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Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business [Hardcover]

Lynda Obst
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Book Description

June 11 2013
The veteran producer and author of the bestseller Hello, He Lied takes a witty and critical look at the new Hollywood.

Over the past decade, producer Lynda Obst gradually realized she was working in a Hollywood that was undergoing a drastic transformation. The industry where everything had once been familiar to her was suddenly disturbingly strange.

Combining her own industry experience and interviews with the brightest minds in the business, Obst explains what has stalled the vast moviemaking machine. The calamitous DVD collapse helped usher in what she calls the New Abnormal (because Hollywood was never normal to begin with), where studios are now heavily dependent on foreign markets for profit, a situation which directly impacts the kind of entertainment we get to see. Can comedy survive if they don’t get our jokes in Seoul or allow them in China? Why are studios making fewer movies than ever—and why are they bigger, more expensive and nearly always sequels or recycled ideas?

Obst writes with affection, regret, humor and hope, and her behind-the-scenes vantage point allows her to explore what has changed in Hollywood like no one else has. This candid, insightful account explains what has happened to the movie business and explores whether it’ll ever return to making the movies we love—the classics that make us laugh or cry, or that we just can’t stop talking about.

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"[A] fascinating memoir-primer on the movie industry….A great read that illuminates what is really shaping today's movie business.” (The Wall Street Journal)

"[A] witty and wise new primer" (The Washington Post)

“[A] must-read on the ever-evolving movie industry…accessible and entertaining…Obst pulls back the curtain on an industry built on lies and illusion, allowing readers to get in on the ongoing joke.” (Publishers Weekly)

“From her unique perch as a maker of real movies—not sequels, prequels, or reboots—Lynda Obst explains why the movies we all loved growing up don't get made anymore. With her sharp wit, she gives an inside account of how the industry has changed but also offers hope that Hollywood will meet the challenges of the digital age and the global marketplace. If you love movies, this is a must read.” (Arianna Huffington)

"A useful primer if you haven't quite figured out why so many blockbusters take place in China these days.” (Forbes)

"A real pro—Lynda Obst—has written a realistic book about making film into reality in these days of extremes....She describes what might, may, will happen...A wonderful text book full of mysteries, loss and longing. I just couldn't stop reading it, even though I have never had movie-making impulses." (Liz Smith, Huffington Post)

“If you find yourself reaching for any excuse not to walk into a movie theater these days, here's producer Lynda Obst to explain why in her wildly readable X-ray of contemporary Hollywood. A must read for anyone wondering what happened to the movies we used to love.” (Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls)

“Written in warm, conversational prose, Obst’s tales from the movie front together offer an engrossing look at the state of the entertainment industry today.” (Booklist)

“Obst...casts a sharp eye over recent developments in Tinseltown. Depth of detail and shrewd illustrative examples make this a must-read for anyone interested in the movie business.” (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

Lynda Obst, author of the bestseller Hello, He Lied, was an editor for The New York Times Magazine before entering the film industry. She has produced more than sixteen feature films, including How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Contact, The Fisher King, Adventures in Babysitting, Hope Floats, and two films with Nora Ephron, Sleepless in Seattle and This Is My Life. She is now producing television as well. 

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The future of entertainment... June 17 2013
is on the machine you're reading this review on. Or say says producer Lynda Obst, in her new book, "Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business". This book is Obst's second; she previously wrote, "Hello, He Lied", also an excellent look at world of entertainment from a producer/insider's view.

Lynda Obst was an editor at the New York Times in the 1980's before moving to Los Angeles and getting into "the business", first as a script developer before working her way up the ladder to movie producer. Note the "movie" part; most of her career was spent developing movies - smallish movies about "people" rather than huge movies about...everything BUT people.

