If It Ain’t On the Page…

Most will agree that it is a sign of respect to accompany any agreement of creative or business collaboration with something in writing and a signatures. Even with friends or family who might initially brush off the idea as unnecessary. It is at the very least good practice. Even if a lawyer has not looked at it (and you can find some legal terms and wordings to reinforce an agreement), simple statements of intentions may at least give you peace of mind in the event of Rashomon or selective memory or simple change of heart. I would not mind initialing every page of a script as part of a contract obligating me to stick to what was written, but I often say it would be absurd to initial the ether to obligate myself to improvisation.

As a writer, I naturally want my writing vindicated. That can’t happen if I let the clashing objectives of others change or trade out what was written. Someone may like what are perceived as the broad strokes or story, but that is a container for the stuff I really care about, specific lines or images that may even subvert the expected message of the plot. There might be a format obligation to character arc, which means that either the start of a story or the resolution of a story presents a character as something other that he or she is best defined. Is Darth Vader a wise force ghost, fully redeemed, or is he best remembered as a petulant young man with control issues easily misled into becoming a functionary and then an iconic monster?

By the time I am asking anyone to be involved in a project, I have refined my script and generated storyboard sketches of camera decisions based on the beats of each scene as currently written. Others thrive on chaos. I don’t. It is heartbreaking to realize that someone in a room has intentions to throw a project off track and force you to approach the work their way. That’s when time has to be taken to have the hard conversation or to distribute a director’s note or manifesto or mission statement or anything that plainly states where you are coming from.

I would rather have no movie than have the wrong movie. I’ve gone through “the process” enough times to know that. Read the script, as much of a slog as it may be, and make an informed choice about whether you want to be involved with this movie. The only people cast in speaking roles will be those willing and able to learn the lines, rehearse, hit their marks, and get the pacing right. Most of the reading will be fast and flat, like a pebble skimming over the water, unless otherwise directed. Even if someone is an accomplished improviser, there should be no expectation of improvisation or co-writing. The biggest mistake a lot of movies, especially low budget, make is to have the script in flux.

The script will weed people out. It will choose who is the right fit for it, not the other way around. Anything I write is expected to alienate those on either the extreme right or extreme left of the political spectrum, and I plan to follow every problematic word of the script. That should be the default expectation going in. I will also follow the directorial plan I have story boarded. If that cramps anyone’s style, I’m sorry to have them withdraw from the project but I would be more sorry to have a creative tug of war or spend time on set fixing something that isn’t broken or placating an actor’s ego. The writer-director’s ego can be a factor but as the person who must take full responsibility for the final product (or lack of one) who does not wish to pass the buck over whose will overruled the original vision, he or she (or a grammatically incorrect they) has a concrete practical justification to stay the course.

You may like someone and think that you want to collaborate with or cast them, but ideology can be such a divide (even between center left and far left) that there is a danger of being stung along without respect for the vision at hand. It is far better to find out before dates are set that you have creative differences. I keep coming back to a Hollywood Reporter roundtable where Patty Jenkins described the first time Warner spoke to her about a Wonder Woman project and it was not the approach she wanted, and then Thor 2 which also fell apart for the same reason, but then even though more years had passed since her last feature the offer circled back to her once Warner Brothers came to be more receptive to her stated goals for Wonder Woman. She stated that you should drill down when you identify even a small difference between the movie you want and what a potential collaborator wants, because as the project progresses that small difference will grow and you will be making someone else’ movie.

The Death of a Thousand Paper Cuts

One thing likely to go wrong making movie is that it can turn into a money pit. The other danger is that it can be for the writer-director especially a death of a thousand cuts, if a collaborator is not in sync or there is a dispute over the tone and content of a screenplay.

Personally, although I understand this and how common the principle can be, and that I have dodged a few bullets by avoiding or cancelling a project when it was clear that something was afoot, I have spun my wheels for three years imagining what kind of pep talk or statement could have been made earlier on to eliminate even the idea of a power struggle or the project being co-opted by someone else.

The mantra must be “we want the same result or we don’t.” To begin with the end in mind means to see the finished movie in your mind’s eye, even if the idea of a vision sounds pretentious. It is either worth the journey or it isn’t. Your work will be vindicated or it can’t because it is no longer your work. I know that I have no interest in recording improvisations as a replacement for the writing I have tweaked and fine tuned over a long stretch. To open the floodgates on that would be a problem. To allow someone who left the project over a problematic joke to sneak back in under someone else’s say-so and instead have that line or idea cut from the script would be a grating trade-off.

