Caffeinated Clint : Branding


As I sit here studying the casting submissions and demo tapes of actors wanting in on the new filming I’m producing, I have to again ask myself ‘Why!? Why are we pouring our money into an original piece and not simply trying to option the remake rights to The Golden Child?’

The answer, I guess, is I love film too much to butt-fuck it like that.

Platinum Dunes have just announced they’re remaking 80s favourite “The Monster Squad” – the same film director Fred Dekker had been trying to entice Hollywood into sequelizing in recent years.

So why would a “Monster Squad” redo get the greenlight over a “Monster Squad 2”?

Take your pick:

a)23-year-old film student : “The Monster… what?”

b)studio exec : “The possibilities are endless… effects have really advanced since then”

c)casting agent : “Taylor Lautner. The Wolf Man. Tell me that won’t work better!”

d)producer : “Monster Squad was on TV the other night – I didn’t watch it, because it’s so fuckin’ old. But hey, let’s remake it!”

Remakes. Any regular visitor to the site knows I loathe them about as much as rectal exams (in fact, I’d take a scope up the ass over the reworked “Prom Night” or “The Stepfather”). And no, it’s not just because I’m a grumbly old fart that hates having to take time out to see the same movie twice. And it’s not because the remake will likely the “Star Trek 5″ to the original’s Star Trek 4”. No, I mostly abhor this trend of remaking anything and everything because I know there’s thousands and thousands of amazingly-written, powerful, and original stories out there just waiting to be transferred to a milky mesh screen. But unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t seem too interested in anything original these days. And unless Doc Brown lends the budding screenwriter behind these original scripts his Delorean so he can hit up Bob Evans at Paramount in 1979, he can pretty much be certain he’s going to need a day-job to supplement his career for the next decade or two (Unless, of course, he has a savvy manager who can get him on a doctoring job on the next “Alvin and the Chipmunks”).

“Has to have a brand name – that brand name has to be of some value”, a studio exec tells me via email. “Otherwise you’re shit out of luck”.

Enough to evoke a few kids out of film school and into a marketing degree, right?

I’ve experienced first-hand just how mournfully unreasonable things are getting out there. For instance, a producer who was brusquely attached to a werewolf pic I’d written, had suggested, much to my disgust, that we should try and get Universal to pick up the pic and release it as the third in the “An American Werewolf in London” series – I believe the title he had in mind was (cough) “An American Werewolf in Hollywood”. I vomited in my mouth. By doing that, we would be losing the whole stratagem behind the flick in the first place.

Shortly after, two scriptments I’d written for a production company with an output deal with a major, both of which were sequels, and both of which were looking like they might have a chance there for a while, were abandoned at the 11th hour in favour of, of course, remakes.

One of the projects I’d written even had some of the original players attached, and quite an amazing production team. But then, out of the blue, someone had suggested it might be better to just “remake the first one again” and the studio accountant, being the one that makes all the decisions, happily obliged – since he’d never heard of the film we were sequelizing in the first place, likely.

Very frustrating, and actually rather depressing at the time too. Now, one of those remakes I actually ended up really liking. And in some respects, I think it was a better decision to shake the series up like that, rather than simply adding a new number onto a title that had already been pretty well exhausted. But the fact of the matter is, the studio’s intention wasn’t to make a better movie – for all they cared, the film could be a talking shit with arms and legs; so long as the TV spots fooled kids into thinking it was the next cumming of Lovelace, it was a success! And the other? Well, let’s just say there’s going to be picketing when punters see what the studio has opted to go with instead of a loyal, rather original, and dare I say, very respective sequel to a beloved classic.

In three separate situations, I’d watch Hollywood pour out a perfectly good bowl of twisties – simply to fill it with a fresh new-packet of the same product (only from a bag clearly marked ‘home brand’).

And I think it was then and there – though the umpteenth remakes currently in development at the time were also a pretty good tip-off – that I realized that the film machine was in need of a good grease. In its current stage, it was only able to churn out product that had rode on its conveyer belt before.

But I’m not stupid, I understand business. I know why all these remakes are in the works.

