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Election 2008: Republicans in Hollywood

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Andrew Klavan
Conservative Author and Screenwriter
Tuesday, September 2, 2008; 2:00 PM

Conservative author and screenwriter Andrew Klavan was online Tuesday, Sept. 2 to discuss Hollywood's hidden Republicans and the 2008 election.

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A transcript follows.

Klavan is author of the new thriller " Empire of Lies." Two of his books, "True Crime" and "Don't Say a Word," have been adapted into major studio films.

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Andrew Klavan: Hello from the west coast. It's nice to be here and I'll start answering questions now as fast as I can type.

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Washington: From the outside looking in, Hollywood appears to be anything but a meritocracy -- it seems like one of the ultimate "good ol' boy" networks. How does that, if it does, contribute to the seemingly overwhelming majority of big-name Hollywood types who align themselves with the left?

Andrew Klavan: Hollywood's no meritocracy, that's for sure. People repeatedly "fail up" and are frequently promoted for disastrous decisions, especially if they win "prestige" points from the media. That - and the internationalization of the markets - have helped liberals continue to turn out products America doesn't particularly want. They may not do well at the box office, but they win awards and praise, and get big audiences in Europe.

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Boston: Hello Mr. Klavan -- I thought it was really gutsy of you to write "Empire of Lies," and I loved it. I'm wondering if any secret Hollywood conservatives have reached out to you after reading it? If so, what did they say?

Andrew Klavan: Thanks for that. And yeah, Hollywood conservatives - and conservatives in the arts in general - get in touch with me a lot, often just to thank me for opening my big mouth. It's an odd situation, especially in a democracy, when the people in the majority feel they have to be careful what they say for fear of an elite minority.

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Gary Sinise's living room: Andrew, while many stars/directors/writers espouse liberal views, aren't many of the studio heads and entertainment executives Republican? If the head of Viacom is a conservative, wouldn't that level the playing field? It seems that they ultimately would greenlight projects based on the dollars raked in. With movies critical of U.S. foreign involvements bombing in the box office, would there maybe be a sea-change?

Andrew Klavan: I wish it worked that way but it doesn't. First of all, I believe most of the town's decision makers are on the left. But even if that's not so, they still have to contend with a massive leftist intellectual superstructure. Bring out a movie with openly conservative, or even just pro-American, views, and you will be slaughtered by the critics. Check out the reviews for flix like "Tears of the Sun" or "Not Without My Daughter." Rather than fight the critical tide, filmmakers prefer to either bury their opinions or make "prestige" leftist pictures that win praise.

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Virginia: Hello. I wondered why and how liberals can be rich if they are anti-capitalism and anti-business? And most actors/actresses in war movies tend to be Republicans, no?

Andrew Klavan: Well, I wish I knew. It does seem to me a lot of people earn a lot of money off our wonderful capitalist system, then start to attack it as unfair. Maybe it's a way of displaying what righteous folks they are - I just don't know. And I don't know the affiliation of the actresses in war movies, but it does seem to me that most recent war movies have been against our war efforts.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I am very interested in screenwriting and wonder how you got into it. Did you find many political discussions among screenwriters, and did you ever detect any political pressures against conservatives in Hollywood?

Andrew Klavan: I was dragged into screenwriting against my will. I sold a novel, The Scarred Man, to the movies and a producer read it and said to me, "I'll pay you to write any movie you want." I didn't realize I'd just been struck by lightning, so I said, "Nah. I just wanna write books." Shocked, she asked me, "Is there anything you'd write?" And I said, "Yeah. I'd adapt Simon Brett's novel A Shock to The System." So she optioned it, I wrote it and they filmed it - and I thought, hey, this is easy!

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San Diego:"True Crime" and "Don't Say a Word" are two of the best thrillers I've ever read. Do you plan on writing any more novels of this nature?

Andrew Klavan: Thanks very much. And in fact, I feel "Empire of Lies," is in that mode. I got away from it for a while because I wanted to do the Weiss/Bishop detective stories, but now I hope to stick to the thriller form for a while.

