Nobody Knows Nuthin’

In “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” screenwriter William Goldman wrote that “nobody knows anything.” It is a quote that is enjoying a second life these days.

The book’s first mention of that line, which is repeated throughout, referred to the many studios that passed on films that would go on to be blockbusters. Every studio in Hollywood but one (Paramount) turned down “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and was nominated for nine Academy Awards. “Star Wars” was passed on by the largest Hollywood studio at the time, Universal. It grossed $1 billion, and spawned a franchise with five films that are in the all-time top 100 in gross box office sales. Eventually, Walt Disney Co. purchased the Star Wars production company Lucasfilm, for more than $4 billion.

Goldman was referring to the fact that, despite all of their research, experience, focus groups and smarts, no one in Hollywood has any idea how well a film will do before its release.

Whenever we try to figure out complex future outcomes — like what movie might do well — we enter a minefield. Start with a screenplay, which may or may not translate well from the page into a visual medium. How compelling is the director’s vision? How likeable are the character portrayals? And perhaps least known, what are the public’s tastes going to be in three to five years, when the film ultimately is released to theaters?

There is an enormous degree of serendipity and good fortune that goes into a blockbuster movie. The same seems to be true of just about everything in life, from  marriage to careers to stock portfolios.

How easy is it to mistake good luck and randomness for skill? How readily do we convince ourselves we understand what is going on, that we are in control of our destinies, when nothing could be further form the truth?

 Consider this election cycle’s primary contests. Bernie Sanders, a 74-year old Jewish Socialist was widely expected to drop out almost immediately. Despite the delegate math, he’s still in the race. And almost all of the pundits had proclaimed — quite loudly, too — that Trump had absolutely no shot at winning the GOP nomination. You were admonished to beware their calls of “Peak Trump” last year, because (say it with me, people) nobody knows nuthin’.


Continues here: Let’s Say It All Togther: Nobody Knows Anything