To All Aspiring Directors: Sorry, but Hollywood Isn’t Looking

It is no secret that Hollywood is taking fewer and fewer risks when it comes to deciding what movies will be green-lit or put into production. Despite rises in ticket prices, yearly box office returns have been increasing stagnant. This truth combined with the current economic downtown has forced studios and their larger conglomerates to scrutinize bottom lines more attentively than ever before. The big news in the last two weeks has come from Paramount, which announced that it would be slimming down its production slate from close to thirty films a year to roughly twenty films a year. Only a dozen of those films will be produced by Paramount and the other eight will be a mix of Vantage, DreamWorks Animation and Marvel productions. As a result of major film studios minimizing their production slate, the success of films that are green-lit have more significance than ever before. The above-the-line profession most affected by the studio executives’ reluctance to invest in anything new is the director.

Last week I was stunned to hear the news that successful actor and comedian Ben Stiller has been given the directorial reigns over the much-awaited DreamWorks passion project, The Trial of the Chicago 7. The move was made after Paul Greengrass and Steven Spielberg turned down the project. Stiller is best known for his acting in slapstick comedies including Zoolander and Dodgeball. The idea of Stiller directing a period political story revolving around the 1968 Democratic convention riots and their aftermath is not something I am very comfortable with. He has directed several films in the past, however, they have all been generally the same type of comedic films that he himself would act in. The Trial of the Chicago 7 shows great promise with a script by Aaron Sorkin and seasoned producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald attached. I am not going to say that Stiller would ruin the film, in actuality I think he would bring an interesting element to the film, my issue is that this is the perfect opportunity for an up and coming trained director to show his merit. There is tremendous risk when investing in a blockbuster film and Hollywood has traditionally aimed to mitigate that risk by attaching famous actors and proven personnel. I challenge the idea that a popular actor is a safer bet to put in charge of a film compared to a trained and educated director that has completed several smaller to mid-level budget films. There is no reason why Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Joshua Jackson can find top-level administrative jobs and Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) and Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) cannot. At some point, studios are no longer mitigating risk by choosing a high-profile actor and actresses to direct instead they are creating risk by putting an uneducated and untrained overseer at the helm of their project.

There are of course exceptions to the idea that actors cannot and should not direct. Mel Gibson (Braveheart), Sean Penn (Mystic River), Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck) and I believe the most talented of them all, Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby) have all proven themselves to be extremely talented behind the camera as well as in front of it. While all of the above are talented, I believe that most of them really only succeed when they are directing films similar to those that they once starred in. Due to the fact that they were not traditionally trained as directors their pictures and directing style usually lack a learning curve seen in more seasoned directors. Clint Eastwood on the other hand appears to strive for a permanent learning curve. We all know that it is easy to fall into a routine; Eastwood on the other hand has spent the last half-century continually changing and for the better. He has gone from a hard-nosed cowboy who was a good guy but not very serious to a gracious man thoroughly dedicated to his craft. He is continuously searching for stories worth telling tacking serious topics in a serious manner. This year he has directed Gran Torino and Changeling both are receiving Oscar nods and the future looks bright for the 78-year-old director. What I admire most about Clint Eastwood is his ability to use his star stature to gain creative freedom for his films, which he makes the way that he wants to. This is what most actors turned directors lack; I do not believe they challenge themselves in how the convey a film, instead their style is limited to how they have seen it done so many times before.

As Hollywood reacts to our recent economic downturn we as viewers can expect more sequels, more remakes and much less original work. Excellent projects such as Wolfman, Factor X, The Avengers and Halo are still in pre-production phases because Hollywood is under the impression that all of the marketable directors are attached to other projects. I’m not sure when the change occurred that a director of a film had to be a big name star, but I do believe that the quality of a film is not dependent on the audience recognizing the director’s name.


Hollywood Online: Film Industry and the Web

This past week, I concentrated on probing the Internet for high-quality blogs and fascinating as well as reputable resources pertaining to my interest in the evolution of Hollywood. Spending this time searching for additional resources and links will aid me in creating more comprehensive future blog entries. Following both the Webby and IMSA criteria for website evaluation I have added twenty unique links to my linkroll which I believe capture or report-on one or more important aspects of Hollywood. In this entry I will, give a brief summary of each of think links located under my linkroll which is located on the right side of my blog.

