A Modest Proposal to Filmmakers

With the New Year upon us, and with sincerest apologies to Jonathan Swift, I’d like to set forth my own “modest proposal” — maybe a New Year’s Resolution (as long as we leave the term “Matrix” out of it) would sound a bit better. For all of you eager beaver producers out there (directors, too) let’s have a bit of circumspection when it comes time to greenlight a pet project. For heaven’s sake, have mercy on the film going public and the folks who are munificent (some would say gullible) enough to finance a story for the big screen. Sure, explosions, car chases, and steamy sex scenes are generally “good box” but a coherent, engaging storyline and decent acting wouldn’t hurt you know. Special effects, however spectacular or novel, are not a substitute for a good tale.

Consider what the film going public has been offered (some would say subjected to) over the last couple of years. Someone, I would hope, remembers “Gigli,” a vanity project if ever there was one. While not intended as a comedy the audience reaction to same was one of incredulous, embarrassed laughter – followed shortly by resentment by those who had forked over hard-earned money to see this turkey. Not that the lead actress and actor needed the money — maybe they needed to demonstrate to the public that they too have flaws — how else are we to describe the amazing experience that was “Giglir” Who actually came up with that idear Is he or she still wandering about loose in societyr Projects like these are the ones which cause us to equate studio executives with intellectual terrorists. Perhaps they were thinking of the follow-on video market in terms of the “Alien” experience “In your own living space no one can hear you scream.”

And let’s not go again soon into the realm of talking, ill-mannered cats with questionable taste in hats. Aside from ensuring full-employment for critics and giving them a license to pursue a life of rhyme – if only for one review – there is no merit in bowdlerizing (or perhaps “bawdlerizing”) children’s literature in a tasteless attempt to get their parents to fork over admission for the entire family. There are indeed some cats not to be talked to…or watched for that matter. For that matter, it is frequently a good idea to eschew working with or basing a plot around; animals — especially those able to talk — small children, and tasteless morons (okay, the taste and intelligence challenged). Finally, please, please, please, take it easy on sequels and remakes. The original “Psycho” wasn’t good or (God help me) “edgy” enoughr We haven’t had enough “Halloween” or “Matrix” fairy talesr How many times must we be left home aloner

On the very bright side, I have been surprised and delighted to see that there are so many quality scripts out there in the market. Some recent films of exceptional merit attest to that and to the fact that there are not only good screenwriters but excellent actors, capable directors and producers with not only brains but talent as well. That so many excellent films have gotten their finishing touches over the past few months leaves me with a feeling of hope. Further, I have had the privilege of reading the scripts for a number of prospective films of intelligence, action, adventure, romance and mystery – some are even now in production while others await greenlight status. In short, we have the potential to do surprisingly well over the coming months. If only that could be the case! As we look back over the year 2003, let’s just remember a few titles that won’t (or at least shouldn’t) appear on the slate when it comes time for the Academy Awards; “Gigli,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life” (as in can we dig up a bad idea…note that this has its origins in a video game which is always a bad sign), “The Medallion,” “Bad Boys II” (note the use of a number in the title is generally a hint to stay away), “From Justin to Kelly,” “Beyond Borders,” “How To Lose A Guy in Ten Days” (aka, How To Lose Ten Bucks in Less Than Two Hours), “Party Monster,” “In The Cut,” “Cheaper By The Dozen” (possibly referring to film story ideas which can apparently be purchased in bulk these days), “Gods and Generals,” “Daddy Day Care,” “Haunted Mansion,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Daredevil,” “Kangaroo Jack,” “Charlie’s Angels 2” (number again…dead give away), “Dumb and Dumberer” (a possible description of the hoped for audiencer).

In summary, a little pride in authorship, direction and performance goes a long way. To paraphrase George C. Scott’s character in “Patton” when someone asks what you did in the great culture wars you won’t have to say, “Well, I shoveled s___ in Los Angeles.” Let’s at least hope for a happy and prosperous New Year at the movies.