Hierarchy in the movie business–Orson Welles edition

Kevin and I devoted considerable attention in our book to the issue of hierarchy in organizations. We argue that the presence of steep hierarchy can impede the flow of signals from customers, suppliers and other collaborators. It can also lead to perhaps the greatest sin of all in management–decision making by opinion, and not by data and logic. Here you can read about Orson Welles, and why he preferred a flat structure when producing movies. In Welles’ case, his antipathy to hierarchy was driven, in part, by his interactions with Hollywood’s big studio bosses. But more generally, Welles firmly believed that hierarchy in the arts was something imposed from the outside, often by strong personalities. True artists didn’t need it. For example, Welles offers his take on the history of orchestra conductors, theatre directors, and movie producers in one neat quote:

 The konzertmeister, first violinist, gave the beat. The conductor’s job was invented. Like the theater director, a role that is only 150, 200 years old. Nobody directed plays before then. The stage manager said, “Walk left on that line.” The German, what’s his name, Saxe-Meiningen, invented directing in the theater. And Thalberg invented producing in movies. He persuaded all the writers that they couldn’t write without him, because he as he great man.

The Thalberg in this quote refers to Irving Thalberg, one of the giant of early cinema production. In Welles’ mind, the hierarchy was something to put up with, not something that added value to the finished product.