FILM APRIL 10, 1995
I just got back from Hollywood, where I had breakfast with Ricardo Mestres at the Bel Air Hotel. Mestres shot from Harvard to the head of Disney’s Hollywood pictures, only to release a string of flops so unremittingly horrible that finally, after a deathwatch that seemed to go on for years, he lost his job. But there he was, with a spanking new title, dressed with casual confidence in khakis and a plaid shirt, working on his second breakfast of the day. The head of Warner Brothers’ film division sat across from us, the new chairman of Disney in the corner. A fire burned in the fireplace, a small rainforest flowered under a crystal chandelier. The room was as quiet as a handful of diamonds tumbling onto jeweler’s felt.
Another night, I had dinner with Columbia executive Barry Josephson. This time it was at Morton’s, in its airy new space. Barry came in wearing the Hollywood executive uniform—Armani suit, Carder watch, Italian loafers—and laughed good-naturedly while I examined the labels. Barry has gotten much more humble and charming since he became known as the executive most responsible for The Last Action Hero.
I also talked to a studio chairman who just escaped from a corporate meltdown, a producer of mediocre comedies, a screenwriter down on her luck, the wife of a famous hack action director and a lawyer who makes big studio deals. And this is what I can confidently report:
The tuna sashimi at Morton’s (on a bed of avocado and mustard greens) was as sweet and delicate as whipped cream, and the lemon pancakes at the Bel Air were delicious with a light raspberry syrup. Life in Hollywood is great—top actors are getting between $12 million and $20 million per picture, the U.S. box office hit almost $5.4 billion last year (the highest it’s been since 1960), the telephone companies are jumping in, Ted Turner’s New Line/Castle Rock/Turner Pictures empire seems to be emerging as the first new studio in decades. And when Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen announced some vague plans for another new studio, they snapped up a couple of billion dollars just like that. “It’s getting more corporate and it’s harder to get a decision,” the lawyer told me, “but the money is unbelievable.”
There’s one little problem: that odor in the room ... the stink of the movies. Probably you’ve wondered about this and then pushed it out of your mind, telling yourself that we only remember the handful of good movies from the old days and not the thousands of lame ones, that the past always seems more glorious, that even the ancient Greeks thought they were the puny descendants of a race of giants, that maybe you just missed all the really good ones. But as the time approaches to watch Forrest Gump scoop up all those Oscars, that argument fades, and the inner voice gets louder: these movies suck.
Listen to that inner voice. Hollywood movies are in terrible shape. Our greatest living filmmakers, such as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola, are in slumps of varying lengths. The important social movie like The Grapes of Wrath or On the Waterfront is all but dead, replaced at best by sincere and unremarkable issue movies like When A Man Loves A Woman and Philadelphia. The only big-canvas filmmaker of stature we have today is Oliver Stone, God help us.
Just look at our top Oscar contenders. Gump was well-made and had a certain sweetness, if you like that sort of thing, but it’s still a lot closer to Beaches than The Bridge on the River Kwai. Pulp Fiction was lively and clever, but at bottom it’s just an MTV version of old Hollywood themes, with all the boring parts left out. Quiz Show and Nobody’s Fool get points for trying, but they don’t exactly rank with The Third Man or Annie Hall or The Godfather. They’re closer to good efforts than good movies.
After that, the bottom drops off dramatically: the dreary sameness of all the erotic thrillers and buddy-o-matic action epics, the dispiritingly endless stream of sequels and remakes and Disney comedies. So many movies feel cobbled-together these days—action films like True Lies and Patriot Games are so distended by their set-piece action sequences that the rest of the movie feels like filler, and comedies from Wayne’s World to The Addams Family are so perfunctory about their stories that they make the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movies seem downright sophisticated.
Even the best Hollywood movies of the past decade seem to prove this point. My personal list of favorites includes Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Edward Scissorhands, Reversal of Fortune, Blue Velvet, Dead Ringers, GoodFellas and a few exceptional genre films like T2 and Die Hard. These are ambitious, intelligent movies, with the architectural coherence of art. Edward Scissorhands and Roger Rabbit create their own magical worlds, setting up internal rules and elaborating them with brilliance. Reversal of Fortune is smart on the level of literature, where motives and morals are complex. T2 and Die Hard have the brio of great pop, as Psycho did in its time. But, alas, none of these movies felt important. And none came out in the past three years. Like Edward Scissorhands himself, the artists who made them seem so disengaged from the culture at large that they prefer working in their backyards, on topiary gardens.
