Responses to Web Cinema Digest Forum
by John Cones

Dear Web Cinema-Digest Subscribers:

First, let me thank each of you who have seen the wisdom of participating, both pro and con, in our online discussion relating to the larger issues impacting the ability of independent filmmakers to both get their visions on the screen (in whatever medium), to get a reasonable segment of available audiences to actually see their work and to fairly participate in the economic upside potential of their own films.

Out of respect for Jonathan, I have chosen to avoid responding to each and every single message, while waiting to provide a more thoughtful analysis of all of the related messages collectively. That analysis is now available. The messages responded to include those posted during the period February 16 through February 27 and I've only responded to those that seemed to be opposed to my point of view. The authors' names have been omitted but their exact language has been reproduced, except I've attempted to clean up the typos for clarity.

Keep in mind that this collective response does not incorporate the many positive comments made both on the WebCinema listserv and sent to me privately via E-mail. Thanks to each of you for those. I have also ignored the name-calling, since no response to those sorts of message are warranted. Some 73 individual statements are included, some of which contain dangerously false information about the current status of the film industry, film finance and film history topics. They tend to fall within 19 specific categories of argument, none of which actually reach the substance of my original criticism directed toward the business-related behavior of the Hollywood control group.

Again, so as not to inconvenience anyone unnecessarily, this 20-page analysis of Web Cinema subscriber responses to my press release regarding the Mensa speech The Role of Movies in a Democratic Society and my answers to the responses can be obtained by request only at


John Cones


March 2, 1998

The following discussion has been prepared by Los Angeles Attorney John W. Cones in response to negative postings on the Web Cinema Digest regarding Mr. Cones' earlier message relating to his speech "The Role of Movies in A Democratic Society".


Let's first deal with this relevance issue, since it is a threshold question for many of you. Here's what you wrote:

"I'm sure your argument is well founded but definitely out of context here."

"What, anyway, is its relationship to web-based cinema?"

"Can we please get back to what webcinema is really all about? This past week of mindless banter is in danger of scaring away quality people who have joined this organization under the expectation of a worthwhile experience."

"Please stick to the subject of film . . . "

"I thought the purpose of this list was to engage in relevant discussion regarding independent filmmaking. Not Hollywood and certainly not 'Jew counting'."

"Please don't bother! A, no one is interested and B, the list was fine till you came along. It doesn't need to be segmented, compartmentalized or dramatized. We'll just stick to the discussion of film, thank you very much . . . "

"The important thing to remember here is that this is a film related listserv. Maybe some people on this list are interested in the posts that have related to Mr. Cones, but they don't belong on the webcinema list."

"Mr. Cones, you are a thorn in the side of WebCinema, a major distraction and disruption to the good people on this listserv."

"Although the subject may be interesting the Webcinema forum is really not the proper form for this type of discussion. It's more a discussion for film historians, film buffs, film fans whatever you want to call them, not the working filmmakers, so I ask you all to refrain from posting about this subject and stick to the business at hand, making films. This list is for filmmakers to exchange information about the day to day situation regarding actually making films: setting up co-productions, joint film ventures, buying and selling of film equipment, raising money for film projects, promotions of film projects, technology issues as they relate to film and the internet, distribution inquiries, film festival information, etc."

The really important thing to remember is that this discussion is about film, and about the future of the film industry in which all of you hope to function and prosper. Unfortunately, we cannot intelligently discuss the future of the U.S. film industry without understanding its past and its present state. These kinds of responses to an attempt to deal with serious and important issues absolutely relating to film either reveals a severe lack of understanding of the larger issues involved in your chosen livelihoods, or a form of denial and avoidance of that which may be discomforting.

By the way, there is no "Jew counting" in my work. If I (or anyone else for that matter) set out to conduct a study designed to determine the relevant characteristics of the people who really control the production and release of the vast majority of the films seen by about 92% of the theatre-going audiences in the domestic marketplace, recognizing that patterns of bias exist in those films and that movies, to a large extent, tend to mirror the values, interests, cultural perspectives and prejudices of their makers, the motives for such a study cannot be fairly maligned as "Jew counting" simply because the objective results of the study reveal that a significant majority of the top executive positions at the Hollywood major studios have been held by persons who, among the several other characteristics cited, also have a Jewish background. I have no control over who these people are. I can only accurately report the results of my study. The "Jew counting" accusation presumes my original motive was to "count Jews", and that is nothing more than a "cheap shot" made by a person who cannot think beyond his own prejudice.


