Only time will tell how this will play out, but it seems to me that John McCain just squashed his one and only real argument against Barack Obama becoming president: that Obama doesn’t have as much experience as some people would prefer. But now with Sarah Palin being offered as a one-heartbeat-from-the-presidency option, I think McCain’s gonna have to put that playing card to bed. I’m sure Mrs. Palin’s a very nice woman: attractive, God-fearing, mother of 5 oddly-named but quite adorable children… But with McCain just having celebrated his 72nd birthday and having recently had two malignant melanomas removed, one does not have to wield much creativity in order to envision a scenario wherein Mrs. Palin is suddenly propelled into the office of the Presidency Of The United States Of America. Now I look forward to a day when a woman holds that office, but how about one that has some experience and qualifications?
Compare that to the Obama/Biden ticket and even some Republicans may have to admit that we’re all a lot safer with the current Democratic nominees. But hey, Americans voted Dan Quayle into the VP position and he was about as smart as a knuckle. At least Palin doesn’t yet seem to be an idiot, just frighteningly ill-prepared.
I’m guessing and hoping most folks will recognize McCain’s choice for what it is: a chance to stir up the Presidential race and attract some of those Hillary Clinton voters who were so excited to vote for a woman (and rightfully so) that they may just vote for ANY woman! McCain certainly managed to steal some thunder away from Obama the morning after Obama’s historic DNC speech, but I think the moment has passed and Republican buyer’s-remorse may be setting in.
And all this after McCain’s comparing Obama to several vapid female celebs. Yet McCain certainly doesn’t seem to have put the nation’s interests ahead of his need to seem a “maverick” and to attract voters with a “pretty face” with little-to-no valuable credentials. Let’s hope this odd, and certainly unexpected bit of posturing backfires in Mr. McCain’s face. If American’s still can’t see that continuing the Bush policies is a horrible thing for this nation and the world, and if they can’t see that, no matter how nice and attractive Mrs. Palin might be, she is simply far too inexperienced at this stage in her life to be the leader of the free world (though “free” is a relative term nowadays), then I will have lost all hope in America’s ability to learn from its own mistakes and to grow and face challenges as an adult nation.
A few years ago, I spoke with a dear friend who was a producer of big films at Fox Studios. They had recently made a huge blockbuster action film (to protect the identity of said producer, I won’t mention the title) that made a lot of money, but was critically lambasted. And rightfully so. It was an awful movie. I spoke with this producer while they were in pre-production on that film’s sequel. The producer told me, point blank, “The reason we hired the director for the first film was because he doesn’t have any opinions of his own; or if he does, he doesn’t voice them. He does exactly what we tell him.” Now understand that this producer knows the first installment of the “franchise” was a bad film. He goes on, “We hired the same director again for the same reasons. And this film’s not going to be any good either.” Now to this producer’s credit, he was beyond frustrated with the whole situation and longed to produce films he cared about. However, he’s still producing high-profile studio films he doesn’t believe in, but perseveres because these films have lots of money and clout and can be real career-builders.
But they can also be soul-crushers.
The attraction of making big-budget films with A-list stars is undeniable. But is it all worth it if what you end up sacrificing in the end is the actual film itself? For some, the answer is still yes. For others, like myself, the answer is no.
Which brings us back to Mathieu Kassovitz and Fox. Here’s Kassovitz’s story in his own words as reported on Sci-Fi Scanner:
I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience… The scope of the original book was quite amazing. The author was very much into geopolitics and how the world is going to evolve. He saw that as wars evolve, it won’t be just about territories any more, but money-driven politics. As a director it’s something that’s very attractive to do…
But according to Kassovitz, BABYLON A.D. fails to deliver any of these messages.
It’s pure violence and stupidity. The movie is supposed to teach us that the education of our children will mean the future of our planet. All the action scenes had a goal: They were supposed to be driven by either a metaphysical point of view or experience for the characters… instead parts of the movie are like a bad episode of ’24’… BABYLON will probably have a good first weekend, but the second weekend we’re going to lose 30%. I don’t see how people who went through all these amazing blockbusters like THE DARK KNIGHT and IRON MAN this summer will take it… It’s hard.
I should have chosen a studio that has guts… Fox was just trying to get a PG-13 movie. I’m ready to go to war against them, but I can’t because they don’t give a shit.
