Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hollywood generosity (an oxymoron)

Not to be a name dropper but (okay I am a name dropper) I was having lunch with Shelley Long and grousing that I had to buy the CHEERS DVD set. Paramount didn’t give me one, which would have been nice considering I wrote a lot of episodes and my royalties from DVD sales are a fucking joke. I was amazed to learn that Shelley wasn’t provided a complimentary copy of the collection either. You’d think as just a common courtesy the studio would give the cast DVD’s.

When a recording artist makes an album the label generally gives him a copy or two. When an author publishes a book he usually doesn’t have to go to Amazon and order a copy.

But we’re talking show business and a mindset where if they don’t HAVE TO do something for you they won’t.

20th Century Fox did not offer me any DVD’s of MASH, despite my involvement. In this instance, I even called and asked. I was told giving away free copies, even to members of the creative staff, was against company policy. Like it would break News Corp.

A few years later I received a call one late morning from the 20th publicity department. The MASH DVD’s were being released in the U.K. and they were arranging a telephone press conference with British critics. Since I had worked on the show for four years and had a popular blog, would I mind representing the show at the conference? It would take about a half hour; I would just answer questions, etc.

I asked when this conference was scheduled for. 2:00 PM my time. It was now about 11:30. I said, “I tell you what. If the complete box set of the entire series of MASH is delivered to my door by 2:00 I will participate in the conference. If not, I’m not doing it. And that’s every year, any bonus material, suitable for Blu-Ray.”

Needless to say, faster than a Domino’s pizza, the DVD’s were on my doorstep.   That's what it takes for them to be generous -- they need something from you. 

I always wondered – if at the last minute the press conference was cancelled, would they send someone to get the DVD’s back? Seriously, I wouldn’t put it past them.

53 comments:

norm said...

Curious Ken, did you get paid for the time and work you did on each of the shows?
If so, then the studios owe you zip, nada, zilch!......or they could have been a good guy and given it to you. Just sayin.....

kent said...

Ken, we enjoyed Under Andrea and I was wondering, when you filmed it, who was in the cast?

And by the way, I work for the government and I have to buy my own pens because the ones I like are $1.08 each and the County won't go over .89.

Ain't life great?

Anonymous said...

Typo in headline.

RockGolf said...

@norm: Writing ain't like plumbing. Royalties and such are or should be included. And there are good economic arguments for that system, not just goodwill.

See this article: http://www.newsfromme.com/2015/06/13/about-residuals/

DwWashburn said...

The story goes that when the Monkees' second LP "More of the Monkees" was released, the guys were not even told about it. They were out on tour and someone mentioned they had seen the LP in a neighboring record store. One of the group members bought a copy from that record store and thus started the group's trek to taking control of their own music.

H Johnson said...

Aloha Ken,

My company has performed the civil engineering work (earthwork, roads, pipelines, concrete etc.) for several developers over the last 35 years. Not once have any of those stingey bastards ever given us a house or condominium. Sure they pay us our contract amount, but share the product? Nooooooooo.

I'm with you brother. Let's stand united and fight this injustice.

King, Chavez & Levine... One!

Jon B. said...

Ken, I don't disagree with your rant, but I wonder where you think the studios ought to draw the line for free DVD sets. Cast regulars? Directors? Writing Staff? For long lasting series, how many folks would get free DVD sets? Twenty? One hundred? One thousand? Are addresses and contact information readily available for all those folks? I suspect you have a good, practical answer.

RockGolf said...

@Jon B: Well, they certainly had Ken's phone number....

Boomska316 said...

Did any of the Mash sets have special features? I only bought the original sets which only had the episodes and the option to turn off the laugh track.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Complete series sets of long-running shows are really impractical. Short-runners like THE MUNSTERS, for example, now that makes more sense and completely practical, but long-runners like M*A*S*H or CHEERS? No way. Especially if there are certain seasons you don't like (I have Seasons 1-7 of M*A*S*H, I hate 8-11).

@Boomska After all 11 seasons were released, 20th Century Fox released the complete series set with special features - including both the 20th and 30th anniversary reunion specials, the BIOGRAPHY episode about the show, a brief gag reel, behind-the-scenes footage from the final day of filming, cast interviews, cast P.S.A.s, among other features - needless, fans were pissed about spending all those years buying the individual season sets with no special features and now having to rebuy all 11 seasons in one set just to get the special features. Thankfully, Fox temporarily pulled the complete series set off shelves and put out a set that has the "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" finale and the special features from the complete series set for those who didn't want to have to buy the complete series set. Unfortunately, the GFA set is no longer in print, and you pretty much have to get the complete series set if you want the special features.