Those who may have an advantage are people who just have outlines and place-holder dialogue they expect to be “improved” by a cast. Such a project would be about building a community and offering a forum for actors to do what they want and to be a leader by association. That is potentially the successful route, and I have seen it happen. Actually knowing how you want your movie to go and fine-tuning your dialogue might set you up for a longer road and more obstacles. The more specific your goal and the more objectives within it, the harder it is to achieve. If your goal is just to have your credit on something, regardless of how much of it came from you, doors open more easily.

Getting people to watch a finished movie, let alone pay to see it, is almost as hard as getting them to read a script. From this point forward I may even complicate it further by novelizing any script I do, or at least making a prose short story that can be absorbed as its own thing and that can be a more digestible introduction to a concept or plot or characters than the simple screenplay which just seems to be asking for financing. But in the end, you don’t want bigger personalities to get into a pissing contest and have more A-type personalities and Beta you to death as each line or scene or shot becomes a hill to die on. Better to say up front that it is okay if someone doesn’t want to do the project and the priority is that they trust the material and yourself otherwise it will be months or years of psychological abuse and only the superficial appearance of accomplishment and a monument to your own lack of influence or debate skill.

Best to keep your team small and focused rather than be drawn and quartered by opposing goals pulling you and the project in every direction. In the past I have let things go from specific to general and the overall impact has been weak. Better to keep the tension in the cut and fuss over the little things that add up. And serve fair notice at the start that this is the way it has to go. Just recording something is not enough.

Mission Statement

Welcome to the production. Feel free to fearlessly ask “stupid” questions. It is better to admit not knowing or understanding something than to pretend and cause a miscommunication or lavish time on a dead end chore. To save time, however, please be advised that the director has made hundreds of shorts and has absorbed years of behind the scenes information, from film school to compulsive study of DVD commentary tracks and issues of American Cinematographer for pleasure and has been at it since 1984. There may be many ways a director might approach a shoot and only one way that is chosen as most appropriate.

Please read the screenplay. If your job is visual, please also look at relevant storyboards and maps or floor plans that have been generated. There are so many moving parts on a movie that in a war against Murphy’s Law it makes sense to have a fixed point of reference. Do not expect any drastic change from the screenplay or the story-boarded shooting plan. You can look at it as an experiment in how close the finished movie can be to the vision. We can expect cast and crew to grow bored with repetition of the material and for any variation to seem refreshing for that group, but the audience will only likely hear these things once and so the inside joke of a crew reaction should not be treated as “best idea wins.” Best to press onward and make sure the original written or planned version still gets done.

If you have expectations about the production, please disclose these. Most will be benign. Maybe experience, or hoping someone you know can be on screen, or being able to show an item you have created. But also keep in mind that screen time is carefully measured and a specific talent will have to be considered for its place. If an actor has experience improvising but no knack for learning written dialogue, that person should not have a speaking part. The goal is not to erode the scripted lines with improvised substitutes.

Physical safety must be the first concern, and safety will overrule any direction. Meanwhile, this movie will not be what colleges often call an intellectual “safe space” in terms of ideas and opinions. If someone finds the screenplay or a scene or line in it problematic, that is because the writer’s most satisfying content is designed to provoke. It will not be replaced or mutated into a woke alternative. If the process of learning lines, rehearsal, and getting the pacing right cramps the style of anyone they might want to consider opting out of the project as early as possible. We don’t want people to feel horrible about the movie they are in, and more importantly the integrity of the writer or director’s vision will be preferred over whims and sensitivities or peccadilloes that would undermine the objectives and subversive intentions of the movie. There will be something to offend everybody. The priority is for people to make an informed choice about being involved with the movie.

The script can help determine who is the right fit for it.

Perceptions of Screenwriters or Directors

“So, you want to pass yourself off as a writer-director,”

–  A-hole College Instructor, 1994

Improvisation is not a further draft of a script or a further polish.  It is reversion to either brain-storming or first drafts.  But there is a spin that suggests a script is further evolved.

