not know, may have had an inkling, whatever.

I don’t want to say I’m sympathetic to an abuser. I’m saying, it’s not so black and white, like, “Okay, you are a terrible person, you’re gonna be thrown into a cell for the rest of time, all of you.: There are people who are brilliant, who do things for women, like Louis C.K. did. Louis C.K. made Pam Adlon’s show possible, made Tig Notaro’s show possible. Imagine the conflict that stirs up in people like Pam Adlon and Tig Notaro, to know that this person who’s been a critical, critical mentor in their lives is also this compulsive, sick … obviously an element of misusing power, and victimizing women.

How do you sort that out? It’s not easy in some of these cases.

Right. Even as we’re speaking, I’m picking my words carefully. I’m finding that there are people I’ll talk to privately if we’re comfortable enough with each other, and it’s women, I’m not usually talking to men about this. And they’ll express that yeah, there is a continuum like you just said, or all sorts of nuance and complexity that goes into this.

And then publicly, I think people don’t want to engage in that discussion, even now I feel like I’m gonna trip something. Lena Dunham got caught up in this, right?

Well, this morning, as we’re recording, there was a letter signed by women of “Saturday Night Live” to defend Al Franken. And I saw the Twitter attack on those women by feminists who feel, how dare they rise up to help this terrible abuser?

Now, as we speak, I haven’t heard enough to convince me that Al Franken is a serial, terrible abuser. And whatever the case, I tweeted myself that bashing the women who signed that letter does not feel like feminism to me.

There’s so much rage out there, at the years and years of abuse, that I think some of it can spill over where it’s not entirely appropriate.

I feel like if I smoked, I would take a break and go have a cigarette right now. So instead of doing that, let’s hear from our sponsors. We’ll be right back with Kim Masters.

[ad]

We’re back here with Kim Masters. I have not smoked, I don’t know about Kim, but I don’t think she smoked.

I don’t smoke.

I want to have a little more about your job, and how you do it, and how it has changed. In a lot of ways, this isn’t new ground for you. You’ve always been a serious journalist who’s written about unpleasant people in a lot of ways and shown them things they didn’t want to see.

In general, though, in trades … the Hollywood Reporter’s a trade, their bread and butter is telling people that so-and-so is signed onto a new project, or so-and-so has a new agent, transactional stuff. It serves an important role in that industry.

There was a great piece in the Ringer a couple weeks ago, about the shift in the coverage and variety, where you’ve got a lot of folks spending time doing this much more aggressive reporting. How are you talking about the rest of the staff about that? Have you had that experience or has it done much of this?

Well, let me just say that first of all, I joined the Hollywood Reporter when Janice Minn became the editor. And from the jump she was very serious about doing that kind of journalism. And we immediately reported that the head of ABC, who had just been fired, Steve MacPherson, was fired for sexual harassment, which nobody else had reported at these other publications.

And we had been threatened with a lawsuit, we’re gonna be sued, so on and so forth. And Janice did not … well, we batted an eye. We talked to our lawyers, and then we published. So I didn’t join that type of publication. Hollywood Reporter does report industry news, but we have certainly been all over … my colleague Gary Baum, a lot of us have been doing exposes and serious journalism since the rebirth of the Hollywood Reporter.

Now, some of the younger people or people who are less seasoned here, have that reporter’s instinct, and I have definitely tried to encourage that in them. There are certain reporters, and not just at the Hollywood Reporter, I mean the same thing is true everywhere I’ve ever worked: At the Washington Post, at NPR, they don’t want to deal with a hostile situation where somebody’s yelling at you and threatening you. And they don’t do that kind of stuff. And the kind of stuff they do is not valueless, some of it is really great, interesting work. But it’s not that warfare, in-the-trenches stuff.

So you can tell on our staff here, who’s got that … I always think it’s like the racehorse, you’re happily munching your oats in the stall and then you hear that little bugle and you suddenly are up and ready to go and you want to run. And I see that among certain of our reporters. And I tell them, go for it.