And this is becoming more and more of a common practice: I remember Universal released like the first two individual episodes of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, then decided they didn't want to do that anymore, and just released the complete series after that.

mmryan314 said...

I bought the MASH Goodbye,Farewell,and Amen disc from Amazon (used)about a year ago. I don`t think it cost $10.00. It was great with interviews etc. Speaking of Shelley Long-she moderated part of it.

Oat Willie said...

Banks used to give stuff away too, like calendars and piggy banks and toasters. The Cost Cutters won but our reward is the groovy entertainment we receive from Paramount!

Michael said...

Friday question: After the recent Taylor Swift-Apple dust-up, her actress friend Jaime King, who co-starred on HART OF DIXIE, also tried complaining that actors don't get paid anything when their shows are viewed on streaming services. Do writers get royalties from streaming services? Does it depend on how old the show is and the contracts in place at that time?

Anonymous said...

This coming from the man who monetized the blood and guts of the Korean War, recently took an expensive vacation in Asia, but couldn't be bothered to fit Korea on his itinerary.

— Glen

Cesar said...

Speaking of Oxymorons, Rush Limbaugh's show probably has a budget line item for his legal prescription drugs-- and it's worth every penny to keep him on the air.

Giant Media Corporations would not jeopardize their bottom line by providing principal creatives and cast members with DVDs. Such individuals can be located through their unions or reps. (Digital copies would be even cheaper.)

Surely, even H Johnson-- our civil engineering friend-- can see that giving people a copy of a TV show is not the same as giving people a condo. Because intellectual property is not the same as real estate property. That said, if H Johnson can talk a developer into giving him a set of concrete culverts in recognition of a job well done, who are we to argue?

Ken Levine said...

Uh, Glen,

I did visit Korea. And even tried to get to the 38th parallel. That said, thank you for leaving your name. I welcome readers to offer critical comments as long as they leave a name.

Hamid said...

I worked in a bakery that made 3,000-5,000 cakes a shift between 30 people. We were never allowed to take a cake home just because we wanted one for dinner, the weekend or just because, not even on our birthday or a holiday. Sure we sometimes got to take home ones that were unfixable, test runs or somehow made with a design flaw. Maybe they should hand out DVD sets that are scratched, missing, damaged or otherwise unsellable.
I could totally see myself or anyone else bargaining for a cake though. Boss wants a favor? Well I'll need him to look the other way as I sneak this perfectly good cake out the door. But as far as being entitled just because I made the cake? Do you think they let the factory workers that actually produce the DVDs take home sets? Do you think the people at Amazon are allowed to take sets home for free?

emily said...

Wow! Tough room.

Dave Creek said...

As is often the case, Harlan Ellison has what should probably be the last word (I was waiting for someone else to post this, but no one did, so here it is).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

YEKIMI said...

Here's a Friday question. I was watching some M*A*S*H* outakes and noticed that when an actor fouled up his lines that Harry Morgan [in scenes he was a part of] popped off with that actor's line. So was he one of those actors that memorized the whole script? Is it easier for actors to memorize the whole thing or just their parts?

Jeannie said...

Dave Creek, I was also going to post Harlan Ellison's rant, but decided against it because it's kind of like comparing apples to spinach. If memory serves, Ellison was asked to do extra work for which no monetary compensation was offered, which is, as he points out, like asking a plumber or doctor to do their job for free. In Ken's case, it would have been cool or even classy of 20th Century Fox to give him copies of a show he worked on (and was paid a salary for) when he called to request them, but they didn't "owe" him the tapes/DVDs. But Ken's point is well taken: studios can be incredibly cheap when they should be more generous & smarter about building goodwill at a tax-deductible cost to them.

Igor said...

Ken wrote, "I welcome readers to offer critical comments as long as they leave a name."

Hey, Ken - fuck you.

Sorry. I don't mean that, not at all. But since I do leave my name...

Anyway, on the one hand I'm surprised you called and asked for a copy. OTOH, since I am quite happy to accept poetic license, maybe you merely wrote here that you did flat-out ask for a copy... so that it would be a setup for your punchline. And seems to me it was worth it, because I did like the story arc.

When I first started spending time in Hollywood, one of the things that cracked me up (and still does) is the way things are messengered around. Sure, things are messengered in all big cities, but in LA the sorts of things that are messengered... it's like a novelty act all on its own. I'm not dissing it; it clearly does work for those involved; but it does crack me up.

scott o. said...

"Not to be a name dropper but (okay I am a name dropper) I was having lunch with Shelley Long...."