The mind games never stop.  We are told that the perception of a screenwriter (other then, say, Aaron Sorkin or The Cohen Brothers) is one where the credit may as well have an asterisk beside it because there is a constant drum beat of the narrative that not only will a script be changed by other writers, executives, directors and actors but that is should. Robert McKee can have his own contradictory remarks collapse back onto each other in the same interview.  We can only take what we like and leave the rest.

There can be a constant gnashing of psychological gears over the expectations of mediocrity that greet anything creative.  There are, of course, the Are You Covered? ads for supposed directing workshops that promise that you do not have to have talent to be a director.  This kind of makes me insane, so it plays in a loop in my head as I try to sleep.  You MUST be talented as a stand-up comic or musician in order to be a movie director but you do not have to be talented about movie directing, says the pitch.

It should comfort nobody who hopes to direct, because they all think they have something to give, beyond protecting a script if they are also the writer.

What I want and need to be satisfied as a screenwriter is to make sure actors are the right fit and that they can learn the dialogue as written and bring their personality to it in the realization without resorting to improvisation.  I would rather have a reviewer say, “Gee that writer William has a tin ear.  His dialogue is clunky.  He is only saved by the inflection given by the actor.”  Fine.  At least the “Written by” will not feel fraudulent.

We are in a time where playing the lottery of trying to get a screenplay read let alone bought much less optioned or purchased for an amount that allows dignity.  May as well expect to make a movie on your own.

What I want and need to direct a movie and not feel like I am bullshitting is to go through my usual process of storyboarding the whole script.  How I use the frame and imply a cut are tools of direction and not just elements or chores to delegate.  A storyboard sequence could certainly be re-illustrated by an artist simply to make it look more professional.  But the psychology of the frame as applied in each image or each camera position should come from the director.  We direct the attention of the audience.

I know, this is where the Robert Altman fans chime in with his decision not to show the audience where to look and to just plop them down in front of chaos and atmosphere. Except for the Last Supper shot in MASH and a couple of uncharacteristic transitions in Short Cuts, I have never been a fan of what might be called Altman’s directing.  The good news for people who do like that kind of thing is that in today’s digital world you can just go out and make that kind of thing.  Maybe not with the biggest character actors of the day, but it can be done.  And apart from wearing an ascot and a cowboy had and having a confident stance, you may indeed not need actual MOVIE directing talent.  You might come from theater and just let your DP choose where to put the camera.  I might not be eager to see the resulting movie, and I could never be satisfied doing that, but it can be done.

It might seem to lack generosity and curiosity and flexibility to look at it the way I do.

To say okay a little bit of improvisation might be allowed might be like saying one small hole is okay in the bottom of the boat, and in practical terms what that means is that instead of watching the horizon and where you are headed your attention is preoccupied with bailing water.  If a screenplay has been written and polished, the writer might like to hear his or her own dialogue performed in the final movie.  Along the way, it might be heard given its day in court for rehearsals.  But if a project attracts people with the false representation that improvisation and riffing is necessary, this may be taken as permission to paraphrase or to improvise entirely over whatever banter has been designed.  A stylized run of lines might be labor intensive and not as satisfying for the creativity or the ego of the actor.  It is tough to get the Genie back into the bottle if a project has been misrepresented.  Most if not all scripts I have written will have elements that will be called problematic by those who like to use that word five times per day.  So I will be especially averse to improvisation which might easily pave over the very elements of a script that made it worth writing in the first place.

If someone seems to be on board with a project but have a hidden intention of foisting improvisation onto it, or of imposing a cinematographer who has no regard for storyboards, this will mean an uphill battle.  It is never far from my thought that Peter Farrelly said of directing Dumb and Dumber that they told the crew to save their asses and that they knew nothing.  He said that if they crew thinks a director believes himself or herself to be Stanley Kubrick they will make the director’s life hell.  So it may not help that so often when I have made films over the past thirty five years I have organically folded people into a crew or inherited them from someone else.  There may be no way around the Kubrick thing, except saying to your team that the reason you storyboard is to “organize my thoughts.”  In my case this is true, but I also want to be able to look at finished sequences and compare them to the storyboard so they match.  The one collaborator nobody wants to work with is Murphy of Murphy’s Law, whom I mention time and again.  What can go wrong?  People not wanting to make the same movie.  People being offended by jokes or subject matter that are the reason to make the movie. People who are not up to the tasks of their job.

