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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Machiavelli part 2 and 1/2: Some Thoughts and Words of Warning

Since I started this blog on Machiavelli, it's been eye interesting to then go and observe recent moves in Hollywood or re-examine moves in the past.

Recent news that Edward Norton has been replaced as the Hulk for the Avengers movie really got me thinking. Some people may think that it's a cost saving move. Others may say it's karma, payback for Norton's past bad behavior. In way that's true. Norton has behaved badly in the past. In particular however he had a habit of rewriting his own lines. According to sources, Norton would show up on The Score with new dialogue he'd written that night. He'd tell director Frank Oz that these were the lines he'd be using that day, end of argument. I don't know if that was his modus operandi on the set of the last Hulk movie, but if it was then his firing makes perfect Machiavellian sense. The director on the Avengers is Joss Whedon, a man who knows a few things about writing. Marvel and Whedon probably decided better not give him the opportunity to test their power so they cut him off when he was weakest, before cameras started rolling.

Then there's the case of Joe Carnahan. As you'll remember, Joe and his handpicked screenwriter were the last men standing after 9 others had taken their swings at writing The A-Team. That minor victory proved to be a major defeat as it left no one other than Carnahan to take the fall when the movie failed. The only other culprit could have been the producers who greenlit the project in the first place. That was never going to happen.

Then there's the case of Jerry Bruckheimer, one of Hollywood's most successful producers. It's fascinating that you don't see his name associated with a lot of projects based on established material. Or at least nothing so popular that the writer would have a lot of power coming in. He hasn't made a superhero movie. He hasn't taken on a YA fantasy series. He has produced movies like those, but they are always original creations he can control. Rather than have to deal with Dan Brown he made National Treasure. Rather than deal with Marvel, he adapted a Disney theme park ride. Who's going to complain about what he does in that series? The guy who built the ride when the park opened? In his behavior you can see Machiavelli at work. He's avoiding possible confrontations with people who might wield as much or more power during the process like Stephanie Meyers or J.K. Rowling.

All this comes with a warning. Machiavelli, a lot of people forget, was often talking about a zero sum game. That is you win or you die. That was the case for a Renaissance prince. That's not the case here. Your career is not zero sum. There are degrees of success. Plenty of people play power politics and at some point, if your career goes anywhere you will have make a stand. But most of the time you should be able to take your money and your credit and walk away with a smile on your face. If you keep playing all or nothing, sooner or later you will end up with nothing.

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