I need to say one thing about yesterday’s Natasha VC Gawker piece about supposed directorial paycheck movies having “ruined” or seriously compromised the reps of David Fincher, Curtis Hanson, Jonathan Demme, Ang Lee and Steven Soderbergh.
As lame and ill-informed as the article is, it at least starts out with a fair and accurate assessment of the motives of certain directors at certain stages in their lives, which is that sometimes they direct certain films because they need to bolster the bank account.
Shocking as this may sound to the likes of David Poland and Karina Longworth, it’s true. Not every film is embarked upon because the director (along with his/her creative enablers) has a burning obsession to present some intensely personal vision or statement on a grand canvas. This doesn’t mean directors don’t apply their filmmaking acumen in every way possible in order to make the paycheck movie play well and reflect, at the very least, solid craftsmanship. This doesn’t mean they aren’t at least somewhat into the story or theme to some (perhaps even a significant) degree.
But sometimes making a movie — gasp! — is just about doing the work because you need to stay on the treadmill. Because you can’t paint the Mona Lisa every time you pick up a brush. Because there’s a certain honor and dignity in doing a job well, even if the film is essentially crap. Because you love your children and some universities are ridiculously expensive.
I have another shocker to throw out. Sometimes actors do this also. They star, yes, in crappy movies in order to earn money, knowing full well that artistic fulfillment is out of the question. Sometimes screenwriters hold their nose while they’re tapping out an adaptation or a rewrite. Sometimes editors whore themselves out because they need to cover the cost of a vacation house. I know — it’s stunning to consider this. But it does happen from time to time.
The Gawker piece was inspired by a Quentin Tarantino quote that appears in an Alex Pappademas-authored GQ interview, to wit: “When you gotta go out and make a movie to pay for the kids’ private school and for the three ex-wives, don’t talk to me about your artistry. It’s their job. I don’t want to have to watch the movie I made to pay for my pool.”
Except sometimes paycheck movies can turn out pretty well. My understanding from some recent Francis Coppola statements is that he didn’t want to direct The Godfather Part II because he didn’t want to make a film that was just about trying to cash in on the popularity of The Godfather. Well, look what happened. And then take a look at Tetro, which Coppola wrote and directed from a place of pure enthusiasm and movie love. I rest my case.