I’ve produced a few films now, one of which I’m really, really proud of (and is being released in L,A in May), but unfortunately none have done much business at the box office. And I’ll tell you why – we were up against remakes and feature film adaptations of video games on every occasion (even those released direct to DVD). Sadly, they’re the films that make money – don’t much matter if they’re any good. Heck, a studio won’t even allocate much of a marketing budget to your film if you’re not one of those films based on a comic, video-game or ‘old’ film. Did you see how many TV spots there were for “G.I Joe : The Rise of Cobra”? Did you see how many there weren’t for “The Brother’s Bloom”?

They tell you to see it. You will see it. That’s the answer.

And at the moment, studios won’t you to see “G.I Joe”, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Prom Night”. So they’ll dust your eyes with their juicy treasures until you do.

I know there’s some original content still out there – hell, you gotta give props to “Twilight”, in this case – and I also know there’s a few remakes that actually do make sense, and are worthwhile (“My Bloody Valentine”, “The Ring”, “Star Trek” and “The Departed” come to mind) but on the whole, everything your local cinemaplex is screening has been shown before – I know, I was there.

About three-quarters of the films that are coming out this year are remakes of films I saw at the theatre in the 80s and 90s – “Clash of the Titans”, “The Karate Kid”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Piranha”, “Let Me In”, “Red Dawn”.

Some of those films I absolutely adore. And it really gets to me that someone out there thinks they need to be redone – when, in all honesty, most of them can’t and won’t be improved… not even by better effects, or bigger stars. The worst part?

“Those in their twenties probably didn’t see the film first time around though, Clint. So all they’ll know is the remake. That’s why they’re being remade”, the same exec says.

And that’s a good thing!? Some 25-year-old who never caught “A Nightmare On Elm Street” is going to grow up having never experienced Robert Englund’s marvellously fun performance as Freddy Krueger!? They’ll never hear his terrific quips!? They’ll never see just how good a film a then-unknown Wes Craven made for a few thousand bucks!? (as opposed to the millions they’ve spent on the remake). No, that’s not good, surely!?

Just a few weeks ago, a cousin of mine told me she’d never watched James L.Brook’s amazing “Terms of Endearment” because “it’s too old”.

Doesn’t matter if it’s one of the best dramas of all time. Doesn’t matter if it features the best performance Jack Nicholson’s ever given (well, next to “Cuckoo’s Nest”). Doesn’t matter that it’ll likely move you in ways you thought impossible.

“I’ll wait for them to remake it. Probably have better actors in it”, she said.

Again, it’s the ‘too bloody old’ excuse. I’ve heard it so many times lately. Heck, I even met a fellow film critic in Sydney last year that had never seen “The Conversation” or “Apocalypse Now” for the very same reason – that those films are too old. How on earth is a film reviewer to do his job if she hasn’t seen the greats? What film would be the benchmark for a ‘great’ for her? “Mean Girls”? What about one of those films are remade – and we know they will be – how she will be able to compare the original to the new film? Quite simply, she won’t.

So that’s obviously the main reason why all these films are being remade. The studios know that a lot of folks under 30 likely won’t watch a film made before their time. Time, they think, ruins a movie.

What bullshit! Tell me “Citizen Kane”, “The Wizard Of Oz”, “Star Wars”, “The French Connection”, “Poltergeist”, “The Star Chamber” and “The Blues Brothers” play any different now than they did when they were first released!? You could re-release any of them, and they’d still pack as much punch as they did back in their day.

If people are going to keep paying to see an inferior version of a movie that’s readily available on DVD (or in the very least, VHS – or on cable), or if they’re going to buy into the marketing hype that usually surrounds a film based on a game, comic or , films like “Complacent” and “Big Game” aren’t going to have much of a chance out there. Further more, some of the best films of the last couple of years have sunk faster than a turd in a Thailand toilet because their studio’s didn’t believe in them as much as the “Transformers”movie or a “Halloween” remake – films like “The Brother’s Bloom”, “Fanboys”, “Assassination of a High School President”, “Hachi : A Dog’s Tale” and “Grindhouse”. Heck, had it not been seen by members of the voting community “The Hurt Locker” would either a) be still sitting on the shelf it had been sitting on for a good year before even finding a distributor or b) be going straight to DVD, as was originally the plan for territories like Australia.

“You can write the best screenplay ever. You can even attach Matthew McConaughey or Robert Pattinson to it”, a fellow producer tells me, “But I can guarantee that unless it’s based on an old tv show, or a comic book, or an upcoming video game, you’ll still struggle to get it made.”