And in one brief sentence fragment Mr. Levine has put to rest any hope that my life would ever be a fraction as interesting as his.

Diane D. said...

I am so shocked at the number of people who think it is outrageous that Ken Levine (or Shelley Long) would expect to be given a copy of the DVD set of a show they helped create. It should have been a courtesy that was extended without question. The good-will such a gesture creates is priceless, whether they have to send out 50 or 500.

Some people mentioned other businesses not giving products to their employees, but every business I worked for gave away freebees to the staff that would be the equivalent of the DVDs---including a not-for-profit Hospice which printed up cook books to sell for a money-raising project. They ordered 50 extra cookbooks and gave one to each member of the staff, to show their respect and appreciation.



Curt Alliaume said...

In the publishing industry (I've worked there most of my adult life), the author(s) is given X number of free copies as part of his or her contract. After that, they can buy copies at a discount. And that quantity in the contract is a necessity, as some authors have been known to ask for so many free copies that the book slowly becomes unprofitable.

By the way, that means if you have a friend who wrote a book, buy the doggone thing instead of asking for a freebie. They don't have them by the palletful sitting in the basement, and they don't make any money if they give you a royalty-free copy.

If Paramount and Fox are absolutely refusing to part with box sets, Cheers and Frasier are available for $59.49 for the full series on DVD at Amazon (although the latter is sold out). M*A*S*H tends to fluctuate; it was $67.49 for the full 11 seasons last week, but is now back up to $169.99.

Hamid said...

Cookbooks? What the hell do cookbooks have to do with anything at a nonprofit? I'm sure their books were so cooked it didn't make a dent. Did the staff get paid for submitting recipes and doing extra work to get it together? When it came time to order, I'm sure there were bulk rates where it didn't matter if you ordered 500 or 750, so you could give them away.

Tobi said...

Another perspective on studio giveaways....a friend of ours had a small but continuing role in a TV drama for a few years. As such, he joined the 'Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' and therefore, was eligible to vote for the Oscars. Every year, prior to the voting, he received countless deliveries of promotional versions of the nominated films from all categories. In the days of VCR tapes, they would often be creatively packaged as lavish presents. No expense was spared. Later on, DVD's just arrived by mail, but were still relentless.
He set up a little lending library for his family and friends (against the rules) and told us that in Hollywood, many of his acquaintances passed their ballots on to their household help to fill in.
Nobody in this entire endeavour was what you could call 'classy'.

Not all professions are so ungrateful. After 30 years of teaching, I, and my fellow retirees received copies of a vintage wooden-handled brass school bell engraved with the name of our school board! On the inside was a sticker that said, "Made in India". I can't tell you how touched I was. :(
"Do not ask for whom the bell tolls....."

Anonymous said...

If I recall, Mark Evanier wrote something about being promised a DVD every time he was interviewed on camera (free) for a bonus feature. And he never got one.

Remember these shows are still generating profits for the corporations -- and for shows the age of MASH and Cheers, everything except the trickle of royalties has been amortized several times over. Once a developer sells a house, he can't resell it repeatedly (unless there's a poltergeist in the cellar and each buyer gives it back for free). The buyers aren't sending him cash every time they open a door or flush the toilet. Right or wrong, there's no future revenue except for whoever sells the house.

The argument against royalties is usually "He did a week's work, he got a week's pay, welcome to real life." The point is, the creatives produced something unique that maintains a remarkable amount of value and generates ongoing risk-free profits. They contributed to its ongoing profitability. To argue against royalties is to argue that whoever's in the corporate office this week deserves all the money, even if he never made any of the decisions, didn't assume any of the risks of financing the production, and in fact is an incompetent who survives solely because old cash cows keep producing.

Of course, the original idea was that everything would fall into public domain once creators and backers had a set number of years to wring the money out of their success. Now corporations set the laws so "intellectual property" remains private and profitable forever, decades beyond the death of the last creator and long after any heirs are out of the picture.

Todd said...

Oh, geez, Mr. Entitlement is expected to pay for his own DVDs. Boo-freakin'-hoo. What's the matter, you can't afford sixty dollars out of your Social Security check to pay for the "Complete Series" set of CHEERS from Amazon?

No, seriously, Ken, I can completely relate. My dad worked at General Motors for thirty-eight years and those cheap sons of bitches never once gave him a car, as if all the millions of cars and trucks whose construction he had played an important part in didn't matter.

Have you ever asked Shelley if she feels like she's gonna scream if just one more person asks her why she left CHEERS, or asks her if she thinks it was a mistake to leave CHEERS? She has to get sick of hearing that.