It’s sort of a fun thing for me to watch them learn that they can do this. One of them in particular I’m thinking of came to me on some story or another, and said, “I’ve got this, this, this and this. What do I need to do now?” And it was like, “You need to write it. It’s done, you’re there.” And I can just remember that look on her face, like, “Really? I’ve got this?” Yes, you have this. Do it.

I’m glad to say, we’ve got several people coming up now, even some of them who have been with us for a long time, but were never in an environment that encouraged that kind of “go get it.”

“I didn’t realize that I could do this, or that people would want me to do this kind of work, and now I can and now I enjoy it.”

Do you imagine that this is a transformative thing for the reporter, and for the other trades? Or do you think this is a moment in time and, at some point, it goes back to something similar to where it had been, where this isn’t the story?

We’re trying to prevent that by keeping the discussion going, and by pursuing these stories, regardless of people starting to whine that they’re tired of these stories. I don’t care, and I think a lot of people are not tired of these stories. Many of them are men, and most women.

So we’re going to keep doing this. We tried to get the Harvey story out two or three years ago at the Hollywood Reporter, and I guarantee you if we could’ve gotten people on the record, we would’ve gone. So I don’t know that it’s so much a change of climate, except now there’s this focus on this and much more cooperation from sources.

But even to this moment, some of these sources … Harvey was not at the peak of power when he was taken down this way by a multitude of women. There are men in jobs right now, very powerful, and there’s a lot of resistance. Sources are terrified, so it’s changed, but it hasn’t completely changed.

Can we talk about the mechanics of reporting these sort of stories, why they’re so difficult, why they have been historically so difficult? When the Weinstein story came out, you mentioned you’d been working on it for years. Canaleta tried to do it nearly 20 years ago, David Carr tried to do it. They couldn’t get through the people, lots of resources. What up until now has made reporting a story like Harvey Weinstein, or even some of the lesser players, so difficult to get into print?

Well, you know, fear. It’s simply fear, and in the extreme case of Harvey, we have read now how he hired ex-Mossad agents and fake reporters, or co-opted reporters. What these guys want to do in these situations, in many cases, is to completely smear the person making the allegation. These people faced a pretty stark choice, going on the record, of potentially getting their reputation smeared.

“We’re gonna destroy you, we’re gonna destroy your business,” if it’s a publisher.

Well no, I’m talking about people in the industry, the would-be sources.

Oh, potential sources. Got it.

That’s why we couldn’t do it. It’s not that we didn’t have the will. We didn’t do it because we couldn’t get cooperation from sources. I would call every so often, a former Miramax executive who ultimately did go somewhat on the record in the New York Times piece, Mark Gill. He didn’t deny any of this, he said, “Yes, there are people who are famous, there are people who are not famous.” We knew who the famous people were. Not all of them, some. And the famous people were not ready to take on Harvey Weinstein.

Gwyneth Paltrow has described the stark choice of success in the industry or potential downfall. So we’d be like, “Give me a name. Who can I call? Who can I find who’s left the company?”

First of all, we couldn’t get any names in that era. And second of all, as we now know, many of them had signed nondisclosure agreements and feel handcuffed by those. And that is a huge policy problem right now, and it is, I believe, right now, I’m trying to break a story. I know an alleged victim and I am almost 100 percent sure there’s a nondisclosure and that’s what’s blocking her.

It’s good you’re pointing that out. Because after Weinstein and several of these stories, people said, “Oh, it was an open secret. Everyone knew,” and then there would be a round of, “Well, if everyone knew, why didn’t you write it?”

And partly, it’s people weren’t talking publicly on the record. And then partly I do think there was some publications didn’t have the appetite, or some reporters didn’t have the appetite.

I’m sure that’s true, but I can tell you that’s not the case here. We were inches away from breaking this, and then our source backed out.

