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Fred Bigjim – Reflection

by on October 12, 2007

In class on Wednesday October 10, the point of not responding to others when angry or in a defensive manner, and the point that one should be conscious of the medium for which one communicates in today’s world of instant information where what you say or write could directly or indirectly result in potential organizational wide repercussions, were briefly addressed. Unlike some of the other points discussed in class, I thought these two were so obvious, so why even discuss them. If nothing else I thought them to be examples of poor judgment that young employees would most likely make out of ignorance – not something a team leader would be prone to do even by accident, let alone intentionally.

However, there is what I find to be a very interesting article in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly that not only reflects examples of those two points, but also presents how drastic the results can be to an organization when they do occur.

The article is titled “Can there be peace in Middle-Earth?” and it covers how the pre-production for the next installment of the billion dollar movie franchise for New Line Cinema, The Lord of the Rings, is still currently on hold. At the center of the story are the two visionaries that drove the franchise, Peter Jackson the director, and Bob Shaye the co-chair of New Line Cinema. What each man did was they both posted comments onto online fan sites concerning the continuation of the franchise during a time when both parties involved were in the process of negotiating a new partnership to make two more movies based on the book The Hobbit. Both men posted at a time when their negotiation stage was tense. One aftermath result from those posts is that their negotiations over another potential billion dollar project came to a standstill.

When the two men created the franchise in the late 1990’s they both shared the same vision of using new computer based special effect technology to accomplish something that many skeptics believed could not be successfully done – adapt the J.R.R. Tolkien books into a profitable movie franchise. The innovative approach that was applied to producing the films worked. The films were shot one after another to keep the over head production costs down while focusing the spectacle on new digital effects as opposed to relying on high priced actors and traditional special effects to attract box office ticket buyers. Both concepts went against the traditional way most Hollywood blockbusters are made. The result of this shared vision was the franchise generated approximately six billion dollars in combined global ticket sales and merchandise product sales (including dvds, video games, shirts, posters, and countless of other tie in products). Both men benefited from the success of the franchise. Peter Jackson (prior to the franchise was an obscure director) is now extremely wealthy and is now considered a first class Oscar winning director. Bob Shaye’s New Line Cinema (which he co-founded forty years ago) reinvented itself into a more main stream production company which has allowed it to attract more high profile projects.

According to the article in January of 2007, Peter Jackson reacted defensively against Bob Shaye concerning how he believed he was being treated. Jackson posted a memo onto the OneRing.net site addressing how he was being fired from the project. In response, Bob Shaye defensively posted negative comments about Jackson on the Sci Fi Wire website. Both posts were read by fans and media from around the world and what had been a negotiation stage turned into a huge problem for Time Warner (parent company of New Line Cinema). After both men read over what the other had posted about him they both immediately ceased their negotiations over The Hobbit, thus, placing the billion dollar franchise for the Jackson, New Line and Time Warner organizations on hold. Even though the relationship between both men had been tense and questionable up to this point, it is believed that it was the manner in which they each publicly posted about each other that brought the talks for this project to a halt.
Both men threw caution to the wind and have jeopardized a potential billion dollar project by basically disregarding the two points which were addressed in class. They both responded defensively when they were angry and they both appear to not have considered the ramifications that their postings would result in (they have both been in a state of backtracking and trying to better explain what they “meant to say” ever since). By putting the negotiations for this project on hold because of those mistakes the future of the entire franchise has remained in an uncertain state of limbo for almost a year. A franchise which was scheduled to be in the planning stage by now because of the issues concerning the film rights to the book. According to the article the contract rights are up in 2008 and that Time Warner has been working with third parties over the past ten months (attorneys, agents, publicists, managers, mediators, etc.) in an attempt to put the negotiations back on track in order to meet that contractual deadline.

This is an example of anxiety and urgency for the future of the franchise. It is also an example of two strong leadership personalities in conflict. Both of whom are “A team” leaders in their own right as far as the teams they lead. They both have relevant knowledge of what the project involves from their prior success on the Lord of the Rings. They both have the appropriate skills as visionaries to accomplish what few others in their industry are capable of doing (bringing Tolkien to life on film). They both have strong leadership capabilities, Jackson as the director and Shaye as the producer as far as bringing together the proper creative talent for the project. They both have organizational credibility from their past accomplishment and how profitable it was. They both have formal authority, Shaye with the ability to make it happen financially and Jackson with his creative talent. They both know how to handle organizational change within the entertainment industry by embracing new technology to achieve their visions.
What they do not appear to have at the moment is trust and this appears to have been the case ever since their posting. Together both men were a great team as far as creating a billion dollar franchise is concerned. However, that was back when they trusted each other. I think this story is a perfect example of why trustworthiness is not overrated. Quite possibly if there had still been trust between these two former team members than they may not have made the two mistakes of posting online to the entire world while they were also momentarily upset with each other. The article implies that their original distrust stemmed over money – approximately several million dollars, which essentially escalated into where they are now – on the verge of ending the entire project. If the project does end for them it will result in a potential combined loss of over a billion of dollars to the organizations involved. So again from this extreme example (even though it may not be a traditional business example as far as board room executive trust is concerned) I believe that trust is definitely not overrated and when trust between organizational leaders is abused or broken, or temporarily discarded in moments of anger it has the potential to escalate into situations that can both directly and indirectly create problems for an organization at a variety of levels.

References:
Class slides from 10/08/07 and class discussion from 10/10/07
Svetkey, Benjamin. (2007, October 12). Can there be peace in Middle-Earth? Entertainment Weekly, #958, 28-36.

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