Review: SLEEPLESS IN HOLLYWOOD by Lynda Obst (Simon & Schuster)

ObstL-SleeplessInHollywoodAn excellent follow-up to Hello, He Lied

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?

Sleepless in Hollywood is an excellent, accessible explanation of the ways in which Hollywood has evolved since the 1980s. This is an account of emergence of the “New Abnormal”, as Obst calls it: the shifting practices and ideologies that dictate how the movie and TV industries operate.

I can’t recall how I learned of Lynda Obst’s first memoir, Hello, He Lied. I’ve long been fascinated by Hollywood and the film and TV industries as a whole. After the book landed on my radar, I decided to check it out. It was certainly interesting to learn more about the production side of the industry, and especially for certain movies I had actually seen (Obst produced, among many others, Sleepless in Seattle). The author’s first book wasn’t as accessible or as encouraging as I had hoped it might be — to work in the entertainment industry is a dream of mine, and I had hoped for some advice on how I might go about finding an “in”, something I didn’t find (not that the book promised this). Nevertheless, there were plenty of interesting anecdotes and observations, and I liked it enough to pick up Sleepless in Hollywood.

Obst’s second book is much better than her first. Part of this may be due to timing — there were 17 years between the publication of the two books. This means, of course, that the Hollywood Obst writes about in this later book is more recognisable to this younger observer of Tinseltown. She addresses so many issues facing Hollywood that have trickled out into general/civilian conversation about movies, illustrating the changes by using her own personal experiences and those of her close colleagues and industry friends. One particularly good topic: why are there so many sequels? (Profits. See also the video after the review.)

ObstL-HelloHeLiedOne major difference and improvement between the author’s two books: there are fewer script-like scenarios in this book — in Hello, He Lied, I felt that this gimmick tended to obfuscate, rather than illuminate the issue being discussed. Sleepless in Hollywood is, therefore, far clearer. This is not to say that it is po-faced: Obst’s sense of humour, enthusiasm and levity remain, which makes this an enjoyable as well as informative read. Given the four years since publication, it’s also interesting to see which of Obst’s predictions have come true about movies that were in production at the time.

The book is littered with examples and anecdotes that clearly show the shifts in the industry — from the practical elements of conducting business in Hollywood, to the role of producers, to the impact of shifting financial strategies and profit sources. Each of these issues is addressed clearly, sharply and intelligently. Obst knows how much to give readers to inform them, but never buries us with minutiae or excessive detail.

The impact and role of Chinese investors and the Chinese market feature quite prominently, and I found this especially interesting. Obst seems to be of two minds, when it comes to the shift in focus on international markets: she welcomes the new source of financing, income, etc.; while also being frustrated by the creative challenges this can present (e.g., potential censorship), and the restrictions in place that slow or prevent success of foreign-made movies in China. (You can watch a video of Obst discussing foreign markets, below.)

Overall, Sleepless in Hollywood is a superb book. Superior to Hello, He Lied in almost every way, and an excellent update. Very highly recommended for anyone interested in learning about Hollywood and how it operates today.

*

Lynda Obst‘s Sleepless in Hollywood is out now, published by Simon & Schuster. (It’s available in the UK as well.)

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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