By the way, are either of today's "Hamid" posts by Real Hamid or are they both Fake Hamid? I like the real deal. Fake Hamid is an idiot. It's getting hard to tell who is really who around here.

-bee said...

It is perfectly reasonable for people like Ken or Shelly Long to expect to be treated with courtesy and respect by people for whom they have made many, many millions of dollars.

It would seem the types of folk who feel it their duty to rush to the defense of FOX (or are paid to do so) in this comments section are unfamiliar with such outlandish concepts as civility and etiquette, which if you look at the highly questionable types who own media conglomerates like FOX, is sadly not surprising. As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head down.

H Johnson said...

I could argue that a well designed sewage system is as important to society as a well written book or television show, and that I don't see why I shouldn't get a royalty each time an appreciative flush takes place...

but..

then I'd be just as facetious as I was when I complained that no one had given me a condo.

Hey, it's Ken's blog and he can complain about anything he wants. But if we don't call him out when he's getting a little close to the douche track, this place wouldn't be half as much fun. King, Chavez & Levine... One!

Aloha

suek2001 said...

A Friday question for you, Mr. Levine...In the MASH episode "Wintchester Tapes"..there is a mention of a "Beanpole Levine"..Was that a shout out to you?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@suek2001 Yes, though Ken pronounces his name "Le-vine" instead of "Le-veen."

Diane D. said...

It's amazing how many people still seem to be missing the point. Of course people like Ken Levine and Shelley Long are wealthy and can afford to buy a set of DVDs. If they feel entitled to anything, it is the courtesy and appreciation such a gesture shows from the people for whom they have made millions of dollars (as bee said). And it can't be compared to cars or similar products---their names and/or images are all over these DVDs---that is a very significant difference.

mmryan314 said...

The best question asked today Ken is Shelley Long tired about answering questions about Cheers. I am a fan of her work and would love to read a heartfelt interview with her.Classy Lady.

Michael said...

I have published books, and the publisher provides some free copies to authors as part of the contract. And, quite often, the publisher is glad to throw in an extra or two if the author needs it.

As I think about it, a book probably costs more to produce than a copy of a DVD or CD. But after all, Ken, you were dealing with Uncle Rupert's company.

Jack said...

They did their jobs, they got their paychecks, they get their residuals. These companies don't owe them DVDs or anything else other than what they're legally obligated to owe them. They can pay for them the way the rest of us poor slobs have to.

Hamid said...

Todd

They're both fake. And they're both examples of why that person needs psychiatric help.

On the box sets subject, I haven't bought the Cheers one yet. Does it have audio commentaries? Surely for any release that has commentaries the participants would get them free.

Marc Wielage said...

Hey, Ken. I worked on several seasons of the TV syndication versions of M*A*S*H for Fox Worldwide TV. The inside reason why they don't hand out free DVD boxed sets (which I think they should do) is because the department that owns the show rights has a separate accounting department from the home video department. The home video department can only afford X number of promotional copies, and they've cut way down in recent years on free stuff like this. It doesn't help that home video in general does not make a lot of money these days, plus the executive branch that runs the division has been a revolving door for the past 10 years.

If it were up to me, I'd certainly hand out a few dozen free sets to the most important people who worked on the show, particularly the cast, the writers, and the producers. Anybody else on the show (guest stars, etc.), I'd sell them copies at cost, like $25 or something. Unfortunately, I don't get to make the decisions (yet).

Larry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ken Levine said...

I'm getting tired of commenters taking personal shots at other commenters. Please play nice or you will be deleted. Thank you.

Management

Anonymous said...

Ken:

Uh, Glen,

"I did visit Korea. And even tried to get to the 38th parallel. That said, thank you for leaving your name. I welcome readers to offer critical comments as long as they leave a name."

In that case, I'm going to revise my position:
20th Century Fox sucks, and you don't.

—Glen

Hamid said...

Marc if you have anything that you might have walked off with for sale at a discount, I'd be interested. Do you have any Mr. Belvedere?

Terrence Moss said...

How was lunch with Shelley Long?
And to that previous commenter's point about the interview with her, is that possible on here?

Aaron Sheckley said...

If you're one of the people who subscribe to the "hey, If a guy got paid to install a toilet in some guy's house, why should he get paid every time someone flushes it" concept, consider this; I bet if you were the person who INVENTED that toilet, and now the company you work for is amassing huge profits from that invention while you toil on in comparative obscurity and poverty, you may very well have a different opinion about the whole "work for hire" concept. Hooking up your friend's computer isn't the same thing as inventing an operating system. If you were the creator of some of Marvel's most iconic images, and while Marvel reaps literally billions from these creations you can't even get your own original artwork back, would you seriously still have that outlook?

