Sunday, 30 October 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #829: Random Rainy Day Ramblings

The weather is miserable, I'm feeling grumpy, so here's a rare Sunday blog post so everyone can share my vitriol.


Keenen Ivory Wayans is planning with the Fox network to unleash a reboot of his 1990s sketch comedy/variety series In Living Color.  The original show ran from 1990-1994 and launched the careers of Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier, Jamie Foxx, even Jennifer Lopez, and at least 50 other members of the Wayans family.

But I digress.

Now the plan is to do two half-hour specials executive produced and hosted by Keenen Ivory Wayans, and if they go well, kick off a new series the next season.

I can understand Wayans wanting to do a sketch show.  Sketch comedy is a hell of a lot work, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun, and it's one of the few shows where lower production values are actually an asset, and if he can find some young hungry talent along the lines of the last time, more power too him.

I just wish he'd give this new project another title.

You see back when In Living Color originally debuted the Fox network consisted of The Simpsons, Married... With Children, and not much else.  The show did well for any network, but did stupendously for a struggling still fledgling network like Fox.  Giving the new show the old title puts a lot of baggage on it, and if it doesn't explode in the same relative way as the original, the network's going to judge it more harshly this time as an "under-performer."  Fox is a much larger, more corporate organization now, and probably much less prone to risk taking.

Then there's the fact that mainstream network television and sketch comedy in prime time haven't really done well together in a very long time. Sketch comedy is by it's very nature fractured, button pushing, and at it's best politically incorrect, and unlike sitcoms and hour long dramas, very hard for the network to control, content wise.  Wayans himself regularly battled the network over censorship, and that's something that's bound to happen again.

I think Wayans would be much happier and the project better off if it had a different title, that didn't have the expectations laid on the original, and was on Fox's sister cable channel FX.  It'll leave him free to explore the edgier material he and his fans like, and would fit in better with the channel's audience, already known for loving edgy, politically incorrect comedy.


The reason for the firing was probably not for her failure to land a third Oscar for her Amelia Earhart movie but over a birthday party.
You see a while back Swank and several other celebrities attended and entertained at the birthday party for the dictator of Chechnya.  Miss Swank was promptly shat upon by both conservative pundits and human rights watchdogs for showing up to entertain a dictator who has shat upon the rights and lives of so many of his own citizens.

And that's why she fired her manager. 

You see, it's the job of the manager to look at a job offer like this and see past the dollar signs to the overall, long term affects such a move would have on their client's career.

The former Soviet Republic has never been involved in any fashionable causes, so I will bet dollars to donuts that Miss Swank had never even heard of Chechnya before getting the invite to the party, or the bloody record of her host.  So you can't really blame her for bad judgment, she's an actor.

Her manager though is a different story.

You see every choice you make has consequences. There are costs, and there are benefits. Actors are too busy wondering about their character's motivation for the scene of them eating breakfast, and their next appointment with their Pilates instructor to think about real world matters like that.

That's the manager's job.

The manager should have taken one look at the offer, done a Google search on the birthday boy, and then wondered if blowing kisses at a bloodthirsty dictator might cost their client more than the amount being offered.

Miss Swank's manager failed to do his due diligence, and that's why he got sacked.

Friday, 28 October 2011

You Have Questions I Have Answers! Part Deux!

Gather round my acolytes, it's time once again to drink deep from my pretense of wisdom!

That's right, I'm answering the rest of the reader questions.  So sit back, relax, and hang on my every word because there will be a test tomorrow.

Rainforest Giant asked... Furiously, they make 'chick flicks' but do they make any men's movies anymore. What I mean by that is movies like 'They Came to Cordoba', 'The Wild Bunch' and more recently 'Master and Commander'. Movies without women in them. Plenty of movies where men are only props on Lifetime channel but few men movies. In fact, Master and Commander is the last movie I saw without a speaking female role.