I’ve read a lot of online comments regarding how Kassovitz’s willingness to speak openly about his experience is tantamount to career suicide. Many even suggest that he should feel lucky to have made a film at all. These comments are, more likely than not, made by readers who are not, themselves, filmmakers. Kassovitz is doing something both daring and necessary. For himself. It goes beyond whether or not it’s a Hollywood career killer. Hopefully, Kassovitz has discovered what is most important to him, why he is a filmmaker. And hopefully he will take these enormous lessons and turn them into a personal victory by finding ways to make the films he wants to make the way he wants to make them. Hollywood is only one avenue for getting a film made. And though many people insist it’s the only “real” way, they are dead wrong. Hollywood is not, ironically enough, the best place for most serious filmmakers. I’m sure I’ll catch flack for that comment, but most of the best films released by studios in this country are negative pick-ups; they were not financed, developed, or produced by the studios, but by independents. One has only to look at the bulk of films nominated at last year’s Academy Awards to know this is true.
As a filmmaker who has gone through something VERY similar to what Kassovitz is now experiencing (though on a smaller budget and a different studio-Sony), my heart goes out to him and his struggle and my support is with him and I hope his actions inspire more filmmakers to voice their concerns and share their stories. And I hope that, like my public willingness to talk about my personal filmmaking journeys, it inspires some other filmmakers to find alternate routes to get their films made and perhaps bypass this particular experience altogether.
That said, for some of us, it is this very experience that allows us to face some of our own inner demons and discover what it is we most want out of life and as filmmakers. I hope as Kassovitz looks back at this period in his life, he will see it as a profound moment of change and growth, both as a person and as a filmmaker. At the end of the day, we’re all looking for those things and those choices that allow us to be happy. It seems to me, Kassovitz will not be happy making films that do not reflect his talent, tastes, desire and heart.
Kassovitz’s story is, sadly, one in a million. As is mine. However, speaking out IS a real-world option and is NOT career suicide. That is simply the story we’re told by the people who want us to stay quiet. By people who are afraid. Unfortunately, many people believe that story. As do their lawyers, their agents, their managers… But Hollywood does not have the last word on filmmaking. And as technologies improve and the cost of filmmaking lowers, the studios will slowly lose whatever grip they have and we may find ourselves in a world where producers and directors work together on the same team.
Anyone who knows me knows my struggle to get my cut of THE PLAGUE released after watching the film get taken away and re-cut by producers into something almost unrecognizable. That’s why I want to applaud director Mathieu Kassovitz for speaking openly about the fate of his most recent film, BABYLON A.D.
According to Cinematical.com, Kassovitz admits that a troubled production and comprised final cut… are responsible for turning his adaptation of Maurice Georges Dantec’s futuristic novel into “pure violence and stupidity… like a bad episode of ’24’.”… He admits that, while he doesn’t hate the film, he insists that “I had something much better in my hands but I just wasn’t allowed to work” and then openly berates them for “just trying to get a PG-13 movie.”
In a town like Hollywood where speaking out against such actions is frowned upon and many are quietly threatened with being “blacklisted” (I should know), I want to acknowledge anyone with the bravery and passion to speak openly and honestly about their experiences. Kassovitz is a wonderful actor (AMELIE, BIRTHDAY GIRL, MUNICH) and a director of rare talent (LA HAINE, ASSASSIN(S), LES RIVIERES POURPRES), but since making films in America he has not, it would seem, been allowed to live up to his potential (GOTHIKA, and now BABYLON A.D.). When this happens, we the audience–as well as the filmmaker–lose.
What happened to Kassovitz is by no means a new practice in Hollywood, however it is one I hope is coming to an end as newer technologies allow filmmakers the opportunity to make their films in an environment more suited to the creative process. That day is coming, but it starts by setting examples for other artists to follow. We need to show that we have other choices aside from the ones we are offered by people who don’t honor or respect what we do. And no matter what anyone tells you, you DO have the choice. And this applies to all aspects of your life. Your art is no exception.
Traveling earlier this week via plane from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, CA., I had the honor and pleasure to sit beside a beautiful, articulate, intelligent, fresh-out-of-the-military young Israeli woman.
It was total culture shock for me.
