Today's guest post continues yesterday's from producer Cotty Chubb. A memorable dream
Two years ago in the middle of the night I woke up heart hammering. I'd been having an argument in a dream. Actually, I'd been screaming. Screaming at a director, I don't know who. We were standing alone in the front row of an empty movie theater. "You think," I ranted, gesturing up at the blank white screen, "you think that what's up there is the movie, and you think that it's your movie, you made it, it's yours. But you're fucking wrong [I told you I was screaming, right?]. That's not the movie. The movie... the movie... the movie is what happens in the air between up there and down here. That's the movie, you moron." And then I woke up.
Maybe I'd eaten too much supper, like the boy in Winsor McKay's Dreams of A Rarebit Fiend. Or maybe I was sick of narcissist auteurs. 2008 was a bad year for that.
In the mid-eighties Stanley Kubrick went to Michael Herr, one of the great writers of the Viet Nam War (Dispatches, check it out) who also wrote the Martin Sheen monologue in Apocalypse Now. Kubrick said "I want to do a Viet Nam movie and I want you to write it." And Herr said, "I don't know how to write a screenplay and I'm not about to learn how to write a screenplay writing for the best film-maker in the world."
But Kubrick said, "It's not that hard.
"Just pretend that you're going to a movie. Walk up to the box office. Buy a ticket. Take the ticket and go inside. There'll be a kid there who'll rip it in half. Take the stub and walk through the lobby. Go into the theater. Walk down the aisle to about six rows in front of the screen. Take a seat in the middle of the row. Sit down. Wait. After a while, the lights will go down and the curtain will go up and the movie will start.
“Just write down what you see."
It's not that hard, he said. Just write looking up at the screen not down at your desk. Just write with the images filling your vision. Just write as part of the audience.
But writing for the audience, writing as part of the audience, making the movie that happens between the screen and the audience, all that takes respect for the audience, for their emotions, for their needs, for their dreams and hopes and fears.
Did you see the Hughes tribute on the Oscar telecast? Hughes's movies were studio movies. They made millions for the studios. And John Hughes respected his audience. Look at how their teenage emotions, fragile, skittish, powerful, are portrayed, with love and humor and a sharp eye. But studios don't make those movies any more. Why not? I think it's because, with rare exceptions, studios don't respect audiences any more – don’t respect them except as consumers. It’s what can we sell them?, not what can we feed them.
Spectacle and branded entertainment experiences must seem to studio heads a safer bet than movies. And maybe short term it is. But they've raised a generation that doesn't really care about movies anymore. Why should they? They haven't really seen any. If you're a young man, you might have liked Sherlock Holmes. But it didn't feed you. The last movie that really spoke to young men might have been Fight Club and how long ago was that? Last century, 1999. (Maybe Superbad, because Apatow in that one wrote especially empathetically but I've heard its demo skewed older.)
So this moment is an opportunity perhaps. Yes, the distribution apparatus has collapsed. The tsunami of hedge-fund capital swept in -- lots of movies got made because well-heeled neophytes thought having lots of money made them producers -- and post-Lehman, like all tsunamis, it swept out, leaving behind tangled wreckage and broken lives.
But some brave souls are picking up the pieces, hammering together some shelter out of tin and plastic sheeting and old pipes. We don't know what the business model really is; we'll know it when we see it in the rear view mirror. Oh, we'll say, so that's how it works, so that's how movies get monetized. So that's what audiences want to pay for and how they want to pay for it.
But right now here's our chance: the mega-suppliers have forgotten they're in the movie business -- or maybe they've just decided to abandon it for the branded entertainment experience business. And we don't have to.
Cotty Chubb is a producer and manager working in LA. Movies he's proud of range fromEve's Bayou to The Crow toPootie Tang to the upcoming Unthinkable with Samuel Jackson and Michael Sheen.