Let’s not sugarcoat it — 2023 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year for Hollywood.
For starters, obviously, there were the strikes, which for nearly five months turned backlots into ghost towns, costing the industry an estimated $6 billion in lost wages and other collateral economic damage. Then there were the layoffs, beginning at Disney and spreading like an apocalyptic virus to Paramount, Amazon, NBCUniversal, Lionsgate and beyond. Box office, although up a tick from 2022, still lagged far behind pre-pandemic grosses, with even superhero movies like The Marvels tanking. Streamers began pulling back on original content, the incredible shrinking broadcast TV audience continued to miniaturize itself, and there were new fears over the rise of the machines (you know, AI and whether it’ll soon replace your job) — all of which made Hollywood in 2023 feel a bit like one of those doomsday landscapes in Max’s end-of-the-world drama The Last of Us.
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But hold on. Take a deep breath before burrowing farther into your underground bunkers. Because despite all the above-mentioned disasters and more — floods, fires, Matthew Perry’s death — there is still plenty about Hollywood to feel good about. In fact, I would argue that this town remains, for all its problems, the most powerful cultural center on Earth, still a golden land of dreamers that continues to set the entertainment agenda for the rest of the planet. Name another city that attracts so many talented, ambitious, hopeful young artists; even TikTok stars, who could ply their curious trade from any region they choose, have made Hollywood their unofficial capital. Name another city that churns out as much original intellectual property (and inspires so much IP theft), that triggers as many ideological attacks (from both the right and left), and that has enough creative heft and might to marshal an exuberant global cinematic phenomenon capable of bridging the vast cultural gulf between Christopher Nolan and an 11-inch-tall plastic doll (hooray for Barbenheimer!).
So, as a much-needed reminder of all this town still has to offer, this week THR is serving up “50 Reasons We (Still) Love Hollywood” (page 36), a pre-Valentine’s Day cover package designed to help jog readers’ memories about how lucky we are to live where we live and work where we work. No, Hollywood may not be what it used to be — nothing ever is — but it’s still unlike any other place in the world. As we make our way through 2024, that’s something we should all keep in mind. — Maer Roshan, co-editor-in-chief
We Give Social Media Something to Fight About (That Isn’t Politics)
BY PETER BISKIND
Since the silent era, a century’s worth of movies has told us how to love, how to die, how to dress, how to behave. But things have changed a lot since the silent era, which raises the question: Are movies still vital to our lives? Are they still at the core of our cultural life? Do they still matter?
Beyond Hollywood’s scrambled economics, one of the biggest threats to its hegemony is social media — TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and X-formerly-known-as-Twitter — with which it has always had an uncomfortable relationship, alternately its victim or master. Thanks to the gravitational pull of social media, as well as the pandemic and two strikes, the studios and theaters have endured a disastrous stretch, and even the streamers, after enjoying a several decades-long honeymoon (the so-called era of “Peak TV”), started to falter. A dense fog of doom and gloom settled over the industry.
Your Comedy Headliner Is
Our Open Mic
In between tours, the biggest names in comedy drop into their home clubs in L.A. to work out material and stay sharp. Adam Sandler, John Mulaney, Nick Kroll, Sarah Silverman and Judd Apatow regularly hit Largo at the Coronet, while Marc Maron and Margaret Cho are Comedy Store regulars. Sebastian Maniscalco and Kumail Nanjiani perform at the Hollywood Improv, Dane Cook and Craig Robinson do sets at the Laugh Factory, and Ramy Youssef and Tig Notaro have had recent shows at Dynasty Typewriter. The best part? Tickets are often less than $50.
Couldn’t Get a Trump Tower
After the 1989 closing of the Ambassador Hotel, the former president spent a decade attempting to replace the site — which had hosted six Academy Awards as well as the star-studded Cocoanut Grove nightclub — with a 125-story skyscraper. Instead, he lost a battle with the Los Angeles Board of Education, which took the property from Trump via eminent domain to build a complex of high schools named after Robert F. Kennedy (who was assassinated at the hotel in 1968). Afterward, Trump vowed to develop “another property in the Trump style and manner.” It never happened.
Really Want to Act
Addison Rae. Liza Koshy. King Bach. Noah Beck. After racking up millions of followers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, these influencers turned to Hollywood. Jonathan Chanti, chief growth officer of influencer talent agency Viral Nation Group, says that “90 percent of our longform creators have the aspiration” to appear in film and TV. But just because they have millions of followers doesn’t mean they should expect A-list status. “What a creator could be making on a brand deal or just monetizing through YouTube may be drastically higher than what they would make being an actor on a show,” he says. So why not just settle for social stardom? “You may potentially only make it so long as a creator, in terms of the amount of competition and new people entering every single day capturing audiences. So to really expand the lifetime of your career, you need to be thinking as to how you can also transition into traditional forms of entertainment.” UTA partner and head of digital talent Ali Berman adds that while early content creators saw digital platforms as a way to transition into traditional media, today’s influencers recognize they can have both. UTA partner and head of talent Jay Gassner says, “It’s very difficult to transition from digital to traditional media, but it happens all the time.” He points to Issa Rae: “She has built an empire, but it all started on YouTube.”