Ellen said...

Hollywood is a pig.

Mark said...

I believe in the concept of royalties, but I think Ken is off-base here. Where do you draw the line for the freebies? Does they go to everyone who ever worked on the show? What about people who only worked on the show for a few years, like Ken? Do they get partial seasons?

That said, if people like Ken are asked to do work to help promote the show today, they should be compensated in some way.

Mike McCann said...

Your (and Shelley's) story of not receiving a set of DVDs is hardly unique. When HULLABALOO came out on DVD, I was stunned initially to learn that none of the dozens of pop stars who appeared on them received them. Even the ones who -- like you re M*A*S*H -- were nice enough to represent the set in some way.

But of course, we underpaid journalists who wrote about the release, got the freebies. In fact, next time you're in the neighborhood, come over to the house, walk down into the basement (not as much fun as Jack Benny's vault) and take home your own set of McHale's Navy season III. I have eight plastic storage tubs (the kind they sell in Target) full of them.

Anonymous said...

When I was an assistant to a manager many years back - a man who represented a number of feature film directors, some big time, some small time, one of my jobs was occasionally to call studios' publicity departments and ask them to send over a handful of DVDs of our clients films.

The publicity people who almost always friendly and accommodating and would send over roughly a dozen DVDs, which we would use as samples or whatever for pushing the clients or shmoozing on their behalf

Well, when I finally had my first movie made and released on DVD, I asked our agent's assistant to do the same thing. This was only a couple years after I had done it as an assistant, so I felt like this was a huge milestone in my career.

The assistant didn't know what the heck I was talking about, so I walked him through the process.

What he was able to get out of it was a pitiful number of "publicity copies" in cheap cardboard sleeves (not retail-style packaging) where the movie would inexplicably cut to black-and-white for long stretches of time, to "discourage piracy."

It was awful and disappointing, but what was even more baffling was that this company's policy, apparently, was to send these shitty, reverse "Wizard of Oz" copies to professional critics while implying that they couldn't be trusted not to pirate real movies.

And thus another Hollywood dream went up in smoke.


-Garrett

Johnny Walker said...

So many stories of Hollywood "Generosity"... I remember hearing Disney telling their stars to stop drinking so much water on set.

Mike Reiss tells an amazing story to Conan in his "Serious Jibber Jabber" SIMPSONS conversation (search for it on Google!) of working while having pneumonia and asking someone to get him a 50c box of throat sweets -- the next day he got a call about the 50c. Unbelievable (and the whole story is even more boggling, I won't spoil it).

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Carter said...

Ken, I was a background cowboy on Dr Quinn Medicine Woman, and was wowed by all the truly gourmet catering. They serve a meal and decadent dessert that makes you feel like being in a tux, then, after all that, they wheel out soup and sandwiches. I thought it might be why production is so expensive, but then realized they were making everyone on the set feel important, for a better, more peppy performance. Always an angle. Made this cowpoke right pleased.

I'm really grateful for the insights in your posting. Looks like I'm bellying-in to the fray. A director of animation at Pixar, who worked on Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, and a library of other hits, told me that my idea for a comedy TV show was so good he couldn't sleep for a week. Too bad Pixar takes no outside scripts. Then, two weeks ago, he cashed-in his chips of mega Pixar stock, and moved on, and directly to me, to which last night he said----start writing.

I consider the show to be of the caliber of Cheers and Frasier. No kidding. It's an all original idea, with the necessary classic trappings. If you could be available for the real advice a guy like me needs, my email address is: timagineer@yahoo.com. Any other writers here are welcome to respond, but you have to understand: It isn't WHAT happens to a character that embroils him in a hysterical mess, it's WHOM it happeneds to.

Hank Isaac said...

When I create a DVD for my films, the cast & crew are the first to receive it and usually their DVD has more stuff on it. A recent short film of mine (6 min.) had over an hour of content on its DVD.

I'm not a Hollywood Money Tree. The cost in time, effort, and money to create a DVD for a tiny production can often represent a significant part of my budget.

But doing it just feels right. "Thank you for playing." "Thank you for coming." "I hope that, years from now, watching this DVD will give you a fond memory of the experience." If a studio causes a DVD of a film to be produced with the intent of an audience purchasing the DVD, and then gives away promotional copies, what's the big deal with giving one to cast & crew?

And with respect to royalties, etc... What's wrong with the people who actually made the film or series sharing in the ongoing rewards?

FWIW, when I make a film and we all sit down for a meal during production, I always eat last.

Figure it out. :-)