A Neverending Series About Women And Media
by Molly Lambert
From Elle’s Profile on Baddest Betch film industry journalist and generally awesome White Men underminer Nikki Finke by Lisa Chase
“I’ve always thought that if I wrote a novel about Hollywood,” says Nikki Finke, “it would start, ‘”That bitch!” the studio mogul cried, but the secretary didn’t know which woman journalist he was talking about.'”
Finke—from her perch as the Deadline Hollywood columnist has been poking, prodding, and often disemboweling movie executives (“Another Reason Why Bob Shaye Is a Prick,” reads a typical headline) since the 1990s.
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She has zero interest in celebrities, instead going after the juicy business dramas of film moguls and agents. “I want to know who’s doing what to whom and why in the boardrooms of Hollywood, not the bedrooms,” she says. Consequently, Finke has created her own badass niche in entertainment reporting, which is both copied and criticized by her more mainstream colleagues.
“I always felt there was something missing in showbiz coverage—what I call the culture of the moguls and the culture of the agents and just the inner workings of interconnected Hollywood,” she says. Recently, she got on the phone to talk about power, putzes, and whether women will ever get ahead in the movie business.
ELLE: You are a powerful woman in Hollywood, Nikki. A lot of moguls there are scared of you.
NIKKI FINKE: Look, I’m not powerful, and no one is scared of me. But here’s why I think women make the best reporters in Hollywood. It’s such a testosterone-fest out here, such the preserve of alpha males, that when you have a male reporter interviewing a male mogul, it’s basically swinging dicks aimed at each other.
What the Hollywood guys like and respect is smart. They like a sense of humor. And they like women. Actually, being a woman and being Jewish helps. It’s one of the great jokes out here that gentiles are handicapped when it comes to Hollywood. They can learn the Yiddish words. But they’ll never have that, “Oh, I get it.” So best of all for them is a smart, funny, Jewish woman.
ELLE: How do the male executives treat you? Do they think of you as a woman?
NF: Yes and no. I’m sure in their eyes I’m sexless because I’m so tough on them. I’m a testosterone-loaded woman. I write like a guy.
ELLE: Do you swear when you talk to them?
NF: Oh, totally. I do it mostly for effect, to show them that I can mimic their patois. So if I think someone is a prick, I say so. Or a butt-boy, an asshole, a schmuck. Believe me, there’s nothing worse in Hollywood than being called a putz and having all your pals read it.
ELLE: Moron. I’ve seen you call them morons.
NF: Well, that’s a given. All moguls are morons. I can’t believe what they do on an almost daily basis. I approach this town from the point of view of “You’re all making terrible mistakes.” The content is terrible. The process is tainted. It’s an accident, almost, when a movie is good and comes in under budget. Everyone in Hollywood is part of a very broken system. Feed it with praise and you’ll never get the players to step back and say, “What the hell are we doing even playing this rotten game?”
ELLE: When you write something incendiary, it does free up other reporters to follow you.
NF: People will perpetuate the myths until someone like me pushes the envelope by telling the truth. Then other reporters can go to their editors and say, “Look what she’s reporting,” and they can do a tougher piece. It’s always hard to be the first, and I’ve suffered a terrible price for that.
ELLE: What have you suffered?
NF: I’ve had jobs disappear out from under me because someone high up in the Hollywood food chain complained to editors about even hiring me. I’ve been fired! [Rather famously, from a job as the West Coast entertainment/business writer for the New York Post. That resulted in Finke filing a $10 million lawsuit against the paper, its parent company News Corp., and Disney, which Finke says started it all by complaining to Post editors] We won every major court battle, and ultimately the matter was settled. But it’s very difficult when suddenly editors are afraid to publish your stories because you’re telling the truth about powerful people and companies.
I want to note that I’m also a student of Hollywood history. I feel the need to teach people about the way the industry works and bring some background to my stories. There’s the generation working in the industry that doesn’t know anything about Hollywood before Star Wars. There’s the generation that doesn’t know anything before Pulp Fiction. Now there’s a generation that doesn’t know anything before The Bourne Identity. Hollywood has no institutional memory. In fact, it’s purposefully amnesiac.
ELLE: So that they can justify whatever—
NF: Because they don’t want to remember. Most of these people are not in therapy because they don’t want to talk about the past. They don’t even want to talk about the business with their wives. Nor do the wives want to—a lot of Hollywood players say their wives are jealous of the business because it cuts into family time.
There’s a reason my phone starts ringing at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday morning. It’s because these guys have been cooped up with their families all weekend and they’re going crazy. They’re all on the phone like, “Oh my God, I need to know what’s happening!” In Hollywood, information is everything because so few people have it. It is concentrated in very, very few hands.
ELLE: You talk about them like they’re a subspecies of person.
NF: Oh, they are! That’s why I watch the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, to get behavioral pointers. I would love a tank of baby sharks. I’d name them after all the agents. It’s a certain kind of guy who is attracted to this life. It’s interesting, most of the women, many were secretaries who moved up. A lot of the men weren’t even assistants. They just kind of finagled their way up.
ELLE: Okay, so where does that leave women in Hollywood?
NF: Reporting to men.
ELLE: Why is that?
NF: Women are very good at dealing with the alpha males. They can lower the temperature when things get hot and bothered. They can turn you down and make you feel good about yourself. Most men in this town turn you down, and it’s just brutal. The motion picture business is as brutal as it’s ever been. I believe that’s a direct result of the lack of women. But they can’t get ahead, because here’s why.
The men all golf together at the Riviera Country Club or the Bel-Air Country Club. They all take vacations together, they rent yachts together—right now the European seas are littered with Hollywood moguls. The women will sometimes get together for the kid-birthday-party thing, but they don’t have as many opportunities to bond. Because they’re not just running networks and movie studios, they’re running households and families.
Sure, they have tremendous amounts of help at home, but it still falls on their shoulders. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the phone on the weekend with a male executive and he turns to his wife and says, ‘Look, don’t bother me with that. That’s your thing.’ Women working in Hollywood don’t have princess fantasies, but the men are princelings.
There are a lot of Jewish mothers whom I blame for these people’s behavior. It is interesting, however, how much I’ve learned from them. I’m a much better negotiator now. One thing I’ve learned is never put people in a position to say no; you say, “Think about it, don’t give me an answer yet.”
ELLE: So how does that work? You’re asking someone for an interview and he says no—
NF: Nobody ever says no.
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