Is Still Out There Being Angelyne
It’s been more than four decades since the ahead-of-her-time proto-influencer willed herself to fame (her early ’80s social media platform was billboards). Yet she’s no Kardashian. Big Business long has sought to leverage her mystique through partnerships, licensing agreements and other deals. Angelyne, who retains only a lawyer, has almost always said no. “I’m a rebel,” she told THR in 2015. “I’m independent. I want my fans to support me! I don’t lend my image out to anybody.” Even after this publication revealed her factual identity in 2017 (the daughter of Holocaust survivors found refuge from a traumatizing childhood in her platinum blonde bombshell persona) and Peacock made a limited series starring Emmy Rossum about her, Angelyne skipped the premiere and just kept doing her thing. To this day, she remains true to herself, a pure expression of self-mythology — circumnavigating the city, hustling merch out of the trunk of her trademark pink Corvette.
Because Hollywood Always Adapts (Eventually)
BY SAM WASSON
Hollywood is the most fragile and powerful industry in the world, always ending, always re-becoming — and only when it has a gun to its head. When The Jazz Singer surprised everyone, except Warner Bros., and proved talk was the next thing, Hollywood, hotbed of FOMO then as now, jumped to its feet and started wiring itself for sound; when the first cries of unionization reached Louis B. Mayer, he gathered fellow leaders of the industry and, with wounded dignity, conceived The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; when the Catholic Legion of Decency cried out against sin onscreen, Hollywood, clasping its hands in feigned contrition once again, adopted the Production Code. Television? They ran from it. And no one predicted Easy Rider. How could they?
Hollywood is basically scared — always. That’s what stalls and propels us. For all the talk of ego motoring the industry, I never met an executive who wanted to be the first, who wouldn’t cop to being wrong, who wouldn’t cop to being anything, if it got her on the bandwagon to a hit. Morality? This is America: We give the people what they want. The question is, as always, what do they really want — not just today but deep down? That’s where the real gold is: buried in them thar hills, the zeitgeists of tomorrow. When do we change? In Hollywood, we watch and wait, like a soldier with a gangrenous appendage. No, we will not amputate. No, we will not amputate. OK, now. Do it now.
Then we walk again.
The motion picture is the greatest means of mass communication ever devised, and as far as anyone can tell, nothing is ever going to top it, and frankly, nothing ever should. Its arrival was necessary and inevitable and therefore pretty much a spiritual essential from here to as far as the eye can see. As long as Hollywood regularly produces a product that’s better than you or I could make on our iPhone, that means, even if we have to crawl to find them, there will still be an audience for it. So do I despair about the new threats forever beyond the horizon, our emptying theaters, the intellectual and emotional laziness of the algorithm audience, the total constriction of the studios, our lack of visionary leadership? Yes, I despair. But I always have: Even at the height of the studio system, when Louis B. Mayer was the highest-paid man in America, we were always an endangered species.
Sam Wasson is the author of The Path to Paradise: A Francis Ford Coppola Story.
George Lucas Has a Museum
That’s Not About Star Wars
While it may look like a spaceship, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art has a mission light-years beyond being a repository of its founder’s Star Wars archive. Due to open next year next to L.A.’s Natural History Museum, George Lucas’ long-delayed, much-anticipated $1 billion project is focused on art that tells stories in a multiplicity of mediums — from, yes, film but also painting, sculpture, comics, photography and magazine and book illustrations. Its breadth of holdings includes works by artists from Thomas Hart Benton and Norman Rockwell to Frida Kahlo and R. Crumb, and it’s committed to preserving collections like artist Judy Baca’s The History of California (1976-84) archive (related to her monumental mural The Great Wall of Los Angeles) and the Separate Cinema Archive, which encompasses more than 37,000 items documenting African American cinema history from 1904 to 2019.
Capital of Drag
Drag may be in danger elsewhere in the country, but in L.A., it thrives. RuPaul — whose Drag Race just won its fifth Emmy for best reality competition and a 14th Emmy for reality host — lives here, and the show is shot here, so Hollywood becomes de facto home to many of its contestants. But it doesn’t end there. The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, the horror version of Drag Race, began here on a rickety stage at a gay bar and has grown into a drag star-maker in its own right since being picked up by streamers like Amazon Prime and Shudder. And lest one worry that L.A. drag has become too commercialized, it still holds the power to stir controversy: The long-running activist group Sisters of the Perpetual Indulgence’s L.A. chapter set off a brouhaha in June after the Los Angeles Dodgers invited, then uninvited, then reinvited the group to Dodger Stadium to honor their community outreach work.
AARON SORKIN, WRITER-DIRECTOR:
“My Office on the Lot”
I’ve had an office on the Warner Bros. lot for 20 years. I pace around the room, sit at my desk, lie on the couch and slam my head against the walls trying to write something. The office is right next door to a soundstage, and throughout the day I can hear the familiar sound of a firehouse bell going off at the beginning and the end of a take. It’s not the noise that bothers me, it’s what it represents: A writer has already had an idea, written it and now it’s being performed. Of course I deeply resent that.
