We Need to Empower Hollywood--Not Kill Hollywood

By Jason Calacanis

The fabulously successful incubator Y Combinator released its 9th RFS last week with a bizarre title.

RFS is short for "requests for startups," as in, "We would love to accept startups in this genre for our next class and give them a huge pile of cash from Yuri Milner and Ron Conway -- two of the biggest names in the Valley."

And what did Y Combinator request?

More mobile social? More education 2.0 startups? More core technology?


They asked for companies that will "Kill Hollywood."  


DOUBLE facepalm.


Can you imagine if Hollywood released a press releasing saying "Kill the internet?"

Putting that aside, think of the timing of this.

The week that the internet absolutely dominated Hollywood by defeating SOPA and PIPA, the the most powerful force for creating new startups throws it in their faces with a juvenile headline?!?

Did Paul Graham write this post? Did he approve it? Doesn't sound like him, and he's usually on point.

Why would you throw Napalm on the Hollywood folks who are licking their wounds after we just kicked their asses?  

This during the week that the Feds raided Megaupload, which most consider the original Dropbox -- a Y Combinator graduate! Y Combinator giving the finger to Hollywood sets Dropbox and countless other startups into Hollywood lawyers' cross-hairs.

What if YC's screed winds up on the desk of some angry or delusional CEO or studio head's desk with a list of stolen files in Dropbox folders and says, "These guys are trying to kill us, let's unleash a trillion dollar lawsuit on them and harass them to death!"  

That's what Hollywood does -- it harasses startups to death and YC's post is EXACTLY what those lawyers are looking for: the smoking gun that internet people want to kill them.  

Oh wait, Hollywood did release that press release in the form of SOPA and PIPA.

And the internets went crazy on them when they did. Now we've given them motivation to escalate their attacks. We need to turn the rhetoric down -- not up.

I think everyone agrees that the media industry is fabulously off base in trying to stop the Internet rather than embrace it. However, if you really are trying to kill someone, you don't tell them you're going to do it.

No, if you're going to kill someone, you wait until they least expect it, climb through their window at 4am, pop two in the chest and one in the head, and then go hit Denny's for a Grand Slam.

At least that's how I've done all my hits (as in killings).

What Hollywood needs right now is a long, strong hug with a smile.

The kind of long hug where you whisper "Get in line" in their ear and then end the hug with your hands on their shoulders, a big smile and a loud "Great to see you" for everyone to hear. That's how you dominate someone while letting them save face.  

Kickstarter and IndieGogo are giving Hollywood that huge hug right now.

In another five years you'll routinely see folks raise $10M and $20M on those services for films and TV shows -- not just $250K (which is impressive on its own).

That's the long powerful hug: we're only here to help the small filmmaker who is too small for Hollywood to service -- until, of course, Jason Reitman, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen or Nick Jarecki show up.

Then we'll help them get $10M to $30M for their next project.


It's the same huge hug that Netflix has been giving Hollywood for a decade or so. That hug went from "We'll help you move more DVDs" to "We'll fund the shows you don't want to produce."

Key issue to keep in mind: artists like Tarantino, Clooney, Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K. and others are not in love with the studio system either. They are looking for alternatives and they will rush to create even more beautiful artistic works as those alternatives arrive.

YouTube, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Revision3, Maker Studios, DECA and countless others are fighting to make that happen. The artists are thankful for our help and passion.

Now, to be sure, Hollywood thinks it's giving Netflix that same f-u hug. And that's just fine. We're all trying to crush each other while simultaneously working together. We had a word for it in the 90s: coopetition.

Coopetition is French for "I'm going to give you an offer you can't refuse and then try and choke the life out of you during that partnership."  

Netflix will eventually mean "HBO" to people -- not Blockbuster.

When Google buys Netflix in the next 18 months -- and it will -- it will merge it with YouTube and it will be fait accompli.

Google will buy Kickstarter eventually and have a soup-to-nuts solution for artists. The crowd funds you, Youtube promotes you and Netflix monetizes you.

I'd put in a line here about YouTube/Netflix buing a theater chain here, but it would seem unbelievable -- except of course Mark Cuban did it almost 10 years as part of his "We are the house" strategy.

Speaking of YouTube, it's been giving Hollywood the long hug, too. YouTube has been going "splashy cashy" all over Hollywood, giving content producers huge, multimillion-dollar advances against their channel's revenue.