It’s almost a given that the only interesting movies today are coming from first-time and independent directors enjoying a brief flurry of creative independence before the studios put them to work making Cheez Whiz. But if you actually go and see these movies, you find that most are depressingly short of their hype. From Slacker to Clerks, they have some fresh and funny moments, but masterpieces of cinema they are not.
Foreign filmmaking isn’t much better. A steady trickle of smart imports still arrives—In The Name of the Father, The Piano, Heavenly Creatures and that brief bright stretch of Pedro Almodovar delights in the ‘80s—but nothing to match the standards of Truffaut, Fellini and Buñuel. Foreign filmmakers seem almost as hobbled by the celluloid past as Americans: Shallow Grave is fun filmmaking, but, like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, it’s just a splashy version of a very familiar tale.
This isn’t just my opinion. Even in Hollywood, it is the consensus. A screenwriter friend told me it was the times: “Music is over, art is over, movies are over.” A studio chairman blamed it on the culture at large, comparing our lite movies to our lite president. A movie publicist told me that, when he went out to sell his wares, he felt like “the emperor’s new dry cleaner”—a publicist. All of which made Mestres and Josephson perfect sources, the representative men of their time. They had personally launched some of the worst movies of the past five years. Why did they do it? Why Jim Belushi in Taking Care of Business? Why Patrick Dempsey in Run? What’s wrong with Hollywood?
The natural first suspicion is that people like Josephson and Mestres are just overpaid fools. But this assumption is both glib and wrong. Ricardo is like Ozzie and Harriet’s smarter son, incredibly well-scrubbed, exuding all-American decency and so disciplined that if he tips the scales an extra pound that morning he’ll cut his Chinese chicken salad in half. Barry, too, is a smart, likable, hardworking guy.
So we move to assumption No. 2: maybe they were just trying to give the public the junk they thought it wanted. Absolutely not, they both insist. “Obviously there’s this assumption that we’ve become jaded and just grind out product,” Ricardo said. “But we never set out to make a bad movie.” They seemed sincere, and I believed them. My jaded publicist friend said the same thing: “Everybody wakes up in the morning and says, I want to make a movie that’s successful critically and also makes money,’” he told me. “I believe that.” (Though he added the last sentence in an almost wistful voice.) I remembered that both Ricardo and Barry have a few good efforts to their (partial) credit: Ricardo with Swing Kids and Bound by Honor and Barry with In the Line of Fire. So how did these smart guys wind up making such horrible movies? Ricardo talked about the culture of Disney, about being trapped by the high-concept, low-budget approach to comedy that worked so well for them early in the 1980s, about not having money for stars. And it all made sense, sort of.
Then I remembered a scene from Taking Care of Business. Jim Belushi and a Japanese businessman are at a lunch meeting with an obnoxious career woman. Finally Belushi puts the career woman in her place by walking out on this exit line: “Nice titties.” Then the Japanese businessman walks out in solidarity, repeating the line. I think the joke is that he doesn’t really knowwhat he’s saying, being Japanese. When I first saw this scene I had to rewind my VCR twice to make sure that I’d really seen it, and ever since I have tried to picture Ricardo and his hypersmart then-boss, Jeffrey Katzenberg, sitting in a screening room watching it. What did they say to each other? What did they think? Did their wives see this movie?
Ricardo explained it this way: they knew the picture wasn’t working, but they couldn’t stop it. “You hire the director, and the director owns the set.” The director of Taking Care of Business was Arthur Hiller, who had just directed Outrageous Fortune. Which made him considerably hotter than most of the people Disney hired in those days, when they were avatars of the faster-cheaper-better school of filmmaking. So what were they going to do? Fire him and hire somebody who hadn’t just directed a hit?