I don’t know.  There is always more to say on this.  It is a cycle to break.  There might not be a short cut solution.  It means knowing people at least reconcile themselves to what you have written.  It means maybe someone being willing to read 100 pages to make an informed choice.  It means any crew member being willing to follow direction and use storyboards as a guide.  I mean we all take home movies and don’t plan those.  We do personal documentaries and those are just go-with-the-flow and we see the ups and the downs of that.  So that process of discovery and the matching frustration is experienced. If storyboarding is the way to go, to persuade yourself that there is indeed a movie and a place for thoughtful directorial placement of the frame, then you can stick to your guns with a clear conscience.  You are not afraid of spontaneity.  You instead need to own each frame and its context.  There may be a point of saying THIS is movie directing and THAT is not.  Wide establishing angle, close-ups of each, over shoulder and reverse over shoulder is just recording or documenting the content.  It requires no visual interpretation.  It is the minimum.  Shooting scenes with no dialogue might be the real test of directorial ability.

And yet, people will grab a camera or a cell phone and just maybe keep people in focus and get something they can slap a title onto and get into a festival because of subject matter and have it branded “important” whether there is directorial talent or intention or not.  So go figure.  Slapdash approaches can open doors.  People “passing themselves off” as writers or directors can attract those who actually want to come up with shots or make up their own dialogue, so there is a perception of success and insider conspiracy among some who do it for a living. I can’t say don’t do that, because people get away with it.   But I know that for myself a burden I carry will be the determination to make sure I am bringing my own writing to life and calling my own shots.






Easter and The Jesus Rolls

This month sees the release of John Turturro’s movie The Jesus Rolls, a spin-off from The Big Lebowski.  The character is a loser and a pervert, but a memorable movie scene stealer. Must be strategic to bring it out at Easter time.  (Update) I just saw it. So the Jesus hangs out with Audrey Tautou who played the DaVinci Code heroine who comes from (in one theory) the bloodline of Chtist. Cute.  Susan Sarandon also almost pays homage to Thelma and Louise (and looks to have not aged since then).

I supposedly have a ritual of watching The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson each Easter or Good Friday.  Last couple of years I have remembered and maybe just watched the Making of documentary material or just listened to one of the four commentary tracks on the Definitive Edition.  Gibson seriously has a sequel planned, written by Randal Wallace (Braveheart) which may involve Jesus’ trip through the underworld or hell before Resurrection. From The Man Without a Face onward, any movie Mel Gibson chooses to direct I initially think it sounds like a terrible idea and then the execution wins me over. So I’ll have to reserve judgement.


My own variant on this began as a script in 2004 around the time it was relevant to talk about The Passion of the Christ or reference it in any way. But it wasn’t shot until 2011. Lessons learned:  Don’t forget a tripod.  And even if the sound person can’t make it, find some other external sound recorder to get the sound because your built-in mic will be too omni-directional.  Eve when I bought a shotgun mic, there was some compatibility setting or other issue that lever let it work.  This final version has some ADR and some sound filtered as well as possible.  The upside: it was a pretty quick shoot.


Control, Victimhood, and Strategy

Fail to plan, plan to fail, they say.  This goes for a responsible creative process but it can also be a toxic plotting in society overall. Some people will say to a movie director don’t storyboard because there are so many other angles to notice. James Mangold gave a long interview where he mentioned receiving photos from the stills department and thinking their images were better than what he had planned and shot, but then a stills photographer doesn’t have to worry about things cutting together and context and one person crouching for a low angle is easier than a full crew trying to achieve the same thing for what might just seem like a showy image.  Sometimes even storyboarding what seem to be bland shots in a sequence is better than just showing up and winging it when under the gun there will always be pressure to do the simple or standard thing for time. And storyboarding allows you to anticipate equipment needed to achieve a shot or how much vertical or horizontal information or depth you need in the physical space and how various colors or textures of costume and background will come together.  Knowing the relationship between those things is a measure of movie making skill.  To not care about that would make moviemaking drudgery and something worse – fraudulent posing: a status instead of a craft.  Better to think of the art you love and obsess over that than be drawn into the controversies of the moment.  There are plenty of booby traps.