For six months, while my union was on strike, I was away from the office. When I came back, I had an even greater appreciation for that iconic studio lot. For Mid-Western Town and Old New York and the water tower and the courthouse steps from every Warner Bros. movie ever. And when I heard the bell again, I smiled for minute.
And now I’m back to pacing around.
PHIL LORD, WRITER PRODUCER:
Awards season can be a mixed bag, but the great part about it is that you are reminded that you are part of a worldwide community of artists. We don’t see each other often, working all around the globe, but we come together in these moments, and that part — the fellowship of filmmakers — is really gratifying.
BILL LAWRENCE, WRITER PRODUCER:
Everybody’s got a success story that involves mentorship. Mine was a guy named Gary David Goldberg, who created Family Ties. We started a show called Spin City. He passed away but started my career. Ted Lasso’s about mentorship. Shrinking’s a lot about mentorship. You hear lots of horrible stories about [bosses], but the good stories are that everybody got a break from someone that believed in them.
DAVID OYELOWO, ACTOR-DIRECTOR-PRODUCER:
“Our Can-Do Spirit”
I love the can-do spirit of Hollywood, a place where everyone is here to get something done. That is an energy you can ride. What we do is crazy, the amount of faith you need to write something and expect someone to give you millions of dollars to make it happen — and every now and again, it does.
on Images They Love
THR’s shutterbugs capture most of Hollywood’s glamorous and gritty moments, from the Oscars to the picket lines. Recent shoots by this group featured Michael B. Jordan, Ali Wong, Gabrielle Union, Jamie Lee Curtis and Barry Manilow. You’ve seen what’s made it to our pages, but with so many moments captured in between published shots, we asked four photographers to select an image that represents what keeps them here, doing what they do.
We’re the Real
New York? Paris? Milan? Sure, they have the shows, the media, the hype. But who are they flying in to sit front row? “I have always said it,” proclaims Cameron Silver, a Beverly Hills-born fashion historian and co-owner of L.A.’s beloved luxury vintage boutique Decades who discovered local Rodarte designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy. “The most iconic images of fashion being worn off the runway are exported from Hollywood.” To that point, mogul François-Henri Pinault (CEO of Kering) acquired CAA last year, Louis Vuitton plucked entertainer Pharrell Williams (not an actor, but Pharrell) for its prestigious menswear creative director position, and every celebrity under the (L.A.) sun owns a fashion brand or is an ambassador for one. Tom Ford, arguably the most famous designer of our time who is also a director — lives here. These days, the runway shows are also coming to us — with Balenciaga joining Chanel, Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, Dior, Celine and Louis Vuitton as the most recent. But Hollywood’s fashion history goes back further. “Costume designers were once household names,” says Silver. “L.A. was never perceived as the fashion capital, but the irony is that we’re the most important city for a brand to develop their business and reputation because of the red carpet.”
RHEA SEEHORN, ACTRESS:
“The Visual Arts Community”
The lesser-sung visual arts community here is what I love, the gallery openings. Art has its own anxiety and stress, but when I needed to not be a part of the who-got-into-what-party scene, I started going to book signings and art openings and events at the REDCAT. If you go and seek out some of the art walks and the art communities here, you can find your tribe.
DONNA LANGLEY, CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER, NBCUNIVERSAL:
With every new generation, and after every major challenge we face together — be it the pandemic or the subsequent strikes — our resilient city keeps reinventing itself to inspire more dreams and more dreamers who can call it home. Having lived here for more than 20 years, I’ve found Los Angeles still has something to surprise and delight even the most cynical. Maybe it’s strolling along Melrose Avenue between Robertson and Doheny, window-shopping before grabbing a bite at Great White, running over to visit Beatrice Valenzuela’s beautiful studio, or picking up some gourmet delights at Cook Book. Maybe it’s a Lakers game at Staples Center (I just can’t call it Crypto.com Arena) or a concert at the Bowl. After a few years without these iconic experiences, I have a renewed sense of gratitude for each and every one of them. Decades after arriving here as a dreamer, Los Angeles is the city I call home. I’m thankful for it every day — even when I’m in traffic.
BOB IGER, CEO, WALT DISNEY:
“The Power of One Great Idea”
There’s no question that the shifting dynamics of our industry have created challenges — for studios, actors, writers, animators, directors and more. But the magic of Hollywood is that you are always just one great, creative idea away from turning adversity into fortune. Creativity is what has always fueled this business, carrying it to its highest highs and pulling it out of the doldrums during its many ups and downs over the past century. And today we are living amongst truly remarkable creative visionaries who are able to brilliantly tap into that divine resource known as imagination to bring the next great piece of entertainment to life, capturing audiences’ hearts and bringing them to places beyond their wildest dreams. Steve Jobs used to say that the intersection of creativity and technology made his heart sing. For me, nothing moves me more than creativity in its highest, most perfect iteration, which has always been the result of pure human genius, fantastic execution and, at times, great luck. Thankfully, creativity remains in bountiful supply here in Hollywood, and I firmly believe that our industry’s grandest moments are still yet to come.