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San Jose, Calif.: Isn't it wonderful to live among the liberals in Southern California and New York City and rail against their attitudes toward the people living in flyover country? If you want to live and work in Hollywood and keep criticizing the liberals there, doesn't that make you a hypocrite? Why don't you practice what you preach and move to Alabama or Mississippi? Wouldn't you be with people who share your values?

Andrew Klavan: I was unaware of the new laws that allow only people of certain political opinions to live on the coasts. Like most Conservatives, I prefer living among people of all kinds of views because I know if we argue, I'll win on the merits. I've never understood liberals' insistence that only they should get to speak - or live in California - or make movies - or do anything else.

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Madison, Wis.:"It's an odd situation, especially in a democracy, when the people in the majority feel they have to be careful what they say for fear of an elite minority." With all due respect, what are you fearful of? Losing your job? Being physically attacked?

Andrew Klavan: lol, well not being physically attacked - but thanks for asking. Many people in Hollywood are fearful because they want to work in the movie industry very badly and they feel they will not be hired if they're known to be conservative. The same is true in book publishing, where it's difficult to get conservative books, especially novels, published. And when you do, you get attacked. My novel "Empire of Lies" was deemed the work of "a right wing crackpot." That's the sort of thing that scares people.

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Baltimore: I've heard it said that being a good actor requires you to imagine yourself as someone else, to live inside their own skin -- and that once you develop the ability to do that, it's tough not to become your brother's keeper, and act politically liberal. What is the conservative philosophical response to this?

Andrew Klavan: Well, with all respect, I think it's nonsense. It's based on the assumption that conservatives don't care about their fellow man. When we see the way welfare destroys neighborhoods and families, when we see how a weak defense invites truly wicked people to attack the free, when we see how big government destroys liberties, we conservatives feel that liberalism is a way of feeling good without actually doing good. (Plus, I'm sorry, but the idea of actors as role models of caring... well, I'm not sure you've ever met any actors!)

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Washington: Mr. Klavan, what message does the Republican vice presidential nominee's family, lifestyle and role as an official send to the public when it addresses multiple marriages, kids having kids and shiesty politics within their party after being elected? It sounds very familiar to the "Wealthy Code of Conduct" to a middle-class-family member such as myself.

Andrew Klavan: I'm not sure exactly what you mean. I like Sarah Palin because of her history as a reformer and her principles in standing up to corruption in her own party. I admire her for sticking to her principles on abortion too when she found herself pregnant with a Down Syndrome child. It seems to me that both she and McCain are people of principle - and I don't believe that's true of Senator Obama who has kowtowed to the Chicago machine and followed a minister with a truly hateful philosophy. If you're referring to Governor Palin's daughter getting pregnant, well, I don't see that has much to do with anything frankly.

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New York: Movies are a global enterprise. Many films have about half their profits from outside the United States. Is it thus reasonable for the movie industry to consider its entire global market?

Andrew Klavan: Sure it is. And by the way, I don't want them to stop making liberal movies! I simply want them to make all kinds of viable movies. It seems to me only the left that wants to censor the opposition, bring back the Fairness Doctrine, shut down Fox News, etc. What I want is a free market of ideas. I do, however, believe that, while filmmakers are within their rights to make anti-war films, it is morally wrong to do so when American soldiers are at war and in harm's way.

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Eight Years: The Bush administration has been in power for eight years, and many people -- from both sides of the aisle -- are unhappy with the results. Adding to that, you have the opaque way in which they conduct office and the questionable things they've done re: torture policies and spying. And no amount of criticism, regardless of how much of the population is looking for something different, seems to affect the administration's decisions. How is it anything other than expected when movies are made to criticize the government? They're just not doing that great of a job. And by the way, "Not Without My Daughter" was just not a great movie.

Andrew Klavan:"Not Without My Daughter," was not a great movie, but a very good movie - as NY Times critic Vincent Canby admitted many years after he trashed it for its honest depiction of Islam. As for the Bush administration, it has done much I like and much I don't like and, as I say, it wouldn't bother me at all if there were movies taking both sides. I simply feel that Hollywood is a one party town. That's wrong when they are producing our most popular form of entertainment and the product that represents us to most of the world.