It may be left out of the popular narrative today, but there is a history of survivors or victims of trauma or abuse eventually acting out against others and also a history of people who have felt restrained or confined exerting control over others. If this principle is kept in the back of your mind, much of what we see on the internet reads differently. Talk of de-platforming and smash the patriarchy and the death of the old guard has both specific worthy targets and a lot of collateral damage.
Pushing back against this one post at a time, one issue at a time, one person at a time is impractical. There is the threat of emotional blackmail, rejection as a person over an opinion, and implied (at least attempted) ostracism from a circle of friends, community or peer group involving your vocation. Any interjection which questions a presented view is not going to be assessed for its own reason but instead it will be categorized as to whether it indicates which imaginary oversimplified “side” the speaker must be on, it becomes about personalities involved and not principles. It is a binary, digital way of thinking, ones and zeros; you are part of the in group or an infiltrator from the out group.  If you post on a dissenting view on someone’s Facebook, they can easily curate their page and delete the remark.  If instead they choose to scold you and threaten un-friending,  they likely don’t value, care about you, in the first place. Don’t delete your post; just wait for her or him to unfriend you and then you should BLOCK the person so there won’t be interjections elsewhere. Also, this person will suddenly see that your controversial posts are now invisible to them.  Interesting to find this Russell Brand comment that “I am not my thoughts.”  Especially when people will hate or discard you for an idea shared.

Control tools used are terms meant to throw shade on a given input. Mansplain, whitesplain, check your priviledge, sexism, racism, global judgements of character based on the verbal DNA of a word or opinion you have presented. The natural impulse might be to flail and object with evidence that is already so commonly cited that it is deemed false in advance, like, “I’m not bigoted, I work with or have a friend or family member who belongs to that oversimplified category.” Defend a celebrity who is accused of something bad, and this will be played up as outrageous indifference to the alleged victims even if it is in fact a respect for getting to the truth. On-line, if someone is perpetuating a false narrative against Woody Allen the response can be a link to any of Robert B. Weide’s fact-checking articles about the case. But in person it means a lot of paraphrasing and repetition. Too much effort. You can end up fighting fans of Oprah and her friend Gayle King. And you don’t want to piss up that rope.
The endgame just might be something intolerable. It becomes clear that someone’s goal for example may not be to promote a system of equality but to invert the system – a process that is already well in progress – where your perceived advantage will work against you. A diversity of ideas may not be welcome but a statistical and superficial inclusion of skin tones or cultural affiliations and genders may help the metrics of public relations. If you love english word play of witty comebacks this compels casting people who are comfortable with speaking the language and won’t have cause the audience to strain through a strong accent. The same principle would exist in each language or culture around the world. Nobody wants an english-speaking actor butchering their home grown prose.
Some well intended movies get a sarcastic moniker, the “white saviour” trope. This despite the implied call for sacrifice in telling someone to “check his/her priviledge.” Or worse, to just step aside and not take up so much space in the discourse or in leadership or status regardless of your own perceived gifts or qualifications because you are somehow to blame for others who shared your complexion or gender did years ago. This is where some use the term “white guilt” which is not an obligation even if the spin suggests that it should be. Should all successful applicants for a job or grant or investment carry the stigma of affirmative action just because they belong to a supposed critic proof permanent victim class? And should all who are deemed  privileged suppose they are being magnanimous by choosing to work with someone from the underdog varieties of the moment?
If you are making a film, for example, and an actor or crew member may be a load bearing pillar of the project it is incumbent upon you to choose a reliable team. You can be raised in a mostly white small down and it is assumed that most of your family and friends are the same colour, same basic religion, and speaking the same language but also your criminals and bullies also share the same colour, claim similar supposed beliefs and speak a fashion of the same language. Even living in a multicultural city, if I were to make up a Homer Simpson revenge list the names on it would be people who have the same language and complexion.
If you are a straight white male, especially over age 30, don’t bother taking a film directing course. Too many people are interested in that vocation for the status and without an eye for ideally how to direct the audience with use of the frame. In Canada especially, there will be an ostensibly progressive prejudice that favours what are called “new voices,” in other words diverse or female, even though it could be expected that voices come from the writers more than the directors. To truly infuse cinema with new voices and discoveries would mean to grade screenplays and stories entirely on the written work so that it could come from any place and not require a writer to also be a strong producer or director or to move to a large city. A movie director should have a knack for using the frame for psychological impact and to support the moment or state of characters. This might not be a skill of a writer who might be more introverted.
A professional director who knows how to hustle and play the game but may not be especially talented with the direction itself may claim that every talent but direction is necessary to be a success – and they may prove it.