A Fanboy Can
Become a Star
Once simply a celebrity mega fan, Evan Ross Katz is now a writer, podcaster, go-to Hollywood influencer, social media star and, as The White Lotus creator Mike White christened him, the “most valuable hype man in the history of television.” He has 341,000 followers on Instagram, including Channing Tatum, Olivia Wilde, Jeremy Allen White and Jennifer Aniston. His Substack — Shut Up Evan: The Newsletter — has more than 17,000 subscribers, and his Shut Up Evan podcast lands of-the-moment guests, from Jenna Lyons to Greta Lee.
Walks Among Us
Sam Shepard once said of Los Angeles, “People here have become the people they’re pretending to be.” In a town fueled by artifice, there’s plenty of constructed personalities. Vanishingly few people can transcend type and become iconic real-life originals. An exception is 74-year-old Dimitri Dimitrov, whose Macedonian accent, hunched manner, clasped hands and anxious desire to please have made him the favorite maître d’ to several generations of Hollywood insiders. No wonder — after stints at Franco-Russian caviar restaurant Diaghilev, then Tower Bar and, most recently, San Vicente Bungalows, he’s perpetually top of mind as a cameo in his role of a lifetime (check his IMDb), most recently in Don’t Worry Darling and Winning Time.
We Get Do-Overs
BY DAVID ROONEY
The standard wisdom is that Hollywood remakes rarely improve on the originals, and certainly there’s no shortage of examples to validate that. If you can bear it, think of Melanie Griffith in Born Yesterday, Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond in Sabrina or Madonna in Swept Away. But in a handful of cases, the second stab has proved to be the keeper. The Coen brothers took a creaky John Wayne vehicle and turned it into an expertly crafted Western that lived up to its title in the 2008 True Grit remake that starred Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. George Cukor’s 1954 A Star Is Born, with Judy Garland and James Mason, wiped the floor with the 1937 version, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, just as Bradley Cooper’s 2018 take, in which he co-starred with Lady Gaga, bested the cheesy 1976 retread with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s heist movie franchise has yielded entries of variable quality, but almost all are superior to the original 1960 Rat Pack vehicle. Howard Hawks’ 1932 thriller Scarface is rightfully considered a gangster classic, but Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake overcame its negative reviews to become a cult monument to lurid ’80s excess, not to mention spawning a thousand memes of Al Pacino inhaling a mountain of coke. Kids from the ’90s might have fond memories of the TV miniseries based on Stephen King’s It, but that adaptation can’t compare to the visceral scares of Andy Muschietti’s blockbuster 2017 big-screen version. Finally, in pairing Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, 1976’s Freaky Friday can’t help but be fun, though Mark Waters’ 2003 redo, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, is a gem that became a high-water mark for the body-swap comedy.
Script Notes From
Guillermo del Toro
When Ava DuVernay took on the daunting task of converting the dense 2020 nonfiction book Caste into her independently financed drama Origin, there was one person she consistently leaned on — Guillermo del Toro. “When people were saying, ‘I don’t get it,’ he was like, ‘Mi amiga, keep going. You must,’ ” DuVernay said. As directors’ favorite phone-a-friend, del Toro reads colleagues’ scripts, offers casting ideas, watches rough cuts and shows up to host Q&As. Whether as a credited producer or an uncredited adviser, the Mexican-born Oscar winner has helped experienced auteurs like James Cameron and Alfonso Cuarón; genre up-and-comers like Jorge Gutierrez, Andy Muschietti and Juan Antonio Bayona; and filmmakers taking bold new steps in their careers, like DuVernay and Bradley Cooper, who relied on del Toro for counsel while making Maestro. “Every step of the way. Casting. Editing room. He’d just pop up,” DuVernay said. “He’s that friend who says, ‘This is untraditional. But you deserve space to do that. You can do it too.’ ”
Los Angeles’ hard-core cinephiles are in good spirits these days, at a time when their counterparts in hundreds of cities have been losing their cherished neighborhood indie theaters to the ravages of COVID-19 and the comforts of streaming. In the past year alone, three historic single-screen venues reopened throughout L.A. after being rescued and renovated by a devout theatrical junkie (Quentin Tarantino), a deep-pocketed streaming giant (Netflix) and a female-founded alternative video operation (Vidiots). Tarantino, who already owned New Beverly Cinema on Beverly Boulevard — which also was renovated in recent years and is dedicated to showcasing old movies in 35mm and 75mm — now also owns the Vista in Los Feliz, likewise devoted to showing films in 35mm and 70mm, whether first-run or older titles. The Egyptian in Hollywood is back in operation after Netflix bought the iconic movie palace from the nonprofit American Cinematheque. As part of the deal, the latter still programs the venue during the weekends, while the streamer uses it during the week for its movies and awards events. In Eagle Rock, Vidiots took over the famed Eagle Theatre after losing its longtime Santa Monica location and resumed showing repertory titles and cult faves along with running a video rental operation. “Watching people walk up or bike to the Eagle from the neighborhood tells me everything I need to know, which is that if there had been a theater this whole time, this would have been a thriving film community,” Maggie MacKay, executive director of Vidiots, told The Hollywood Reporter when the theater reopened. “It just got taken away.”