Since the 'warrior woman' fetish became so mainstream it's hard to find a movie that does not have a Michelle Rodriguez type who is tougher than the men. What's the chance that meme will die as well? I am sick of watching a 90 lb. 'Buffy' type beat up 300 lb. Dwayne Johnson look-a-like.
Captain Kitten
Well first thing is that most men watching a man flick, like to see women, even in small parts, but I do see your point.  There was a time when the "Men On A Mission" movie was pretty commonplace.  I'm talking about films like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, Where Eagles Dare, and The Guns Of Navarone.  These films centered on men doing manly things, usually fighting bad guys or each other.

Sgt. Squirrel
They slipped in popularity in the 1970s when the action adventure genre moved from groups of men fighting bad guys together, to individual men fighting bad guys alone. This came about partially from the decline in the popularity of war movies and westerns, but mostly from the simple fact that most big action stars didn't like sharing the spotlight and the money.  Now though they are rarer than hen's teeth, recent examples that come close to it being Inglorious Bastards, and The Expendables.

The main reason they are so rare, and so-called "chick flicks" are so common is the simple fact that very male movies don't appeal to women.  Men can be dragged to a chick flick, if it will please their woman, but women will not go to movies unless there is something in it for them.

Studios see more money in movies that can attract women because A) They're cheaper since they don't involve explosions. and B) The women make more of the household buying decisions than men.

When people first started seeing a "warrior woman" kick butt was surprising. Then it became repetitive when everyone started doing, then it became a cliche with a trap.

The trap comes from political correctness which dictates that in any action-adventure scenario if the female character is not at least an equal, but preferably a better, to her male counterpart, the people who made that film/TV show are therefore sexist pigs who are worse than Hitler and belong in a cave with Mel Gibson.
However, I do remember that Michelle Rodriguez is quite capable of throwing a punch.  

That's pretty much all I remember about that encounter aside from coming to in a dumpster with two black eyes and a headache.

Next question...
David C. Matthews asked... I thought I was up on all the Hollywood jargon, but a couple of weeks ago I got tripped up by the term "with penalty" (and thank you for answering my tweet about that!) Now I have another question: what is a "put pilot"?
There are four kinds of deals you can get when you're making a deal with a TV network for a new TV show, and it's kind of essential to explain them all to answer your question.

1. PILOT SCRIPT: The network pays you to write a script for a pilot episode, but don't make any commitment to make the pilot.

2. "PUT PILOT" COMMITMENT:  This is when they pay you to write a script, but it comes with the commitment to "put" the script into the production.  That means that no matter what, the pilot episode will be made.

3. PILOT PLUS SCRIPT ORDER:  This kind of deal means the network is really eager, and order a pilot to be made plus a certain number of scripts to be written (between 6-12 scripts).  It's not a guarantee that the show will be picked up, but it does increase the chances that at least the pilot will air.

4. EPISODE ORDER:  They love your script, then they love your pilot, they love the other episodes written for it, and they order episodes to be made for air.

Next question...
Helen asked... Why is Sam Mendes directing the next Bond movie?
Because the franchise has had past success with directors with a background in straight drama like Michael Apted, Marc Forster and Roger Spottiswoode.  It's supposed to be a win-win for everyone. The drama directors get to stretch their abilities, ably assisted by the best stunt and action technicians in the world, while the Bond movies get some fresh blood that don't have preconceived notions of action film-making, and are capable of coming up with something new beyond just doing it bigger than the last time.

That's why I hope the rumors of Mendes cutting out the action are just silly rumors.

Adder asked... What do you think of the nihilism that is prevalent in so many of today's films. Can you give an example of a good nihilistic film.
Mostly I think of it as a pose to cover up failures of the filmmaker's imaginations.  My favorite nihilistic film is The Wild Bunch, where the leads realize that if their lives are to have any meaning, they have to be destroyed battling a greater evil.

Then again, the fact that it involves a purpose probably ruins it as a nihilistic movie.
Siythe asked... Furious type person.  Is the flood of remade rebooted reimagining’s just a normal cycle of the business taken to extremes or something new caused by how the business has evolved and in either case what will it take for studios to start backing more original projects?

And while we're at it are reports of the demise of 3d greatly exaggerated or is the gimmick really dying off?
Remakes are as old as cinema itself.  The classic detective movie The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart was, in fact, the THIRD movie based on Dashiell Hammet's novel.

