Monday, December 19, 2005

I have this friend of a friend, Henry. Good guy, I just don’t get to hang out with him much. But last weekend a bunch of us were sitting around talking about movies… and he’s seen everything. I mean everything. He’s a film-buff on the old stuff, much more than me, but on the new movies, too. Henry sees every damn picture that comes out.

I asked him how – and why – he sees ‘em all. He said for his job. No, he’s not a video store clerk like Quentin Taran-geek-o. Henry works for the Motion Picture Association of America.

I said, “So, you go into work, you sit in a big theatre with a bucket of popcorn, and sit through the latest, say, historical epic, or Alf: the Movie, or American Pie 69 and when it’s over, you just say, ‘Hmm… PG-13. Now where’s my paycheck?’” He shrugged, yeah, basically. I said, “How do I get that sweet gig?!”

It helps if you’re a parent. The MPAA likes its employees to have kids, so that when they rate the films, they’re concerned about the children and all.

Yeah, but even though Henry fathered a punk-ass kid or two, doesn’t mean he’s all sweet and civil and looking to further family fucking values. He hated those Cheaper by the Dozen/Yours, Mine & Ours/We Have a Buttload of Kids & Wacky Chaos Ensues Crapola. One of his favorite films this year was The Devil’s Rejects, for chrissakes.

I suddenly had an idea for a movie: A schlock-meister filmmaker’s latest work gets an NC-17, which means no theatre will show it... so he tries to work for the MPAA to affect the ratings, but they won’t hire him unless he’s a parent. He needs a kid, so he “adopts” some child for some reason – y’know, pretends some street urchin is really his son or something. Then he gets the job, and then gets all his smut Z-movie buddies’ movies approved with G-ratings and it changes the face of cinema… or at least wacky chaos ensues… oh yeah, but at least he learns to be a dad and have good values. It’s Big Daddy meets Ed Wood. Or Bad Santa meets Bowfinger.

Yeah, that idea sucks. For so many reasons. It was off the top of my head.

Besides, the spec screenplay market sucks, too. Even good ideas don’t get made. We talked about the latest batch of movies. Hell, in the last month I rented a buncha DVDs of flicks I missed during the summer… and they were all unoriginal. Dukes of Hazzard (TV show), Fantastic Four (comic book) War of the Worlds (remake – I really hoped the aliens would eat Scientology-Boy and Dakota “Creepy adult-child” Fanning).

It’s hard to get an original script to the theatres without it being by an auteur director. There were a few successful exceptions (40-Year-Old Virgin, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), but mostly, the powers-that-be are scared to try something unless has a built-in recognition. Imagine there were no original King Kong, and then trying to pitch a movie about a giant ape that falls in love with a blond chick and goes berserk in NYC? Without the iconography, they’d throw you out on your monkey-ass.

I rented Bad News Bears, wondering why the hell they remade that gem. It’s not even like the 1976 Walter Matthau version is dated. On the DVD’s extras, it seems that everyone involved with the new movie felt the same way. Director Richard Linklater, Billy Bob Thornton, and the writers weren’t the ones who came up with the idea – or lack thereof – to do the remake. In their discussions, I got the distinct impression that Paramount just thought this would be a good thing, and the filmmakers all figured, well, it was gonna made with or without them… might as well try, see if they could do it justice and collect a paycheck.

The movie biz is tough. And Henry and the MPAA only rate movies; they don’t affect the slate of films to see. Which is one of the many reasons my pitch was god-awful.

I think I have better ideas, better scripts, and so do my friends, including Henry. You gotta love writing to keep at it; you certainly can’t do it just for the money. That’s what the day job is for, like Henry at the MPAA (though I still think it’s a sweet gig). For now, he'll have to sit through and rate other uninspired creations instead. Maybe someday the studio execs will take more chances on original ideas… but that would probably require them not worrying so much about… well, collecting a paycheck.


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