June 27, 2009

The misconception of Boston filmmaking that is driving me apeshit

If you live in or near Boston, you certainly know this, and if you don't, it's very possible that you've heard inklings of it. All the prophets are shouting it from the rooftops:


Let me try to break down why that is fucking retarded.

There are two factors contributing to this myth. One is that there will soon be two film studios in Massachusetts. One is in Plymouth and is slated to open next year; there is also a recently announced one that will be built in the relatively nearby town of Weymouth. Where are those towns? IN THE MIDDLE OF BUTT-FUCKING NOWHERE. Weymouth is about a 25-minute drive from Boston; Plymouth is about twice that. You know you're a hopping tourist destination when your biggest attractions are a really small rock and a reenactment village where everyone looks bored (field trips - trust me). So these studios are asking that Hollywood-based productions fly everyone over and dump them in a Pilgrim-themed town with consistently bad weather and little hope of shooting exteriors. Hm. Well, at least you know that your crew and actors won't stay out late exploring the nightlife. The impending opening of these studios causes me to have the following conversation with every single person I know or meet over the age of 30:

Them: Oh, so you just graduated film school, what's your plan?
Me: I'm moving to New York.
Them: Oh cool! But you know, they're opening that big film studio in Plymouth.
Me: Yeah...but putting my dreams on hold for a year and moving to a tiny middle-of-nowhere town for the microscopic chance that I can get one of the jobs that every single entertainment professional in New England will be competing for seems nothing short of INSANE.

The other factor contributing to the myth is the fact that non-studio, location shoots have been happening in the state, such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The Women, The Pink Panther 2, The Departed, and more. Listen, news outlets, I understand. Anytime something happens more than once, you have to declare it a trend or an epidemic to keep people hooked. But calling Massachusetts "The New Hollywood" because of a few shoots breezing through is just ridiculous. Hollywood doesn't just refer to "a place where people happen to make movies," but rather "a place where there is a firmly rooted infrastructure and environment that supports and sustains filmmaking on a regular basis." That is not the case here. Some facts:

1. In Hollywood, it's almost always sunny and warm. That's why they put in there in the first place - Hollywood actually started in New Jersey. If you're shooting a pretty basic movie that doesn't call for snowstorms, why would you gamble on somewhere with such erratic weather?
2. Like I said, the infrastructure doesn't exist here. The resources are extremely limited - there's a handful of casting agencies, approximately three equipment rental houses, etc.
3. These imported productions almost never hire local crew or cast, with the exception of production assistants (i.e. coffee bitches) and extras. Most of the acting professionals I know around here can put in a day or two as "Man #3" or "Angry Inmate," but that's it. It's the same for crew - they pick people they know and trust, not strangers from the other side of the country. Why shouldn't they?

But, despite my pleas of logic and reason, this "New Hollywood" fever continues. The Plymouth studio has even licensed out the famous Hollywood sign to create a garish new one that says "Hollywood East." Aside from being annoying, it makes me sad that this hype is genuinely deluding some people into thinking they can get a big break in Massachusetts. It just isn't true.

June 24, 2009

Has the abundance of movie-viewing choices made us close-minded?

My boyfriend was recently lamenting that the new film by Alan Resnais, director of Last Year at Marienbad and other darlings of the Criterion Collection, has been unable to find U.S. distribution. This did indeed seem odd, considering the reputation he has from the French New Wave and the fact that there are any number of art houses in America. But then I started to formulate an answer, a counterintuitive one but logical nonetheless: our unlimited movie-viewing options have closed our minds.

There is virtually nothing stopping us from seeing any movie we want. You can go through Netflix, Blockbuster, a local video store, a chain movie theater, an independent movie theater, a repetertory/revival house, or Amazon. You can watch films online. You can buy a non-Region 1 DVD from another country. With a little elbow grease, you can watch anything.

So how could that possibly restrict what we watch? First, bear in mind I'm not talking about cinephiles here, who do seek out all the Region 2 DVDs of obscure foreign films, but rather the average moviegoer. My theory is the "it's what's for dinner" theory.

Say it's April 1952. You feel like seeing a movie. Unless you live in New York or LA, Singin' in the Rain is pretty much your only option. If you want to see a movie, it will be Singin' in the Rain. If you don't want to see that, you won't see a movie. It's what's for dinner, take it or leave it. So you go. Most people probably wouldn't be against musicals - or any genre, for that matter - because there weren't enough options to just rule out a genre. Teenage boys who now would only see Transformers and The Hangover would see musicals, romances, historical epics, foreign films, anything back in the day. (Let's not forget that for a while, foreign films were the exclusive source of on-screen nudity and sex.) You just liked cinema in general.

Now, if you so desired, you could restrict your viewing habits so that you only watch Mexican zombie movies, or only movies with redheads. There's no need to see something that isn't EXACTLY to your taste, unless maybe a friend or significant other drags you along. Americans also aren't inherently adventurous in their entertainment. Entertainment is a form of comfort, and most people stick to what they know. It's like how foreigners will sometimes remark that in American supermarkets, the variety is insane - there's like 200 kinds of ketchup. But that doesn't mean that Americans go through and systematically sample every kind of ketchup - they find one that works and stick with it.

Maybe the French New Wave gained traction in the U.S. - or anywhere - because these films would only be one of a few options you could watch on any given night, so people gave it a whirl. Hell, maybe that's how any movement gained ground. I'm not trying to make any value judgments here, because quality very rarely correlates to popularity, but just looking at the trends I'm not sure it would be the same story today.

What do you think? Has the smorgasboard of options caused us to retreat into niches?

P.S. - Don't get me wrong - not every movie was an automatic smash under the old system. It still ultimately had to appeal to viewers on its own merits. But by virtue of any one film being the only game in town, it could put asses in the seats on opening night. If the crowd liked the film - even if was something that might not have appealed to them on paper - they will tell their friends, and it's a hit. Now, there's no way to force asses into the seats, so films don't all get an equal chance.