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The Market Speaks: It's interesting how many anti-war movies are released to the marketplace, never to be seen again. At what point do (or should) the Hollywood powers-that-be decide to listen to the people who actually buy tickets and stop with the polemics?

Andrew Klavan: LOL, well exactly. Listen, I'm sure those pictures make some of their money back overseas. But movies that told the truth - American soldiers are bravely defending the principles of liberty against the genuine evil of Islamo-fascism - would make fortunes both here and overseas, I would bet.

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New York: Did you just claim Hollywood is not motivated by commercial success? What a complete tool you are!

Andrew Klavan: Well, thanks for putting that so politely. But I'm sorry, while you may be right about me, you're wrong about Hollywood. Ideology, the desire to be loved by elites, the desire to win praise and prestige - all these things skew the profit motive. If not, you explain to me why close to a dozen disastrous anti-war on terror films have been made, and not one truly supporting America in the war on terror.

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Re: "Not Without My Daughter": I am a total left-leaning progressive, and I loved that movie! The story was intense and the acting was bonkers-good.

Andrew Klavan: Agreed - and I hope this is the beginning of your reformation! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

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Washington: Do great skin, excellent highlights, and suggestive glasses a good vice presidential choice make?

Andrew Klavan: LOL! No, if that were true, I'd've been in office years ago!

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Minneapolis How does one reconcile the notion that "big government destroys liberties" with support for today's so-called conservatives? They have done nothing but expand the government -- far more than Democrats did in the 1990s, and in far more intrusive ways as well. Today's conservatives have sold us fear and appealed to our basest instincts, instead of appealing to the best in us.

Andrew Klavan: I half agree with you. The expansion of government under the Bush administration has been a shame and, in my opinion, is chiefly to blame for GOP losses in congress. On the question of fear, no, I can't agree. It is not appealing to fear to honestly assess the threat from Islamo-fascism which, after all, has already taken a toll here greater than all IRA terrorism against England combined. Plus if you read Bush's speeches, he frequently appears to the very best in this country - including the courage required to defend it.

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Chaska, Minn.: I don't see a whole lot of "principle" in John McCain's flip-flops in recent years. Candidate McCain wouldn't vote today for the immigration bill Sen. McCain wrote. Why? Not because of "principle," but because of politics -- McCain was getting nailed for it and languishing in the presidential race. Candidate McCain favors the Bush tax cuts that Sen. McCain voted against, even though history has shown that Sen. McCain's criticism of the tax cuts were spot-on. McCain as the "principled maverick" makes for a good screenplay, but it's every bit a work of fiction.

Andrew Klavan: No, can't agree. First of all, the Bush tax cuts are responsible for a very long run of growth, jobs - and increased government revenues. If the administration hadn't spend a lot of that on increased entitlements, we'd be even better off. McCain was wrong on immigration and listened to the people, which is only right. On the economy, I'm not very happy with either McCain or Obama... but at least McCain doesn't talk about stealing people's profits to make things "fair," which is not the philosophy of free men and women but of envious children.

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I do, however, believe that, while filmmakers are within their rights to make anti-war films, it is morally wrong to do so when American soldiers are at war and in harm's way.: On the contrary, that is exactly the time to make such movies, to get them out of harms's way -- especially if the war itself is morally wrong.

Andrew Klavan: You can express your opinions without creating propaganda that helps the enemy. I was embedded with the troops in Afghanistan and saw how important the good will of the native people is to fighting these truly vicious insurgents. The best way to get the soldiers home is to win the war.

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Panned by critics: So then was "The X Files" a conservative-inspired movie? Seriously, I don't mind if people in Hollywood are conservatives or liberals. In fact, I just don't care. What does bother me is when people in a position of fame speak out with disrespect and flat-out disdain for our elected officials (Obama included ... I'm looking at you, Stephen Baldwin). I might have negative things to say, but I am a nobody -- my words aren't amplified. That doesn't mean that anyone should be muted or muzzled ... it's just that when you make your money off of your fame, be prepared to have people not wanting to spend their money "on" you.