Have you seen — either at the Reporter or other publications — business ramifications from this? I’m sure readership is ticked up, but I’m wondering about advertising. Are people less likely to advertise? Awards season is kicking up, is that stuff dropping off?

We’re gonna be finding that out as we go forward, I think, if these companies … I am unaware of any threat to pull ads. And I think if there were a threat to pull ads, it would be highly inappropriate for the reporter to even be aware of that, because that is not the reporter’s business. We don’t want to know. Whatever, threaten to pull ads.

Speaking of awards season, what do you think happens at the Oscars, and the other lesser awards?

Wow. It’s going to be interesting at the Oscars this year, and the Globes, to see … I can’t imagine it won’t be addressed. But I just feel like we can’t pick and choose, if we have an allegation.

And as I said before, some of these people that have not yet been publicly discussed, and may never be, or may be very soon, they are not … they’re popular. I’m sure it broke a lot of hearts of Louis C.K. fans to hear he had engaged in that kind of behavior.

So whether there’s a backlash, if we are exposing stuff about popular people, companies themselves. I do think threats against a publication at this point, if I heard of a threat to pull ads, I would be very inclined to publicize it, just as the LA Times was banned for its reporting on Anaheim and how Disney related to the city of Anaheim. Disney called a boycott of the LA Times, and it was a complete backlash against Disney. So I would say they should threaten very quietly if they want to threaten.

Maybe threat is a good place to take one more quick break to hear from a fine advertiser who does not threaten Recode Media. We’ll be right back with Kim Masters.

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We’re back here with Kim Masters, who as we speak is waiting for a source to call her back so she can break a story, so her time is precious.

We started off by talking about the Roy Price story that you’ve wrote about twice now, and I wrote about once. I wrote about the first version of your story. You wrote about Roy Price in a story that came out, he was a former Amazon Studios executive. You wrote a story originally published in The Information, which is not where you work.

I wrote about the fact that you had tried to write this story at various publications including the Hollywood Reporter. I think I mentioned BuzzFeed, the Daily Beast had looked at it as well. I think others as well. What made that story hard to publish last spring and this summer?

Well, the aggressiveness of Roy Price’s personal lawyers. Roy Price is the head of Amazon Studios. Obviously Amazon is a big, powerful company, and many people are intimidated just by that.

But Amazon wasn’t threatening us. Roy Price personally was threatening us. And his lawyers were Charles Harder, who had handled the Hulk Hogan case that ultimately completely bankrupted Gawker and took down Gawker over the Hulk Hogan sex tapes. This is not a sex tape, as I repeatedly said. But the mere fact that that had happened, I think, was very disturbing to the lawyers that vet these things for various publications.

And then there was Lisa Blum, self-proclaimed defender of oppressed women, who was actually representing not only Harvey Weinstein, but, as it turned out, Roy Price as well. And they were threatening to sue. And at one point I said to one of these editors, “What do these people say to you that is so absolutely terrifying?” Because I couldn’t understand it. Roy Price is a public figure. The only way he could really sue me is for malice, which I did not have against him, I hardly knew him; or for being recklessly negligent, which I would not do either.

So to me, he also would be very vulnerable if he sued. Because there was material that we couldn’t get on the record, but if he sued us, we could go into discovery and subpoena people and make them tell us their stories. Things, in my opinion, would only have gotten worse for him. So this threat seemed like such a saber-rattling exercise to me.

But every publication was petrified, I think, because of the reputation of Hulk Hogan and because of the relentless Trump-bashing of the media. There was this fear that we could get a judge who didn’t really want to obey the law, or if it went to a jury they would be hostile to the media, and that everything would be against the publication. And that’s a sad situation that we’re in, in a country that values the First Amendment, the freedom of speech.

And to be fair, both BuzzFeed and the Daily Beast had talked to editors there, and they said, you can go look at the story, there’s on the record quotes of them saying, “We passed on it, but not because we were afraid of Roy Price or Amazon, we’ve published other hard-hitting stories.”

