Discover more from Michael Ian Black
My Not-Very-Good Movie
Rumors are flying that the 154 day Writers Guild strike may be reaching an end. If so, that would be very good news for show biz. Although we’re also still dealing with an actors’ strike, I’m hopeful that once the writers settle, the actors won’t be too far behind. It would be a fine thing to fire up some cameras and make some projects. With some luck, one of my projects will be among those that gets fired up.
I wrote a script called Stuck which, at the conclusion of the strike, I am hoping to direct. I’m not going to say much about it at this time except to raise the possibility of keeping a loose diary of the project on these pages, with the thought that that might hold some interest for those of you who have affection for movies and the movie-making process.
As most people are probably aware, making movies is a fraught proposition under the best of circumstances. Projects often take years to put together. One person falls in, one falls out. The studio head who loves the script gets fired. The main actress gets a better job and departs, which threatens your financing because they money depended on having a big name in that part. It’s a minor miracle anything ever gets made at all.
Where I am with this film is: I’ve got the script, I’ve got the director. I’ve got two of my main actors attached (names to be revealed down the line), I’ve got a loose commitment to fund the movie pending at least one other name getting attached. I’ve got a producer. I’ve got the beginnings of a budget (low). So I’ve got a lot.
Years ago, I directed another movie from a script that I wrote. This was a romantic comedy, or, as I was thinking of it, a “comedy romantic,” that starred the terrific Jason Biggs and Isla Fisher as strangers who decide to get married. The script was titled The Pleasure of Your Company but MGM, who released it, changed the name to the excretable Wedding Daze. And even though the movie features a scene in which the dignified Edward Hermann bequeaths his cock ring to his son, it was, in the end, a not-very-good movie.
It causes me terrible pain to admit that since it was my project from soup to nuts, but it’s the truth. I made a not-very-good comedy romantic and it put me off directing for almost twenty years. When I think about what went wrong, it really comes down to the script. Ultimately, I think I just kind of flubbed what I was trying to do, which was to create a romantic comedy where the comedy came first. I was trying to do something like There’s Something About Mary, but it just didn’t work. Not funny enough, plain and simple. This time around, the script isn’t a comedy so being funny enough shouldn’t be the thing that sinks me.
I will say that making a not-very-good movie made me feel a lot more generous towards other filmmakers. Nobody tries to make a bad movie. The work is too hard to go into it without the best intentions. The hours are long, the conditions sometimes unpleasant, the challenges immense. Crews are fighting the light, the clock, each other. Every minute on set is exorbitantly expensive. People make decisions quickly and, often, for reasons that aren’t necessarily the best choice for what will ultimately end up screen. Particularly at the lower budget levels, moviemaking sometimes feel less like a creative adventure and more like a triage center for money. The job of the director is to simultaneously be mindful of all of the challenges and also to completely disregard them as they try to get their movie made, shot by shot by shot. If you’ve ever wondered why so many bad movies get made, even by excellent filmmakers, this is why. The job is hard.
Even if the movie gets made, and made well, there’s no guarantee anybody will ever see it. My buddy Joe just made his first film, a tiny psychological horror film called Outpost. The movie is a terrific effort with a cool script and a great performance by Beth Dover. Have you heard of Outpost? Chances are, you have not. Without big stars attached and the attendant big marketing dollars that attend them, most small movies just disappear. Most do not find much distribution. Most never make their money back. As a writer/director, you might spend years putting the thing together, making it, editing it, shopping it to festivals, and, in the end, have basically nobody ever even see the thing.
But you will have made a movie.
And I guess that’s why so many people keep chasing this ridiculous dream. It’s the same reason people write books nobody will read, or make songs nobody will ever hear. We make stuff because that’s what we do. We climb stuff because there’s stuff to climb. It’s just who we are. And we’ll climb over glass to do the thing, whatever the thing happens to be. I made one not-very-good thing and I’m hoping to do better this time around; I mean, if that isn’t the meaning of life itself, what is?
There. I just gave you the meaning of life. The least you can do is subscribe.
Again, let me know if this topic interests you and if I should keep a movie diary as this thing progresses (assuming it does progress, which is a big assumption).