Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Indie vs Hollywood

I got a couple of interesting comments on my Racebending & Integration post which I thought I'd kick about. Here's some snippets:

Robert Reed III:

...I say, fuck Hollywood. We live in a new era. We no longer have to take what Hollywood gives us. We can make our own movies. Making indie films and distributing them is easier and cheaper than ever. If you have a digital camcorder and a PC, then you can make your own movie. There are tons of free software that you can use to make your movie. There are many video editing softwares, computer animation software, etc... I think that a new movement should be started. This would be a grass-roots movement of people dedicated to making and distributing movies. I say, if Hollywood refuses to gives us what we really want (or actually, regardless of that), then we should take control and give ourselves the movies we want.

Colin Meier:

In this particular instance (and similar instances) it doesn't actually help -- if you want to produce a faithful adaptation of an existing cartoon, or an existing book, you need the money to buy the option. Hollywood has that money, so they get first dibs.

You could, of course, blame the authors (or their agents) for "selling out" to Hollywood. But to be frank, if I had published a book, I'd rather have it in the hands of a production team who've proved themselves in the past. (Well, it would depend on the book, I suppose - most indie filmmakers can't afford to stage spectacular space battles...but they can do decent kitchen-sink drama very faithfully).

Each author is different, of course - Hal, if Vellum were optioned, would you rather see it in the hands of Hollywood (say, David Fincher), or an indie director on his first movie?


Robert: Yeah, I'm all for the indie ethos. Hell, two of the movies that fired me up about this issue (from the queer perspective) are The Curiosity of Chance and Were The World Mine, both labours of love that were put together outside the big studio system. Indeed, both show how you can go indie and still pull off something other than kitchen-sink realism; one is a pretty slick-looking high school movie, the other a teen musical -- i.e. both are aiming for places in very commercial Hollywood niches where the sheen of production counts. And they do a pretty good job of achieving that aim aesthetically.

To be fair though, they don't hit the target dead centre; with both there's something lost and something gained from going the indie route, I reckon. TCoC has the sheen but gets a weird spin from being filmed in Belgium, with supporting characters who are quintessentially American archetypes (the bullying jock, etc.) not always convincing when acted by Europeans. WtWM ends up having more of an indie movie quality that comes simply from the film stock used, I think; and I'm in two minds about the result. It works for me in some places, like the night scenes where it feels right for something riffing off A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I think with some scenes... well, the pastoral idiom of the (classic, commercial) high school movie suits a more glossy look. Still, all in all, they work for me, and work *well*.

Even with SFX... to be honest, I think District 9 simply *looks* better than what I've seen of Cameron's Avatar, for example; the latter's hyper-saturated animated prog rock album cover aesthetic is *pretty* but it's kinda like modern-day Rococo, far as I'm concerned: visual candy-floss. If you're not trying to pull off some lurid cutting edge 3d spectacle, just the effects you need... well, yeah, there are ways and means. To take another example, the movie Franklyn pulls off a Gilliamesque steampunk elsewhen that shows how much can be done on an indie budget. So, yeah, I can see where an indie filmmaker might well (now or soon) be able to do the pure eyeball kicks just as well, when it comes to someting more SFnal.

Colin: For Vellum, Franklyn is a case in point -- shows how you could pull off Jack Flash's Kentigern in an indie movie, I reckon. Indeed, the book is so fucked-up mental in terms of structure, I suspect that only a director free from studio interference could get it made in anything remotely resembling the book itself, so it would either have to be someone working as an indie, or someone who's built up *serious clout* in Hollywood. Either way, it'd be the director that mattered more than anything, though I'm fucked if I know who specifically. I'm not entirely convinced by Fincher, I have to admit; I think he's a bit fatalist in that "failed nihilism" way that irks me, so I'm not sure he'd gell with the work. Darren Aronofsky? Tarsem Singh? Actually if Gerald McMorrow -- the director of Franklyn -- came to me asking about the rights for Vellum, I'd be *well interested,* as that movie's the nearest I've seen to the mixed idiom aproach of TBoAH. Still, I'm not convinced a cinematic TBoAH is doable at all really, so it's kind of a moot point.