You published that story in, I think, August of this year? It comes out, gets some attention. You can see, if you’re used to reading this sort of stuff, there’s another story there you didn’t report there but you report it. And the Weinstein story breaks, and you go back to Isa Hackett eventually, and she provides more detail about the same incident. It’s the same story published before, but now basically what you’re able to say is, “Roy Price said the following to me. And these are the details surrounding the incident that I complained about.”

Yeah. I knew those details before and they were included in the draft I gave to all of these publications. And I didn’t, to be clear, I actually didn’t get those details from Isa. There were other sources who knew about this, because she had talked to other people. It had been reported to Amazon. They all could’ve published those allegations exactly, but the difference was that Isa put them on the record herself.

So that story comes out, within a week or so the first Weinstein stories come out. And within a few days, Amazon says, “Roy Price is on leave.” It’s quite clear that he’s not gonna come back. Within a couple days, he’s resigned.

It was hours. Three hours.

Three hours of that story, there you go.

Of Isa’s interview of what happened, yeah, with him.

So what do you make of that? Clearly if you worked at Amazon, if you were Roy Price’s boss, Jeff Bezos, you either knew or certainly could have known what he had done. And by the way, he doesn’t deny that.

So again, you weren’t disclosing information that was new to Amazon. So why did Roy Price leave immediately after that story came out?

I think he had to leave. I think it’s baffling why Amazon had known about this, not only for months but in fact for years, because they had investigated him and then that investigator had returned this past spring, when I started reporting my piece. And why they waited. I wrote a piece about this. Why would you wait until the worst possible … all of this is now publishable and Isa Hackett is so upset that she’s ready to go completely on the record, and then get rid of him?

I just don’t understand why you would wait for that. But I’m sure he was pressured to resign. They suspended him first. Within three hours of the Isa interview they suspended him, then there was more reporting that came out, and they finally said he was resigning.

So don’t ask me. I feel like that is a sign of Amazon not knowing … they live in their world to some degree, these digital companies. And they are young, and the guys that run them are very rich. And they are sometimes more tech-oriented than human-being-oriented, and I think this is all new to them.

We’ve seen it with Uber and so many Silicon Valley companies, they think they can make their own rules and then they find out that they can’t.

Right. I mean, we are seeing, it makes sense if you step back and think about it, that these problems exist in every industry. Congress is going to go through this now. But I guess the tech industry has a patina of goodness about it.

What I’ve been told about the Amazon thing is, whether or not they wanted to keep Roy Price after that, they couldn’t, because talent wouldn’t work with him. Not to mention, I think a lot of the people who worked under him were so unhappy. So it wasn’t new information, it was that it was newly disclosed to people outside of a certain tier at Amazon.

Right. It put someone like Jill Soloway in a tough spot. Her show is “Transparent,” and she’s been treated really, really well by Amazon, but she also has feminist ideals. So yeah, that was an awkward situation.

I’ve asked a bunch of people this, I’m curious on your take. We start with the Harvey Weinstein story, that’s in Hollywood. Obviously we’ve seen a bunch more Hollywood stories come out, we’ve seen a bunch of stories about media companies. There’s lots of industries where we haven’t heard these stories yet. Obviously they exist. So do you think they will also come to light, or do you think there’s something about media, about Hollywood, that makes these stories more likely to be aired publicly?

Well, obviously people are interested in Hollywood and interested in these celebrity stories. And in Washington, powerful politicians or hypocritical politicians are also tempting for reporters. There’s a huge press corps covering Hollywood, there’s a huge press corps covering Washington. So you’re going to hear a lot about those.

But I believe that in any industry where power gets very concentrated, power and money, in a small number of male hands, as is true in Congress, as is true in Hollywood, you’re gonna see this kind of conduct. I’m sure it’s rampant in academic settings. I believe this will continue to come out. It’s spreading around the world now. So we’re seeing a moment, and I think the hope is it’s a turning point.