And what was Barry going to do? Having worked as a manager and producer, he’d just gotten his first job as a studio executive when he found the script then called Extremely Violent. It seemed pretty funny, with a hooky high-concept about a comic book movie hero coming into the real world. Then Arnold Schwarzenegger committed to it, and Barry roped in director John McTiernan (Die Hard) and hired Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) to fix the script. From the standpoint of an executive, Barry was doing great. He had assembled a big star, a hot screenwriter, a hot director. And if he did start to worry about the script not quite coming together, what was he going to do? With a big hole in the summer schedule to fill, and the production clock ticking away, was he going to say The Last Action Hero wasn’t ready to go? Not make his first picture with the hottest star in Hollywood?
So they are not fools, and they are not just cynically making junk. The answer, as always, is that the machine makes what it is set up to make. Contemporary Hollywood has evolved a peculiar culture that is set up to make junk, and there are a lot of very specific reasons for this—calibrations, as it were, on the machine. Here is a partial list:
1. The deal is more important than the movie.
Hollywood isn’t really geared to make movies anymore, as it was during the studio system, when actors were chattel on long-term contract. Now the town is geared to make deals, to sign actors and directors to projects, and the movie is just the by-product of the deal. When Barry started The Last Action Hero, he made a great deal. As an executive, that was really almost all he could do. It was up to the other guys to make the movie. Same with Baby’s Day Out. When John Hughes went to Fox’s Joe Roth and said he’d like to follow up Home Alone with a movie about a baby loose in New York City, was Roth going to say no? Would you? Would you have said no to a package of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ivan Reitman and Danny DeVito, even if the idea of Schwarzenegger pregnant made you a little nervous? It works the other way, too; despite its stream of horrible movies, Disney gave up a chance to sign Tim Burton to a long-term contract because Burton didn’t want to give up all the merchandising rights (theme parks, toys, etc.) to his characters—so Disney lost the chance to work with a brilliant director because of greed over a deal point.
2. The rise of the executive.
The last great period of American movies was during the early 1970s, when the baffled older generation of Hollywood let the kids take over and unleashed such directors as Scorsese, Coppola, Bob Rafelson and Peter Bogdanovich. Then Michael Cimino brought all that to a halt with Heaven’s Gate, spending so much money that he bankrupted United Artists—a studio that often boasted of its executive-free policy of letting the filmmakers make their movies without interference (and which gave us Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, West Side Story, In The Heat of the Night, Annie Hall, Rocky and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). After that, the executives took over. Suddenly they were everywhere. On the lower levels, they micromanaged script development as never before. On the higher levels, they second-guessed the executives on the lower levels. They loved nothing more than to make movies of off pitches, because then they were the stars (a trend that has slowed, thankfully). All of which led to movies like The Rocketeer or Alien 3, so tortured by executives in the production process that they ended up almost lifeless.
Contrast those with films that rose out of total production chaos, like Casablanca, Apocalypse Now and even (on a much lesser level) The Fugitive.
3. The rise of everybody but writers and directors.
Once I heard John Huston tell a joke. It was late in his life, and he was carrying an oxygen bottle everywhere he went, taking a suck on a tube whenever the air in the real world got too thin. “These two producers were lost in the desert,” Huston began, in his scratchy wised-up voice. “They’re dying of thirst, crawling along, when”—suuuck—“they come upon an oasis. What a beautiful sight! They’re saved! They fall to their knees, and one of them scoops the delicious sweet water to his face when”—suuuuccck—“the other producer stops him. ‘Wait,’ he shouts. ‘Let me piss in it first.’” Since Huston’s day, with the growing power of agents, executives, actors, even lawyers, that’s been the rule. Ask the artists, if you’re in the mood to hear a bitter diatribe. Director Tim Hunter told me once hat he had made River’s Edge from a first draft, because even though it might have been a little better rewritten, he was afraid the development process would leach out the peculiar moments that made the movie so fresh, like Dennis Hopper toting around an inflatable love doll. Hunter was perfectly happy to extend his experience to a categorical imperative: “I think the movies would be better if people just shot first drafts,” he said. I’ll go even further: in the theater, the writer is king and directors know their place, and that’s the way it should be. Hollywood got this backward because film evolved from scriptless spectacle to silent film to talkie. By the time it became a fully literary activity, the director already had hegemony. And just when it seemed impossible, things are getting worse—with the general decline in reverence for non-airport books, Hollywood’s necessary-evil feeling about writers has gotten out of control. Whenever possible they find writers who don’t seem like real writers, guys working as lifeguards or ex-Navy Seals. “Get me rewrite” has gone from joke to fad, with as many as thirty writers teaming up on a single script, as with The Flintstones. This makes the executives and producers feel more creative, since they are guiding the process, but it doesn’t make for great scenarios. Almost without exception, individuals write the best movies, from Preston Sturges to James Agee to Paul Schrader.
