Articles Posted in Books and Movies

Sculpture Man Controlling Trade

Author: Steven J. Cernak

How do you tie together evolution, the wave, and market prices?  As Neil Chilson explains in his brilliant little book, Getting Out of Control, all are examples of emergent order.  While Chilson is a former FTC leader, this book is not just for antitrust and consumer protection lawyers and economists but for anyone trying to understand what they can, and cannot and should not, control.

The book is about more than policy and certainly more than antitrust policy.  It explores many ways in which emergent order can play a role in your life, both personal and professional.  After all, the subtitle is “Emergent Leadership in a Complex World.” So parts of the book read like a self-help or leadership book.

Those parts might be the least interesting, at least to many of us.  There is nothing objectionable in those sections but there also did not seem to be many new insights from viewing familiar issues through an emergent-order lens.  For example, Chilson describes how changing your habits can change you and your actions and how changing your environment can help change your habits: “If you want to stop eating sugar, don’t visit candy stores.”

But that advice does not seem much different than the directions that many of us have received in various six sigma or other corporate efficiency seminars. Many of mine while at General Motors were based on lessons learned from the Toyota Production System applied to the white-collar office.  There, changing the environment might mean putting yellow taping around the stapler on the table next to the copier to develop the habit of returning it to the same place every time. Good advice that all of us, whether in the workplace a few weeks or decades, need to hear periodically, but not particularly new.

Chilson’s policy discussions, however, do offer fresh and necessary takes on policy issues, like antitrust and other economic regulation, that are especially important today.  He starts by defining emergent order and distinguishing it from both randomness and designed order. Here, emergent order is the complex behavior of a system created by the interactions of many smaller components following simpler rules with no central control. To illustrate the differences among the three types, he uses various actions of a crowd at a sporting event.

As an example of emergent order, consider “the wave” at a large sports stadium — I will use the University of Michigan football stadium. The system, that is, the attendees, engage in the complex behavior of creating the coordinated, observable pattern of a wave moving around the stadium. No central authority controls the wave — some group of students, though not always the same one, tries to start it at different points in the game — and the small components, each fan, follows the simple rule of standing at about the right time. The wave peters out as enough fans grow disinterested.

An example of randomness would be the fans entering the stadium.  As Chilson notes, “you would be hard pressed to predict when any particular fan would arrive and take their seat” (although, at Michigan Stadium, a safe prediction is that fans named Cernak will be in their seats at the one hour to kickoff announcement). Designed order, on the other hand, would be if placards are handed out that, “when everyone holds them up, spell out ‘GO TEAM’ [or a Block M] across the entire stadium.”

Chilson builds on those definitions and examples to examine “the classic economic example of emergent order,” the price system. From these concepts, he derives principles for anyone dealing with emergent order, such as: expect complicated results even from simple actions; push decisions down to those actors with important local information; and be humble.

While the book is not overly technical or academic, its points are well-supported with quotes and “greatest hits” from top economists like Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek and his knowledge problem, Ronald Coase and his theory of the firm, and Elinor Ostrom. Chilson even interviews Russ Roberts, who has been popularizing emergent order on his EconTalk podcast for years.  (Surprisingly, there does not seem to be a reference to Roberts’s It’s a Wonderful Loaf, an ode to the magic and beauty of emergent order that I suggest to all my antitrust students.)

Specifically on antitrust and other regulatory matters, Chilson has high praise for his former boss at the Federal Trade Commission, former long-time Commissioner and Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen. She frequently spoke about the need for the FTC to exhibit “regulatory humility,” a position that I have supported in the past. Chilson also seems to channel Edmund Burke in advocating for a common law approach to policy decisions, rather than some elaborate rulemaking, as the many cases decided with specific and local knowledge in the past end up embodying wisdom that should be respected now and in the future.

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Film-Participation-Agreements-Expert-300x200

Author: Steven Madoff

Steven Madoff is a former Executive Vice President at Paramount Pictures and General Counsel for its Home Entertainment Subsidiary. He is Of Counsel at Bona Law.

When you see someone acting strangely, do you ever wonder if they are possessed? If you do, it might be because of the everlasting influence of a classic film that I am certain you know: The Exorcist.

One of the great joys of a film is that you can turn down the lights, let your problems disappear, and enter a meditative zone where you become engrossed in the movie and nothing else. You surely know that a lot goes into making a film and that it takes many talented people working really hard to do it well.