Must Earn Its Keep
Talent may not always be a prerequisite to make it in this town but, admiringly, the same can’t be said for work ethics. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are learning this lesson rather publicly. After relinquishing royal life in 2020, Harry and Meghan headed for Hollywood — Montecito, technically — and followed up that barn-burner of an Oprah interview with production deals at Spotify ($20 million) and Netflix ($100 million). The first, a disaster, ended early, and the latter isn’t expected to be renewed because neither is delivering the goods, save one reportedly fraught streaming doc series. Next time, the Sussexes should take a page from the playbook of L.A.’s homegrown royals. The Kardashians and Jenners might prove that fame isn’t picky. But they’ve also shown time and again that to earn big bucks on the back of ubiquity … well, you’ve still got to hustle.
Next to an Oscar Winner
Los Angeles would be nothing without its beaches, but it’s really Malibu that offers the best surf and best stars. Whether it’s right alongside the Malibu Pier at Surfrider Beach or farther north at Point Dume, Zuma or Leo Carrillo, Matt Damon, Andrew Garfield, Jacob Elordi, Jonah Hill, Adam Brody, Leighton Meester, Liam Hemsworth, Joel Kinnaman, Gerard Butler and Minnie Driver are among the celebs who regularly hang 10 in the area.
The World’s Best Bagels
The only thing more irritating than the excessive wait at Courage Bagels is that it’s always worth it — necessitating yet another excessive wait. Arielle Skye and Chris Moss, the married couple behind the Silver Lake venture, have done nothing less than sweep away the old gods since opening in 2020. Their bagels are incomparably lighter than any competitors out of New York, while leaning into a singular characteristic char as well as super-fresh farmers market toppings in a way that Montreal’s top shops can only dream of. Not long ago, there was a vigorous debate about the best bagel — in a given county or a given country. Courage has, at least in our own time, decisively ended it.
The DIY Charm of Hiking With Kevin
BY REBECCA KEEGAN
In 2017, Kevin Nealon and his friend Matthew Modine were huffing and puffing their way up a steep grade in Temescal Canyon, a tranquil trail that’s a kind of unofficial backyard for many industry figures on L.A.’s Westside. Their breathless conversation amused Nealon, so he whipped out his iPhone and started recording. Among the oaks and sycamores, with birdsong in the background, Nealon asked Modine, who first rose to prominence in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket in 1987, which acting roles he had turned down in his career. “He goes, ‘Oh, man. Back to the Future, the Michael J. Fox part. Big, the Tom Hanks part. Wall Street, the Charlie Sheen part.’ I said, ‘You idiot.’ He laughed.” Nealon posted some clips from their conversation on his Twitter feed, and the videos started taking off.
Our Cults …
Long before the rise of Goop, Alo and Erewhon, 19th century health seekers were drawn to Southern California for its sun-drenched climate and ample vegetation. From there grew 1,001 health-oriented cults espousing things like Ayurvedic diets and mindfulness. A century and a half later, Hollywood’s much-satirized obsession with juice cleanses, organic farming, nutritional supplements and yoga has trickled out to every corner of the world. It’s not all snake oil science: The state has been the first to pass health-related legislation that was later followed in other parts of the country — everything from smog checks to smoking bans and even a ban on a caffeinated beer in 2011 (no word yet on Panera lemonade).
We Get Too Much Plastic Surgery …
But It’s the Best!
Plastic-surgery devotees travel the world for deals on procedures in countries like Istanbul and Colombia. But the reverse is true as well: Medical tourism drives many clients to come to L.A. (and specifically Beverly Hills), because it’s known not only for having arguably the world’s best cosmetic surgeons but also for working on celebrity visages. (“Everyone looks to Hollywood for the next aesthetic trends and are guided by what celebrities are doing,” says Dr. Payman Danielpour.) According to Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Ben Talei, “At least 50 percent of my patients come from other parts of the U.S. and the world.” That’s in no small part due to the fact that L.A. is a longtime leader in breast augmentation and an innovator in lip lifts and deep plane facelifts (“A lot of newer techniques are adopted here first,” adds Dr. Sarmela Sunder), a fact that should shock no one.
CHUCK LORRE, WRITER-PRODUCER:
“You Get Surprised All the Time”
Let’s throw the word “Hollywood” away. Hollywood’s a town that you’re trying to drive around. Being able to be lucky enough to be in a business where you get to dream up stuff and then you get to work with extraordinarily talented people both behind and in front of the camera, you get surprised all the time. You’re trying to make a show about funny physicists and a guy named Jim Parsons walks in and auditions and changes your life in a moment. That’s pretty remarkable.