These huge epics were turned into "franchises"; sequel after sequel. And they played well outside the United States. It became harder to get the financing in the 2000's to make small movies; deals were cobbled together between small companies all willing to finance a share of a movie in hopes of having a modest success. (Or a huge success, as sometimes happened!). Look at the next art-type film you go to. In the beginning of the movie are all the companies who have banded together to get that picture made. Sometimes eight or nine company names appear on the screen. It's pretty amazing, actually.

As the 2000's progressed, movie making was changing at every level, from the "pitch" to the "screening". The blockbusters were being made and the local Cineplexes were showing them but there were fewer people in the seats. Where was the viewing public? At home, in front of their computers, where able to download movies and television shows both legally and illegally. The WGA strike in 2007 and 2008 hurt both movie and television show production.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, not great Aug. 12 2013
By talktobrent - Published on
The first third or so of the book is pretty much a nice explanation of the new international economics of big budget movie making. The rest for the most part is a personal narrative, with, as other reviewers have noted, way too much name dropping and gushing endorsements of her allies to keep track of. A more accurate title might be: The crony capitalism of the old Hollywood versus the data driven marketing machine of the new Hollywood. The book is done in a somewhat gossipy fashion, with name dropping and mentions of lunches and meetings at trendy LA spots. Probably more entertaining if you are truly fascinated by the egos and politics that run, or at least used to run Hollywood. In the end the author comes to the proper conclusion that change is inevitable, but throughout the book, I wasn't so sure she would realize that. Her warm reminiscence of the good ol' days, (the 80s and 90s, when insiders like herself got together and pitched movies to their allies among catered lunches and upscale hotels) comes off as disconnected... The studio system has never been good at churning out "good" movies, it's just that now rather than throwing a lot of darts at the board and hoping for a bullseye, they spend a lot of money ensuring the few darts they throw hit the bullseye... In the end, the studio system, the agents, all the other over-paid middle men of dubious value will likely be filtered out in the new economics of filmmaking, which is why "Hollywood" only really makes giant blockbusters now, because the scale of such movies is the only mechanism that really finds all these players relevant anymore.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sad truth about Hollywood's decline from an insider July 1 2013
By Todd Bartholomew - Published on
Lynda Obst has pretty impressive credentials, from starting out a in development with Geffen going on to produce some very notable films from the 1980s up to fairly recently. She now serves as the Executive Producer on "Hot in Cleveland" and that show's sensibilities about Hollywood give some knowing nods as to how Obst feels about the entertainment industry. With "Sleepless in Hollywood" she provides a concise synopsis of what's going wrong in Hollywood, a change she saw unfolding over the past decade, and how those changes are fundamentally altering the entertainment business. As online and streaming video have gained a greater share of the market, along with piracy and file sharing, the DVD market has collapsed just as it did with CDs for the music industry. As the studios lost this stable and predictable revenue stream it created huge problems for them. As a result studios opted to be more cautious, skewing towards known quantities: remakes, sequels, prequels, rehashing television shows as movies, reboots, origin stories, and the like. And since a significant portion of revenue now comes from overseas ticket sales films had to be dumbed down and the humor made more broad so as to appeal to a broader swath of viewers in different societies. Smart, witty, urbane comedies are out, relegated to the realm of independent outlets, the big studios started making fewer films, and the pressure was on to make sure every film was a hit through relentless marketing, tie-ins, and product placement. The result is we don't get great original movies like we used to years ago and the industry is starting to slowly commit suicide on an endless repetitive cycle or rehashing old ideas. Obst lays bare why this is a path to oblivion and irrelevancy, some of which is obvious (most of these almost never make as much money as the originals), some not so obvious (marketing costs for these go up exponentially even though they're pulling in less box office), and something unexpected (much of the creative talent is drifting off to other ventures, leaving the less talented behind). Obst herself is a great example of that last one. Ground down by Hollywood's relentless desire to rehash the past she opted to move to television instead. And sure, studios did produce some really good movies last year like Lincoln and Argo (2012), but if you look at the Top 10 grossing movies it was almost entirely sequels, the only notable exception being The Hunger Games [HD] which itself is start of a series. You can certainly argue about the relative artistic merits of those Top 10 films but I only bothered to see three of them because I was sick of having seeing certain "franchises" being rehashed to death. After a certain point there's very little "new" that you can bring to these sequels/reboots except perhaps a new generation that wouldn't be impressed by decade old (or older) special effects. Movies have become disposable where once they were daring, provocative, glimpses into the human character, thought provoking, or inspirational. It may not be long before studios opt for "Casablanca II: Victor Laszlo's Revenge" just to make a buck. Obst points out what may come to pass for the studios if they don't move away from this pattern. But from my perspective Hollywood is crying all the way to the bank making crap I don't care to see, but which a lot of folks in the lucrative 18 to 35 demographic DO want to see. So long as there are a few quality films out there for me I'm fine. Once consumers vote with their wallets and their feet Hollywood will respond...they always do. People's tastes change as they mature in both senses of the word and that's likely what led Obst away from Hollywood to other fields. And honestly, when I view some of the movies I loved as a kid and a young man, some of them just make me cringe as they look and sound really dated now. Sure, I may get a warm feeling, but then again, maybe movies really are a disposable commodity after all. Obst's prose and conversational style of writing is what sold me on the book and it is a lively, thought provoking, and timely read!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars She was a writer first, you can tell, then a producer Aug. 1 2013
By MickeyMcLane - Published on
Excellent writer, out of the New York Times. Media-speak in L A is hard to escape (example: some reviews have that tone of advertising). Refreshingly, mercifully, Obst writes in creative-speak. There's an entertaining scholarship in her writing that goes beyond the subject. This book's about business and art and society and culture and relationships, all humorously, elegantly, eloquently observed. I had a list of fun parts but it's too long. The very wording is a charm. The story about Titanic's opening in Russia is a lesson in the American character. Thanks, Ms. Obst.
18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly disappointing, a People magazine article gone terribly wrong Aug. 7 2013
By Todd Breslow - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I purchased this after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. The book gets off to a rocky start and goes downhill from there. I feel strongly enough to write a review (this is the second review I've written and the first negative one -- in both cases I was moved to action by extreme quality -- good or bad). I forced myself to finish the book purely so that I could write this review as a public service. :)

