The article I’ll be referencing throughout:
I was originally going to write a review of a movie I recently got to see for free: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. But that movie was so abhorrently stupid, I don’t think I could bring myself to write anything more than that. So, here’s my review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an unintelligent gore fest, and if I had not been invited to a free screening, I would have kicked myself for spending money on the film.
Now that that’s out of my system, I stumbled across an article that made me laugh. In “The New Hollywood: Producers Struggle to Adjust to Life Off the Studio Lot,” I read stories about how major studios are funding fewer films these days, how the vast majority of movies are being made independently for meager budgets with returns easily ten times what was spent on the production, how studios are only interested in distribution instead of full-blown production, how producers who followed the “traditional Hollywood model” found out only a few years ago that their game-winning process had expired.
“The bottom line is, producers are on their own,” David Friendly, the producer of films like Doctor Dolittle and Little Miss Sunshine, says in this article. “There used to be someone taking care of us in good times and bad. That’s over.”
“So much of the job of a producer is convincing very established filmmakers who are used to shooting for 40 or 50 days that they can do the same thing in 25 to 30 days,” producer Celine Rattray says.
I say it’s about damn time.
As a filmmaker, I’ve long believed a good film doesn’t take half a year or a year to complete, and, depending on the film, it doesn’t—rather, it shouldn’t—take the GDP of Switzerland to finance it.
Yet I seem to attend a school where at least 90% of students in the Visual Media Arts department are of the mindset that a 20-minute stop-motion student movie about an egg who is also a detective trying to find true love in noir thriller New York (the film is called Hard Boiled. Get it? GET IT??? You think I’m making this up) requires an entire semester and a Kindergarten teacher’s annual salary to make it. Maybe I’m just cheap, maybe I was raised differently, but I balk at the idea that something like Moonrise Kingdom had a $16 million budget.
There are several things I feel are to blame for this mentality. One of which is the exorbitant fees paid to certain film stars (Shia LaBoeuf “earned” $10 million for Transformers 3. That seems…excessive). I don’t know about the rest of you, but a quarter million a year sounds like a fortune to me. Personally, I don’t understand what people do with all the money dumped upon them. I certainly wouldn’t know what to do. Were I handed $10 million today, most of that would probably go either into charity or into the college fund for the children I don’t have.
…or, y’know, back into this country. Which is still in debt and could probably use that kind of cash right now.
But the chief cause, I think, for this mentality are the producers themselves. Here, they are just now acknowledging the death of an old way of making films, a way I feel expired three years ago but was due to expire at least a decade before.
With the advent of the digital age, the reins of the silver screen have been wrested from the hands of big names and handed to independent hotshots who think they have a story to tell, and while this has, in the last generation or so, produced a fair share of unwatchable messes, occasionally the great story, the fantastic adventure, has shone through the mess. In fact, on second thought, in the last ten years alone, a good chunk of the worst films of the season have in fact come from none other than the big name studios themselves, studios which have resigned themselves to “safe bets”: high-octane action films, sequels, prequels, remakes, sappy romcoms, TV spinoffs, the whole flying lot.
The original ideas, meanwhile, have been left to the vilified population of fresh-minded students left standing in the cold, a population tainted by the flood of pretention that pours from the loudest of the group, silencing all with a story actually worth hearing, condemning them to art houses nobody attends and pleading with executives who don’t want “new.”
“Your idea won’t sell,” they will say when you bring a story worth telling. “If you can’t tell me that your story is Movie X meets Movie Y, then it won’t sell.”
These are the words straight from the mouths of those very producers who are in such desperate need for story that they would rather rehash the old, the worn out, the familiar, than take a chance at something new, something different, something that could be wonderful but will most probably never see the light of day.
Now, they are trapped, languishing under the heel of their own failed gambit, seeing now the result of boosting the talentless and hypnotizing the once talented, forcing them to rewrite their stories, feeding them myths of opportunity, promising grandeur.
All they want is your voice, you poor unfortunate soul.
We have reached an impasse: producers are scrambling for an idea that will sell, but they are unwilling to take a chance on something new, a fresh idea; the new auteurs have stories to tell, but nobody will buy them because they are new and different, because the stigma of the pretentious indie pollutes the atmosphere, leaving a bad taste in the mouth at the sheer mention of the words “up-and-coming young filmmaker.”
We have reached Deadlock.
So, where do we go from here? Where do producers go when they need new, fresh ideas, ideas worth making, ideas worth selling? Where do they go when they need writers, directors, storytellers?
The producers have been ripped from their decadent nests and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. We feel you, producers.
Which is why I submit to you this offer:
Look to us.
Sit down with us.
And we shall deliver ye from your frigid Hell.
A friend of mine found himself descending into the darkness of cynicism and disillusionment, the same ghost that haunts all bright-eyed students whose first step into Hollywood drives them smack into a brick wall. He told me what he was told when he pitched his ideas: nobody will buy them because “they don’t sound like ideas that will sell.” His ideas aren’t generic enough, aren’t familiar enough, and if he wants to get by in Hollywood, he needs to accept that reality and write for the audience, not for himself.
He returned from California recently happier than I’d ever seen him. His idealism did not falter, did not wither, did not perish, for he knows, as I know, that true story is of far more worth to the audience than the same damn thing screened for the millionth time.
True story is worth far more to this world than the same story told the same way a thousand times.
“The most original authors are not so,” Goethe wrote, “because they advance what is new, but because they put what they have to say as if it had never been said before.”
The keys to the kingdom do not belong to the studio: they never have. They lie in the hands of the writer, the director, the filmmaker. Storytellers: unlock the door. Open your heart. Release your stories unto the world as only you know how.
Something I try to remember, but sometimes forget:
We chose one of the most difficult paths to turn into a career, but the challenge along the way will make the end all the more rewarding when we look back and say, “We did it. We beat that.”
And when the chances are a million to one, which they will always be, we fight to be that one in a million. And if they choose to try to shoot us down, they won’t watch us go down in flames.
We’ll take them down with us and give them front row seats to watch us rise back up.
We are the dreamers of the day, as T.E. Lawrence would say. We are dangerous people, for we act our dreams with open eyes to make them possible.
He would call us dangerous. I call us wonderful.
For what better goal is there but to make a dream reality?
We are storytellers.
We will never die.