Mind The Gap
14 Sep 2023

When some folks hear I make films, they assume I’d do anything to be given a shot in Hollywood. The truth is I am not interested in Hollywood – at all. I am interested in telling good stories, and I would of course like the stories to be seen as widely as possible. I care about audiences and I live for giving them joyrides – nothing pleases me more. I want to tell stories that have artistic merit and commercial success, of course – that is the only way to sustainably tell stories.

Good storytelling takes time, energy and work. The only way to do it and do it well is to make it a job – a full time – in fact – very long hour – job. You can do this while having other jobs, but your output would be mediocre and in the long run you might burn out. In the short term, most storytellers have no choice but to go this way, it is a trial by fire.

But at a certain point the stories become ‘it’ for you. Then it is a gig like any other, and you’d do well to optimise your working environment for maximum productivity, complete with quality control, distribution, etc.

Hollywood, having their vertically integrated super-businesses and having had help from their government in the early stages of their industry and having dominated the business for a very long time – well, they are pretty good at the business part of things. Mostly.

For all their dominance, we hear a little too often that cinemas are in trouble. We see a few too many woke formula chestbusters flop like flaccid phalli because it turns out that audiences aren’t as stupid or impressionable as professional reviewers are. Hollywood is also responsible for the greatest false dichotomy in storytelling: the supposed line between artistic and the commercial.

People struggle to integrate my unimpressedness into their gestalt when they offer me a shot.

I could not care less.

My loyalty is only and forever to my audience.

India put a lander on the moon for $76-mil. Hollywood makes space movies for $220-mil – routinely. There is something obscenely crazy about that scenario – something that tells you budgets are artificially inflated to keep competition out.

They do not know how to behave when they find someone they can’t buy. It confuses them.

There is no choice to be made between money and art – they go together, only, they have to go in the correct sequence.

Art, incidentally, has to happen first.

You can try to reverse engineer the perfect story – pick the setting from the latest high dollar money magnets, select the ‘talent’ from the most efficient sociopaths in the game, write the script by sensitivity committee, design posters that would have given Goebbels butterflies, work with a formula that saved every cat since the Old Testament, use the same characters that created commercial sure-thing success the last 300 times they were used (but by all means, re-interpret them by force-fitting some identity on top of them so everyone can applaud how fabulously progressive you are) – and you might make money while the trend lasts. But you would also produce a steaming pile of cinema that no one will remember, and that no self-respecting, ethical human being can ever feel moved by.

Or you can tell an authentic, well-conceived, well-executed story to please audiences, first and foremost. Then you absolutely should put on the business lens. How do we give the baby the best shot? Is there any way we can tweak the poster, add screens, remove overhead, land it bigger, do it better, improve the pacing or the characterisation – yea and verily. It’s not about being a prima donna. Art for its own sake isn’t even art – it’s ego masturbation and it is of no use to anyone. For art to be real, to be art, it has to move people – make them feel something. And the auteurs and artistes would do well to remember that – and they should be absolutely ruthless in their quest to create products that are as good as they can possibly be. Edit. Tweak. Even alter.

But not for the sake of dollars. For the sake of the possible and potential feelings audiences might have about it. That is the only metric that matters.

There’s a strike on, right now. The Writer’s Guild of America – a union – is protesting.

Changing tech has meant that specific revenue streams have vanished and have not been replaced, and certain platforms are now keeping all the cash for themselves. And indeed, people need to be paid for their work, and artists – at least surviving artists – are business people. And no one should accept being screwed. 

I hope that the actors and writers of Hollywood find a fair outcome for their dilemma.

Would have been nice if anyone advocated for viewers as hard… or maybe even just considered them, given the output and the lectures, and that by people who enabled all kinds of predators for decades.

I tell stories. I tell my stories, my way. For audiences. That means not every story is the summer blockbuster distributors want – in which case, with tears in my navy brown eyes, I say sorry to the distributors.

It also means my attitudes and values might be more in line with the viewing public than with the gatekeepers, and I refuse to play certain games for the sake of kindly nods from people who got where they are putting out on casting couches.

That might be in LA for a studio, or in Cornwall by my lonesome – depends on the story to be honest. And no amount of bling at any cost and with no other regard – not this guy, not yesterday, or today, or tomorrow either – will make me work for anyone but the audience, ever.

And unless folks still haven’t smelled the bacon – the world that forced everyone to play the game the way California dictates – is already dead.