It’s interesting some of the things that fit those criteria, you were just discussing, include sports and the music industry. Lots of power concentrated in the hands of a few men. Haven’t heard those stories really, yet.

Well, we have. I mean, we’ve heard it in gymnastics, abuse from coaches. I believe we’ll hear more of that, and I think we’re gonna hear … I think in music, you already had Ke$ ha saying she was attacked by Dr. Luke, and I think we’re going to see more. I mean, we’re hearing tips, our company owns billboards. So there’s a little bit of interchange of information.

And there’s a Weinstein-like figure out there that no one talks about and no one is reporting, that one I assume is coming?

From what I hear, I don’t know much about music, but there may be some big names that are gonna face some problems.

Yeah. No, I think there’s at least one of those. It’s interesting they haven’t come out yet in that same pace. It’ll be interesting.

Again, back to that Ringer story I was looking at, that quotes you as saying, “Right now we’re in a laboratory figuring out,” you’re talking about the mechanics and ethics of reporting these stories. That was a few weeks ago, we’re moving at a very fast pace. Do you feel like you’ve got a handle on what a story is when it comes to harassment, what a story isn’t?

No, it’s really hard, I have to be honest. We have a person we’re looking at very hard right now. And we have multiple sources … again, they won’t go on the record because the fear is real. And what I’ve noticed with these companies in a couple of cases now, these big media companies, they have this thing they’re trying to pull, which is their spokespeople go off the record and deny things.

And they think that that’s going to be the end of the story. And what we have to do is demand an on-the-record answer. And I’ve had this experience now twice in the past couple weeks, where they say, “Off the record, that’s just not true.” And I’m just like, “I’m sorry. What?” Why would this be persuasive to me? If it’s not true, big public company, then deny it on the record. And that’s where they can’t, because they’d be lying, and they can’t lie about these people who are so important to their business.

And I think it’s up to us to just not ever accept an off-the-record denial from a major media company, or any major institution.

So, that’s not a difficult thing for you to figure out, right? You can’t take an off-the-record no, right? If you’re gonna say no, you gotta say it on the record.

Well, you can say that it’s not difficult, but the implied threat, that you’re gonna screw this up and you’re gonna look bad, and we’re gonna expose how stupid you are, it’s like so there. Some of these people, I’m sure you know, they’re very contentious, very aggressive.

Look at Fox News. I’ve never dealt with the woman there, but she’s infamous. They come at you and it takes some nerve to stay the course and demand on-the-record answers.

When did Weinstein break, was it September or October? It feels like it’s been going on for months now.

Oh gosh, I would guess it was September?

So do you need a break?

Yes. No, I mean, I feel an obligation to continue doing this. It’s been kinda a life-crusher. Weekends and evenings, people are contacting you at all hours. I just feel like we have to do this, this is what we’re here for.

Do you think this is a … pick your metaphor, but this is a thing we’re going to do for x number of months, maybe years, and then at some point we’re going to go back to … you’re going to keep doing very serious work, but we’ll have gone through all the stories. Or do you think this is just a permanent feature of media reporting, Hollywood reporting now?

We hope we’re reaching a turning point. My concern is, the statistics certainly in Hollywood for women in front of the camera, behind the camera, in the corporate offices, they’re not good. They’re really, really bad. And it’s become increasingly clear to me, the pervasiveness of misconduct, and not necessarily just confining that to sexual harassment. There’s a frat boy thing going on at a bunch of these companies and they don’t want women in the mix. They want to go and go to Vegas and do their thing without women making them feel like they can’t.

So this is one of the reasons women are excluded. And to my way of thinking, until they start actually deciding, “Maybe we’re gonna hire more women and promote more women,” the risk of this kind of abuse is there. And that’s why, I think the conversation has to continue until we start to see some changes in the way hiring is handled and the way these complaints are handled.

Because you do hear men, and some of them are considered to be serious people, saying, “Well, we’re gonna have to Mike Pence it now.”