4. The rise of screenwriting programs.
The 1980s also saw a tremendous increase in screenwriting programs. On an assignment for a magazine, I took one of these courses, and learned that a movie should introduce two buddies, build their relationship to a crisis, separate the buddies so that they can learn some lessons on their own and then bring them back together. This is the model of movies as different as Rain Man and E.T. The reason I didn’t emerge from the course with a million-dollar screenplay is because taking the course doesn’t teach you how to create characters like the rain man or E.T. All it does is give you a glib way to talk about your plot and an artificial way to look at structure. The damage would be limited to a few thousand hapless screenplays except for one thing: executives take these classes.
“Every executive I know has taken them,” one told me. They go on their own, the better to learn “structure.” Pity the poor screenwriter, faced with dozens of pages of notes asking: What is the inciting incident? Who is the antagonist? And this may get even worse with the rise of computer screenwriting programs. At dinner with my screenwriter friend in L.A. (at Woo Lae Oak, Hollywood’s Korean restaurant, where the tuna sashimi rivals Morton’s), she told me excitedly about a brand new computer program that takes any given premise and spits out all the possible story developments. I have a sinking feeling we have just found out whether movies can get even worse.
5. Jeffrey Abrams.
More than anyone else, Abrams was the writer who exemplified the high-concept, Robert McKee’s Story Structure ™ approach to screenwriting: yuppie loses his filofax, escaped con finds it and takes over his life while yuppie goes through morally uplifting poverty. Yuppie gets shot in the head (how’s that for an inciting incident?) and becomes as a child again. Abrams did not come up with Vegas-lounge-lizard-becomes-king-of-England, but I am holding him spiritually responsible. The real problem is that executives love this kind of story, partly because they’re easy to sell on a poster and partly because they’re easy to defend—it’s not like we were doing complex family drama, boss—we were doing yuppie-shot-in-the-head. We were doing crook-finds-filofax. Once in a while these movies do work—a mermaid in Manhattan? Talk about yer fish out of water!—but most of the time they turn out to be as thin as the ideas they are based on. Remember cop-gives-waitress-two-million-dollar-tip? How about hooker-with-heart-of-gold-pretends-to-be-guy’s-girlfriend? Or guy-offers-one-million-dollars-to-sleep-with-your-wife?
6. The hit-driven film economy.
Increasingly, Hollywood films are divided into hits or misses, strikeouts or home runs. Budgets continue to rise. (The average studio film cost $34 million last year.) It is also more and more expensive to promote big movies—a “prints and ads” budget of $30 million is not uncommon. This inflation puts even more pressure on the big movies to perform, giving more power to the actors who might open them. This year Kevin Costner got script approval and his choice of director for Waterworld, two decisions that helped drive the budget upward of $170 million even before promotional expenses (and the storm that sunk the set). These economic realities make it less likely for studios to take any risks at all, on big or small pictures. There are also some arcane reasons driving studios to the blockbuster mentality, such as the “terms” clause in distribution contracts that gives a studio its biggest cut in a movie’s first weeks of release—generally the terms (after exhibitor expenses) are 90 to 10 favoring the studio, which means that a movie that builds on word of mouth makes the studio much less money than a movie that opens to 30 million and drops quickly. This structure makes a smash more profitable than a sleeper that grosses more. Terms can be renegotiated, but it’s not easy. This shift began with the antitrust breakup of the studio theater chains in 1948 and went into high gear after Jaws, when studios shifted from platform releases to wide releases, and the mark of success shifted from “play-dates” (how many theaters a movie was playing in) to grosses.
