Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nature of the beast. (Hollywood, Bollywood and other wonderlands.)

The movie business, I’ve always suspected, is run by sub-humans and morons who strut around like geniuses and God’s own gift to mankind. Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, the duo who wrote the made-for-the-summer-holidays blockbuster, Night at the Museum, and its less successful sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian, as well as two notable bombs, Queen Latifah’s Taxi and Lindsay Lohan’s Herbie: Fully Loaded, admit as much in their soon-to-be-published how-to-do-it guide, Writing Movies for Fun & Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too! (2011). They say stuff like: "There are a lot more idiots than smart people. The president of the studio is usually a very smart woman. . . but there are executives who have to approve your script. Smart people give good notes, dumb people give bad notes." And: "The position of producer is one for oversexed, megalomaniac uber-humans who for some reason feel the desire to play wedding planner to a group of dim-witted rodeo clowns, who are also, for the most part, oversexed and megalomaniacal, … Note: Throwing a phone, paperweight or fax machine at an intern is never acceptable in Hollywood. Unless your last movie made a shitload of money. Then - go nuts." They explain the failure of Herbie: Fully Loaded thus: "The president of the studio loved our take. She had one note. It was too sexy for Disney. We took out the sexier stuff and turned it back in -- and here's where it gets interesting/horrible. We were now dealing with the studio executive under the president. . . dumb as a stump and mean as a rattlesnake. We did about ten drafts for this executive: dumbing down the plot, making everything cuter, taking out things that made the movie make sense." They got fired somewhere along the way and were followed by a row of 24 writers/script doctors. In his Adventures in the Screen Trade, William (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid) Goldman summed up “Hollywood's collective idiocy” thus: “Nobody knows anything.” This is said to have led to his virtual boycott by the industry. He stopped getting screenplay writing work afterwards. Let’s hope G&L are spared that kind of hounding. Back to Fun & Profit revelations, though. Here’s their description of how the studio steers script development: "You have a Volkswagen Bug. You sell it to someone. He says, deliver it in eight weeks. Make it pink. Then that person's underling says, 'I know we bought a Bug but all the other studios are buying SUVS this year, so lets make it a big SUV. Then: 'I read an article about boats today and how they're going to be popular this year - let's make this thing kinda like a boat.' Then they say, 'Terminator made a lot of money, let's make this thing kinda like Terminator.' Then. 'Make it green.' You go back to the person who bought a pink Bug and they say 'What the hell is this giant green Terminator boat?'” And, some truly worthwhile advice for the would-be screenwriter at the time of facing the studio critique: "Write down everything they say. Keeping your hands busy like this will help prevent you from making the 'rage faces' that you will be inclined to make when you hear their crappy ideas. . . Don't be argumentative. It's way too easy to get fired. Be thoughtful. Practice turning your 'mad' face into an 'I'm thinking about it' face." Reading between the lines of the drivel dished out in fanzines, on the idiot box and movie-related websites in India, one senses that things are no different in Bollywood. Here directors get thrown out on their butts in mid-production (remember Amole Gupte?) or denied their due credit (remember Anusha Rizvi?) The stories one hears about script-reading for the benefit of the stars and the producers along with the quality of the final product are also telltale giveaways.