As someone should’ve told Sharon Stone, think before you open that thing.
Quite a few entertainment journalists have seemingly never heard of that old saying ‘everybody has to start somewhere’, because on more than a few occasions recently I’ve been forced to read thoughtless, pointless crap about how so-and-so’s next movie is already doomed, or bound to suck, because of what those involved have done before.
Guys, if we all thought that way, then we might never had a black President, Kylie Minogue would’ve been barred from the recording industry, never to record again, after laying down her ‘Locomotion’ redo, and Traci Lords would never have been given a chance to act – with clothes on (considering sucking is what she was best known for).
There is, I’m afraid, such a thing as stepping stones in this industry and whether you like it or not, those stepping stones usually come in the form of cheap, forgettable genre films or critically-maligned IMDB warts that weren’t so much an exercise in entertainment, as they were a lesson in ‘what not to do’ next time around.
In the past couple of days, I’ve read such statements as – and I don’t repeat this verbatim – “this filmmaker has no chance in hell of making a good movie out of such an ambitious, topical point in history because they’ve only ever directed cheap, horrible horror movies in their five years in the business” and “This will suck, because [x actor or x filmmaker], has never done anything of this scale or scope before. It’s already a failure.”
All filmmakers have to start somewhere. And usually, if you’re new to the game, you’ve got to first prove that you can point-and-shoot before someone actually pays you for the privilege of seeing your vision over theirs.
So many big-time filmmakers have had to cut their directing teeth doing cheap n’ nasty horror movies or something within that nose-turning realm.
If the internet were around in 1984, most of the blogasphere would’ve been on James Cameron’s case, just as they some of today’s genre-vets now entering the big leagues. Cameron was a gun-for-hire hack who replaced Joe Dante on the forgettable, cable-TV ready “Piranha” sequel, off to now make a time-travel movie with a miniscule budget, an actor who could barely talk English, and a cameo by Paul Winfield… who wouldn’t expect it to blow like Frankie Muniz’s pre-pubescent pimply cousin at Kendra’s birthday bash!?
But not only did Cameron prove he can direct, but he proved he’s a master storyteller, with a genius imagination, a knack for casting (can you imagine the criticism that would’ve bogged the message boards, had they been around then, about casting Schwarzenegger in the title role!?) and more so, the fact that he had to essentially finance “The Terminator” himself, meant he got to reap most of the monetary awards. And with each film he did, Cameron learnt more, honed his skills, and got to be a better storyteller; a decade and a bit after every producer in town laughed at his time-travelling Austrian idea, he was dry-humping a mound of gold, celebrating winning the award for Best Picture at the 1998 Oscars, for “Titanic”.
Ilya Salkind, one of the producers on “Superman”, once told me that even he chuckled at the suggestion of Richard Donner directing the big comic book epic. Donner had done wonders with the horror film “The Omen” – but it was a horror film for Christ’s sake, and, as far as most were concerned at the time, it were the performances and the pulsating music score that put the zing in that particular flick. But Donner got the job, anyway. As it turned out, “Superman” would be the epic, and as terrific as it was, because of “That Omen Guy’s” involvement in the film. Without Donner, the movie would’ve been…. well, “Superman II”.
But there’s a lot of examples I can give of filmmakers who have been forced to start out doing genre material, or rubbish, before being given a chance to show us what they’re really made of – take Sam Raimi, who for about a decade was known mostly for directing modestly-budgeted silly horror films (like “Evil Dead”), near all targeted at the ‘beer bong’ crowd, but then got hired to direct “Spider-Man”! Quite a leap! And yep, nobody thought he could do it (Just as they didn’t believe, Tim Burton, the family-friendly director of fluffy matinee fare “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and “Beetlejuice”, couldn’t pull off “Batman” a decade before); or J.J Abrams, ‘the guy from TV’ who created girl-friendly fare like “Felicity” and “Alias” before being hired by Tom Cruise to direct the third “Mission : Impossible” to an echo-clad recital of that timeless classic “No…Really!?” around the globe; or Peter Jackson, that chubby guy from New Zealand who made super low-budget horror comedies (some with Puppets in them), only to trick New Line into giving him a gazillion dollars to make an ambitious “Lord of the Rings” trilogy! Wowie!
Oh, and how on Earth did Lloyd Kaufman’s ex-right hand man from Troma, James Gunn, get the job to work on Warner Bros’ “Scooby Doo” movies but more so, Marvel’s latest big blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy”?! Did these people not get the memo from the “He can’t do that!” brigade!? Guess not. Gunn convinced us before the memo arrived. Damn customs.