7. Everybody knows that nobody knows everything.
Over the last decade, William Goldman’s famous phrase explaining Hollywood—”nobody knows anything”—has become so popular it is practically a mantra. This has had a subtle demoralizing effect, encouraging executives like Barry and Ricardo to ignore their own judgment. As Ricardo put it: “You never know. Plenty of movies you think are trash turn out unbelievable, and vice versa.” That much is true, but beyond that, Goldman is dead wrong. Hitchcock knew something about making thrillers, Scorsese knows something about obsession. And William Goldman knows something about writing scripts.
8. General pervasive corporate cowardice.
Hollywood screenwriters tell this joke: A screenwriter turns in his script, and the next day he calls his executive to ask what he thought. “I don’t know,” says the executive. “I’m the only one who read it.” Like Ricardo, today’s Hollywood is almost universally well-scrubbed and hardworking. They alternate fat-free meals with Met-Rx shakes and never drink more than one cocktail. They also live in constant fear of losing their vastly overpaid jobs, so their primary purpose is to make sure nothing goes wrong. That means that their real secret jobs are to say no—if they say yes, they might get stuck with some wildman with a vision. Every now and then these nervous suits try to get more control by eliminating the producer and making the movies themselves. What they don’t understand is that most people who make great movies are out of control, from Von Stroheim with his amazing eleven-hour mogul-maddening Greed to, yes, Michael Cimino. (Have you actually seen Heaven’s Gate? It’s darn close to being a brilliant movie.) The simple truth is that corporations don’t make great movies, mavericks do, and mavericks are almost by definition erratic, free-spending, frequently intoxicated and generally unmanageable. It’s no accident that one of the few brilliant studio records in recent history—the mid-’70s run at Paramount that gave us The Godfather and Chinatown—was supervised by a bunch of maverick executives with cocaine straws surgically attached to their nostrils. But that logic will never move the suits; better to make cookie-cutter high-concept films, the kind of movie a corporation can understand.
9. There is too much money.
Hollywood is a homogeneous place. Almost everyone likes rock and took drugs in the ‘60s and tries to stay true to the hippie spirit (even though you have to manage your money wisely) and pays at least lip service to feminism. Everyone likes pleasure and welcomes new ideas and loves art deco and keeps up with the new bands. And they’re all white. The problem here isn’t their politics—only a Philistine judges art exclusively (or even primarily) by its politics—but the insularity of their lives. They’ve been everywhere, but they spend a lot of time at the hotel.
10. Body-snatching foreign directors.
To combat their insularity, Hollywood quickly hires any foreign director whose films show any potential for slickness. But then it puts them through the Hollywood mind-meld. One Hollywood wife of my acquaintance, married to a man who went from foreign art films to Hollywood action epics, calls this the “invasion of the pod people.” They become obsessed with box office, success, the taste of the audience. The examples are many and depressing: Peter Weir going from The Last Wave to Green Card, Kenneth Branagh from Henry V to Frankenstein, Michael Caton-Jones from Scandal to Doc Hollywood, Fred Schepsi from Devil’s Playground and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith to—does someone have a handkerchief?—Mr. Baseball.
11. General pervasive corporate cowardice II: movie stars as job insurance.
Stars are paid huge salaries on the theory that they can open movies. Most of the time they don’t, though. The list of movies that hit without stars goes on almost forever: E.T., Star Wars, Dirty Dancing, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 48 Hrs., Blazing Saddles, Easy Rider … and so on. Again we have to ask if people in Hollywood are just total morons or if there is some systemic cause. Again, the answer is the less satisfying one. Movie stars are insurance. Maybe they’ll open the picture, maybe not, but at least they will give you some bragging rights about working with a big star. (Remember that bragging rights are a medium of exchange in Hollywood, making an executive or producer “hot” and bringing in more opportunities.) Stars also attract material, and directors, so it’s good to be friendly with them. And stars are also represented by agents, and if you have no friends among agents, you’ll get last pick of everything—witness the drought of decent material Disney’s Jeffrey Katzenberg experienced when he went to war with superagent Mike Ovitz.
