Especially to cable television, which has enjoyed its finest years ever, beginning by my count, when HBO debuted The Sopranos, and rolled out the welcome mat for writers who were sick of being second-guessed by network executives and focus groups.
In the years since that auspicious pilot, I count an ever more promising pool of talent, producing series of compelling drama and profoundly complex characters. Among my personal favorites have been BREAKING BAD, MAD MEN, THE KILLING, RAY DONOVAN, MR. ROBOT, HOMELAND, MASTERS OF SEX, TRUE DETECTIVE (season one) and PENNY DREADFUL. What these series share is an unbelievably nuanced view of humanity. And a clear conviction that producers need no longer dumb-down their characters and story lines to find an audience. Complexity is celebrated. The ambiguity of the human heart is at last getting full reign to run where it will – into some pretty dark realms it turns out – but this is what happens when creativity has been so long suppressed. It flees into the underworld, that true realm of our psyche, from which monsters emerge. Dark, glorious, surprising monsters of the id. The Walter Whites and Don Drapers; the Vanessa Ives and Mr. Robots of the world, let loose upon the landscape of television.
Truthfully, the world of motion pictures looks pale and reed-thin by comparison. Week after week, the Friday openings offers little more than a sad rehash of overdeveloped franchises. It seems only the kids’ movies dare to launch a new character. If it isn’t a Marvel or DC Comics hero, they’re not interested. Whole genres have fallen out of production, adult dramas (except for the one month pre-Oscar qualifiers); suspense, thrillers, even romantic comedies are few and far between. As if date-night were a quaint idea of the past.
As lamentable as these trends may be, they are easy to understand if you look at the economics. P&A costs for a major release now adds such a burden for a picture to perform on opening weekend, that only international blockbusters can hope to win their frame. To combat international piracy, we have moved to day-and-date releases across large parts of the global market – a challenge for all but the biggest drawing super heroes. Horror seems to be the only other genre with enough box office grip to justify its cost of production. But let’s face it, the real reason that so few movie genres have survived is job security.
Studio executives are scared to death of green lighting a flop. A $200 million flop is career ending decision. So you do everything in your power, selecting from a smaller and smaller pool of guaranteed franchises, to pick your bet. Nobody will ever get fired for green lighting another X-Men. And that’s the long and short of things. Decisions being made by executives in fear for their jobs.
Sadly, anything truly original entails risk. And any business model that demands returns on opening weekend – is no longer in a position to take on these risks. And so, the exodus continues. OUT of motion picture into television. We go where we can work. We go where we can do our BEST work.
And I have gone from looking forward to the latest round of Friday releases, to marveling when one of them actually slips through the barbed wire, and puts something great on screen. Sadly, this isn’t often. Which makes the triumph all the greater when it happens.
A friend of mine recently asked me to advise her on a short film. She’s a film school graduate from a very credible university, but the script she showed me didn’t yet have the elements I consider likely to lead to a successful short.
That’s not surprising, considering that most of what’s taught in film and screenwriting classes is meant to prepare filmmakers for the jump into feature films or television. I would argue, however, that the short film is its own art form. With its own rules for success or failure. Not knowing these rules is a recipe for a lot of wasted effort and heartbreak. Don’t let this happen to you! (keep reading…)
FILM: EDGE OF TOMORROW
Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie and Jez & John-Henry Butterworth, based on the novel “All You Need Is Kill,” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Starring: Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt
A few weeks ago, a friend suggested we take in this summer’s latest Tom Cruise offering, “Edge of Tomorrow.” I had seen the trailer and was pretty skeptical. As a general rule, I avoid movie trailers. There’s nothing I love more than sitting down before the big screen, having no idea what I’m about to see or where it’s going to take me. Besides, one of the occupational hazards of being a professional screenwriter is that – given any 3 plot points – we can extrapolate the entire narrative. Trailers give away much too much information (but that’s another topic).
What I saw in the trailer left me very uninterested. Tom Cruise was in a war (with aliens it turns out) in which he could not be killed. Catch a bullet, die, start over. He and Emily Blunt. Again and again, fighting, dying, coming right back to life. Just like a video game.