DAMON LINDELOF, WRITER-PRODUCER:
“The Black-and-White Cookie at Canter’s”
OK, let’s face it. For all our artsy-fartsiness, for our belief that creativity is without limit, for our disdain of the franchisable and our worship of the original, there is really only one story in Hollywood, and that is the story of good versus evil. Our appetite for this story to be told over and over and over again can never be satisfied, and so our insatiable hunger must be fed with the very embodiment of this eternal struggle … the infamous black-and-white cookie at Canter’s on Fairfax.
The black-and-white is mythic in its simplicity, unrivaled in its size, which is roughly that of a toddler’s head. The orca of confections, some have claimed it is more cake than cookie, and to those some I say, “Must you ruin all that is beautiful in the world?” Taunting and tempting us from the glass display as we enter, is it the embodiment of all that divides us, or as President Barack Obama once called it, “a unity cookie”? (This is true, I swear.)
Is it best to eat the vanilla side first, then the chocolate? Or work down the middle so you can create what Obama called “the swirl effect”? (This is not true, I swear.) We may never know. What we do know is in a town and industry driven by a constant churn of change, there is reverence, if not love, for the classics. And there is no greater classic than the Canter’s B-dub. Why? Because we live in a time that is constantly demanding we take a side, and what a glorious relief it is to choose both.
NICK OFFERMAN, ACTOR:
“Humanistic, Empathetic Storytelling”
If you part the curtains of superficiality and get behind all the toxicity of show business, you can see on the surface, it’s actually the most beautiful dream factory in the world. It’s where we continue to evolve. I’m from the theater. I love live theater, but the messages on Broadway do not reach the sizes of the audience that TV and film reach. So this is still the place where the best-hearted, most humanistic, empathetic stories are being produced. Regardless of all the muscles and bikinis and scandals, it’s also where we are slowly pulling each other along toward being decent to each other.
At Vitello’s, the Studio City red-sauce stalwart, the staff proudly touts its Robert Blake history and recommends his signature meal. That’s because Hollywood remains a mecca for the macabre. Of course, no case will ever be more mythologized than that of the Black Dahlia, the gruesome murder of aspiring starlet Elizabeth Short in 1947. The unsolved slaying is the subject of multiple bus tours that retrace Short’s final steps. Sharon Tate’s last meal, at El Coyote — the Mexican spot that stands virtually untouched since that notorious night in 1969 — is yours for the re-creating (last time we ate there, our waiter pointed out where she sat). Or maybe you want to check out the spot where Lana Turner’s teen daughter Cheryl Crane shot her mom’s mobster lover, Johnny Stompanato, to death one fateful night in 1958. The Beverly Hills home still stands at 730 North Bedford Drive.
Our Red Tape
Vanderpump Rules stars Katie Maloney and Ariana Madix have seen the opening of their WeHo sandwich shop, Something About Her, delayed for over a year due to permitting. “At this point, we’re permit-approved, but we’re just waiting for physical copies,” Maloney told The Messenger on Jan. 17. “We’re like all the other people waiting on them.”
Whether you are a mogul attempting to renovate your $20 million beach house in Malibu, reality stars trying to open a little sandwich shop in West Hollywood, or just one of those “other people” trying to remodel your bathroom, the red tape involved with getting building permits in Los Angeles can set your project back years. “It’s getting worse by the month,” says Santiago Arana of The Agency. “You used to wait for four to six months for a permit, and now you need to wait a year.” Backlogs from COVID, stringent environmental measures like the controversial proposed Wildlife Ordinance, and ever-evolving codes add to the red tape. In Malibu, some people wait up to three years for their plans to be approved. And in December, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Curtis A. Kin issued an order that blocked any permits in Beverly Hills that are not for new housing (a response to the town’s refusal to plan for affordable housing). Are we living in a hellish bureaucracy? Perhaps. But unlike many places where who you know and what you are willing to pay might get you a faster track, experts in Los Angeles say ours is at least egalitarian. According to Jason Somers of Crest Real Estate: “There is no secret sauce or ingredient to expediting the municipal process.”
The Top Podcasts
Sure, talk shows, of course they migrated here. You need to book three actors every night, tack on a monologue written by comedy writers — it’s amazing any of them stayed in New York. But podcasts are in-depth interviews that can be recorded remotely. They’re NPR shows, the kind Terry Gross does in Philadelphia and Ira Glass makes in Brooklyn. None of them should be recorded here. After all, when is the last time any Angelenos had a conversation for an entire hour? If a conversation is going well enough to last 50 minutes, someone in the room will announce they’re buying it. And yet the great podcasters live here. Marc Maron, Conan O’Brien, Dax Shepard, Sam Harris, Adam Carolla, Jesse Thorn, Jay Shetty, Heather McDonald, Bert Kreischer, Scott Aukerman, and the teams behind Pod Save America, Call Her Daddy, SmartLess, My Favorite Murder and Fly on the Wall With Dana Carvey and Dana Spade. The Algonquin Round Table has somehow moved to a garage in Highland Park.