That’s absolute nonsense. I find that the most offensive thing.

And I’ve talked to women in your business and they say, “Yeah, I’m afraid this is going to happen, I’m afraid I’m going to be cut out of the meeting entirely now. I just got my foot in the door and now they’re gonna close it, they’re gonna say ‘We cannot have you in here.’”

Well I certainly wish that we were in an era where the EEOC was open for business and we could see some aggressive enforcement of discrimination laws. Because that’s not the answer, and I hope we have women with the courage to try to bring class actions or sue, if that’s what happens. Because that’s sex discrimination, plain and simple, and it perpetuates the system and it’s not okay.

Kim Masters, this is our Thanksgiving episode. It’s kinda a heavy episode. Can we conclude by asking you what you’re thankful for this year?

Are you gonna Sarah Sanders me? I’ll tell you what I said …

No, we did it in reverse order. You tell me.

Well, you know, when she asked reporters in the White House to say what they were thankful for, my response was, “I’m thankful that even the most evil people in the world are mortal.”

But I am thankful that the Harvey story broke and that this moment has arrived. I waited a long time, and banged my head against the wall, and I’m really, really glad that at least some of the most serious offenders in this business are no longer just free to do whatever.

Kim, appreciate your time. Thankful for your time. Go get ’em.

Well, thank you for having me.


Recode – All

Hollywood’s sexual harassment story is far from over, says the Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters

There are still more “powerful men” who have yet to be exposed, Masters said — right before she published a bombshell story about Disney and Pixar exec John Lasseter.

Harvey Weinstein. Roy Price. Kevin Spacey. Jeffrey Tambor. Louis C.K. Charlie Rose. And now, John Lasseter.

The list of prominent men in the media world who have been accused of routine sexual harassment is long and getting longer by the day. But the Hollywood Reporter’s editor-at-large, Kim Masters, says the story is not going away because there are still more men like them you haven’t heard about yet.

Job No. 1 for journalists like her is to get their victims to talk on the record.

“There’s a continuum of conduct. On the one end, there’s Harvey Weinstein/Kevin Spacey, seemingly criminal misconduct, and I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those people at all,” Masters said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “I think they deserve whatever befalls them. And at the far extreme on the other end, there are people who are just obviously, borderline pathetic, but also sick.”

“Some of these people — and this does include Louis C.K. and other names that haven’t become public yet — I can tell you, there are names you wish to unhear,” she added.

Less than an hour after this podcast taping concluded, Masters published a story about Pixar and Disney Animation exec John Lasseter’s history of sexual misconduct in the workplace. According to the report, Lasseter acknowledged his “missteps” in a memo to employees and is currently on a six-month leave of absence from Disney.

You can listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

The Weinstein story, which for years many journalists had tried to get people to talk about on the record, opened the floodgates for everyone who has followed, including former Amazon executive Roy Price.

“There was just such a rush of news after the Harvey story broke,” Masters said. “It opened the door for the Amazon Studios story and, all of a sudden, people were calling and emailing and I keep saying, it’s like that scene in ‘MASH’ where the helicopters start landing.”

“We were evaluating constantly, ‘What can we get?’” she added. “‘What stories are the most gettable? Should we try this right away? Should we put this one aside for special concentration because the allegations are so egregious?’ And everything else started to seem, you know, less important.”

So why is harassment and other bad behavior seemingly so commonplace in Hollywood? Masters said the answer is obvious and visible in plain sight: There aren’t enough women “behind the camera.”

“It’s become increasingly clear to me the pervasiveness of misconduct, and not necessarily confining that sexual harassment,” she said. “There’s a frat-boy thing going on at a bunch of these companies and they don’t want women in the mix. They want to go to Vegas and do their thing without women making them feel like they can’t … Until they start deciding, ‘Maybe we’re going to hire more women and promote more women,’ the risk of this abuse is there, and that’s why the conversation has to continue.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers all of the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcastor wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts— and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Peter. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Recode Media!


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