The 2nd threshold question seems to relate to doubts about the relevance of considering the backgrounds of the people in Hollywood who have the power to determine which films will be made, along with other associated decisions (e.g., who gets to work on these films in the key positions and who gets to approve of the screenplays that are produced or released).

" . . . why is a person's ethnic background, and the degree to which they're religious, considered a/the primary determining criteria for a so-called 'control group' over other characteristics?"

". . . of what relevance was this remark?"

My studies of Hollywood movies indicate that they contain blatant patterns of bias, in that they consistently portray whole populations of our multi-cultural society in a negative or stereotypical manner. My proffered explanation for this phenomenon relates to the true nature of film. Motion pictures are not merely entertainment as the Hollywood establishment would have us believe, but rather, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 1952 Burstyn v. Wilson case (the decision that initially applied the Constitution's First Amendment right of Free Speech to film) "the motion picture is a significant medium for the communication of ideas".

Further, as we all know, "ideas" have always (since the beginning of Civilization) and will always serve as powerful motivators of human conduct. Thus, any powerful communications medium such as film does undoubtedly influence some human behavior, after all films communicate ideas, and very effectively, I might add. Thus, films are particularly important in a democratic society that supposedly values the free marketplace of ideas.

I have further observed that movies are different than most products produced in this country. To a large extent, they tend to mirror the values, interests, cultural perspectives and prejudices of their makers. This logically brings us to the need for understanding the backgrounds of those in Hollywood who have the decision-making powers described above. Anyone is free to conduct their own study of the Hollywood control group and select whatever characteristics they believe relevant to that inquiry. However, I believe that any such study or attempted definition of the Hollywood control group that overlooks the cultural heritage, sex, political and religious background of these individuals will fall short when trying to explain the cultural, sexual, political and religious biases found in American films. That is why this part of the discussion is clearly relevant.


Throughout the nearly 90-year history of the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry, this argument seems to be a favorite among the Hollywood insiders and those that support them. First, the actual language used to make the false accusation of anti-Semitism directed toward me is provided, followed by my response.

"Cones' remarks are anti-Semitic. There is no getting around it."

"Hollywood has always been a cesspool of ignorance and decadence, and studio heads have always been under attack from anti-Semites. It is saddening to see that this still goes on."

"That kind of anti-Semitism is unforgivable in this day and age."

"There is a long history of anti-semitism directed at studio heads."

"I'd think there should be a healthy suspicion of lurking anti-semitism when people like Cones make a point of identifying Jews that are non-religious."

"But unfortunately, while its true that many studio heads have been, and will continue to be Jewish (hopefully myself included), when you present data in an attempt to explain filmmaking as an influential medium, claim that films violate certain cultural rules, then point out Jewishness in the studio heads -- well, Mr. Genius Mensa Boy, it doesn't take an I.Q. number to figure out what the implied argument is."

"well . . . to make anti-Semitic (not racist-judaism is a religion, not a nationality) writings, no matter how silly can still greatly offend those of that particular religion."

"I am willing to believe that your remarks were not intended to be anti-Semitic, but I was obviously not the only one who interpreted them that way, and I assure you that I am not a sensitive bleeding heart."

As noted above, this is such a common response from Hollywood and its supporters, I have written an entire chapter in one of my books about this phenomenon. The chapter title is "The Anti-Semitic Sword". In other words, it appears to me that so many of the Hollywood insiders and their supporters over the years, have used the false(or unsupported) accusation of anti-Semitism as an offensive weapon against their detractors, that in many instances it appears to actually be a smokescreen intentionally designed to divert attention from the truth of the original criticism of Hollywood, and further designed to refocus attention on whether there is anti- Semitism or not, without ever getting back to the substance of the original criticism of the behavior of the Hollywood control group?

So, now that those of you who have made this false accusation have our attention, does anyone in this group of accusers of anti-Semitism want to accept the responsibility for following up and meeting their burden of persuasion associated with this false accusation?

Do you really believe that merely labeling someone or their activities as anti-Semitic is enough to carry the day?

As noted earlier, not a single one of you has been willing to let us know which definition of anti-Semitism you are using, while also analyzing my writings or conduct to determine whether either actually falls within the parameters of that definition. You won't even offer us a definition to allow us to determine whether it is a reasonable definition or not. Thus, none of you have met your burden of proof/persuasion on this trumped up issue.

Therefore, it is fair for the rest of us to ignore your hurtful and false accusations, and in fact, to ignore anything else you have to say, because you have sacrificed your credibility.

