Unfocused Hollywood Rant, Part One
I have almost completely lost my love for film. I think that this has occurred because of several reasons:
1) The quality of the movies has decreased to the point where film no longer moves or inspires. I avoid movies, I do not look forward to them.
2) My personal experiences within the film industry have been universally negative. The system, and most of the people in the system - frankly, suck.
2-b) Success in Hollywood does not necessarily equate to wealth, career longevity, or personal satisfaction, except in extraordinary cases. True success within the system is a lottery within a lottery, and Hollywood is certainly not designed to bring any of those goals about. Hollywood churns people for profit. It is useless explaining to them that human beings can generate more energy cutting firewood than being burned in a furnace.
An acquaintance of mine, a thoroughly charming, well-educated and intelligent woman, wrote meaningful scripts, went to all the right meetings, was an industry veteran - a former executive, worked for free on all the right projects... and her reward was a rewrite on "Thor - Ragnarok".
Hollywood writers need a different kind of Heaven, I think.
I have another acquaintance who makes perhaps a million a year, in a good year, mostly directing television. He has more visual sense in his index finger than three whole bodies of Hunter Dennis. He is a former photographer, and loves taking pictures. There is almost nothing he has directed that someone reading this blog could sit through.
Another man, a friend - a rare thing in the industry for me, has had even more success. You would know his movies instantly. He invented a whole genre of film that is currently popular, one - of a very few - type of movies that the studios will make these days. He also lives in fear that his tombstone will be etched with his current string of successful films. He is deeply embarrassed, even ashamed, at the superficiality of his works. He drives, unsuccessfully, to create something of substance and meaning. He is brilliant, hard-working, and dedicated.
I suppose that there are a lot of people who would be thrilled with such success. I certainly applaud such impossibly rare accomplishments. But, honestly, once you have broken through, and become a part of the system in any way, however small, or have made movies outside of the system, however small, one of two things becomes important to you.
Those two things are money and art. I don't think you can choose your poison when it happens - at least in that moment. The choice was made little by little over the course of your life, because the choice is organic to your being. Most make the choice for both, with one side of the equation preponderant. Some choose one. I suppose that's me, and I choose art. I define art as the desire to communicate, especially emotion and spirituality, through any medium able to manipulate the senses, sometimes even those separate from traditional forms of human communication. Being an artist is simply having something you must say, without speaking, or, if using words, building them in complex puzzles to produce emotion. Pierre Grignaire is an artist. He tells stories with food. His meals are a narrative, one that I could easily express verbally. Jackson Pollack was not an artist. He was a painter, an occupation usually primarily associated with the very word "artist". In most cases, however, Pollack was only a decorator. Pollack was the Michael Bay of painting - he enjoyed what he was doing, but he really didn't have anything to say. If you disagree, answer me this: do you think his paintings are beautiful, or can you speak to how you are moved by them? If you can honestly answer the latter, I respectfully withdraw my accusations of him. He does not speak to me. He is interesting wallpaper, in my opinion, which is precisely why everyone started buying his paintings.
I was sitting in a theater, watching a movie I wrote that had been accepted into a film festival. The process had been a mess. I wanted to write a different movie than the one the director wanted to direct. As a result, the cataclysm of drafts and scenes was left to be pieced together by the director and his girlfriend. The film had some interesting moments, but was mostly a disaster of both art and craft - especially mine. Watching the movie with an audience was torture. Every time they seemed bored, or fidgeted, or moved in their seat, it was like being slashed with a razor. I vowed, then and there, to write the best work that I possibly could - always, forevermore, regardless. I would never, ever have a repeat of that moment. If I was born to write, my talents and gifts designed to create work to give back to my fellow humans, I had betrayed those gifts. The idea of perpetrating such a monstrous thing was grotesquely overwhelming. I became a different person in that moment. I became someone incompatible with Hollywood, and destined for something different.
I had a brush with the big time, being one of three writers on a project that was seen internationally, that grossed in excess of one-hundred-twenty million dollars. The other two writers on the project, ancient friends of mine, had basically made vital an entire genre of films. In addition to that particular project, they had written every other movie of substance for - what was, essentially - an entire studio. I was shocked at how little respect anyone had for the writing. The original script was thoughtful, intelligent, and made emotional sense. Everything that was outside of the McDonald's range was cut from the movie. One character I invented was a fledgling career woman, like Robin Wright in "House of Cards" but at the age of nineteen. She was played by an investor's daughter, who was a California blonde, who looked like a little chunky Barbie and wore booty shorts and a t-shirt. The part and the actress made so little sense together that the character was universally despised for all the wrong reasons. My two writer buddies were eventually tossed aside by the studio. The higher-up's are all now firmly convinced that the success of their studio was due to their efforts, and certainly not the writers. They are off and running on their own steam, and will be out of business shortly.
I was able to see that movie in an actual theater, which was sold out by an ebullient and excited audience. I had some friends there with me, and it got around that I was on the project. I guess the first hint was when everyone cheered when my name came up in the credits. The audience loved that movie. That was certainly an indescribable high. After the film, I was sort of mobbed. I couldn't believe the reactions that people were having. Pretty girls were swooning over the movie as they talked to me. Although, being a Catholic stoic, such things are mostly wasted on me, I could fully understand, in that moment, the heady allure of Hollywood. I hadn't even tasted fame, more like smelled it, and it was like pure Afghan smack. But, lucky for me (having no chance at it), fame is not my drug. I am after, what-I-call, Platonic perfection. In Heaven, there is a perfect version of everything. My high is trying to create it on earth, in writing.