Zynga and Angry Birds are boxing out people's TV time to be sure, and Hollywood is going to develop its products into cartoons and movies.

The worst line of the YC post is:

'What's going to kill movies and TV is what's already killing them: better ways to entertain people.'

Wait, didn't Silicon Valley go on strike for a year to watch "Battlestar Gallactica"?

Who hasn't curled up with their sexy significant other and plowed through a half-dozen episodes of "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," "Boardwalk Empire" or "The Wire" in the last year fast-forwarding through the credits like junkies who can't tie their arm down fast enough to get the next injection.  

This is awesome content that our industry -- the tech industry -- simply has no idea how to make.


TV is awesome today and there is nothing -- seriously NOTHING -- coming out of Silicon Valley that is more ENTERTAINING than the TV shows coming out of Hollywood.

Sure, video games are engaging, but frankly most of them are not made in the Valley and they're not "entertaining" as much as "absorbing." It's a subtle distinction, I know.

Now, there are things that are awesome in the Valley in terms of sharing, creating, useful and consuming.

Sure. We'll save you time, money and help you express yourself creatively. We make killer tools, services and platforms.

But "Angry Birds," as addictive as it is, gets put down by America when both the latest episode of "Boardwalk Empire" (brilliant) or "Jersey Shore" (garbage) is released.

Let's not get high on our own supply.

Movies? Sure, many suck, but documentaries, foreign films and indie films are just brilliant today.

Go watch "Hunter Pray" if you're a "Star Wars" fan. It's got a ~$500K budget and looks awesome thanks to the RED camera and technology. "Drive" is "Blade Runner" meets "French Connection," and "Carlos" -- ohhhhh.... "Carlos." That's an eight-hour version of "Goodfellas" across 10 countries.

Movies are not all broken, you just have to find the good ones.

Oh yeah, Metacritic, Amazon and Netflix do a fantastic job at helping you discover the under-appreciated films.

We don't need to tear Hollywood down, we have to invite them in. I mean, we've got Justin Timberlake, Leo DiCaprio and Ashton effing Kutcher investing their money in startups and you want to kill their paydays?

Where do you think they got the money to invest in startups?

How do you think they'll take the "kill Hollywood" directive?

We won a looooong time ago. It's time to be gracious.

The internet is more powerful than any of us thought -- and it's getting more powerful every day. Hollywood brings a lot to the party and while it can be misguided at times, it's not productive to say we're going to kill it.

Silicon Valley's job is to empower Hollywood and make it appreciate what we've built. In the same way it makes us appreciate its products -- even garbage like "Transformers" 1, 2 and 3 which, sadly, most of us have wasted money on.  

Saying you're looking to "kill Hollywood," one of the larger exports of the United States, is just arrogant and misguided. You know how many Americans work in Hollywood and the entertainment business in general?

You really think it's a good idea to threaten people's jobs during a job crisis? It's not. We're all Americans and we're in this together. This is not the time to attack other Americans and their livelihood.

I get that YC wants to rile the troops, and I've been known to say some bombastic and hyperbolic stuff in my day, but YC could have used a more productive and classy title like "Empower Hollywood."

Seriously YC, this was a very poor showing from an exceptional group of folks. This was a big mistake and you should write a followup explaining all the ways we can "empower Hollywood."

How about:
-- A subscription service for first-run movies, like Shoedazzle: $35 a month (three tickets) gets you one of five awesome "day of" releases streamed from any device. Imagine being the life of the party and taking out your iPad, connecting it to a TV and showing the latest film in the theater. One out of every 10 American homes would buy that: 30M homes, $1.2B a year. Won't take away from the theater.    

-- A toolbar that detects if someone is stealing from BitTorrent and doesn't report them, but rather shows them their legal options and collects an affiliate fee. Maybe even encourages them saying, "If you really want to see 'Drive' that much please consider preordering the DVD as a sign of support." Crazy idea, sure, but there might be something in that zone of redirecting stealing.

-- A platform or social network for indexing creative types into groups in order to create independent films and shows. A LinkedIn meets Kickstarter?

The ideas are endless, and YC's community is filled with brilliant execution. Let's not give the old, dying members of Hollywood holding on to the last 10 years of their careers any more attention or motivation. They are litigious and bitter, and we can do much more by focusing on the emerging class of artists who love us and what we build.

And if this was all link-bait and a thought bomb, I salute you PG -- you got me thinking.

best, Jason

Thanks to Lon Harris and Nick Baily for lots of great feedback on this piece.