Andrew Klavan: Well, I think everyone has a right to express his opinion. I think anyone who gives that opinion more weight because the speaker is a good actor or writer or is handsome or whatever, is making a serious mistake. And yes, of course you're right, the audience has the right to turn its collective back on anyone they disagree with. But if people are going to make movies expression political points of view - and how can they not - then let all pov's be expressed.

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"Tears of the Sun": I was about to mock you for such a dated film reference (along with "Not Without My Daughter"), until I realized that they truly were the ONLY movies lately with conservative viewpoints. "Black Hawk Down" was mostly apolitical -- it threw a glancing punch at the Clinton Administration, but that's a matter of historical record, not viewpoint. Other than "24," which gets a ton of flack from TV critics and leftist pundits, there really isn't anything out there.

Andrew Klavan: That's right. And look at 24 - it's gotten more and more liberal. Joel Surnow, the genius behind the original show, has been tossed out.

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Anonymous: Entertainment and Politics are now so closely wed that the next logical step is a President Clooney. The line between paparazzi and the press will no longer matter, and maybe things will finally get done on budget!

Andrew Klavan: Hollywood? On budget? Well, if you say so. But does it have to be Clooney. How about Clint Eastwood? As far as I'm concerned, he can be president any day.

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Southern Maryland: How does one criticize liberalism in Hollywood while avoiding the rhetoric that fundamentalist commentators use? Terms like "anti-Christian entertainment elite" sound like code for anti-Semitic myths, because books by Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye traffic in such myths. Also, I had the impression that most studio executives were much more conservative than the actors and writers and producers. Is this your impression as well?

Andrew Klavan: Not really, no. People have this idea that rich people are conservatives - that doesn't seem true to me. The average contribution to the Dems is always much, much higher than the average contribution to the GOP. And in any case, the power wielded by stars in Hollywood really does counterbalance corporate power. And, you know, I despise anti-semitism and all forms of bigotry - but it seems to me there's a lot more bigotry against Christians in Hollywood than anything else.

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Minneapolis: Speeches are one thing, actions are quite another. One's words ring hollow when one says "we don't torture" and then it's found out that we do. Or when one says "we follow the law" and then it's found out that FISA law is ignored. Even if the law is wrong, that doesn't give you the right to break it. We told Bill Clinton that in the '90s, then turned away as Bush broke the law this decade.

Andrew Klavan: Hey, be critical of the government all you want. As I say, I want a free market of ideas. But I will say (and my novel Empire of Lies makes this point) that an action is not moral if it allows you to feel righteous but destroys others. It may feel like it's right not to torture someone, but if by torturing someone you can save a thousand lives... well, it's a more complex question.

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Sarah as Geena?: I read something this weekend (it was rainy here in Fla) that compared Gov. Palin to the Geena Davis character in that awful show where she wound up as a "great" president after the old man died. I woulda thought Hollywood would have been self-searching and introspective and would have seen the parallels. They're smarter than us, right?

Andrew Klavan: Smarter, richer, better looking... that's why they run their lives so well.

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Fairfax, Va.: I haven't read your book, only this chat. There have been dozens of small movies that went big seemingly because of nothing more than word of mouth. If -- as I think you are saying -- the right has stories that are being suppressed, why don't they take that route? Could it be that good movies are good movies regardless of the political persuasion of writer/director/actor? Could it be folks just want to see good movies regardless of who writes/directs/acts in them? It seems as if you're saying that Hollywood businesses aren't in it to make money, just to promote an ideology. I can see some folks willing to pony up their money for a movie that they think has to/needs to be made, but a whole industry? I think not.

Andrew Klavan: No, no, of course they're in it to make money - what I'm saying is that many things, including leftist ideology, sometimes skew that motive. And listen, making movies is a multi-million dollar proposition. You can't depend on word of mouth. You need a structure of promotion and distribution. Some of that's changing - and as it changes, you'll see more and more varied movies made. I look forward to the day.

