Hollywood’s Dialogue Problem

I’ve worked in Hollywood for over 20 years and have always been skeptical when some of my more conservative friends have charged that the Hollywood elite discriminate against those with conservative viewpoints. This charge, I felt, was unwarranted. Sure, we all like to get along with the people we work with, but here in Hollywood, one should assume that talent, creative output, market forces and, ultimately, the bottom line would prevail. This week I found out that I was mistaken.

From time to time I contribute to a movie review site called Hollywood in Toto. The site is run by a close friend named Christian Toto and describes itself as “Film Reviews with a Conservative Edge.” Rather than being an anti-Hollywood site, it is designed to examine the movie industry and its output through the lens of conservatism so that the millions of movie buffs in the United States who consider themselves right of center can make informed decisions with regards to their entertainment choices. Instead of constantly indicting films, as some “red-meat” sites tend to do, Hollywood in Toto, seeks to build bridges. Of course, from time to time a review gets heated, but the general voice of the site is one that lauds the creative process, gives credit where it is due, savages mediocrity, and often tries to find silver linings for conservatives in an entertainment landscape that they have, for years, felt either mocked or ignored them.

While I don’t identify as a conservative, I laud the site’s mission and am happy to contribute. My reviews are generally about the left/right implications of movies and examine how central storytelling assumptions can either draw people together or alienate viewers. I recently reviewed Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic for the site and concluded that despite many things that conservatives might object to in it, it was still a tremendously engaging and worthwhile movie that deserved attention because the issues it dealt with were universal.

align=”right” We have become so tribal that we can’t even sit down to talk about the nuts and bolts of the creative process without disparaging and distrusting one another.

I was understandably thrilled when I was asked recently by Hollywood in Toto’s editor to do an interview with Maggie Phillips, a music supervisor whose work I very much admire. Her work is tremendously varied and remarkable. She is one of the most active music supervisors in the industry today and getting a chance to ask her about the nuts and bolts of her creative process would be a boon to our readers and a wonderful insight into today’s media ecosystem. I jumped at the chance. The interview was completely apolitical and would be conducted via email thus avoiding any possibility of discomfort. This would also allow her to craft her answers to her liking. After intense and careful prep, I sent her publicist my questions. About a week later, we received the answers and published the article here. The interview went well and I was tremendously pleased with the depth of answers and quality of the material. It gave insight into the role of music supervision and song choices in the complex process of filmmaking.

This is why I was taken completely off guard when I received word from my editor that the music supervisor’s publicist asked that the interview be removed from the site. When I asked why, he informed me that the publicist had told him, at first that Phillips was uncomfortable with some of her answers but after some back and forth it became clear that Phillips had been unaware of the site’s conservative bent and that her real objection was that she didn’t want to be associated with it. The exact wording was:

We did not inform Maggie that your website has a conservative angle. She was caught off guard and doesn’t agree with some of the views represented by your website and would feel more comfortable if her name was not associated with it. I hope you can understand and I apologize again..

What’s sad is that the review is completely apolitical. It centers on the creative aspects of her work and the nature of the choices she makes. It’s a paean to her ability and attempts to make her work and show accessible to a large segment of the American population that might otherwise be skeptical of her industry’s output. Sadly, it seems that doesn’t matter.

I have asked that the editor leave the interview alone for two reasons: First, because the information presented in the interview is worthwhile and gives keen insight into the filmmaking process in a completely apolitical way.  Second, and more important, because the interview and the attempt to remove it stand as testaments to how broken our current national character seems to be.

We have become so tribal that we can’t even sit down to talk about the nuts and bolts of the creative process without disparaging and distrusting one another. Hollywood in Toto, while a conservative site, is not a frothing-at-the-mouth partisan endeavor whose expressed views are somehow out of the mainstream. Instead, it attempts to bridge the divide between conservative perceptions of the movie industry’s contempt for them with the love and value of film as an art form. Not every review is stellar and many may lament progressive assumptions and tropes in current cinematic storytelling, but the site operates, first and foremost, from a position of a love for cinema.

Also, Phillips’ perception that she would somehow be “associated” with Hollywood in Toto merely because she granted an interview is profoundly illustrative of the conflation in today’s broken culture between dialogue and support or endorsement. Her apprehension even of giving the appearance of sitting down with a conservative site to talk about art is indicative of a sad trend in a national conversation where a Manichaeism, rooted in respective moral certitude and lack of curiosity with regards to the nuances of our friends’, neighbors’ and colleagues’ views, has turned even apolitical conversation into would-be partisan and ideological weaponry.  

The country today is acutely divided along political lines with protests, counter protests and political violence flaring up. Tensions are high and art, as well as a shared cultural language and understanding, can go a long way toward remedying that. A large portion of the population, that part of fly-over and rust-belt country who voted for Trump, did so in no small part because they feel as though those of us here in Hollywood who steward the creation of the popular culture sneer at and look down our noses at them. And situations like these, regrettably, go a long way to proving them right.


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About Boris Zelkin

Russian-born Boris Zelkin is an Emmy Award-winning composer who has written the music to countless films, documentaries, television shows and major sporting events, including the Tucker Carlson show, Bill O'Reilly, "Gosnell," “FrackNation,” Citizen United’s “Rediscovering God in America II,” Roger Simon’s “Lies and Whispers,” the America's Cup, the Masters, the World Skating Championships, the U.S. Open, NASCAR, the Stanley Cup Championship, and the theme to ESPN’s NCAA championship coverage. Zelkin received his B.A. from Colgate University and earned his M.A. in religion from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has written extensively on the culture for various online journals and was a major contributor to the recently released “Bond Forever,” a book about the James Bond franchise. He currently resides in Los Angeles but is always looking for a way out.