We talked for the entire 5 hour trip about everything from art and politics, to romance and business. But the portion of the conversation that rattled me was the fact that this woman was stunned to learn in her first month in the States that so many Americans didn’t like George W. Bush.
“When he visits Israel, we roll out the red carpet. He’s a hero. He fights terrorists. I thought everyone in America loved him.”
Now I suppose this shouldn’t come as a shock to me given America and Israel’s long history as allies–and it by no means suggests that all Israelis think this way–but it was nonetheless disturbing to me to consider that A) anyone could view Bush as a hero and B) that people think we as Americans overwhelmingly believe Bush to be a great man and a great president. I immediately confirmed what she was slowly discovering: many Americans, if not most Americans, consider George W. Bush a criminal and, perhaps, the worst, most dangerous president in U.S. history!
What disturbed me even more (really? More?) was her proclamation that most Israelis feared Barack Obama and believed that if he were elected president of the United States, he would choose not to be a friend of Israel’s. She went on, in fact, to let me know that many Israelis believe Obama to be an Arab. I guess the GOP’s misinformation machine still has frighteningly long arms.
The good news here is that one person’s perspective does not a whole country make. However, it is indicative of a school of thought that does exists and may or may not be rampant. I, for my part, did my duty to inform her of my beliefs and the beliefs of most of the people I know and respect as to the dangers of the Bush Administration and McCain’s intention to continue the devastating policies of that Administration.
I sincerely hope that most people the world over can see Bush for what he is and that my experience of culture shock was a limited one. And let’s hope and act to educate people as to exactly who and what John McCain is and what he represents and what the landscape might look like, both here and abroad, if he were to be elected president of the most powerful country in the world.
Okay, so there wasn’t actually any real fear. Or loathing. But I will confess to one moment during the night, asleep in my tent with my trusty canine companion by my side (and no, that’s not an endearment for my girlfriend) when I was awakened by the sound of coyotes howling. Or maybe it was a couple of drunk campers, I couldn’t really tell. And Gus (the aforementioned canine) started to growl as the ridge on his back stood up (he’s part Rhodesian Ridgeback), and I sleepily pondered the notion that the tent might be overtaken by wild beasties looking for a piece of man’s best friend. Or worse, a piece of man. As a result, I never did return to the deep slumber I had begun earlier that evening (morning, actually), and proceeded to sleep with one eye open for the rest of the night. Just in case of imminent attack. Other than that, it was smooth sailing from start to finish. Except for the seriously annoying bugs…
But first things first. For anyone living in or around Los Angeles who does not know about or has yet to visit the Angeles National Forest, this is some good news for you. From my home in Hollywood, it’s a half-hour drive from my front door to the entrance to the National Forest. Another 30-45 minutes in and you are deep in the wilds with no hint of civilization anywhere. Except for some campgrounds. And the occasional ranger station. And some other vehicles cruising the windy paved roads that worm their way through a forest of pines and scenic outlooks. But the point here is, you are so seemingly far outside Los Angeles City that you might as well be in Maine! And in less than an hour’s drive! And though I’ve been out here many times in the past, I find it frighteningly easy to forget how much I love it and how damn easy it is to get to. AND how much my soul needs to step away from the daily grind and dirty beige scenery that makes up Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. One night in this camper’s paradise and my soul is completely refreshed! And if not completely refreshed, then seriously stimulated.
And you don’t have to be a camper to enjoy all that the Angeles National Forest has to offer. Like hiking? The Angeles National Forest is a hiker’s dream. Rock climbing? Yep. A scenic drive? Duh! How about a few hours at a scenic outlook, staring up at the night sky to take in a meteor shower or simply to remind yourself what the sky is actually supposed to look like? You can be there in 40 minutes. Bring a lounge chair and a coupla beers and settle in for a few relaxing hours.
