Top Gun: Maverickperformed some “best of the best” box office maneuvers when it opened Memorial Day weekend and continues to do well. The original film proved to be as much a recruitment commercial as popcorn movie… and this sequel’s premiere aboard an aircraft carrier, Midway (now a museum ship), hints that this newest film will perform similarly.
As a cinemaniac who’s seen more than a few military-themed movies over the decades, Hollywood’s connection to the U.S. military is not a surprise, nor is the nuance. That’s one of the reasons I appreciated the nuance in this article by Alissa Wilkinson for Vox, exploring the past, present, and future of how the military works with filmmakers.
One of the aspects I appreciate about the article is how it goes through some of the filmmaking choices of working, or not working, with the military and how it’s not a good or bad thing: it’s really about what story you’re trying to tell.
And, as many film historians naturally know, Hollywood has close ties to the American military and has sought to seek to tell both the story of American service men and women, but more broadly, Why We Fight. The book and Netflix series, Five Came Back are well worth checking out.
Note that the column is very much about Hollywood/mainstream film industry filmmaking, but it’s not like the Hollywood approach to filmmaking hasn’t had an impact on filmmaking in general. I found a lot of thoughts popped out, whether from focusing on the work (see Paddy Chayefsky above) to “If you’re an artist, it’ll come out as art anyway.”
Really, if you are at all interested in his career or perspective on things (he is a tremendous film geek in addition to his other geekdoms), the hour will fly by. And it’s applicable to any creative industry.
Last Wednesday’s post about how some film distributors led to some discussion amongst friends on the Interwebs and elsewhere. One colleague who’s been a filmmaker and exhibitor pointed out how there are so many sticky problems with film distribution, it’s a difficult problem to handle — and there are definitely some issues with some of the smaller distributors. However, that made me think of how the major distributors engage in creative accounting that’s about as alluring as a blow to the nether regions. For example, did you know the Harry Potter films, in one way, didn’t make money?
There’s nothing I can really add to this that will be additionally edifying, but for those of you who didn’t know about these shenanigans, now you know.
Well, alas, I have more fuel for the ire fire, which I have a special interest due to my connection to filmmaking and knowing many a fellow indie producer who is either in this position or about to be.
Now, if you’re like me, you find this more than a little annoying. I mean, any indie filmmaker understands they need to wear multiple hats, often at once, to get their film completed and out into the world. But it really shouldn’t be too much to ask that people whose livelihood is based on your movie making money for them to care about, not the movie, but how to make sure that money maximizes money for them.
It reminds me of Patton Oswalt talking about having passion for the industry you’re in whether it’s running a comedy club booking stand-up comics or, say, distributing films. Enjoy the industry you’re in on one or more levels. There are so many other jobs you could do if you don’t care about this one. And I like that the discussion that especially when it comes to artistic and creative pursuits, it’s about being a fan and a ‘connoisseur’ of whatever the pursuit is… and you can be a fan at any budget level (some of that discussion begins at the 16:28 mark, but the whole interview is great).
While Deverett would possibly empathize, it’s clear he’s accepted this is the way things are, even if it’s more than a little irksome. In fact, if you watch his whole 4-hour interview or even some of the other segments, he points out all sorts of irksome aspects of the industry when it comes to film distribution. Film distributors in many cases are ripping filmmakers off. Brazenly. He even documents how he went after some “whoops” missing money from some of the territories a film of his was being distributed in. And he documents why is was so hard to do and holding people accountable is hard, expensive, and therefore unsustainable — this assessment from a lawyer and former film distribution professional!
So I won’t say, “Go forth and storm the barricades!” But I do want to give voice to that ire in the hopes that someone somewhere will figure out a way to beneficially disrupt a part of the film industry that seems to be doing its level best to standardize the suck.
Reading the book above will certainly inspire you to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. J Michael Straczynski (aka “JMS” as he often referred to) spends a good amount of time validating the choice to be a writer and to create, even though the amount of work involved is significant.
