Subsidized risk

“Cloud Atlas” may have been expensive to make, but “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Black Swan” weren’t, in Hollywood terms (sixteen million and approximately thirteen million dollars, respectively), and one of the things that made them possible was the stars’ willingness to take small salaries (in exchange, I’d guess, for a percentage of earnings). In effect, many of the best Hollywood directors now work the way that Woody Allen has long worked—but this system depends on stars earning enough elsewhere for them to take a chance on a project or a director dear to them. Overall, many of the cinema’s artistic successes depend on a thriving industry, with its performers and technicians, its suppliers and its technical advances. And a look behind the scenes at many low-budget films reveal that their connections to Hollywood, whether tenuous or tangential, nonetheless prove to be significant in practical terms. So, whether Disney’s “Star Wars” movies turn out to be clever reimaginings or merely intergalactic cash cows—may the force be with them.

That's Richard Brody with an interesting take, as always, on the purchase of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise by Disney. He articulates one of the reasons why I don't take hold it against  actors or directors when they do the occasional mainstream movie blockbuster. Often it pays the bills and allows them to do more interesting alternative projects on the side. In structure it's no different than many starving artists who work as baristas at Starbucks to pay the bills. Granted, the biggest Hollywood stars are so wealthy it's just about how many vacation homes they need, but many would be surprised how modestly the vast majority of film industry folk live and that includes some fairly famous actors. The Hollywood blockbusters are the suns around which the entire filmmaking business in LA draw power from.

The Silicon Valley equivalent of the massive Hollywood franchises are the giant companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. They are the hubs which make the Bay Area and Seattle a stable tech ecosystem. People can leave those companies to try startups, but they can go back to those hubs if they fail, or lose the stomach for the entrepreneurial battle, or if they have dependencies like a mortgage and family to support that make that risk-reward equation less tenable. Maybe they are between entrepreneurial ideas, or they've been purchased by one of those giants and are recharging for the next big venture.

When I was in Seattle, Microsoft and Amazon were those hubs. I know so many people from my Amazon days that have left Amazon and gone back, and some have made that switch multiple times.

Some have argued that those colossus dampen entrepreneurship by providing too much of a safety net, but I think it's precisely that safety net that should allow or force entrepreneurs to take bigger swings and risks. It's the way safety belts make people drive more recklessly, or wearing a helmet gives me more confidence to try crazy jumps on my snowboard.

It's easier to compete with the Bay Area as a tech hub than it is to compete with LA as the filmmaking capitol of the world because so much more of tech infrastructure is distributed and accessible from anywhere. You can't access a union grip for your lighting department via Amazon Web Services (at least last I checked). But up and coming tech hubs like New York and Los Angeles still would benefit immensely from having one or more giants based there. The "sun and orbiting planets" or "planets and orbiting moons" configuration is just a more optimal, stable configuration for fostering diversity of life and efficiency of production.