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Take a human perspective: I think that movies can and should be made that look at more than boundaries of countries and see boundaries of class and gender. "Persepolis" was a very good movie that is critical of some of the more stifling aspects of Iranian culture. I find fire-breathing, preachy movies from either side to be unpalatable. I don't see how people wouldn't like something that is reasoned. Would you put "Hunt for Red October" and its like in the category of films not being made now because of the political climate?

Andrew Klavan: I don't like preaching either. And I'm happy to see movies about other cultures. But I find it galling that, for instance, a million and a half movies are made about McCarthyism, but barely one about the Gulags of the soviets. I find it absurd to compare American foreign policy - even at its worst - with an Islamo-fascism that seeks to destroy liberty and decency throughout the world. There are Christian anti-semites I know - but a Christian anti-semite is being a bad Christian, whereas an Islamist anti-semite is doing just what he should! These things matter and shouldn't be confused.

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Weekly Standard article: Mr. Klavan, did you read the Weekly Standard article about Jeff Zucker's right-wing spoof? It sounds like a painfully unfunny movie; plus, it's giving Robert Davi another paycheck. In all seriousness, I admire people trying to swim against the tide, but what else (realistically) can be done for conservatives to get their voices heard? More tolerant showrunners and studio heads?

Andrew Klavan: Actually, I saw a few scenes from the Zucker movie and they made me laugh... but I'm a sucker for his sort of thing. And to begin with, I think it would be helpful in Hollywood to recognize that certain "stars," (George Clooney comes to mind) aren't really stars at all - in the sense that people go to see their movies. Clooney's movies bomb repeatedly, unless he's surrounded by other big name actors, so why give him the power that he has to greenlight films? If Hollywood made economic sense, I think it would begin to make more political sense as well.

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Chaska, Minn.: Oh, come on -- now you're just making excuses. If McCain believed he was right on principle on immigration, he should have fought for it even if it was unpopular. Isn't that what you salute Bush for doing in the war on terror? And how can you honestly exalt the Bush record on the economy -- it's the worst recovery in the post-World War II period!

Andrew Klavan: Uh, the remark on the economy just doesn't fit the facts - it simply doesn't. And on McCain - look, you can pick and choose your points, but I think it's pretty clear he's lived a life of patriotism and principle. Flawed like everyone, but still... I simply don't think the same thing is true of the opposition. I don't always feel this way about the left, but I do this time. Obama's history is deeply troubling. McCain's is not.

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Bethesda, Md.: Gov. Palin's story would make a great movie, especially all of the drama of the past few days. I heard that somebody else is claiming they won Miss Congeniality, not Palin -- that is earth-shattering.

Andrew Klavan: I think it was McCain!

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Washington: If conservatives and Republicans hate government so much, why do they run for office? I'd much rather put someone in the job who at least believes in what they are doing. Put a Republican in office, and they're like a square peg in a round hole -- they have no idea why they are there.

Andrew Klavan: For me, the real problem is that they get in office - and suddenly forget that they want small government! If they stuck to their principles, they'd do a lot better at the polls.

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Washington: When will you right wing Hollywood buffoons admit that you're not good, and people just don't want to see your mediocre stuff? Did you see the "celebrities" who attended the McCain fundraiser? With the exception of Jon Voight, they all were third-rate actors -- some of them lucky to still be employed.

Andrew Klavan: This seems to me to be the argument of all people who want to exclude the opposition. We used to hear that blacks couldn't be baseball managers or football coaches - they just didn't have what it took. We used to hear women couldn't run businesses or whatever... no, in Hollywood, we hear that conservative principles magically strip you of your talent. We see conservatives repeatedly discouraged and excluded... and then wonder why all the big names are liberal. It's just not a good argument and never was.

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Andrew Klavan: Okay, folks, my fingers are tired and it's lunchtime out here. Thanks for stopping in. I hope you enjoy "Empire of Lies." Have a nice day.

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