I think Escape from Hell! *is* filmable on the other hand, and I've always said my dream team is Sam Raimi directing, Samuel L. Jackson and Laurence Fishburne starring. Early John Carpenter is my benchmark. I mean, reviews for Legion have been pretty shit, but that's kind of the level I'd pitch it at. Or Wanted. Like, it's gotta be big and bold, brash and ballsy. So would I want a major studio behind it? I dunno. With CGI what it is now, I *could* see an indie director coming in on his first movie, sorta like a latter-day Raimi or Carpenter as they were at the start of their careers -- on the margins of Hollywood. And the option money wouldn't be such a big deal for a work like that, not compared to Avatar: The Last Airbender. I suspect most novelists would sell movie rights for a lot less than the producers of a hit cartoon series would. Getting the option for Twilight is gonna cost you, but for a relatively obscure work like EfH!... I suspect that's a fraction of the budget as a whole.

Still, whoever did it, a movie of EfH! would definitely be targeting the mainstream in a way that a Vellum adaptation wouldn't. If not *made* by a Hollywood studio, it's the sort of thing you want to get picked up by a major Hollywood distributor. You could hope for it to catch on in that cult movie way, but really you want a movie like that in the cineplexes.

This goes doubly so -- triply! quadruply! -- for Whatever the Fuck You Want, the high school movie screenplay I wrote because of the two gay films mentioned above. Really, while I'm 100% behind the idea of a grass-roots indie movement to do what Hollywood won't, the whole point is that the way that pans out is *separate water-fountains*. We do have queer cinema -- indie studios, GLBT film festivals, the whole system in which things like TCoC or WtWM come along every so often amid stuff like Eating Out or Another Gay Movie and so on. But they all exist within a ghetto to a large extent. As I've said a number of times now, I wrote WtFYW because my blog posts on TCoC and WtWM came back as top hits on a Google of "gay kid" and "high school movie". Like, there's simply no "high school movie" with a "gay kid" integral enough and a high enough profile to trump my blog post with a review or IMDB page. I want *that* movie to exist, and that means Hollywood mainstream rather than an indie flick doing the film fest circuit.

It's like... what I want to see is a water-fountain bang in the centre of town, one that isn't "straights only". If an indie director/studio wanted to make WtFYW, sure, I'd jump at it, just to get it made, but that would just be another water-fountain for us in our own neighbourhood, and really what it's all about is going the next step on. We have TCoC and WtWM. We have But I'm a Cheerleader and various others. This is all cool, but what I want is the "high school movie" with a "gay kid" as protagonist that has the sort of backing put into Ten Things I Hate About You or Bring It On! I want a director -- new or established -- who's got the budget to make it as slick as Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I want a lead actor with the balls and the skills and the pulling power of Heath Ledger. I don't mean that in a crazy "only the best will do for my precious script" way. I just mean I want WtFYW or *something like that* to have a place at the big boys' table, so to speak.

With the success of a series like Glee, actually, I think the time is ripe for exactly such a movie. I think the core audience for teen rom-coms would bite if a major studio was willing to commit to a balls-out commercial movie with a gay protagonist targeting that demographic. Sure, as a total outsider to Hollywood, I could be dead wrong, but it seems to me we're at the point where it's really worth a shot. Christ, get some major names attached to the right project, and I think you've got a guaranteed buzz of the sort you had with Brokeback Mountain. Get Chris Colfer from Glee as lead in his first full-length movie. Get Brent Corrigan into a major mainstream role. Or get some straight A-list heart-throb who ain't afraid to play gay. If there's that much fucking resistance then confronting full-on it can only create controversy and give that movie a high profile from the get-go.

