Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mother, where do Directors come from?

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend. We were talking about production companies that make the straight to video monster/horror/slasher/erotic/thriller films that seem to fill up the halls at AFM. Now the reason we were talking about this was because we were wondering - 1: who do we talk to to get hired at one of them and 2: if you directed a film for a company like that would it hurt or help your career?

Then a month ago or so there was an article in the LA Times Calendar section about the new tidal wave of horror films and there was a quote from an executive at one of the companies (maybe the one that made Saw) who - when asked about older horror film directors who have experience vs. younger first-time filmmakers who have no experience: he said (and I'm paraphrasing) I'd rather hire someone who is going to do something new and fresh even if they don't know what the fuck they're doing (which is basically what Saw was - a great pitch followed by 90 minutes of film.)

AND a year or so ago I had a meeting with a VP of Production for a major film company (that a friend of mine had gotten me) and he said, "you should make a short." To which I responded - "But I've already directed two features." To which he responded, "yes, but the sad thing is that most people who would hire you to direct a whole feature don't actually want to take the time to sit down and watch a whole feature."

And then there was an editorial by Peter Bart in Variety recently talking about George Lucas. Now the article kind of talked about what a dork Lucas is but it also talked about his being friends with Coppola and them starting out together. And I started to think about that whole generation, which is, of course, the generation of filmmakers that I grew up admiring (especially Coppola (being an Italian kid from back east - he was kind of hero to me.) And people like Peter Bart and Robert Evans and all of them who were responsible for all those great movies - and I can't imagine them hiring someone to direct a $50 million film based on a short - and it occurred to me that maybe people in Hollywood these days don't really like movies all that much.

That could be why so many first-time directors get the chance to hack away at a few dozen rolls of film and tens of millions of dollars. Because where do Directors come from? They come from - film school, writing, festivals (which is OK - I guess, depending on how they get there - which is a WHOLE other long post,) music video and commercials.

But where did the Easy Riders and Raging Bulls come from? In essence they came from the same places - (those minus festivals and music video (and to a large extent commercials.) But they didn't leap off the page and start shooting the Godfather. How did they work their way up? Coppola made a film for Roger Corman called Dementia 13 then went on to direct a bunch of nudie movies before getting a real break. Scorsese (is that spelled right) Made a film on his own, then one for Corman (Box Car Bertha) then put together Mean Streets, Spielberg Sugarland Express and The Duel - but the point is these guys were making movies! That's how they learned! AND they were making movies that these days would get you a one-way ticket to palookaville. But here's the point. Making a movie is a task - a craft unlike anything else in the world. Making a 3 and half minute music video or a 30 second commercial does not qualify you do it. The only thing that qualifies you - trains you - for directing features is directing features. Now - of course there have to be first-time directors - of course people have to start - and doing all those other things IS a great place to start. It's a fantastic place to start - but making films for AFM and places like that is an even better place to start - it's a great place to go to from music videos or commercials and some people do. You can learn the craft without that much at stake. Because it's a hell of a lot better to make your mistakes when the film cost $1 million rather than when it costs $20 million - or more (or even $10 million.) And it's a great place to build a body of work that says - hey - I know what the fuck I'm doing.

Then again, if that's true - why do I want so desperately to take Sex Substitute 2 off my resume?

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