The main difference between then and now, is that back then remakes were mostly done for a purpose.  Doing a movie in sound, or in color, with a better director/script/cast, bigger budget, etc...

Nowadays remakes are being done because the people running the studios are scared shitless of doing anything original, and if they could get away with it will retreat completely into remaking properties they already own in the vain hope that the vague familiarity will somehow lead to profits.

It fails more often than succeeds, but I don't see them giving up any time soon.
As for 3D, I really do think the gimmick's dying off because it's become code for "This movie's too shitty to stand on its own, so here it is in 3D."  Too many bad movies for too much money, and too much hassle.

Sandy Petersen asked... Why do entire national film markets sometimes suddenly dry up? Look at Italy - it had a thriving, healthy movie industry which suddenly started to falter in the 1980s, and then pretty much died by the mid-90s. Look at Hong Kong - they were still going strong until 1999 - did the Commie takeover really make THAT big a difference? Now Hong Kong films are in the crapper. English movies took some heavy hits too.

What is going on? Is it just competition from Hollywood? Is it some change in the way movies are financed or marketed?
All markets follow boom and bust cycles. Even Hollywood gets hit with them on occasion.  The thing about Hollywood is that they're protected by their size, their reach, and the fact that for the most part they are not built around small cliques of  filmmakers and producers.

Where Hollywood has a steady stream of hundreds of new executives, producers / production companies, filmmakers and directors coming up all the time, many foreign markets have only a few dozen at best. 

This means that:

1. Fly-by-night producers and disreputable business practices do way more damage to the local industry as a whole than it would to the Hollywood behemoth.

2. When filmmakers and producers lose their creative-commercial mojo, which is inevitable, it can do exponential damage to the industry, even if it's temporary.

3. Local economic factors, like tax laws, regulations, as well as sources of capital investment can also effect these film markets. Remember, a lot of these film industries really depend on their local audiences and investors, because they can't sell themselves internationally on the epic scale of Hollywood.

All these factors make themselves way more fragile than Hollywood.

I hope I made a few things clear for you all.  Now I have to go lie down, I've been thinking too much today.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

You Have Questions I Have The Answers!! Part 1

Since I got a really big response to my call for questions I'm going to answer in instalments instead of frying my brain trying to answer all of them at once.  Even my immense intellect has its limits. 

So let's get this ball rolling...
Fuloydo asked... I learned through a random factoid encountere on the interwebs today that an actress who caused strange yearnings for me as a lad is 81.  Does this make me old?  

(For the record, I'm talking about Grace Lee Whitney, Yeoman Rand from the original Star Trek)
No, that little factoid does not make you old. Your grey hair, balding head, busted hip, and tendency to yell "Damn kids, get off my lawn!" at random intervals whether or not there are any "damn kids" or a lawn, and your fond memories of the Hoover administration makes you old.

Besides, no red-blooded young lad can say no to that little red uniform.

Next question...
Sandy Petersen asked... Where does the money come from for a big Hollywood movie? If film companies can invest 215 million in a cowboy movie, then how does a single film bomb do so much damage? I understand that Heaven's Gate, Ishtar, and Slither all threatened to or caused companies to go bankrupt. What is going on here? Do companies live close to the bone?
Now this is a complex question, because anything and everything about money and Hollywood is needlessly complicated.

Most movie studios prefer to bring in outside investment for projects, especially the really big budget movies, because the first rule of producing is "never use your own money if you can avoid it."  So you'll often see independent financiers like Canal+, Legendary Pictures, Village Roadshow, Spyglass Entertainment, and others in the credits of your favorite movies.

There are two kinds of outside investors. There are foreign film distributors and/or TV broadcasters buying the theatrical and/or TV rights to the film in their home market with their investment. The other kind represents large investment groups, like brokerage houses and hedge funds.  These investors are either looking for a return on their investment, or they're looking for some sort of domestic or foreign tax dodge.

One particularly notorious piece of convoluted tax code in Germany actually made it more profitable for German investors to lose money on a big budget movie.  Hence you got Uwe Boll getting $70 million to play with.  (That law was dropped a few years ago.)

Now you ask if companies really live close to the bone.