This is the filmmaking world we now live in : Remakes of “When A Stranger Calls”, “Total Recall”, “F/X”, “Mannequin” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” were immediately greenlit; a film starring powerhouse performers Jack Nicholson, Andy Garcia, and Morgan Freeman that’s a remake of a 60s classic? Can’t get financing. Same for Kevin Smith’s science-fiction epic “Red State” – nobody will bankroll it.

“With the death of Miramax and specialty film in general, it’s a lot more difficult for a cat like me to get his work funded”, Smith says. “That’s why this is not the happy-go-lucky, ‘Wow! It all worked out!’ I’m sitting there going, ‘What’s my future like? I know what I did for the last fifteen, who is going to pay for my next fifteen years worth of movies?”

There’s also a film called “Jack and Diane”, one of the best reviewed scripts around, that’s had everyone from Ellen Page to Alison Pill attached. It’s a really fun yarn about a couple of lesbian Werewolves. It can’t get cashed up. Has no brand name attached to it. Isn’t a remake of “Ginger Snaps” or “An American Werewolf in London”. And isn’t based on a MidWay Video Game.

I’d much rather see a sequel than a remake – largely because it means we’ll be seeing something different, but it also shows how much respect the studio and/or producer has for the original film. Best example – Disney making a sequel to “Tron”, with its original star (even Bruce ‘SyFy’ Boxleitner!), when they could’ve easily just remade the first film. But respect to them. And I dare say it’ll do even better than what a remake would’ve. And much love also to Fox for sequelizing – and, by all accounts, they’re great sequels too! – “Wall Street” and “Predator”, rather than simply remaking them. And I’m loving that someone had the balls to greenlight original material like “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “Solitary Man” -it shows there’s still taste to be had outside of Wendy’s Ice Cream.

There’s some concern this week that Sony might do to their “Ghostbusters” franchise what they’ve done to “Spider-Man” series – that is, abandon all plans for a sequel starring the original cast, and directed by the original helmer, in favour of simply rebooting the series.

Sony doesn’t want Ivan Reitman – because he’s like, according to Pascal’s crowd, an old fart who means nothing to the 24-year-old filmgoer; Judd Apatow or Michael Bay, on the other hand, would be right up their alley! – directing the new film. Unfortunately, Reitman’s contract for the first two films stipulates that he gets first refusal on any “Ghostbusters” project. More so, the cast members – Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis – can veto the project if they’re not happy with any aspect of it (the firing of Reitman would definitely put them off making it).

It’s a bit frightening. Sony’s likely got a bit more power, and bucks, than Ivan Reitman and if only for that reason they could probably – somehow – squeeze him out of “Ghostbusters 3”. More so, they likely could cut through the red tape and get a ‘remake’ up.

I don’t think enough studios, let alone filmmakers, respect film. In a lot of the cases of these remakes, the director’s of the original films aren’t asked to bless the remake, let alone are contacted by anyone involved. I know that was the case with the “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake – Wes Craven didn’t even get a phone call; he heard about the Samuel Bayer-directed remake the same way we did. But he’s not the only one.

I begin my new film, a musical/drama titled “Radio America”, in May. Do I expect it to do huge business? Well, there’s a difference between liking it to and knowing it will. And there’ll also likely be a different result by releasing the film as “Once 2 : Radio America” and simply releasing it under its original title. Will I do that? Fuck no! Film has given me too much… too many opportunities… too much enjoyment… for me to treat it like Michael Biehn does Madolyn Smith in “Deadly Intentions”.

I love film. I love producing films. I love seeing original stories get made. I just really hope the industry gets that swift kick in the pants it needs before it’s too late – somehow, I just don’t see myself feeling as enriched or as proud as shepherding a “Great Gazoo” movie.

And for those that are convinced there’s a certain batch of movies that Hollywood will never remake – think again! I can guarantee you’ll be seeing in remakes of “Back to the Future”, “The Godfather”, “Saturday Night Fever”, “Top Gun” and “The Breakfast Club” in the coming years.

Anyway, an “old” Henry Fonda movie is on TV – don’t tell anyone, but I’m going to watch it (over Paul W.S Anderson’s remake of”Death Race” – which is on the other channel).