Finally, just because a fairly large number of people are mistaken about whether certain language is anti- Semitic or not, does not make it so. It merely suggests that an even larger group of people in this country are confused about what anti-Semitism really is. By the way, for my definition of anti- Semitism, I primarily relied on Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder's "New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia", Partricia Erens' book "The Jew In American Cinema" and Leonard Dinnerstein's "Anti-Semitism in America". I suggest you all check out the definitions of anti-Semitism in these authoritative works.


"The way in which you embark upon your research is inherently fair and unbiased. Breaking down groups of people by ethnicity and religion all fair and good when analyzing a situation. But you miss the forest for the trees, oh Government appointed genius. For one could make the most fantabulous omelet ever made, but the bottom line is it's still made from cracked eggs. Each step of your ladder is well made, firm and strong. But where does the ladder lead? To nowhere. To nothing. Sorry to inform you, Mr. Cones, but you wasted 10 years of your life trying to find theories and analogies where they don't exist. And all your left with is stirring up anger and controversy with a vaguely anti- Semitic slant as to justify your time as not wasted."

The real waste of time here is this clumsy attempt to use inappropriate omelet and ladder analogies. Once again, there is no substance here, no attempt whatsoever to provide useful information that in any way contradicts my original assertions.


This group of arguments suggests that I must be alleging a conspiracy of some sort. Wrong again.

"There is a long history of people cooking up theories of Jewish conspiracies. These have been documented, and I assume we are all aware of them. This is part of the broader picture you refer to. If we have seen this in your postings, others will, too, and it's something that you might want to keep in mind so you are not misinterpreted in the future."

"This sounds to me like old-school Jewish Conspiracy thinking to me, and I find it patently offensive."

"They smack of the old rumors of Jewish Conspiracies which, unfortunately, are still around today."

It ought to be embarrassing for each of you taking the position that I am making some sort of conspiracy argument to realize upon closer examination of my carefully chosen words, that I am not making any such argument. My criticism of the Hollywood insider group is directed toward their similar but individual behavior (i.e., their conduct and action), and toward the results of that action (i.e., who gets to work on Hollywood films, what films are chosen and the impact of those films on society). I have made no suggestion, nor am I concerned with the issue of whether any of these Hollywood insiders are getting together and talking about their conduct with each other, before or after the conduct itself. That is not my issue. If any of you want to argue about conspiracy, you'll have to find somebody who is actually making that allegation. Again, the effect of raising the conspiracy issue is to serve as another smokescreen for the real issues raised in my press release and speech. Just because I do suggest that the conduct of the members of the Hollywood control is more similar than it would be if the U.S. film industry was more diverse from top to bottom, does not fairly imply I am making a conspiracy argument.


This is another commonly seen argument, which again, does not ever reach the substance of my criticism of Hollywood, but merely tries to detract people's attention from what I am actually saying by associating me with people who are saying something else.

"While I have no doubt that there is bias, unfairness, and monopoly power in Hollywood (surprise, surprise), comments such as this make me think of Germany in 1933."

"And let me ask you this. When Jerry Falwell said, 'Those People in Hollywood are corrupting our good Christian youth!' Which 'those people' was he talking about? 'Those' Liberals? 'Those' Jews? Or was he simply saying what you're saying, Mr. Cones? That movies are corrupting influences, under the control of a few people who's profiles are rather interesting (non-religious, Jewish, European, not related to Cones)? There's nothing anti-Semitic there, right Consey? Just stating the facts, old boy! Don't shoot the messenger! Corrupt filmmaking=studios=Jews=no conclusion. (wink, wink)."

These are actually forms of the straw-man argument. They suggest that I am saying something that I do not. There is no evidence to suggest that I am making the same arguments made by anyone in 1933 Germany, or that my arguments are the same as those made by Jerry Falwell. I have no association with any of those individuals, and your false attempt to make up a connection is despicable. There is no need to otherwise respond to such arguments, because they simply do not apply to me or what I am actually saying.


Several of you attempted to reason from a so-called "representative sampling of one". In other words, to counter my general rule (i.e., generalizations about Hollywood), you trotted out one or several exceptions to the general rule, without realizing that, by doing so, you are in effect, still confirming the general rule. If you want to counter a general rule, you should provide a directly contradictory substitute general rule, along with its supporting evidence.

"I'm an independent filmmaker who happens to be black and female, but that hasn't prevented me from dreaming the dream and fighting the good fight. And I can assure you that the characters and plots of my screenplays do not reflect the stereotypes you are perpetuating."