That too is a tad complicated.

The mega-bomb Heaven's Gate was considered the film that sunk United Artists, even though the $40+ million loss was just a minor blip compared the billions its parent company Transamerica Insurance dealt in, and its lucrative James Bond and Pink Panther franchises.

What killed United Artists was that the whole Heaven's Gate boondoggle soured Transamerica on the whole concept of being in the movie business.  Unlike the big conglomerates who own movie studios, TV channels, and other outlets that need something to pump out content and don't sweat the occasional bump, Transamerica was just in it for the immediate quarterly profit. Hassles and losses soured the milk for them, so they sold it to the already sinking MGM studios as soon as they could.

Now having big parent companies dependent on a steady flow of fresh content may cushion the blow when a movie bombs. However, that's not going to stop the studios from something my grandfather called "poor mouthing."  That's when you make a big deal to declaring to the world how your financial situation is as tight as Yeoman Rand's uniform, when in fact, you're pretty flush.

They have a very good reason for poor mouthing on such an epic scale.

Studio A pleads poverty, so in order to make your big budget movie they go to Parent Company B, and "borrow" the money to make the film.  If the film is a big hit, the terms of this "loan" pretty much make sure that any real profits end up going to Parent Company B to pay the interest on the "loan."
ILDC asked... Do you think the new Muppet movie will be DOA?
Can't really say.  The previews look cute and funny, but then again, the previews may contain every decent joke in the entire movie.  So we're going to have to wait and see.
ILDC asked... Also, how are movies based on still-running TV shows made?
Usually if the studio and the network that produce the show think they can make big money and boost the show's popularity they'll go for it.  It was done quite a bit in the 1960-1970s with big screen versions of Batman, Dark Shadows, and other shows popping up while the shows were still running.

It's not done all that much today, the last one I remember was the first X Files movie.  Most of the time it's done with cancelled shows in the hope of creating the next Star Trek movie franchise.
Ken Begg asked... Now that diminishing home video revenues are failing to paper over the industry's poor business model, how do the Hollywood film studios as presently constituted keep going?
I think the answer is found in my answer to Sandy's question, but I'll give the Reader's Digest condensed version for you: "The studios are owned by big conglomerates that own multiple platforms, theatrical, TV video, and now digital platforms, that need a steady stream of content."
This model can't keep going because pumping out stuff people don't want to watch, regardless of the "platform" you're showing it on.
Ken Begg asked... On a related note, given commercial 'zapping' and continuing audience fragmentation, how do the broadcast networks continue while relying upon a business model developed back in the days when 90% of America watched but three networks?
Because they have no idea what to do instead of that model and any concept of reform scares the piss out of them, because the reformed model will probably not required 15 vice-presidents in charge of sitcoms.
Darren asked... One quick question ‘what advice would you give to Mel Gibson on making a comeback.
Bring about world peace while rescuing baskets of kittens from a burning building.

Okay that's all of my wisdom for now.  I'll do more questions and answers next time!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #828: Wiseguy Returns?

Remember Wiseguy?

If you don't I'll catch you up a bit on it.

Wiseguy was a TV series that ran in from 1987-1990, and was about an FBI agent named Vinnie Terranova chosen for a special deep undercover mission. He's arrested for a crime staged by the FBI and does time in prison. Once out of the joint he uses the connections he made inside to infiltrate the New Jersey mafia, setting them up to be busted by the Feds.

The show was groundbreaking for its time being one of the first crime dramas to be built around multi-episode story arcs, and the events of one arc would have consequences on another.  Terranova goes from taking on New Jersey gangsters, to White Supremacists, international narcotic/weapons dealers, and even the music industry.

The show got a tad chaotic when Ken Wahl had to leave because of health problems. His character was killed off and a new agent (played by Steven Bauer) took his place, the show was cancelled after one Terranova-less season. They then did a reunion TV movie in 1996 where Vinnie hadn't been killed off, but that movie didn't do well broadcast against NBC's Must See Thursday, and hopes for a new series faded....

Until now.

NBC, is now eager to revive the show whose last resurrection they foiled, making a deal for a new Wiseguy TV series about a disgraced ex-cop given a shot at redemption by becoming a deep cover FBI operative.