Now don’t be thrown off by the fact that the Angeles National Forest is one of the biggest dumping grounds for dead bodies (I read this somewhere and can’t confirm its accuracy). This is actually a good thing. It’s a testament to the sheer size of the place. You could dump a body in there and it may never be found! Not that I’m suggesting anyone do this. I’m just saying… It’s a big place with a lot of nature. And who doesn’t like nature? Which brings me back to the bugs…
My trusty companions and I were assaulted by insects of the mosquito, fly and bee varieties. But thanks to OFF and its magical mixture of DEET and God knows what else, these flying pests were a mere annoyance as no one got bit or stung. Well, actually, I think some mosquitos and flies may have bit Gus, poor thing, but no humans were harmed in the making of this trip. Next time I bring SKIN SO SOFT for Gus, though it smells like an elderly woman wearing too much cheap perfume, it apparently keeps the bugs away. And quite possibly all other living things. The good news here is that, no sooner had the sun gone down, than the insects disappeared.
Evening is a magical time in the Angeles National Forest. Crickets abound and stars are plentiful. We made a bonfire, my friends and I, of old wood we’d collected between naps and we roasted weeners on the end of sticks over the open flames (actually, Tom had tofu dogs, which didn’t cling easily to the sticks and, quite frankly, looked a little repulsive to this carnivore). It was Caley who lost the first hot dog to the fiery depths of our manmade oven. But never one to be bested by nature, Caley dug that dog out of the hot embers and cold ashes, smothered it in some yellow mustard, and consumed that damn thing all the while insisting it was delicious and betraying his true feelings by dry-heaving after every crunchy bite.
By night’s end, Caley and I had consumed 3 hot dogs each, and Tom 4 of those rubbery little soy weeners.
And as boys will do, we smoked a little pot, drank a little whisky and discussed manly things. Like opera.
But never fear, there was more than enough talk of red-blooded sexual conquests, daring tales of the virile escapades of our youths, fearless exploits into the brawny unknown, followed by a few tears and confessions of regrets and opportunities lost and all the ones that got away because we were too scared, stupid or traumatized to recognize or respond to a real opportunity when it presented itself. Faced with the grim reality of who and what we actually were, the conversation quickly shifted to talk of STAR TREK and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and we giggled like giddy schoolgirls.
But despite our flaccid attempts at valiant and intrepid gallantry, we were seriously wowed by an impressive display of shooting stars that left slight cricks in our aging necks, but nonetheless stirred our as yet undiminished imaginations. Talk of god, religion, atheism, literature, the cosmos, the Hubble telescope and fantastic interracial sexual encounters ensued. We were living high off the land.
Slowly, one by one, we crawled off to our separate tents and lay down to the sounds of crickets and owls intermingling. We watched the shooting stars through the screens at the tops of our temporary abodes until slumber and alcohol-induced exhaustion overcame us.
Morning arrived too quickly, and with it those damn pesky bugs. But it almost didn’t matter as one of the great joys of life is the smell of brewing coffee mixed with the perfume of mother nature on a glorious summer morn. And so we drank our cups of jo, explored a few more trails, read our books under the shade of a tree, threw the ball for Gus, and used the outhouse one last time before squeezing into Caley’s car for the slightly nauseating and cramped ride home.
But we’ll never forget those 27 hours spent roughing it among the creatures of nature, in our $24 campsite, with those boisterous neighbors laughing too loudly over at the next encampment, and the wild Winnebagos driving freely and undisturbed through our little slab of paradise. And lest we forget Hal’s startling and seemingly endless displays of gas, Caley’s incessant, obsessive hiking, and Tom’s much-discussed constipation and his various attempts to right that wrong… Yes, we’ll be returning to the Angeles National Forest soon enough. If only we don’t fail to remember how much we need these little respites to help ease us through the doldrums of daily life in the star-studded city known as Los Angeles.
One of my current favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, recently wrote this about his experience as a writer:
As I suspect is true of many who write for a living, as I write I think about all sorts of things. I don’t necessarily write down what I am thinking; it’s just that as I write, I think about things. As I write, I arrange my thoughts. And rewriting and revising takes my mind down even deeper paths. No matter how much I write, though, I never reach a conclusion. And no matter how much I rewrite, I never reach the destination. Even after decades of writing, the same still holds true. All I do is present a few hypotheses, or paraphrase the issue. Or find an analogy between the structure of the problem, and something else.
This in many ways illustrates my feelings toward my own creative paths as both a filmmaker and screenwriter. I am always interested and curious as to the differing approaches taken by different artists in pursuit of their work. For me, reading Murakami opened up a world of possibility in storytelling. It shattered rules and formulas I had both consciously and unconsciously adhered to and felt restricted by.