“Where’s the fun in that?” I wondered. “Where’s the jeopardy? Where are the stakes?” (read the answers…) (more…)
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Sofía Vergara.
Anyone who loves good food and great music will love “Chef,” so we can dispense with the review. This column isn’t about film reviews. It’s about why things work on screen and how they do it.
Written, directed and starring Jon Favreau, no one will argue that this movie is fun. It was so much fun, in fact, that for most of the film I kept waiting for the real conflict to kick in. It never did. So I left the theater feeling amused, but with the nagging sensation that this meal would not last. That it was the cinematic equivalent of a well made soufflé. Which is not “wrong” or even easy to do. But it does provide a great teaching experience for those of us who can’t bank on Robert Downey Jr. & Dustin Hoffman to drop by the set for a great cameo. (read on…) (more…)
FILM REVIEW: GODZILLA 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Max Borenstein; Story: Dave Callahan
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson; Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston & Ken Watanabe
reviewed 5/16/14 by Ric Gibbs
First off, I am a tremendous fan of the big guy. I was a Godzilla fan, just like I was a dinosaur fan, loved dinosaur bones and saw every Godzilla movie they made growing up. Even the cheesy ones cranked out of Tokyo with an ever expanding chorus of monsters and monster agendas and even fairies that spoke to giant moths. I get this franchise. And I love it.
So it hurts me to report that this year’s Godzilla is a dud. I wanted soooooo much to like this movie, but left the theater with such a deep sense of dissatisfaction that I just had to look into why it felt so “off base.”
It’s not a hard search. Godzilla 2014 is a classic example of what happens when the filmmakers either don’t know, or don’t care about the core myth beneath their story. This same myth that was important enough to launch a 60 year franchise and turned a 1954 “B” grade monster movie into part of cinema history! When movies connect with a core myth – Star Wars is the classic example – magic happens. So let’s look at the myth of Gojira and why it worked so well for so long.
Central to this myth is the angry god. The destroyer of worlds. The merciless cleanser of man’s excess. This god goes by many names. He is the angry Yahweh sending the floods that destroy the world (except for Noah and his arc). He is Kali the Destroyer, the Hindu Goddess of death, sent to annihilate all men who have grown greedy and wicked in their appetites.
Almost every major mythology has some incarnation of the “World Destroyer,” because central to the human myth is that our species will inevitably get too greedy, too careless, too arrogant, too big for our britches and need to be taken out and thrashed. That’s the myth. And that’s the job for Godzilla. He’s not supposed to be nice about it.
The reason that Gojira enjoyed such success – well beyond anything that could be expected from a cheaply made monster movie and a guy in a rubber suit – was that in 1954 the moral consequences of man’s nuclear ambitions were very real. The original movie came out a mere 9 years after Hiroshima. The US, French and Brits were STILL testing nukes on islands all over the Pacific. Deep down we all knew this was crazy, that generals were leading a charge towards the brink of annihilation. So the Japanese conjured up Gojira as a cautionary tale to say, “Hey! Enough with the nukes!” Thou shalt not play god with the planet. Or you will unleash such a beast of destruction you won’t be able to stop it.
Am I saying we should do the same exact story all over again in 2014? No! But I AM arguing to keep Godzilla in his role of destroyer! Even the guys who made the poster knew that! You wouldn’t turn the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into prancing ponies. How come this Godzilla is suddenly our pal? Defender of San Francisco and all around good guy? With all the dumb things we are doing to our planet right now, is there really no human excess we are willing to consider as punishable?
Now, I’m sure this discussion was had in development meetings. Just like I’m sure filmmakers were told to keep things PG friendly and deliver something that can play to kids and bump the box office. But this storyline contained such nonsensical thinking that Godzilla ends up as mankind’s savior and nobody even asks why?
None of us were in the room, so we’ll probably never know how or why this cuddly, friendly version of Godzilla came to be. But for this core fan of the franchise – they missed the whole point! Maybe this is what comes of handing the franchise over to filmmakers with expertise in visual effects. You get great visual effects! But the guy in the giant rubber suit needed a story that makes sense.