So as much as I want a grass-roots indie movement too, I really want to see a movement (in all senses of the term) *within* Hollywood. Fuck, there are folk of the calibre to get 100% commercial gay stuff done if they're given the chance. Bryan Singer? Alan Ball? Shit, you've got a producer on the fricking Narnia movies, Perry Moore, who wrote a gay superhero novel, Hero, for pretty much the same reasons I wrote WtFYW -- because he thought something needed to be done for that audience, that there needed to be a gay superhero to redress the absences and mistreatments. (I recommend the book, btw -- well worth a read.) With Stan Lee endorsing it, that book's in development as a TV series (or was a while back,) so I'm *really* keeping my fingers crossed that something will come of that. Cause it's gotta be better than Dante's Cove, which is (albeit wonderfully) awful. Point is, give something like that the backing of Smallville or Lost or Heroes and you've opened a door that can't be closed, to paraphrase MLK. That would be a major victory.

So, yeah, I guess for me the "fuck Hollywood" response lets the movers and shakers there off the hook to some extent, accepts segregation. And I'm not willing to do that. Yeah, let's make our own neighbourhood the best it can be... abso-fucking-lutely, and do it ourselves if need be. But I want more, damnit. I want more than the subtext of X-Men and X-Men 2. I want more than miserable cowboys dying horrible deaths. I want a totally mainstream fun flick, a major Hollywood popcorn-munching movie with a gay protagonist. And I don't think that's an "I want a pony!" unreasonable demand. It might be a pipe-dream but I don't think it's unreasonable so I ain't giving up hope yet.



Blogger Charl Fourie said...

Incredible post and some amazing replies. I completely agree with the points raised.

Being from South Africa really made me proud when I watched District 9, and all the other countless moves produced here by local talent. At this very moment a huge new studio is being built that could very well rival Hollywood, so let us wait and see.

But the biggest thing for me now is seeing really fantastic competition for Hollywood, and in many cases better. Yes they don't have the same budgets, but I will happily take a great story and characters to a visual feast. Then on the occasion those do mix and you have visual feast, great story, memorable characters it is pure gold.

My immediate thoughts also go to Russian films, and how amazing they are.

All of these new factors working against Hollywood will hopefully force them into a position to make really good films again, and not just buy out the good foreign movies, scripts and books.

My two cents. :)

1:35 pm  
Blogger Colin Meier said...

Charl : I too felt proud about District 9 - it was a wonderfully made movie. But then again, it did have a budget of $30 million...

Hal : I think the two biggest differences between "Hollywood" and "Indie" are firstly, the budget, and secondly, the degree to which the studio can exert 'creative' control. Those two aspects are hardly unrelated since the studios are looking at the financial viability of the project.

This thought just struck me, and it's an unpleasant one : Maybe the studios are *right* and a big-budget gay movie is *not* financially viable.

I don't believe that - or rather, I don't want to. The only way to tell is to make one, damn it!

I think a well-made big-budget movie with significant gay characters would be very successful, at least outside of the Bible Belt US.

But it doesn't seem that the studios actually concern themselves with overseas sales figures. They seem far more preoccupied with "domestic" (i.e. US) income.

I do like the principle you've invoked, though - change the system from within.

I still think Bryan Singer was attempting this subtextually with the X-Men movies.

Now, if only Spielberg would give it a try...

3:12 pm  
Blogger Colin Meier said...

Oops! Sorry, Hal, I was laughing so much at your "I want a pony" analogy I forgot you'd already mentioned X-Men...

3:16 pm  
Blogger Charl Fourie said...

Luckily I'm an eternal optimist, and truly believe that one day things will be better, and in that greater picture of the world , Hollywood will once again make great movies.

This mentality does make it interesting being an artist, because I contradict myself sometimes by focussing on things that are very subjective... but hey we're not perfect. And it is in these little oddities in our lives that make us interesting.

But to the point though, yes it would be quite a day when Hollywood does take on a very topical and underexposed subject.

We can just wait and see, luckily we have the European movies to satisfy our needs for something more than big booms and the latest tech.

3:34 pm  

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