Let's look at the Pros & Cons of this idea....


QUALITY:  Those who saw the original Wiseguy TV series never forgot it.  The show sucked you in with complex plots and standout performances by guest stars Ray Sharkey, a then unknown Kevin Spacey, and even comedian Jerry Lewis.  There's a built in audience of people who watched the show during its original run, and in repeats who would give the reboot a chance.

NARRATIVE LEGS:  By legs, I mean that the premise has the ability to provide interesting entertainment as long as the show-runner and writers keep coming up with interesting stories and can tell them well.  There's always some sort of criminal enterprise the new agent can infiltrate from drug dealing gangs, to white collar criminals, and if they keep the "story-arc" structure of the original, it gives them the time and space they need to create interesting fleshed out characters.


QUALITY:  As I said, the original show was really good, with interesting stories, well done characters, and good performances.  That is a tough act to follow, and if this new show doesn't at least match the memories of the original show's fans, they are going to resent the show and not only tune out, but bad mouth it to the four corners of the Earth which could turn off new viewers.

The people running the new show better have some damn good writers and guest stars coming in on this if they're going to beat that memory.

NETWORK:  This is NBC we're talking about here.  They could screw up the buzz sound on a test of the emergency broadcast network.  Which makes me fear for the show and its future.

BTW- I have more than enough questions to answer on Friday's blog.  So let's consider that closed for now.  Thank you.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #827: Operation: Oscar Bait

His name is Bond, James Bond.

But if the rumors are true, director Sam Mendes wants to change his name to "Oscar."

If you haven't already heard, director Sam Mendes, the man behind indie dramas American Beauty and Revolutionary Road is rumored to be axing the action from the 23 James Bond picture, tentatively titled Skyfall, in the hopes of making it all about acting, and winning him some Academy Awards.

If these rumors are true, and I hope to hell they aren't true, there are three possible reasons for Mendes to take this course of non-action.

1.  He's delusional.  He has gone off whatever medication he's either on, or should be on, and somehow thinks that the narrow minded and hidebound Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is somehow going to change almost 50 years of precedent and start acknowledging the Bond films beyond the rare technical nominations.  Then maybe soon to be ex-wife Kate Winslet will take him back, and everything will sunshine and unicorns.

Well, if that's the case, take a reality pill, because going down this path will only serve to hurt everyone involved.  The Bond franchise will suffer financially, the Academy will ignore it, simply out of habit, and Mendes will will suffer as the man who sank James Bond, critics will see it as self-important egomania, and I don't see Kate Winslet taking back a loser.

2.  He's lazy.  Mendes is a Performance Director.  His films are all about actors and letting actors shine by bringing out all that suburban angst.  That's all nice, and it give the Academy something to vote for, and if you're already good with actors, it's easy.

Directing a good James Bond movie is hard.  Really hard.

The Bond franchise needs more than just a Performance Director, or even a Visual Director.  The Bond franchise needs what I call a Narrative Director.  There's a story to be told, and it needs to be told in an exciting way that ultimately makes sense to the viewer.  That means bringing together acting, script, and visuals, and working at a level of detail that is a hell of a lot of work.

Better to just ditch all the complicated and hard stuff, and just stick with what's you know, what you're comfortable with, and what you find easy.

3.  He's scared.  As I said before, directing a James Bond is a lot of work, and Mendes may be having an attack of the pesky self doubts.

The sort of self-doubts that tell him that he's a hack who got lucky by casting good actors and that's why he's been having diminishing commercial, critical, and award returns since his explosive debut with American Beauty

So what does one do? Too plagued by fear to face the creative challenges of making a Bond movie, he goes the cynical route. Claims he's going to bring "art" to the franchise in the hope that its failure can be blamed on the ignorance of the audience, and not on the filmmaker.

Which is why I hope these rumors aren't true.  Making a good Bond film isn't easy, but that's sort of the point of making such a film, besides the fee they're paying you. Every director who is known for a certain style or method needs to take every opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and do something really different from everything they've done before.