But do you ever think about how much thought, work, and fighting (yes, fighting) goes into marketing, distributing, and monetizing a film? Indeed, because films continue to make money for years and sometimes decades after they are made—especially for a classic film like the Exorcist—the battles over revenue and its dissemination can be everlasting.

During my decades at the studios and in the film industry, I had a front row seat to the methods, money, and machinations of the entertainment industry.

Even still, after I left Paramount Pictures, I did not think of myself as an “expert.” I had worked at Paramount for 20 years, the last ten of which I served as Executive Vice President of Worldwide Business and Legal Affairs for the Home Entertainment and Pay Television Divisions. I had also worked at the Motion Picture Association of America for five years in a business development position and then as International Counsel. The Motion Picture Association of America is the trade association representing the interests of the (at the time) seven major Hollywood Studios: Disney, MGM/United Artists, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros.

So after 25 years working for the major studios, I knew that I was very experienced and highly knowledgeable about certain aspects of the motion picture and television industries, but I did not think of myself as an “expert” on whose word courts should rely.

That was, anyway, until shortly after leaving Paramount, I started receiving phone calls from other studios involved in one form of litigation or another that were looking for someone who could qualify as an expert and would be willing to render an opinion and possibly testify in court in their litigation. Each one was certain that based on my 25 years of experience in motion picture and television industry business affairs (including all forms of licensing, sales, distribution and acquisition transactions), I would qualify as an ”expert.”

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hour rule in this book “Outliers.” This rule states that it requires at least 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in a particular field. I figured that my 25 years of practice in one industry, at a minimum of 40 hours per week, equates to about 50,000 hours that I had practiced in motion picture and television business affairs. Maybe these people were right. As it turns out, my qualifications as an “expert” in multiple cases have never been successfully challenged. That may, in part, be attributed to the fact that I have always been very selective in choosing which matters I offered my services for—I stick with what I truly know.

One of the more interesting cases on which I provided services as an expert witness involved the classic motion picture, “The Exorcist.” The case was before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

For those that don’t know, “The Exorcist” is the 1973 Warner Bros. release which, for many years, was the highest box office grossing horror motion picture of all time. In fact, adjusted for inflation “The Exorcist” is probably still the highest box office grossing horror motion picture of all time. It is certainly in the top five. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

Film finance can be complicated and there are typically investors that put up money or creative services for the film, alongside a studio and others, and, in exchange, they receive a contractual right to participate in the profits of the particular film. These are commonly known as participation agreements.

As often happens in Hollywood, claims were made against Warner Bros., the distributor of “The Exorcist” by a party who has a right to participate in the profits of the film. Basically, the claim was that Warner Bros. had not been properly exploiting “The Exorcist” in subsequent media and therefore the film’s gross revenue and profits were less than they otherwise could have been.

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Note: I co-authored this blog entry with my wife, Mary Bona.

We hope you all enjoyed the holiday season!

Along with the holidays come many traditions. One tradition in our family is to watch the heart-warming, iconic holiday film, It’s A Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. It’s no surprise that this film is amongst my wife’s favorites, not only because she loves the old classics, but also because, like the main character George, she is a small-business owner, and, like George’s wife (also named Mary), she loves old homes and fixing up the dilapidated ones.

Frank Capra, the film’s director and producer, was a Sicilian immigrant who grew up in the Italian ghetto of San Francisco. He started from very humble beginnings to become one of the most influential directors of his time. During his acceptance speech for the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982, Capra stressed his most important values:

“The art of Frank Capra is very simple: …the love of people…coupled with the freedom of each individual, and the equal importance of each individual, [is] the principle on which I based all my films.”

He went on to recall “celebrating” his 6th birthday in the miserable steerage section of a boat full of other terrified immigrants. After 13 awful days at sea, the boat stopped, and Capra’s father brought him up to the deck of the huge ship. “’Chico, look at that!’”, his father cried, “That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem!  I looked up, and there was the statue of a great lady, taller than a church steeple, holding a lamp over the land we were about to enter, and my father said, ‘It’s the light of Freedom, Chico.  Remember that. Freedom.’”

It’s no wonder that, when he finally formed his own independent film production, he titled it “Liberty Films,” and the first thing we see when the movie starts is the tolling of the famous Liberty Bell. Continue reading →

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