"Not long ago, black, latino, and female, directors were virtually unheard of, but last year for instance, Charles Burnett, one of our greatest living filmmakers, was hired by Disney to make NIGHT JOHN, one of the best films of the years. And there are other examples."

"My latest feature films, 'Drive All Night,' was fully financed by my wonderful business partners, who all happen to be Jewish."

By the way, my writings do not perpetuate stereotypes. It's the Hollywood films that have for many years consistently portrayed whole populations of our multi-cultural society in a negative or stereotypical manner. Just because a few members of the formerly excluded groups seem to be making progress in Hollywood in recent years, does not mean (1) that all formerly excluded groups are making progress, (2) that those whose situation has recently improved have made sufficient improvement to justify declaring victory, (3) that those with recent access to filmmaking opportunities will be able to hold on to those opportunities for long, (4) that they have real opportunities to freely choose the projects they want to produce, (5) that they have actual creative control, (6) that their films are released by major studio/distributors to broad audiences or (7) that these filmmakers actually participate in the upside economic potential of their own films. There is much more involved in opening the U.S. film industry to all than citing a few examples of first tier successes.


This appears to be another example of an attempt to avoid the discussion and deny its importance.

"Now can we please stop all the crying and whining and make some films."

Just because one or more of you feel this discussion amounts to "crying and whining" does not make it so. This so happens to be a serious discussion about the future of the U.S. film industry. We cannot fairly consider that future without knowing what has occurred in the past. The fact that you do not recognize this is more a reflection of your lack of understanding of the important issues involved (i.e., who gets to make the films they want to make in the future, what films they will get to make and what impact those films will have on society). The failure of my critics to engage in a discussion of substance, backed with facts, evidence and studies constitutes the real "whining and crying".


This series of arguments is merely warmed-over Jack Valenti saying "Moviegoers vote with their pocketbooks." It has always been rubbish when he said it, and it continues to be rubbish when you repeat it.

"All these companies answer to one thing: The public. If the movies aren't good, they don't make money, and Hollywood then rushes out to find (and here is why the whole thing is so nebulous) the next 'big thing'."

"Get a good story, figure it out technically, and get it on film. If you've got any clue to combining all of these things, your chances of getting in are almost certain."

"Mr. Cones' conclusions seem pat and shallow, true through many of them may be. Hollywood is corrupt. It does force the values of a few sheltered, wealthy people on the rest of us, but Hollywood is also at the mercy of the market, and of cultural trends."

"To all of you whining about the 'Hollywood system', don't quit your day jobs. You've chosen to get into a field that is very nepotistic whether you're coming from the 'Hollywood system' or not. It's a tight circle so rather than sit around and write bitter statements as to why outsiders can't get in because of one small group or other controlling the whole thing, why don't you figure out how to get a decent production on film!?!?"

"The back door to Hollywood hasn't been this open since the 'system' began. With technology getting cheaper and the possibility of completing productions within small budgets it's never been easier to sneak in that back door PROVIDED YOU HAVE A QUALITY PRODUCT ON FILM!"

All of these "free market"arguments are based on the fallacy that the best quality films get the widest release and are therefore seen by the largest number of moviegoers. These arguments are also based on the fallacy that prospective moviegoers have access to timely, objective information on which to base their moviegoing decisions. These arguments overlook the fact that even the mediocre to poor major studio releases get onto more theatre screens, as a general rule, than independent product, not necessarily because those films are better than the competing independent films, but because the major studios have the "muscle" to influence the decisions of exhibitors (some of which are partly owned by the major studios), to get their films into the best theatres, to the exclusion of the independent releases.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department, influenced by Presidential politics (including huge Hollywood campaign contributions) chooses to overlook the obvious, stubbornly maintaining the ludicrous position that vertical integration in the film industry is not anti-competitive.

These arguments also overlook the fact that the major studios spend about $20 million per film on average in promotion, publicity and advertising, and that the mass audience for these films are often blatantly deceived about the quality and subject matter of many of these films. Further, moviegoers, can't very well demand their money back after they have been hoodwinked into seeing a poor quality film, so it's not really fair to count each ticket purchase as a vote of approval is it? In addition, if the moviegoers in a diverse multi- cultural society like ours were really voting with their pocketbooks and the film companies were responsive at all, then the blatant patterns of bias in Hollywood films I've observed and reported would not exist. In other words, we would see a great deal more diversity on the screen than we currently see.