Part of the work, especially early on, is trying to avoid the people who feed off the hopes and dreams of writers. JMS recounts some notable examples in his own career and he’s not the only one. Mark Evanier has a great column on what he calls “Unfunded Entrepreneurs” ready to harness your creativity for absolutely nothing in return. The fact that the article is over 20 years old yet still relevant is sobering. On Scriptnotes, both John August and Craig Mazin regularly debunk the bullshit “realities of the industry” presented by less-than-honorable producers, agents, and managers, eager to gaslight young writers. Basically, there’s a whole host of people who want to make money off, not their dreams, but yours.
In fact, writer-producer CJ Walley contends that this host of people is a fixture within the Hollywood ecosystem in a page on his site, Script Revolution, documenting what he terms “Goldrush Economics.”
It’s hard, because in many other walks of life, “you get what you paid for” rings true. And I certainly have encountered too many filmmakers in the indie sphere who should go ahead and spend the money for that location or extra gear rental or, I dunno, cast and crew health and safety?
But within that space come the gaslighters, trying to convince people that they are the ones that can make connections, open the right doors, and that you need to pay to play… and doesn’t everyone want to play?
And this isn’t to say there aren’t useful services for writers and aspiring writers out there, but for too many of these would-be indispensable middle men and women, you mention free resources or anything involving running stuff by lawyers and you get a nigh-on allergic reaction. This should always raise red flags.
I’m especially wary of people who insist that only professional consultants will do, when there is so much quality free information out there and working screenwriters willing to share it (one self-proclaimed mediocre screenwriter has some choice words on this front). Free resources are out there and they are valuable. Upgrade from “free” to “cheap” and you still have a ton of options before you necessarily need to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Speaking of which, if you’re a screenwriter or aspire to be, definitely check out Scriptnotes. Always interesting, often insightful. A huge chunk of it is free and their back catalog doesn’t cost too much either. You can even check out their listener guide to see if the topics of yore would be worthwhile to you.
The Script Revolution column estimates 5,000 – 10,000 spec scripts are written each year by aspiring screenwriters. Think about that. That means there are likely thousands upon thousands of new aspiring screenwriters added to “the supply” each year. That’s a lot of hope to prey upon.
I first learned of this over the weekend in an LA Times piece, but AT&T, who only a few years ago, bought Time Warner in a bid to become a new powerhouse entertainment ecosystem, is planning to sell its media goodies to Discovery Communications.
The resulting combination of scripted and unscripted shows, films, and assorted media could be peanut butter & chocolate or cookies & okra. I honestly don’t know and don’t particularly have a battlebot in this fight.
But from both the LA Times above, a piece in Ars Technica, and one from the New York Times that the various Conventional Wisdom is abuzz amongst the factions that are wont to have Opinions and Conventional Wisdom: other media companies, telecoms, Wall Street — and the people who follow media companies, telecoms, and Wall Street.
Now, all of this is dependent on shareholders and regulators agreeing to the sale, but there’s sure to be ripples from this.
I’ve been watching how theater and film productions have been coping with the pandemic (as you can see from June, July, and earlier in December). Safely producing new works is important not only considering my role in running Jabberwocky Audio Theater, but also thinking of my many colleagues whose livelihood requires being on stages and sets.
So this article in Fortune, not my usual source for theater news, was an interesting read. Author Michael Barra puts forth some predictions about how theater may change, starting with Broadway and how the tourist percentage of audiences will drop, and then taking that change and extrapolating out to theater trends overall.
Just shy of two weeks ago, Warner Brothers decided to drop a bombshell by saying that all their 2021 films would simultaneously go onto their streaming service, HBO Max, along with theaters, as reported in industry publications, Variety and Hollywood Reporter.
This announcement broke a certain segment of the Internet the Thursday it dropped because –shockingly– Warner Bros. evidently didn’t let any of their producing partners know.
And that’s a big deal, not simply from being courteous to your business partners, but there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake since a big way production companies and above-the-line people get money is through profit participation in the theatrical ticket sales.