Face the challenges presented to you with skill and imagination, and you can only improve as a filmmaker. However letting insanity, laziness, or fear make you try to force this project into the mold of just about everything else you've ever done, you will not only the film, but yourself as well.

So let's hope these rumors are just that, silly rumors.



Monday, 24 October 2011

Who Does What? #4: The Director

Nothing's really blowing up my kilt with righteous rage in business news going on today, so I'm going to do another edition of WHO DOES WHAT?

Today we're going to look at the role of the DIRECTOR!

You know the Director, he's the guy with a vaguely Germanic accent in jodhpurs,* black riding boots, and a black beret who stomps around the set yelling orders, then sits next to the camera, screams "ACTION!" then yells "CUT!" and proceeds to have a maniacal hissy fit because something happened that deviated from his vision.

Of course that's the cartoon version of directing film and television.

In the real world version the jodhpurs are replaced by fashionable jeans and the beret is replaced by a jaunty sombrero covered in silver spangles.

Okay, just kidding.

Let's get back to the subject at hand.

The French cineastes define the director as the ultimate author, or auteur of cinema, but the definition is a little more complicated, because outside of academia and maybe the Nouvelle Vague the art of making a film is much more collaborative.

The director is, first and foremost, a maker of decisions.

It is usually up to the director to decide how a screenplay is going to be interpreted when it makes it onto the screen.  The director has to decide what the people, places, and things are going to look like in their film, and also decide how those same people and things are going to behave at those places when the cameras are rolling.

By my definition there are three kinds of directors:

VISUAL: This sub-species of Director puts all their creative and imaginative eggs into the realm of visuals.  Everything has to look slick and glamorous, and there has to be lots of stuff going on all the time in all directions.  The problem with this is that it often leads to films that are nice to look at, but not really nice to listen to, or pay any real attention to.  Think Michael Bay.

PERFORMANCE: These Directors put everything, including their heart, soul, and duodenal ulcer into getting the best performances out of their actors.  They become for all intents and purposes particularly manipulative psychotherapists reaching deep into their actors and extracting, sometimes painfully, what they want to see on the screen. Award giving Academies love to honor these kinds of directors because they make the actors look good, and actors make up the majority of nominating voters.  The problem is that while the performances maybe truthful and heartfelt, the films themselves can often be really, really, excruciatingly, boring.  Think Robert Redford.

NARRATIVE:  Narrative directors attempt to combine the best of both visuals and performances to tell the story they want to tell in the best way possible.  They want their films to look good, they want their actors to play their part to the best of their ability, and they want the audience to be engulfed in the story.  Think Alfred Hitchcock.

Now those definitions are of the best case scenario for each type of director.  Not all directors are created equally, and there are a lot of lousy directors out there, and that's not likely to change because of Hollywood's dirty little secret when it comes to directing.  While they'll never admit it publicly, too many of Hollywood's top ranks think....
But it ain't, and do go telling me that ain't ain't a word because it ain't in the dictionary.  I've got important things to pontificate about.

You see, in Hollywood, they think that anyone with two or more functioning synapses can direct a movie.  You can go from directing commercials or music videos chock full of shaking booties, to directing a major studio film with a $100 million budget.

But, as I said before, it's not really easy.  Decisions are hard.  Bad decisions can cost the film artistically, and being unable to make decisions can cost the production financially.  A good director has to be able to collaborate with all their department heads, deal with actors, and present an air of competent leadership.  

It's a lot like being a commanding a regiment on the battlefield.  You have your orders from the producer: Make Film X by Date Y for Amount $Z, but it's mostly to you to work with your battalion and company commanders to figure out the specific tactics you're going to need to accomplish that goal.

Some directors love to plan ahead to the last detail.  Alfred Hitchcock used to have everything so carefully planned he used to call the actual act of filming "Grinding it through the machine." Others like to keep things fast and loose, making their decisions on set and on the fly.  While some directors can thrive using either method, it's actually better to be more of a precise planner, the bigger the budget you have. Because good planning cuts time, and time is money when you're making a movie, and costing less helps you avoid the dreaded "meddle detector."

