Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Kid Stays In The Picture

For those of you who haven't read Robert Evan's ''autobiography'' ( I use itallics because I suspect given the subject there is a lot of hyperbole involved!) I really do recommend it. I first read it a couple of years ago and have recently started again. It is THAT good.

A passage I was reading early this morning struck a chord. Bear in mind Evans was referring to Paramount in the seventies, when Paramount was rapidly going down the toilet. He had a stand up/knock down fight with the distribution arm, because he reckoned the problem was that distribution was telling production what to make when in his opinion production should be making what they thought was great, then tell distribution to go out and sell it. He won.

The result was Chinatown, The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, Goodbye Columbus, Marathon Man and a host of others. True or not it's a great story. But the situation has become much worse since then.

With the cost of movies spiralling the studios are only willing to greenlight what they think are sure fire winners. They've been vetted by marketing and distribution long before the cameras start rolling. No exec is willing to put their head above the parapet and take a risk.

In this industry the corporate culture and creative culture have to rub along in an uneasy alliance for the best work to reach the screen. In the last 20 years I feel corporate culture has annexed the Sudetenland. Marched in. Declared Marshall law. Okay my own hyperbole there, but you know what I mean.

10 years ago do you think a writer had any idea what ''4 quadrant'' meant? This ''marketers'' speak is now on the lips of every newbie trying for a shot with a studio. It's a cultural change but the prize is so great it is very difficult not to fall in with the buzz words and statistics and demongraphics that the marketers throw around. That's fine if you can do that and feel it doesn't actually harm the story you want to tell.

But when that story then has to become the one the marketers believe they can sell then you have a dilemma.

And it's not quite the same dilemma as a director or producer asking for artistic or production based changes. This is about a pre-emtive strike solely based on what the marketing department ''think'' they can sell. Emotional beats changed to suit a predicted audience whim long before sneaks and previews. Give a girl a chance will you, before you give her a pre-prom makeover so she'll make it big with the jocks? Assuming she's not a swamp monster maybe the jocks will like her just as she is?

Yes, film making is a business, and for studios, anticipating the market is essential, but it's not like making kettles. It's about emotion and zeitgeist. And I defy anyone to anticipate what that will be 2 or 3 years down the line when a greenlit film is actually finally released.

A film should be made on gut instinct more than statistics, but bravery has gone out the window thanks to the quick and high price of executive failure. The sack!

This defensive production culture has also permeated through Uk TV to some extent. Witness the bland load of bollocks littering the schedules. Though truth be told, and I may be way off base, I am detecting a sea change. I think it is a sea change born out of desperation as ratings stagnate or dwindle, but I am beginning to hear what I think are encouraging noises. Michael Grade's assertion that content is king sounds very much like Robert Evans' plea to Paramount. It apparently worked for him? And saved Paramount if not the movie industry.


Damaged Goods said...

hi there....just thought I'd introduce myself. I've been stalking your site for a while now. We read much of the same stuff.

Did you see this doc version of the Kid Stays In ?

English Dave said...

Welcome damaged! Yes I did. It was excellent. It's a tribute to the guy that so many people contributed rather than suing him! lol

Book of Don said...

I was in LA last year doing a film about Edgar Bronfman Jr's disasterous time as a film producer (The Border), and interviewed a guy called Syd Sheinberg - who was one of the "hit-men" type studio execs....he used to be Lew Wasserman's #2 we were making small talk he told me completely off the record..that Wasserman actually put out a CONTRACT to have Evans whacked because Steve McQueen wanted him that McQueen could have his way with Ali McGraw...when Evans learned about this he called Lew and said - hey, save your money ... buy me dinner and Steve can have her.

gotta love those guys, eh ?

Book of Don said...

by the way...I've changed my blog name from Damaged Goods to the Don-thing. I've been getting some pretty nasty emails...anonymous, of course - about the state of (a) my mental health; (b) my ego; (c) my, I've decide to take a less revealing approach to this blog - although I'm still going to write what I think needs to be said.


Jaded and Cynical said...

That's a great story. And wasn't Evans himself caught up in a murder trial late in his career?

The business had a dark side in those days, and to a lesser extent probably still does.

I had a look on IMDB recently to see what one of my favourite directors, John McTiernan, was up to. The short answer is not much, at least not until he's finished his prison sentence.

The only good thing with all this criminality is that maybe someone, somewhere has a contract out on Rob Schneider.

English Dave said...

Sorry to hear that Don. the infernalnet can be a scary place!

Jaded, yes he was suspected of being implicated in the murder of a shady financier in the fallout from The Cotton Club.