The Urban Oasis of
Silver Lake Reservoir
You never know who you might spot hanging out around the vast, man-made body of water from which Silver Lake gets its name: Neighborhood locals like Patton Oswalt, Rachel McAdams and Chris Pine all frequent its manicured paths. The 800 million-gallon basin serves as a shimmering focal point to the community, surrounded by a complex that includes a 2.2-mile jogging path, a dog run, basketball courts and, as of 2011, a 3-acre landscape park known as the Silver Lake Meadow. And it will only get better: Last summer, L.A. City Council voted through a measure to transform the area into a massive public park featuring floating docks and explorable wetlands.
Our Closet Is
150,000 Square Feet
Productions that have rented from Western Costume, the legendary supplier based in North Hollywood, read like an essential history of Hollywood, from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator all the way to Oppenheimer and Barbie — “though not a lot for Barbie,” says Gilbert Moussally, president and CEO. Founded in 1912 as a resource for filmmakers seeking attire for silent Westerns — hence the name — the company today employs 68 people, though that number decreased significantly during 2023’s WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. On Jan. 8, Moussally was announced as the new president and CEO, after the unexpected death in September of longtime boss Eddie Marks at age 76. “Everyone knew Eddie, everyone in the industry was his friend,” Moussally says. “He had been kind of grooming me for the position, because he was planning to retire. But to say it was a shock is an understatement.” Western Costume’s space totals 151,000 square feet, but “we’ve always got our eye out looking at real estate,” Moussally says. In the meantime, the parking lot will soon offer EV chargers for clients driving electric cars. Says Moussally, “I would say we are ever-evolving.”
Nothing Is Ever Really
“There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.” Billy Crystal’s line from The Princess Bride refers to the hero’s plight, sure, but writer (and keen Hollywood chronicler) William Goldman must have had the industry’s development process in mind, too. After all, in a town where “yes” often means “no,” there are those who simply refuse to give up. Here, an incomplete list of films by influential filmmakers that were all mostly dead for at least 10 years — until they weren’t.
Schindler’s List — Steven Spielberg acquired the rights to Thomas Keneally’s book in 1982, but fearing he wasn’t yet mature enough to make it, tried to give it away to other filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese — until he finally made it in 1993.
Gangs of New York — Martin Scorsese first read Herbert Asbury’s 1928 book back in 1970. That same decade, a notice appeared in the trades indicating that he was headed into preproduction. But the film, which ultimately marked his first collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, didn’t come out until 2002.
Mad Max: Fury Road — George Miller and star Mel Gibson were in Australia in 2001 prepping what would be the fourth Mad Max film. Then came 9/11, causing the U.S. dollar to collapse compared to the Oz dollar, stalling their plans. By the time it was made in 2015, Gibson was too old (and too tainted) to star and Tom Hardy took the male lead alongside Charlize Theron.
Ferrari — Michael Mann optioned the script from Troy Kennedy Martin in the early 1990s and developed it at Disney a few years before shelving it. Both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman were at one time attached in the mid-2010s, before STX stepped in to fund most of the $95 million movie with Adam Driver starring. Screenwriter Martin did not live to see it; he died in 2009.
Horizon — Kevin Costner has been developing his four-part Western epic since 1988, and after leveraging 10 acres of his Santa Barbara residence and investing $20 million of his own money, two features have been shot (and blamed for delaying production on the final season of his other signature Western, Yellowstone) and are set for 2024. Two more are in the works.
Megalopolis — Francis Ford Coppola dreamed up the sci-fi-tinged project in the 1980s, and by 2001 had Russell Crowe, Robert De Niro, Nicolas Cage and Paul Newman for roles for a 2002 shoot. It wasn’t to be, with 9/11 sensitivities derailing the project about a man attempting to rebuild New York after a disaster. After 40 years in development, the filmmaker decided to pay for the $120 million film himself, using money from the 2019 sale of his Northern California wineries and casting Adam Driver in the lead.
ROSAMUND PIKE, ACTRESS:
I don’t think as actors we ever get tired of seeing the scale of the industry here through the billboards. We’ve got a new billboard for Saltburn out there with just the [bathtub] plughole. It’s on Sunset, it just says, “For your consumption.” That’s so cool.
SAM RICHARDSON, ACTOR:
“The Catering Trucks”
I love the Maine Lobster and In-N-Out catering trucks. The fact that you can have that at work is insane. We got one for Veep every now and then. It’s hard to concentrate when it arrives because everybody’s just thinking about getting over to that truck. I’m eating two or three burgers or two lobster rolls, and so my clothes don’t fit the same exactly as they did in the previous scene.
KIERAN CULKIN, ACTOR:
“The Really Fucking Cool People Here”
I’ve had a hard time in this city. It’s taken me the past couple of years to meet cool people because it’s not like New York or some other cities where you just leave the house and can just meet people. You have to be introduced to the people here. But there’s actually a community of really fucking cool people here — it’s just not as accessible.