A director who climbed the ladder from Assistant Director work most often will sound like an Assistant Director, or Stage Manager, efficient and practical. They may enforce the rule that you must climb the union ladder. If that person is a musician or stand up comic, he or she will claim that in order to direct you must be a musician and a stand-up comic. They will have stories of undeserving hacks who got hired because a friend owed them a favor, which in turn helps justify the narrative that – as goes the pitch for some workshops – “You don’t need talent to be a director.” Or the most basic instruction, “Are you covered?” which just means that if you record a scene from every angle top to bottom any edit can be made and your lack of talent will not be an obstacle. If someone says that belief in the motivated camera decision and the motivated frame makes you a sucker, they in tern are selling something.
That example is meant to show how people will build traps to support whatever gives them an advantage. Proving that someone’s argument is false or flawed will not get a thankful response. An instructor may say the success of a film is all about the pitch and then give the example of Jaws – a shark torments a beach community – and I’m in!! Except that the same premise and title was used with less success following that film because the original director was a genius. The direction is a star of Jaws as much as any other element. Today some studios and filmmakers are believing the Twitter activist spin so strongly that it is as if they believe the star ingredient of a new movie is its political posturing and gender flipping. A star of Terminator: Dark Fate remarked, “There is no trace of the male gaze in this movie.” This may have been reassuring to someone but it translates as, “throw a potato sack over any attractive woman, lest she be photogenic.”

When colleges began initiating their own rules regarding safe spaces, it seemed laughable but it is also a method of shutting down the competing voice. When they started saying enthusiastic consent is necessary and not merely the legal requirement of simple consent for sex to not be deemed rape, this could have been shrugged off as a minor distinction. There would be little point in debating it. Some argue that it is another step toward matriarchy in led by the woman’s libido and not a man’s, which would be bad news for those of us who are not the “bad boy” or giant male specimens. But in any case, these are issues between individuals in relationships and the broad strokes are a distraction. It is not worth taking the bait. Colleges will constantly try to cover themselves from lawsuits. Nonsense is to be expected. But it is worth just being aware that some of the issues are not abstractions but threats to your survival.

The challenge therefore isn’t to ingratiate ourselves to people who don’t share our priorities but to recognize that people who start each day googling their trigger words to see what blogs will educate them are frequently engaged in a pathology and strategy about how to gain advantage, and those of us who are not competitive and merely want to communicate and be understood can be steam-rolled. Better to discover who likes what you like and has the same priorities and compatible goals. No point in a tug of war where you have left a page full of argument fragments with your name on it for people to spam. There is that Polonius advice, “Give everyone your ear but few your voice.” Honour what you have to say, or “your truth” if you can stand calling it that. But make sure the seed falls on good soil and not rocks.

Honoring Your “Problematic” Muse

A boost of inspiration might come from an anger or a moment of clarity but it will still require getting out of your own way.  We all may have to push ourselves and get over a fear of rejection and especially today fear of being demonized for an image or a perspective or even a reflex. You may hear people speak of your presumption that people should read what you wrote or your sense of entitlement that would allow you to picture yourself as an author of any kind.  That is the view from the outside in.  It is chatter and noise.  The imperfect author Thomas Harris wrote, “The worm that kills you is the temptation to agree with your critics.”

As far as I can recall, all of my writing has been with the conceit that maybe somebody else will identify with what I have written and feel that I have put it in an interesting way.  I’ve never been quite sure if I have a target audience, because I’ll accept a compliment from just about anywhere. Read someone’s novel, and chances are that you will wear whatever skin is taking you through the story. At no other time has it been easier for everyone to anyone in the free world to write as they like.  Getting an engine behind it or publishing or distribution – let alone marketing – is another matter.  Too often what we hear about it about who is being given something, hired, awarded, and who belongs to what permanent victim status or permanent privilege status. Most of that is noise that might be dialed down by staying off of Twitter, Facebook, and some youtube channels.  Much of it is clickbait over-simplification.  The rest is big money corporate spin from movie studios who can afford to pretend a mediocre movie is a vital social movement that will change everything for you and yours.