It goes for actors, too. I am sick to fucking death of reading “that hack shouldn’t be in this” or “how did that guy – known only for [genre] movies, get cast!?”.
People laugh at the likes of Gary Busey or Tom Arnold or even, Danny Aykroyd being cast in films that are of a much larger caliber than they’re use to seeing them in, or because it’s such an odd choice on behalf of the filmmaker or actor to be doing the piece, but you know what? Those actors are there for a reason. In Busey’s case, he’s a damn fine actor – go rent yourself a copy of “The Buddy Holly Story” or, in particular, “Lethal Weapon” to see why his filmography is so thick and long. Yes, he’s loopy these days, and may dry-hump invisible sand-doused mermaids at the beach on Sundays, but he’s still able to act. Maybe not as good as he could, but he can all the same. And Arnold? Much like his “True Lies” collaborator James Cameron, he’s someone who simply found himself an involuntary member of a group – in this case, the comedy club. In recent years, Arnold’s proven he’s a much more versatile actor than he’s ever had the chance of proving; from “Happy Endings” to TVs “Sons of Anarchy”, he’s given each part his all, forever eliminating the cynical jibes that may have surrounded him when he hit it big post-“Roseanne” (or, some might argue, as a result of… Roseanne herself). And Ghostbuster Aykroyd? The Canadian comic might’ve had the career of Robin Williams if he’d had better management and just as much encouragement – he’s actually pretty damn versatile. Outside of the funnies, he’s no laughing matter.
Let me remind you of the fun poking that filled the magazines, newspapers and Burbank cafe’s when mildly-successful comic Tom Hanks – Aykroyd’s co-star in “Dragnet” – won the role of an AIDS victim, out to sue his employers for wrongfully dismissing him from his job, in “Philadelphia”. We loved Hanks (and with “Big”, some five years ago, we might even have to become bigger fans), but let’s be honest, nobody imagined he could actually perform outside of an ear-piercing loud line-delivery or joke requiring some sort of fall or blunder. But Jonathan Demme gave him a chance – just as we ultimately decided to. And what happened? He delivered – in spades.
A few years before “Philadelphia”, Hanks was simply ‘another of the Saturday Night Live gang who had done well in the movies’. But we should never have doubted his abilities; he was simply stuck – doing the likes of “Joe Versus the Volcano” and “Turner & Hooch” – in a place that required great force and audacious strength to escape, but he did… only to become the biggest movie star in the world.
Hanks made his feature film debut in a piece of horror tripe called “He Knows You’re Alone”. If it was true that folks never improve, only continue to play in the field they first enter, then Hanks would likely be playing Jigsaw’s goofball sidekick in one of the latter “Saw” sequels. How dare he try and outdo himself next time around by going for broke as a romantic, funny lead!? Back to the corn syrup, bitch!
Same goes for Johnny Depp. Like Hanks, he’s now one of the biggest movie stars in the world. But what was the star of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Dark Shadows” best known for in the ’80s? Being a magazine pin-up boy, a’la Justin Bieber. Whoever thought the spiky-haired guy with the earrings on “21 Jump Street” would be headlining $200 million dollar movies a couple of decades later? Nobody, right? But you know what? Depp had it in him… he knew he was more than Tommy Hanson, he believed he was better than playing a current of blood swimming along a bedroom roof in Freddy Krueger films, so he set his sights higher. He got ambitious. He dreamed bigger. He succeeded. “Fuck all yo’ and your ‘Elm Street’ victim can’t do shit” belief, he said as he walked upon the podium to accept his award for giving life to one of the most memorable screen Pirates in recent history.
And I could go on and on, should I? Okay, just a couple… Chris Pine – he did shitty teenage comedies a few years back, most memorably the one with Lindsay Lohan, and where is he now? Headlining major studio tentpoles! Whaaat!? Bruce Willis was the ‘funny guy’ on TV’s “Moonlighting” (in which he played second fiddle to Cybil Sheppard) when he was cast – over quite a few heavyweights, including Arnold Schwarzenegger – to play John McClane in “Die Hard”!? Don’t hear you complaining that ‘Dutch should’ve been McClane’ now, do I!? And what about John Travolta? If the skeptics had been in charge of his career, he’d be playing grease balls in off-Broadway plays right now.
Do I need to recite the journey of one Harrison Ford? or are we all good, now? Ready to play fair?
So, I urge you to remember, we all have to start somewhere – even if it’s sticking a wide-lens down a Scream Queen’s raggedy cleavage so audiences will be able to see the Ghoulie crawling up from the bosom. The guy doing that today (and, for that matter, the girl whose open blouse is being shot), could be cinema’s next big thing tomorrow. .