You see when you're working as a director you not only have to deal with your actors and department heads, you have to deal with the studios and producers.  They are scared that you're going to cost their studio money, and them their jobs, so the temptation to meddle in the making of your film is very great.  The bigger the amount of money involved, the more tempted they are to detect an excuse to meddle.

That is unless you can show to them that you can do a good job for less than all the other directors out there.  Clint Eastwood's secret to making whatever films he wants, whenever he wants, and how he wants is because he does things not only well, but cheaply and quickly when compared to other directors. This requires a great deal of confidence in your own ability as well as the competence to get the job done, but it's served him well.

Now television is a different story.

TV is a writer's medium.  The writers are also the producers, so directors are merely there to do what those writers think needs to be done on time, with little real appreciation....


You just happen to be the director of the show's pilot episode.  Then you are the one who sets the look, the style, and the pace of the show, and that means that you get a royalty for every episode made after that whether you have any involvement with it or not.  Get a couple of pilots that have become hit shows under your belt, and you can do very well.

And that's my glib and superficial explanation of what a director does.


*Jodhpurs are also known as "puffy director pants."

PS:  I'm still collecting questions to answer on Friday's blog.  So click here and ask away!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #826: Where Have All The Movies Gone?

Every filmmaker has influences, and this goes even further for every movie lover. One of the biggest influences I ever had when it comes to loving movies was a guy named Eddie Driscoll.
Eddie Driscoll

Eddie Driscoll wasn't a director, and he wasn't a critic. He hosted a TV show out of Bangor, Maine called The Great Money Movie.  

The show aired every weekday afternoon and it had a beautifully simple premise. Eddie Driscoll would introduce a movie, usually based around the week's theme (usually a star, a genre, or a franchise), and during the movie they would flash the movie's "secret word."  Then, before the commercial break, Eddie would pull a name and phone number from a barrel, and call that person to see it they know the secret word, and if they did, they won $25.  Sometimes they'd know, sometimes they didn't know, and quite often there would be no answer at all.  But that didn't matter, Eddie would just move on, because on this show, it was the movies that mattered.

And boy did they show a variety of movies on The Great Money Movie.  They showed black and white movies, color movies, A-movies, B-movies, TV movies, foreign movies, and no genre or style was out of bounds.  If they fit the week's theme, you could be watching a big budget Hollywood epic one day, and a badly dubbed low budget Italian imitation the next day.

And that was the key to why I loved the show, variety.  It introduced me to Hammer and Universal horror movies, slapstick Abbot & Costello comedies, Spaghetti Westerns, film noir, and, on Money Movie's late night sister movie show Weird some of the strangest science fiction and horror movies I've ever seen.

We lost access to the Bangor TV channels when our then cable company switched all their American stations from Maine, who we actually had something in common with, including weather, to Detroit, who we had extremely little in common with.  

It also marked the beginning of a trend I noticed that has only grown worse.

The movies started to disappear. 

I first noticed it in the 1990s during my night-owl college years.  The low budget horror and science fiction movies that used to run late at night on local stations started to disappear.  The black and white ones were the first to go, then the color movies, and they were replaced by either talk shows, infomercials, or something even more mystifying: Disney movies.  I mean who turns on the TV after the bars have closed wanting to see Honey I Shrunk The Kids, or The Mighty Ducks.

But it only got worse...

A good way to illustrate this came on the first rainy weekend I had a satellite dish with double the channels I had under my old cable deal. I found the movie The Hunt For Red October playing on four different channels on the same day.  Two local stations, one American, and one Canadian, and two different cable channels were running it within a half hour of each other.

At first I had assumed that this had to be an isolated coincidence. 

I was wrong.

The more channels that came along, the fewer movies would make the rounds. A quick glance at the listings showed that the same movies would appear again and again, and again, regardless of whether they really belonged on the channel or not. It's pretty much a never ending replay loop of the past decade's (mostly failed) blockbusters and low rent "Woman In Peril" movies from the Lifetime channel get played until the tapes wear out. Even our specialty "Mystery" channel regularly runs non-mystery Christmas movies in July, simply because the tape's next on the shelf.

Of all the channels I get, only one is even willing to show black and white movies, and the sort of odd-ball B-movies that I knew growing up.

