Nothin’ good from the ‘Net

May 15, 2009, 11:57 PM UTC

“I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet.”

Have you seen this quote floating around the web? Michael Lynton, who co-heads Sony’s movie business with Amy Pascal, said it yesterday morning during a panel discussion sposored by Syracuse U’s Newhouse School and the New Yorker. I was there, and I have to say, it was one of the most lively discussions I’ve seen in this series of conversations with media titans and experts.

Candid and cutting and funny. What else would you expect with Nora Ephron on the panel…and a surprisingly wry Anne Hathaway.

But first, Lynton, who spent much of his career navigating the media world at Disney and then Time Warner , where headed AOL Europe, and now Sony. Let’s just say he isn’t having fun now. The Internet, he griped, “seems to have done damage to every single piece of the entertainment industry.”

Internet access — free and available anywhere anytime — makes it “as if every single store on Madison Avenue is open 24 hours a day,” he griped. “People say, ‘Give me what I want now.’ And if you don’t give it to them, they steal it.”

Don’t feel too sorry for struggling Sony or for movie-industry kingpins. Ephron, whose screenwriting credits include Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally and Silkwood,  riffed about how lucky Hollywood folks still are, even as the studios report losses. “I look at the movie business as a gigantic Ponzi scheme that exists in order to compensate a small group of people handsomely beyond your imagination,” she said.

As for the claim that nobody makes money in the movie business (word is, they make movies for the fun and pure art), the truth is that a lot of people make money: producers and actors and writers like Ephron. “Everyone is overpaid. People live like pashas,” she told the Manhattan crowd. “The way people live in Hollywood, you should see this. I know that we live well here too, but you can’t see it because we live in apartments.”

Great movies are a dying art form, all agreed. What if you want to make a high-end product that cash-strapped studios can’t afford? You cut your price. Anne Hathaway noted that Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain was made for $11 million. “I was paid the SAG day rate,” she said.