I know I said this blog would be more about the movie biz, but I happen to believe that everything in Hollywood is all about politics and everything in Washington is all about theater. And the one man who probably understands this more than most is Barack Obama.
There have been countless articles written about the 2008 election along with a crop of books from both left and right wing pundits dissecting Obama’s rise to power. I had my own theory, a hypothesis that continues to strengthen over time; I think to understand Obama’s strategies and motivations one needs to look no further than Robert Green’s bestselling book, The 48 Laws of Power. In this seemingly mischievous tome published in 2000, Green dissects the history of power and leadership through the centuries into 48 lessons everyone in a management position would be well advised to learn. The book itself has garnered some controversy as well as a big following among not only the upwardly mobile of the corporate world, but famously among the hip-hop community on both the east and west coasts. I happen to be an unabashed fan of this book for its insight into the psyche of leaders, and their followers. It’s also no secret that I’m a supporter of Mr. Obama, for his progressive politics, and for his mastery of the game of power.
Of course I have no way of knowing whether Obama has actually read this book–though I would be surprised if he didn’t–but I do know that he fully understands and utilizes the principles outlined in it, and does so with expertise.
Take for example his choice of holding his convention acceptance speech at Invesco Field Stadium. The pundits at the time questioned this choice as overtly lavish and his opponents famously joked about the “Greek column sets” built for the event. What they didn’t understand is that Obama was simply following Law 37: Create Compelling Spectacles. As Robert Green puts it: “Striking imagery and grand symbolic gestures create an aura of power – everyone responds to them.” And in the end, the voters did. How about the time when the candidate gave a speech in Berlin. Once again, the talking heads on the right disparaged this step as an over reach; “Who does Obama think he is?” was their battle cry of the day. My answer was: “Someone who understands Law 34: Be Royal in Your Own Fashion – Act Like a King to be Treated Like One“. By giving that speech Obama allowed us a vision of a president respected around the world, and by doing so he dared voters to make that vision a reality. Of course none of this would work without mastering Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness, Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End, Law 26: Keep Your Hands Clean, etc.. And there is no denying that Obama took full advantage of Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult Like Following. This I would say is one of the more controversial laws in Green’s book. At first glance it probably comes across as a cynical or even diabolical tactic. It would be easier for me to distance myself from it if I wasn’t typing this blog on my Apple iMac while I’m listening to my Apple iPod with my iPhone in my pocket. It seems Steve Jobs is a big believer of Law 27 as well. Whether we like that law or not, the simple fact is, there is a reason why they don’t call the man Senator Obama anymore.
Now that he is President, some of the criticism against him comes from the left. Pundits and bloggers are now questioning whether Mr. Obama is delivering on the “change” he has campaigned on. Despite his undeniable legislative accomplishments, many people on the left feel that he’s not changing enough, not changing it fast enough, not being drastic enough. Apparently these pundits on our side haven’t read The 48 Laws either. If they had they would’ve eventually found Law 45: Preach the Need for Change but Never Reform Too Much at Once. In this chapter Green goes on to say: “Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level, people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic and will eventually lead to revolt.” As with all these Laws, Green devotes a whole chapter to breaking this theory down with a number of examples from throughout history, incorporating the wisdom of the likes of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli to underline his point.
Do I agree with everything Mr. Obama is doing? Not really. I didn’t like the particular way he dismissed legalizing Marijuana, I didn’t like the compromise on offshore drilling, especially the way he left himself wide open to a hit like the BP spill, I don’t like not having a Public Option in the health care bill and the list goes on. In other words, in no way do I think Barack Obama is perfect. No. That would be a violation of Law 46: Never Appear Too Perfect.
The man knows what he is doing is all I’m saying. I continue to be fascinated by the case study he provides into this game. It’s essentially the same game I see played out on a daily basis in Hollywood. After all, the last time I heard a person declare himself the “King of the World” here, someone ended up giving him a billion dollars.
Hi, my name is Tamas and I am a gambler – in more ways than one. I’m a writer and filmmaker and a few years ago I realized that you need a certain Vegas mentality to survive in Hollywood. For a while I didn’t see that correlation between Tinseltown and Sin City, but that changed shortly after I felt the weight of $500,000 in crisp Benjamins in my hand courtesy of a certain gambling establishment owned by a certain Native American tribe.* It wasn’t exactly my money, but it didn’t need to be for me to learn a lesson from it.
No, that money, though legally briefly mine – I did hit the jackpot that payed it out – officially belonged to my boss who was running a professional gambling operation at the time. Working for him was one of those odd jobs that came my way as I was trying to pay the rent while attempting to break into the movie biz. To this day I am bound by a non disclosure agreement as to the exact nature of the job, (hence this stuff * earlier) but perhaps I can skid under the radar by just saying this much: this fellow was part of a group of other fellows, who studied a particular game in a particular set of casinos and figured out that at particular times, said particular game was worth playing for a particular amount of money to turn a profit on the long run.
In other words, they did the math, they timed their action, then went in strong. Now, compare that to your Average Joe who shows up at the casino with a hundred bucks, hoping for a kiss from Lady Luck, sitting dreary eyed in front of the slot machines, chasing dreams, but never bothering to examine the odds themselves – and if you spent any time in Hollywood, you’re probably beginning to recognize that these two types of players are exactly who populate this town as well.
You have your Joes writing query letters from Greenbay or Glendale, hoping for that million dollar dream deal they read about in the last issue of Creative Screenwriting Magazine, not bothering to study the craft or even formatting their scripts properly, and you have your professional gamblers, coming out, making connections, studying the biz, writing, writing, writing. This second group is not guaranteed to win of course, but what they are doing is working at ways of improving their odds a few percentage points here and there, adding up their advantages over the long run. And when it comes to winning or loosing, the long run is all professional gamblers think about. In gambling terms, Hollywood is not a slot machine or a roulette table, though many people play it that way. No, the game I would most compare the movie biz to is a no limit Texas Hold’em poker tournament. It requires a combination of skill and luck, patience, calculated risks, knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, and yes, when the time is right, bluffing.
I’ve been at the tables of this casino for a while now so I figured I would share some stories, experiences and some of my mistakes on this blog.
Let’s shuffle up and deal!