Hi.  I’m the old white guy whose opinion Brie Larsen doesn’t want to hear about what didn’t work for me in A Wrinkle in Time.  The good news for her is that she likely won’t see this post.  Also perhaps good news that I have at the time of this writing only seen about fifteen minutes of that film on Netflix and never got back to it.  Had to binge all of Russian Doll and get started watching The Umbrella Academy. The bad news is that nobody cares what an actor or any creative or executive wants to hear about a movie – one they are involved in or one they are just using as an example.  Who a movie is “made for” doesn’t matter.  A movie ostensibly “for kids” can be enjoyed by adults or not. Shaft may not have been intended for me, but I’m happy Roundtree was brought back for both the 2000 version and the 2019 version where he is the grandfather (and importantly the same John Shaft he was in the Seventies movies).  Your food may be another person’s poison.  That might mean no peanuts for you in the school cafeteria. I can take or leave Star Trek Discovery (STD they call it), having seen the first season, but I fully understand some of my fellow classic fans objecting to the caliber of writers being brought onto the team. In another galaxy, the Lucasfilm story group quietly dropped one of its members while there has been a firestorm in fandom closely examining the imdb listings and qualifications of each member to prove that in some cases ONLY a commitment to identity politics got some of them their job in the first place.

In my own work I have stewed lately over the current climate and the idea that those who like to use terms like relevant and decide what is relevant may shut out much of the material I have a passion to champion or generate.  I’ve written and ranted about the (for now) demise of my feature The Adventures of Porno the Clown, a live-action cartoon that would have been whimsical and cheeky.  One threat to it was that a number of prospective collaborators wanted to infuse it with improvisation and I did not. The other issue was that it was, after all, about a horny old white guy.  And a clown at that.  Throw in the fact that it was conceived ten years before the PoundMeToo and identity politics explosion, to pick away at it and make the square peg fit into the round hole of outrage culture would not have been satisfying.  My novelization of it may not have much more luck, but it at least would preserve any satire I had refused to buff off or dull down. One well know actress suggested I dumb it down, but I’m not sure how much dumber I could make a live action cartoon about a semi-retired porn clown.

Some people hate Blazing Saddles, Tropic Thunder, The Dictator, Team America: World Police.  Molly Ringwald, when PoundMeToo was at its peak, spoke out against elements of The Breakfast Club. This creates a pickle for those of my generation who love her for The Breakfast Club.  She mainly objects in hindsight to Judd Nelson’s criminal character Bender behaving like… a criminal.  He does and says highly inappropriate things, but the movie itself and by extension the writer-director John Hughes does not condone it.  Some may even object that it is an American Eighties movie and as such tends to have a white cast. Others may say it is too “hetero normative.” Whatever peccadillo may be placated for an interest group or on-screen representation, it would be an interesting exercise to ask people to recast a remake of The Breakfast Club – the Janitor, the Teacher, the criminal, the princess, the brain, the jock and the basket case.  What new problematic paradoxes can be created?  You have to be as inclusive as possible.  Which one is LBGTQ, black, Asian, or Native?  I don’t know if anyone ever showed up for a Saturday detention, or whether today the students would all be allowed to have their cell phones and sit in silence for the duration.

No writing or a movie needs to last forever, and one person’s food will be another person’s poison.  Others may click with it.  If someone from a Native community becomes a filmmaker, the stereotype might be (judging from what filters down through social media)  that their work will be documentaries about water contamination, suicide and glue sniffing. I would rather that person be less a social issue activist and more in love with cinema itself.  I don’t agree with Cronenberg that a movie “about movies” is about nothing at all.  The whimsical style of Robert Rodriguez may be what comes to mind when I think of Mexico, regardless of whether it gives real insight into goings on there. I think of a cool Desperado, a cool spy family, cool vampires, a cool revolutionary with a machete, and a cool cyborg. A Native Rodriguez is something I could cheer for. Each social group could contribute to the cinema of cool.  If you love to craft a joke or place camera frames in an interesting and exciting order, then it is worth putting blinders on to the fuss and false compartmentalization and shade throwing that goes on ostensibly in the name of progress.  They say that writing is caring, about yourself, your family, your community (outward in that order, according to the Dali Llama).  Your craft and your passion, your voice and yourself (even if you are descended from “the bad guys” of history) are what you must care about before you can honestly care about anything else.  Leave it up to the world to negate what you do – and expect that from some of them – instead of preemptively doing that to yourself.