If this is the same for everyone, I think popular culture will suffer for it.

Right now the movie business is stagnating badly.  Box office slumps are becoming the norm instead of the exception, and the industry is trying to save itself by repeating the same mistakes they made in the 1950s and 1960s by going all in on mega-budget spectacles and gimmicks like 3D.  

The movie business was pulled from the brink of total collapse in the 1970s by the arrival of brash young baby boomers who made radically different movies that caught the popular imagination.  Ask them now about their influences and they'll tell you about Goddard, Truffaut, and the Nouvelle Vague, and while it might have been true about their time in film school, the answer is different when you dig deep down. When you dig down to the cores of these filmmakers you will learn that they had been inspired to love movies by a legion of Eddie Driscolls, every market had at least one, and the oddball collection of movies they showed on after-school and late night television.

These movies, most of them B-Grade, taught that generation about the importance of imagination and narrative skill over budget.

I don't see today's kids getting that from the movies that air on television these days. There's the choice of either a big budget movie that's most likely crap, or a low budget movie that's not only most likely crap, but looks like it too.  And what really bugs me about the low budget movies, especially the sci-fi and horror movies, is their attitude.

One thing I used to admire in the low budget movies I watched as a kid, even the bad ones, was how they tried to get the most of the little they had.  If their monster looked fake, they kept it creeping around in shadows, and kept viewings of it to a minimum.  If they couldn't afford big stunts or explosions, they edited around them to make things look more dramatic and exciting than they actually were.

That's called "filmmaking."

Even the films that failed at their intended mission still held some sort of educational value because at least the people behind them were trying and you could see where and why they failed.

I don't get that with a lot of the movies recycling around TV these days.  There's an attitude that since it's not a big budget studio picture there's no real point in burning any calories trying to make it look good. Just toss in some cheap CGI, and hope people will think it has some sort of camp value in it cheesiness.

That's a shame in my opinion, there's no real inspiration to be found in irony.



Friday, 21 October 2011


I'm collecting questions about pop culture and the business behind it to answer on this very blog! 

This is your chance to dip your proverbial pen into the vast inkwell of my wisdom.  If I can't answer your question, I will fake it in the pompous and self-important way that you have all come to know and love!

So if there's anything you want to know, need to have explained to you, or if there's something that you know will provoke one of my blood boiling verbal rages, go right ahead and leave it in the comments!

I'm aiming to post the answers to your questions, probably next Friday, so get asking!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #825: Proven Right Yet Again...

The weather outside is dreadful.  It's dark, cloudy, and the rain is coming down like God and the Angels are pissing on Earth after a pretty harsh beer bender.

However, inside my humble hovel, it's all sunshine and smiles.


Because I've been proven right again, and since I'm a Grand Master of the International Union of Smug Know It Alls I'm going to take that opportunity to gloat like a bastard.

On the 16th of May 2010, I posted a blog about film-making siblings David and Larry Lana Wachowski and their attempt to find financing for a new film about a gay love affair between an American soldier and an Iraqi civilian, that, according to some reports, leads to an attempt to assassinate George W. Bush.

I explained how the odds of anyone investing in the film expecting any kind return were super-slim because of a combination of a really small niche market for that kind of film, and filmmakers known for really big budgets and diminishing returns.

I also predicted that the whole project was a scam, a hoax, a big fat act of bamboozlement.

They'd make their pitch for their Hard-R gay-love-anti-war-anti-Bush movie, and everyone in Hollywood would have to listen to their pitch, partly out of their past record, but also out of a sense of political correctness.  The money people would listen, then offer a polite "What else have you got?" and then the Wachowskis would sigh, act like the sacrificing artist trapped in a medium run by heartless penny pinchers, and pitch the more commercial project they probably really wanted to make.  The Wachowskis get some street cred as "auteurs" and the money people are more welcoming to a project that seems positively blockbuster by comparison.

Well guess what just happened.

The Wachowskis are returning to science-fiction action filmmaking with a project called Jupiter Ascending, which, though mostly kept secret, seems positively blockbuster by comparison to their other project.

Now let's go to the Wachowskis for a comment on all this....
That's right, I am onto your little game.