Friday, December 28, 2007
Hollywood: MovieMaking On Steroids
First, let me explain this image, because it is unsettling, to be sure. From the website where I stole it, it says:
The “bully” whippet has a mutation in its gene for the muscle growth-limiting factor myostatin that caused the canine to develop its striking overstuffed muscles. Dogs with one copy of the two–base pair mutation are faster and more athletic than normal whippets, but animals such as this one with two copies have severely overdeveloped muscles and often die prematurely.
A perfect metaphor for Hollywood films. For Hollywood itself, really. And by Hollywood, I mean studio-produced commercial filmmaking. Only this dog is really sad and Hollywood is annoying and corrupt - financially, creatively and spiritually. In my low-budget indie world of filmmaking, I rarely have to cross paths with the steroidal beast that is Hollywood, even though I do my thing right under its nose. But because there are times when I need the funds and/or resources that larger films provide, I have to come face-to-face with the ugly realities of that world and they never cease to amaze, horrify and amuse me.
I am currently one of the producers on my friend Kerry Prior's new dark, funny buddy comedy/vampire film called "The Revenant". Normally, I think of producing as my day job and I am open to producing practically anything to pay the bills and maintain my independence. Someday, I hope to produce only things I'm passionate about, but for now....Anyway, it's different with Kerry because he's a friend and it's a really great project. So, I'm excited to do it. But it is an ambitious film with a significant budget. So, we've decided to cast it with some "name" talent to improve its marketability - which I absolute hate doing, but which I can't argue against given the current indie marketplace - also, knowing how much Kerry has personally riding on this. I'm all for him hedging his bet in as many ways as possible.
So, we've been on the hunt, looking at numerous "name" actors. I keep putting quotes around the word name because most of these actors are not household names. They are names in the industry. The movers, shakers and hustlers whose business it is to mold "stars" - which basically means create marketable human commodities - are keen to the beautiful, charismatic, new faces on the rise, keeping a sharp eye out for anyone who can make them money. Well, those same movers, shakers and hustlers are the people we have to deal with even when doing a small independent film. If you want that actor, then you have to deal with the machinery that comes with him or her - no matter how good or important your film is. And acting "on behalf of their client" they feel perfectly justified in asking for all kinds of outrageous things that may be perfectly standard in pumped-up Hollyweird, but have no real relevance to a small, personally-financed independent film. And when you object to these demands/requests they act personally offended as if you don't respect them, their client or "the way business is done". Here are a few of the things that have been asked for...
- A lot of money (of course, but peanuts according to them and relative to multi-million dollar budgets)
- Less shooting days (maybe they'd like us to make the film in a matter of hours, not days).
- Producer credit (even though their client would just be acting. I'm surprised they didn't ask for a writing credit in the event the actor ad-libs a line)
- A "three-banger" trailer (Very expensive personal trailer - you could land a plane in it)
- First-class, expense-paid trips to major festivals
- Pay or play contract (meaning you pay them their whole fee if the film never gets made, which is understandable since you are tying them up, but also even if they suck or are difficult)
- Any perks that can be created that are not available to any other actor
That last one is not made up. I'm sure I'm paraphrasing, but only just a little bit. And there were many, many more that were less expensive or objectionable. Now, a good script can be leveraged against these demands. If an actor is passionate about doing something, a deal can get done. But these Hollywad agents/managers will nonetheless start by asking for the world and convince themselves that they are just doing their job in trying to get the best for their clients. But are they truly doing that if they are putting the production in financial peril and risking the highest quality realization of the film (assuming we were dumb/desperate enough to acquiesce to these demands)? Also, some demands are just plain insulting in juxtaposition to a production like ours and it creates an adversarial energy between the production and the actor (even though actors are quick to blame their representation for outrageous demands).
The more important question for us as filmmakers is this: Are they worth it? Are these "name" actors worth the hassle and investment? Not only do they cost you a bundle, but you are crap-shooting that they won't cop attitude on your "small" film and will perform dependably and collaboratively. You've heard me rail against trying to track down a "name" for your films, but even if you have access to them, will they really bring the visibility (and subsequent pay-off) that is worth all the trouble? If they aren't the handful of actors whose schedules are booked through the next millenium, can they really affect the bottom line? I don't know. But I certainly have my doubts. Too many examples every year at Sundance and other fests of break-out films with NOBODY even demi-famous in them (Blair Witch Project, Chuck and Buck, Open Water, etc. etc.).
But sometimes the Hollywood "beast" is unavoidable. And if you must take it on for any reason, and to any extent, just be aware that you are going to pay a price. That creature is bloated and extravagant both in front of and behind the cameras - as is nearly every individual invested in that world. Like I said, my financial needs will occasionally place me eye-to-eye with the beast. I try not to blink, take what I need, then get the hell outta there.