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.

1 comment:

Dorian Martinez said...

First of all I want to say thank you for writing this blog about a topic that I have recently found myself thinking about. I often wonder why the big studio executives believe that films will only be a commercial success by attaching big name stars to the projects. I do not think that the we the consumers are so superficial that we will only watch a film based on who is starring in it or who is directing, I believe that a good film will always be good based on its content and delivery. I agree with the point you made, studio executives keep giving projects to known actors instead of worthy up and coming directors, this trend might have some negative repercussions in the long run; movie studios might be loosing a lot of potential revenue from films that might not never come to be because of the fact that these directors are not given the chance to prove and create new art. I believe that to in order for the film industry to grow and reach new artistic areas, new visions need to be allowed to enter, either through the director, producers, or actors themselves; studios need to take risks and step away from their old and proven formulas of making money in order to go beyond of what movies are today.

I really liked how you structured your blog and linked your sources with specific keywords within your blog. In your first paragraph where you mentioned that the box office returns have been stagnant, you linked to a website that has the actual numbers which is real good to do, specially for business people that want to see how stagnant the industry has really been. You also structured in such a way that made it easy for me to read through each section of it. You seem very well informed about the film industry and specific directors, which makes your personal views and opinions much more credible to me. I look forward to your next blog and to be able to read your opinions and insights into an industry that is crucial for our local economy here in Hollywood, Los Angeles.

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