TOM ROTHMAN, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, SONY MOTION PICTURE GROUP:
“Our Loud, Messy, Endlessly Interesting Lives”
Today, I had the thrill of participating in the ceremony where we named the building that houses Sony’s iconic scoring stage the “John Williams Building.” I heard Steven Spielberg tell of first meeting John, and J.J. Abrams describe John’s supernatural magic. Then, at age 91, John spoke, with wit, grace and eloquence. As he talked about having first come there in the 1940s with his father, I considered all the enduring, indelible art that he and others had made right where I was standing and thought to myself: How lucky am I, how lucky are we. We get to be in the magic business. Thoreau wrote that most people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” Not those of us fortunate enough to work in movies. We lead loud, messy, endlessly interesting lives, even when the times, as now, are desperate. And we must never forget what a privilege it is to do so.
OPRAH WINFREY, PRODUCER:
“Dreams Really Do Come True”
Dreams do come true. The dream is coming true for all of us — the fact that that strike ended and we all are still out here, it still is the place where dreams come true.
Alan Barinholtz was four-plus decades into a legal career in Chicago when his son Ike asked if he wanted to audition to play a judge on a new TV series. Ike and his actor brother, Jon, put their old man on tape, and he landed the role. The show, it turns out, was Freevee’s Jury Duty, and, at 70+, Alan Barinholtz and his wife relocated to L.A., where he’s since gotten his SAG card and booked several other roles. In fact, the Barinholtz boys are cooking up a project for Dad. Ike has joked that he’s the new poster child for the “reverse nepo baby movement.” Asked about the latter, Alan howls with laughter, then says: “You’re looking at Nepo Dad.”
Jon Hamm Actually Sits In
The Jon Hamm Booth
Restaurants of a certain age across the country tend to make dubious claims to their thin histories of starry patronage. It’s hard to begrudge a little glitter out there in the hinterlands, apocryphal or not. But the real bold-faced diners have, of course, always become regulars at home here within the 30-mile zone. All those brass nameplate plaques in booths around town speak to it (Frank Sinatra’s table at La Dolce Vita, for one). The naming convention still holds for loyalists, especially at neo-retro sanctums like Little Dom’s, which has a booth dedicated to Jon Hamm (and ex-partner Jennifer Westfeldt) where fellow patrons can continue to catch him perusing the menu. Of course, at some storied power places, like The Grill on the Alley, the 14 booths remain purposefully unmarked — emblazoning any of the coveted real estate might easily spark an ego war, given that, for instance, the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer and Bob Daly have long overlapped at the same spot, as have Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ron Meyer.
We Give an
Award For Everything!
Los Angeles (and to be fair, New York, too) knows that nothing brings out the stars like some self-congratulatory hardware. You know who that hurts? Nobody. A few of our favorite industry-adjacent accolades:
(His Malls, Anyway)
The first time he said it, I was shocked — as if my 14-year-old son had walked in wearing parachute pants asking if he could use my Discover card to buy a Swatch. By now, I know that when Laszlo and his friends are meeting up, it’s most likely at the mall. But just one of two malls: the Americana and the Grove. The creator of those malls, Rick Caruso, may not be beloved as a politician. But as a world-builder, he rivals Jim Cameron. His malls are a mix of Disney and Vegas. His trolleys the only public transportation that a sizable demo of Angelenos has ever taken. In a real city where kids can get into real trouble, it’s impressive that they want to take refuge in the faux Southern California invented by a local guy. — Joel Stein
Everyone Hates Us … So We Must Be Doing Something Right!
The only people talking about how much Peoria, Illinois, sucks are in Peoria, Illinois. But Hollywood has more haters than any place in the world. In the climate-change-porn novel The Ministry of the Future, the city is destroyed in a flood and it finds out that “no place that was not L.A. cared about it at all. The dream factory for the world, universally unpopular. People had not liked those dreams perhaps. Or had not liked having their dream life colonized.” When everyone hates you this much, you must be doing something right.
Hating Hollywood is one of the few things America agrees about. The right thinks Hollywood pumps out propaganda for the queer, diversity-equity-inclusion-obsessed tree huggers who hate guns so much, they can’t even handle one full of blanks. The left thinks the avaricious white men who run the studios exclude the queer, diverse tree huggers who hate guns. And everyone says that there’s nothing good on TV. (Even though their main topic of conversation is telling each other what to watch.) And there are no more movie stars. (Even as they see anything Margot Robbie is in.) And actors are self-congratulatory blowhards. (As they watch awards shows.)
The hate seems so strong and so pervasive that the governor of Florida tried to increase his popularity by going after Disney. Ron DeSantis has since learned what real hate is. Like so much else here, Hollywood has the fake kind.
Contributing writers: Laurie Brookins, Aaron Couch, Scott Feinberg, Rebecca Keegan, Pamela McClintock, Hadley Meares, Mikey O’Connell, Degen Pener, Elycia Rubin, Lindzi Scharf
This story first appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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