Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1125: Escaping Pigeonholes & Traps

Steve McQueen and Lupita Nyong'o were big winners at Sunday's Oscars. His film 12 Years A Slave won Best Picture, and she won Best Supporting Actress for her part in the same film.

Both of their careers are in an extremely precarious position where they can be destroyed by their own success.

Hollywood loves to reduce people down until they squeeze into a tight little pigeonhole that they can't get out of. That can be career death.

So let's take a look at the careers of McQueen and Nyong'o and see how they can escape the pigeonholes that Hollywood is carving for them.

STEVE MCQUEEN: His third feature film 12 Years A Slave, won an Oscar, and his previous feature length and short films have won numerous prizes and truckloads of critical praise.

That's all well and good.

However, he's won for making a very serious, downright emotionally painful drama. His two previous feature films were also very serious, and emotionally painful.

He should consider doing something different once in a while.

I'm talking about putting aside the serious dramas and doing a comedy, or a thriller, or the best option a Bond Movie.

Now he might think my suggestion is downright heretical. He is an important filmmaker who makes important films and how dare I, some unknown clot-headed troll, dare suggest that he do something trivial like a comedy or a Bond movie.

All right, he's free to think that. However, I know that always striving for "importance" in Hollywood is a one way ticket to nowhere.

When you're branded as the sombre and serious guy, then that's all Hollywood is going to give you. But sombre and serious is a tough sell and only a few become real hits, even on a small scale, so it will soon become harder and harder to make those kinds of films.

However, if a filmmaker does something different, puts 100% of their energy and talent into it, and it's a success, then something magical happens.

Perceptions change.

A filmmaker goes from "That guy who does stuff for awards shows" to "That guy who can do anything!"

Hollywood loves someone who can do anything it impresses them, and those who can impress get a lot more leeway.

Also, some broad commercial success makes doing the sombre serious stuff a hell of a lot easier. An Oscar win only really impresses the investors for only so long, because someone else will win one the next year, and you'll be competing with them.

Look at Sam Mendes, he exploded into Hollywood with his indie drama American Beauty, winning Best Director and Best Picture. His follow ups though suffered from a case of diminishing returns in both praise and box office. He was becoming the "make a statement about modern American life" guy, and it was pigeonholing him severely.

Then he did Skyfall.

He not made a Bond movie, he burned a lot of calories making it the best Bond movie he could make. Suddenly he had a critical and commercial mega-hit, that will no doubt ease the way for his career for many years to come. 

McQueen should consider that strategy.

LUPITA NYONG'O: On the plus side for her career- She's a beautiful woman, a talented actress, and managed to avoid having Travolta mangle her name.

However, a big downside is that she's won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her first big attention getting role.

That's very dangerous for an actress.


Because Oscar winners, especially actresses, who aren't already established securely in their careers or themselves can fall into a trap that badly damage that career.

This happens because the actress' handlers, agents, managers, and the producers they work with only see them through the prism of the Oscar and getting another one

That means lots of roles with lots of emoting, maybe something involving a disease, and hopefully a lot of crying.

Lupita should pass on any offer that promises her another Academy Award nomination. Those kinds of offers the cheese on the mousetrap that will put the smack down on her career. What she needs to do is to use her position as an Oscar winner to network and connect with talented filmmakers with good track records who will be eager to work with her on a variety of projects.

Then she might avoid the career mishaps that have sunk so many other careers.

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