INTERVIEW WITH PETER DEKOM – PART 1

by Eric Sherman on September 20, 2011

My next few emails will contain snippets of a lunchtime talk I recently had with Peter Dekom.

Peter was a classmate of mine at Yale (‘68), and we’ve stayed in touch all these years. He has become an entertainment attorney extraordinaire, and he’s always been a true lover of movies. (Do a Google search on him, and go to any of the numerous websites you’ll find – most especially his blog.

 

Peter has long been a visionary – not just interested in past or current trends, but in futures. He recently completed a manuscript which is as important as any I’ve read since Marshall MacLuhan’s THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE. Peter’s book is called SCALING UP, and it’s a thorough look at all media in this digital age. And, let me tell you, THIS you need to know, if you want a career in the moving visual image arts. He talks about how human perception itself has come to have different expectations due to the manner in which we receive information.

 

Below, then, are some sample comments from the wide range of topics covered in my meeting with Peter.

 

 

 

 

What Will the Next Wave of “Entertainment Companies” Look Like? What Kinds of Movies Will Drive Them?

 

This is the right time and the right place to come up with an entertainment company that is built on a foundation of flexibility . What you’re seeing in today’s world is people who are married to old practices, which are virtually impossible to change. I mean can you imagine a major studio saying, “You know what? We don’t want any more real estate, and we’re going to get rid of all of these unionized Teamsters that drive our trucks and secretaries that are unionized – we’re just not going to do it anymore.”

 

It’s not that those people don’t deserve work. Of course they do; they’re hardworking, good people. The problem is that in this marketplace, the tolerance for high overhead is vaporizing. And not just high overhead for institutions; it’s also high overhead for talent to the extent that they’re getting paid more than the marketplace will bear. And the real hits that are taking place now are with the majority of producers and so-called leading men and leading women actors. They’re taking it on the chin.

 

 

Naturally, people hope for a “franchise movie.” But I think we have one word for that…”risk.” When PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN was produced at Disney, I don’t know anybody that said, “You know, this clearly is going to be a franchise.” There was a lot of internal dissension about getting that movie made. Everybody hopes that when they make a movie, especially one that screens with continuing characters that could be in other stories, everyone hopes for the franchise. But anybody that says, “I’m making tent poles”…everybody would make tent poles. [NOTE: “a tent pole,” or “the big pole that holds up the whole tent at a circus;” this is the film industry name for a high-budget and highly successful picture.]

 

Nobody would make anything else. The problem is that the best laid lanterns of mice and men occasionally don’t turn green. And Warners is considering a sequel to GREEN LANTERN, so go figure!

 

Stars – Are They Still Relevant?

 

First of all, what is a star? Tell me! Is it someone who can “open” a picture?

 

Okay. Well, we don’t have any of those, except for character actors. There are no leading men or leading women, when you’re talking about 15-25. If you’re talking under 15, they’re child stars, the Miley Cyrus category. And when you’re over 25 or 30, some leading men and leading women get older audiences into the theatre. But if you’re talking about mass audiences between 15 and 25, there are no leading men and leading women – they don’t exist!

 

A character actor can create something cool and new. I mean the operative thing in the current world is that things are changing so quickly that 15-25s have developed a sort of emotional approach to life; always looking for what’s next.

 

If you offer them something that WAS, that’s kind of a turn-off. They’re looking for the new “next,” and when you offer them the old WAS, that turns them off.

 

That doesn’t mean that an actor can’t create a new next, but if you’re a leading man or a leading woman, you tend to play the same role over and over again, and that almost eliminates a new next. So you’re looking at the really strong players in the universe, like the Johnny Depps, who are basically able to create a new character. If that new character is compelling, it works! If it doesn’t, we call it Sweeney Todd, or we call it The Tourist – you know, whatever it is. But if it works, Johnny Depp is a master of Alice In Wonderland and Pirates of the Caribbean –

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he a master of that. He’s brilliant! Probably the most gifted male character actor in the business today. And you can apply that to comedians. You know, as long as they create new cool characters, the audience will say, “Hey, we like the new.” When they create something new that’s not cool, audiences react. And when they create something that WAS (you know, the leading man concept), it doesn’t work.

 

STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT!

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