Question: What’s the one thing you must never, ever say to a filmmaker? Answer: “I didn’t much care for your film…sorry.”
I’ve confessed this to a very small number of directors and screenwriters over the years, and each and every time their response has been a kind of silence that conveys “I don’t know you any more” or “you don’t exist”.
All they know is, you’ve just told them that a beloved child that they’ve sired and nurtured for months or years and then fed and disciplined and raised as best they could…all they know is that you think their child is ugly or maladjusted or a beast of some kind.
They would much rather have you lie or half-lie to them and tell them half-truths and emphasize any positive thing you can think of or invent. They don’t want anything straight from the shoulder. At all.
So why after all these decades have I continued to occasionally level with this or that filmmaker from time to time? Because I respect them, and I can’t bear the idea of lying to them. So I tell them what I think in the gentlest and most diplomatic terms I can come up with, and their response is always “why didn’t you lie to me, asshole?”
(l. to r.) Directors Roundtable guys Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig, Fernando Meirelles, Martin Scorsese, Lulu Wang, Todd Phillips.
A couple of months ago I sent a letter to a filmmaker I greatly respect. I wasn’t a huge fan of the new film, and rather than tap-dance around the truth I thought it would be respectful to lay it on the kitchen table in plain but gentle terms.
“No one has been a bigger, more devoted fan of your uniquely self-owned work and creations than myself,” I said, listing three or four films that I’ve quite admired.
“It is therefore with a heavy heart and nothing but remorse that I must share my subdued reaction to [film title]. I’m sad to say that it’s a tradition-breaker. I’m very sorry. I appreciate what your strategy was, and I felt your personality in it, and I loved [this or that portion]…I can only say or rationalize that this kind of thing happens now and then to the best of filmmakers and the most robust of talents.
I concluded with “onward and upward…new challenges, new hills to capture, new dreams to explore, etc.”
I never got a response, but I was told by a go-between that my letter wasn’t appreciated.
In a recently-posted Hollywood Reporter Directors Round Table, Little Women director Greta Gerwig says that “all of my [tough moments] are petty. Like people telling me, without me asking, that they didn’t like my movie.”
In response to this Joker director Todd Phillips says, “That’s the worst.” And Gerwig replies, “It wasn’t for me. Go fuck yourselves!” And everybody has a good laugh.