12. Everyone is creative.
13. Corporate mentality trickle-down effect.
Everyone goes to Hollywood with dreams of making great movies. But the town is hard to crack, very hard, and people adapt to every system by doing the things the system rewards. So after a few years of failure they settle for making successful ones. Then they suppress the memory of their early ideals and begin to develop a fetish for telling everyone their grosses. And that’s the best-case scenario. I know a smart woman who went to Hollywood to write screenplays and made a quick sale, but after a while she started to feel her own ideas were too esoteric. Perhaps they were, but instead of getting out of Hollywood, she became obsessed with learning “the formula.” I actually heard her use the phrase, “That’s not the formula.” The moral of the story is that writing for an audience, though often invigorating, tends to corrupt the artistic soul ... and writing for an audience that you feel is beneath you really corrupts your soul. And Hollywood today is a deeply corrupt place.
Those are the small reasons, some of them. But the biggest reason for Hollywood’s current malaise is the same thing that has always been its strength. By its nature, Hollywood is the most democratic of art forms, tuned to the public like Liberace’s piano. And when Hollywood meets the public’s highest and most passionate needs, the result can be glorious—as the Depression gave us Sullivan’s Travels and Vietnam gave us The Deer Hunter.
But today we are mired deep in the slough of postmodernism. Arthur C. Danto says art ended a few decades ago, and Francis Fukuyama says history itself has ended. It seems as if all that’s left for us to do is to root among the shells and rinds of old forms, rearranging them (or in the case of certain Republican politicians, resurrecting them). While it’s likely that these guys are suffering a bad case of what William Safire once called “anomie-too-ism,” there’s no doubt that as a nation we’ve got a major case of the blahs. We suffer from what literary critic Harold Bloom calls “belatedness.” Even our bands are stuck, redoing punk, redoing thrash, redoing country, redoing rap ad nauseum. They don’t sing to warn us about the hard rain gonna fall, they sing, “I want to be Bob Dylan.” So we sit in front of our T.V.s channel-surfing, waiting for the next big thing. Maybe it’ll be the Internet, maybe virtual reality....
The movies reflect this malaise. They flop around, desperately trying to please us, but the one thing they dare not do is try to challenge us—because we don’t want them to. As candy drives out vegetables, wish-fulfillment has driven out all attempt at realism. Movies have always told lies, given us Top Hat in the middle of the Depression, but now that’s all they tell us. A movie like The Best Years of Our Lives is inconceivable today. Happy-ending-itis marred one of this year’s few decent movies, The Shawshank Redemption—any gritty prison movie that ends up with two ex-cons embracing on a beach has gone grievously offtrack. Filmmakers justify their lies with paeans to the power of the imagination (remember Radio Flyer?), to the “true lies” of art, like sweaty rapists insisting on their innocence. The smartest figure out a fresh way to give us the same old lie, and we reward them lavishly. What is Forrest Gump but the story of a new superhero, Stupidman, who flies through all the traumas of our time without a single scratch, and gets rich, too.
THERE ARE SIGNS of hope. Some of the very movies I’ve been attacking here also hint that Hollywood is getting restless. Consider this unexpected similarity between Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump: as Pulp Fiction breaks tradition with its trochal form, so Gump breaks the contemporary rules, taking the Seinfeld-like approach of telling a story about a guy sitting on a bench, with hardly any sex, lite violence, no plot, no antagonist. These may be incremental changes, but they are real, and the vast popularity of Pulp and Gump show that the audience is ready for a change, too. There are also movies out there doing their best to finish off their tired genres once and for all, as Natural Born Killers tried to kill off the lovers-on-the-lam movie, and The Last Action Hero tried to explode the action movie. Even the Philistine foreign market made a giant hit—$198 million!—out of the steroid-free Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Who knows, maybe even Ricardo Mestres and Barry Josephson will be part of a brighter future. Ricardo has landed Robin Williams to star in a script called Jack, with Francis Ford Coppola directing, and Barry was promoted to president of production at Columbia, where there’s a buzz on his upcoming releases Bad Boys and Money Train. I hope all three movies are great, I really do. It’s true that Jack is another inner-child story about a kid who grows so fast that he looks 40 when he’s still just 10, and Bad Boys and Money Train sound like your basic action fair, but there’s always hope, and the trailers are always bright with promise. So maybe if we just keep wishing on our movie stars (and click our heels together three times) there will be a happy ending for us all. In the meantime, you’ll find me sitting in some overpriced restaurant, picking at another plate of tuna sashimi and drinking a vodka martini—straight up with an olive. And make it a double, please. I’m on my way to the Multiplex, and I need all the help I can get.