Ultimately, this "Hollywood is a free market" argument appears to be an attempt to distract the Hollywood "outsider" filmmaking community from the real problems that exist, and to therefore convince them that there is no need for reform. Once again, the same false argument can be offered by lots of individuals, speaking individually, without any allegation of a conspiracy. It is much like the concept of conscious parallelism in antitrust law analysis.


The responses set forth above apply to the first part of this argument. The personal attack against me as a lawyer is just as irrelevant to the issues as the name-calling.

"There is no formula for success. No one knows anything. And the bottom line is not 'wrongful conduct' as you so angrily and stormily condemn Hollywood for (as a Lawyer, I'm sure your actions have always been the morally correct ones). The bottom line is what sells tickets."


Once again, it appears that the underlying purpose of these arguments is an attempt at persuading people not to consider the truthfulness of my original criticism of Hollywood, simply by stating that my motives are something other than getting at the truth, and attempting to serve as a catalyst for long-term and lasting film industry reform (i.e., the creation of a level paying field for all).

" . . . it really is an irrelevant topic created by some guy to get publicity."

"Personally I understand the point of this so-called 'research', which is to get a bunch of Jews riled up, thereby gaining the hook needed for the publicity machine to start pumping away. gotta show those Mensa boys you can get some press too! Right Cones, old boy? To quote Bette Davis, 'It don't matter what they're saying, as long as they're talking about you!'"

"Could it be that he (Cones) is simply trying to create controversy to promote his books/services?"

"To me this press release feels more like a self-serving example of scapegoating than it does a valid study."

Not a single one of these superficial arguments challenges the truth of my originalstatements: (1) about the long-standing blatant patterns of bias in Hollywood films, (2) about the true nature of motion pictures (i.e., a significant medium for the communication of ideas, and that to a large extent, they tend to mirror the values, interests, cultural perspectives and prejudices of their makers), (3) about the makeup of the Hollywood control group or (4) about how they gained and have maintained their power over the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry.

Further, the impact of my going public with these views on my law practice and books is not certain. Surely, some of you who have drawn the wrong conclusions about my background and motives are not likely to either use my legal services or purchase my books in the future. Thus, I have always recognized that there is some risk associated with reporting the truth about Hollywood.


Using my own arguments in an attempt to refute my arguments is a somewhat curious phenomenon. These people appear to be unintentionally assisting me.

"Words have consequences, my dear subtly racist Mr. Cones. As you are all too aware."

Except for the false and unsupported "racist" label, this argument makes my point for me. Words have consequences. Words communicated through a powerful medium like feature film have consequences in the larger society. If anyone gets to hide behind the First Amendment right of Free Speech to protect their right to say what they want (through film), everyone in this society ought to have a fair and equal opportunity to express their words through film. They don't, and that's one of the basic problems.

"Firstly, you have a good point about technology and control. But I would argue that these days the technology for making film/video, etc., is widely available to almost everyone. what is under the thumb of Hollywood business people are the distribution channels. They also have a certain power to dictate what is appropriate material to be released to the public."

Again, this statement is right on the mark. The major studios are what I call vertically- integrated, distributor dominated entities. Distribution is the bottle-neck of this industry, and the majors have used that imbalance in the law of supply and demand, to take abusive advantage of their power. A few years ago, I conducted a study of how many feature films were being distributed by how many distributors each year over an eight year period. Besides the seven major studio/distributors, there were only ten independent distributors that had consistently released two or more feature films each year during that eight year period. Since that time, the more successful independent distributors have been acquired by the majors, others have been squeezed out of the marketplace and the few left are looking for buyers. These distributors use their dominant market power to force contracts of adhesion, filled with unconscionable provisions on independent producers, thus allowing the distributors to retain all but a minor trickle of the revenues generated by the exploitation of such movies in all markets and media. Those ill-gotten revenues are then used to give these distributors creative control over the movies they choose to finance in the future.


"I say that Cones is a complete moron and an ass hole and No one should listen to his shit against the Hollywood Production Companies!!!"

The only point I will choose to respond to here is the erroneous assumption that my criticism is only directed at Hollywood production companies. That is quite simplistic. As noted above, the production arms of the major studio/distributors are part of the same companies that also own the distribution division of each company. The huge amounts of money are being siphoned off the system at the distribution stage. This ispartly what gives the production arms the power to pick and choose what movies they will help to finance and produce, and provides the distribution divisions with the power to select which movies they will release. In any case, referring to these companies as "production companies" is misleading. I'm talking about vertically-integrated, distributor-dominated film companies who quite often have controlling interests in the life of a film at the development, studio, production, distribution, exhibition, video, merchandising stages and beyond.

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