I had hoped to get some insight into the transition of Hollywood, how it has adapted to the radical changes taking place due to all kinds of pressures (the Internet, internationalization, demise of DVD, bigger budget movies, etc). There is some of that to be had, but it is presented as a personal rant against this change (no more two martini lunches! the world is coming apart!). The author comes across as incredibly entitled, provincial, and naive. You think world hunger is bad? You have no idea, Hollywood is now being run as a business! The nerve!

There is an entire chapter dedicated to a hyperventilating, name-dropping personal rant about corporate governance and her inability to understand what it means and to deal with it. This is not overly harsh, the author herself is quick to point out that she doesn't know how to deal with it (other than take a Xanax) and runs from big name to big name (look at who my friends are!) to ask them to explain what is going on. This is one person's he-said, she-said version of events, a transcript of a particularly nasty corporate water cooler discussion where you don't know who the players are. You are listening intently and nodding your head but mentally thinking about all that laundry you need to do.

There are some offensive bits here, which the author rattles off easily (Kaliningrad might be in Poland, Hollywood can be like a pogrom descending on a Jewish ghetto) . This was a fairly brazen show of ignorance or lack of sensitivity. If the New Abnormal marks a change here then I am all for it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sleepless in Hollywood Aug. 9 2013
By Ohjaygee - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
A book that promised much, but delivered little - thoroughly underwhelming, as it very soon became apparent that it was going to be a first- person exercise in Hollywood name dropping. A huge missed opportunity to redefine 'the new normal' in the movie business,, simply never came close due to her need to establish her self importance.
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