Some of the most credible blogs I could find came from Variety.com’s main blogging website. The directory provides links to extremely reputable bloggers all with documented histories in the film industry including, Peter Bart, Pamela McClintock, Ben Fritz, and Anne Thompson. Variety succeeds in providing commentary on all facets of the entertainment industry. Nikki Finke writes another great blog, Deadline Hollywood Daily. The site is the Internet version of her popular LA weekly column. Ms. Finke won the 2007 Southern California entertainment journalist of year award and uses this online medium to break news 24/7 about the entertainment industry. The website moviemarketingmadness.com/blog is one of several websites run by Chris Thilk. Chris is a social media strategist, film marketing author, and the director of marketing of the popular online movie community site Spout.com. While not as notable as the authors mentioned previously Chris offers excellent opinions and up to date news regarding the marketing aspect of today’s films. A similar blogger Berge Garabedian is responsible for the website joblo.com. Berge unlike Chris however is more of a film critic than a reporter on the general industry. Berge and joblo.com pride themselves in critiquing movies from the perspective of an average film-goer or your everyday “joe shmoe”. Other than an up-to-date blog the site also offers but is not limited to real time release dates, downloadable scripts and movie trailers. The last blog that I added and will comment on is the Steven Zeitchik’s riskybusinessblog.com. The Risky Biz blog examines “the film industry’s “ups, downs and deals from around the world and the heart of Hollywood”. Zeitchik is part of the Hollywood reporter’s worldwide team and has also contributed pieces to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The site also offers an extensive list of links including homepages for the major Hollywood critics, studios, business data and entertainment gossip websites.

There were other less reputable film critic websites that were nonetheless very provocative and interesting. These sites offer rants and raves about all aspects of the industry as well as news and articles from less traditional perspectives. Empireonline.com/empireblog/ and lucidscreening.com are two great examples. These sites, while probably not citation worthy, are great for inciting different ways to think about film industry topics.

During my search of the net I also came across several sites that provided enormous data on box office receipts and projections. Both Box Office Guru and Box Office Mojo offer comprehensive box office reporting services. Box Office Guru presents the information in a very friendly almost garage-made layout. Box Office Mojo on the other hand is much more institutionalized. Founded by Brandon gray in 1999, Box Office Mojo now averages over 1 million distinctive users per month. The information and analysis provided by Box Office Mojo is cited regularly by L.A. Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes and countless other high-end publications. While Mojo and Guru provide after-the-fact analysis of films, websites such as the Hollywood Stock Exchange and Projectionz strive to predict the respective success a film will have. HSX functions exactly like a real stock market. Users buy and sell shares of actors and movies resulting in a realistic prediction of success. The values rise or fall based on the success of the box office success of the film. Projectionz offers a more traditional style of predicting success. Two members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association make predictions based on quality of script and above-the-line personnel.

While limited in number there were several film websites dedicated to the inner-workings of the independent film world. Two of these sites include www.filmthreat.com and www.indiescene.com. Indiescene provides mostly commentary on films as well as Do’s and Don’ts on how-to market smaller budget films. FilmThreat offers film festival information, exclusive interviews and original videos in addition to film reviews. Both websites are progressive journalism while staying true to the renegade nature of independent films.

There are a number of great film industry directory type websites. Darkhorizons.com, IMDb.com, TotalFilm.com, and Cinemaspot.com are just some of these types of websites. Each of these sites offers the latest industry news, reviews, trailers, cast and crew, summaries and business information for both upcoming and past films. A few other great websites consist of apple.com/trailers, superherohype.com and themoviespoiler.com. Apple’s website has the most in depth archive of new and old film trailers. Superherohype.com offers news and updates of popular comics and there transition to the silver screen. Themoviespoiler.com provides users with spoilers for new releases and upcoming films which can be extremely helpful I understanding the basic plot line for upcoming films without having seen them. My investigation of the film industry and how it is represented online this week has left me a greater understanding of the resources available to me and other interested parties.
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