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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Life in LA: The Death of Subtlety
I wonder how the clerks in this place answer the phone?
First came the infamous FCUK advertising campaign, then the silly-but-popular song “Fuck You”, and now this retail store down on Melrose Avenue here in LA. Or maybe it was the other way around – first the store, then the song. I really don’t know and don’t suppose it matters, because the message is the same either way: the art of subtlety -- on life support for the last couple of decades -- has now flatlined and can be officially declared dead.
If I'm beginning to sound like a broken record in these Wednesday posts, so be it: last week's "The Business" featured a terrific interview with Darren Aronofsky, director of "The Black Swan." I haven't seen the movie, and thus can't say whether it's any good (I'm not one to take the Oscar committee's recommendations as the Word of God), but the 20 minute (+/-) interview is fascinating, and well worth your time.
Among other things, Aronofsky discusses the difficulties he's had raising money and support for every one of his feature films, most of which have been successful. I should know better by now, but am still amazed at how hard it is to get a good, interesting, adult (read: non-fanboy) movie made in this town. My first reaction to Aronofsky's bleat was that this is terrible news: corporate Hollywood ignoring quality in favor of an endless string of instantly forgettable sequels featuring comic book superheros or giant robots hell-bent on trashing the world's cities just as Godzilla and Ghidorah once destroyed Tokyo.
The more he talked, though, the more I understood that a lack of studio support might not be such a bad thing. Left to their own penny-pinching devices, producers and directors are finding creative ways to get their films made without a crowd of studio suits breathing down their necks. Since they don't enjoy the benefits of the studio's financial torque, they don't have to bow and scrape to every over-caffeinated studio bean-counter who pulls up to the set in his eighty thousand dollar Beemer. The struggle to fund their projects forces the film makers to draw deeply from the creative well, stripping those bare-bones productions of any lingering fat or narrative indulgences. The result is often a leaner, better film.*
Such quality can pay off at the box office. As Patrick Goldstein pointed out in the LA Times last week, several of this year’s Oscar contenders were made on extremely modest budgets, but have done very well. The current favorite to win it all, “The King’s Speech,” cost all of $12 million, and has grossed close to $100 million thus far. “The Fighter” cost $18 million -- not one penny of that budget studio money -- but continues to sell tickets. Both movies figure to make a lot more by the time the Oscar frenzy -- and post-Oscar bump -- die down.
It's always been hard to make a good movie -- it was true in the 40's and 50's, 60's and 70's, 80's and 90's, and is just as true now. That good films still manage to emerge from all that lower-budget sturm und drang to find their way to the big screen -- and connect with a substantial paying audience -- is a good thing. In an otherwise gloomy media world, this provides a badly needed ray of hope.
It has now been three months since The Anonymous Production Assistant put up a new post. Just as I was thinking about sending out another APB, I happened to run into TAPA on one of the major studio lots recently. TAPA was alive, well, and working, but not posting for the time being. We talked about the reasons why, but that's TAPA's story to tell, not mine. This is just to let those of TAPA's fans who stop by here know that he -- or she (I'll never tell) -- is okay.
Personally, I hope TAPA resumes posting. I really enjoy that blog's smart, snarky take on life and work in this crazy town.
* One of the producers of "Battlestar Gallactica" admitted that his show wouldn't have been nearly as good if they'd had a million dollars more to spend on each episode. That money, he maintained, would have gone into more and fancier special effects, thus shifting the emphasis from the human dramas in the series to something flashier, but considerably more shallow -- and thus less interesting.