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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Producers, Yes… DPs, No…

There was a slight hitch in the giddy up on the set of The Producers in recent weeks as veteran DP John Bailey was dumped from the production after not being able to get along with first time director Susan Stroman.
Or perhaps it was Mr. Brooks. It is fascinating to look at his career and realize how loyal he is to actors and writers and that in his twelve film directing career, he has gone through cinematographers like Kleenex. Paul Lohmann shot two of the films (High Anxiety and Silent Movie) and at the end of the directing run, a camera operator on Spaceballs graduated to D.P. on both Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. (I have to admit… I forgot that the Dracula film was even in the Brooks ouvre.) This cinematographer, Michael O’Shea, has a resume’ that suggests that he works fast and cleanly. But there is little of aesthetic interest there.
John Bailey, by my standards, is the most accomplished D.P. to ever work for Brooks on a hands-on production. (Freddie Francis and Laszlo Kovacs are amongst those who have worked on BrooksFilms productions for strong directors.) Bailey has shot more than 50 films, including two coming from Warner Bros. this summer. He has shot in the IMAX format, pushed the envelope in quality for indie digital productions with first time directors on The Anniversary Party, shot such visually influential films as American Gigolo, Silverado and A Brief History of Time. He’s worked for Schrader, Kasdan, Eastwood, Schlesinger, Ramis, Raimi, Brooks, Benton and so many others, including a lot of new directors. He had not shot a musical, though there were musical sequences in Living Out Loud, Light of Day and other films he’s shot.
In any case, it didn’t work out. Universal execs seem pleased with the footage that’s coming in, regardless of this glitch. It certainly didn’t bode ill for Collateral last year. But studios are getting more nervous about any information that can be perceived as negative coming out reagrding their film. And this is that. In this case, the biggest worry is that this is a sign of a first-time director missing the mark.
Bottom Line: We’ll see the movie when we see the movie. Remember, only one of the five Best Picture nominees last year was nominated for Best Cinematographer. And Scorsese was, likewise, the only nominated director whose cinematographer got a nod.

47 Responses to “Producers, Yes… DPs, No…”

  1. Chester says:

    For the life of me, I cannot figure out why people are so decisively and definitively gung-ho about this film’s prospects. I keep hearing Oscar talk, but no one has seen a frame of footage yet. Yes, the original is a classic. Yes, the stage production is fantastic. But when was the last time Mel Brooks had a movie hit? When was the last time people lined up around the block for a film starring Nathan Lane or Matthew Broderick? (If you know the story from either the original film or the stage production, Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman’s parts are not huge, and the possibility that their roles will be expanded does not necessarily offer any reason for optimism.) Factor in the first-time director and you are left with a colossal question mark, not a sure-fire hit (let alone an Oscar contender).
    Don’t get me wrong – I’m looking forward to seeing it. I just don’t get all the “sure thing” prognostications.

  2. Ethan Edwards says:

    I remember on the “Young Frankenstein” DVD there was a segment in the ‘Making Of’ where the D.P. said he and Brooks had a communication problem and he nearly quit. Of course, that was 30 years ago so who knows.
    Two of the more successfull stage-to-film directors, Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, both benefited greatly by their choice in cinematographers. Mendes of course picked a legend to shoot “American Beauty”, and now that Conrad Hall has left us, Mendes is using Roger Deakins in his next film. Good choice.

  3. Stella's Boy says:

    Didn’t something similar happen with Phantom of the Opera, in terms of talking about a movie’s Oscar prospects before anyone had actually seen it? We all know how that turned out.

  4. Chester says:

    My feelings exactly, SB.

  5. David Poland says:

    Didn’t something similar happen with Chicago, in terms of talking about a movie’s Oscar prospects before anyone had actually seen it? We all know how that turned out.

  6. David Poland says:

    Didn’t something similar happen with Lord of The Rings, in terms of talking about a movie’s Oscar prospects before anyone had actually seen it? We all know how that turned out.

  7. David Poland says:

    Didn’t something similar happen with A Beautiful Mind, in terms of talking about a movie’s Oscar prospects before anyone had actually seen it? We all know how that turned out.

  8. David Poland says:

    Etc, etc, etc…

  9. Stella's Boy says:

    I wasn’t trying to be a smartass Poland. The talk about The Producers just reminds me of Phantom last year. It’s not that a movie’s buzz is never right. It’s more the source material similarities, etc.

  10. Jeff McM says:

    Brooks also has problems with editors. He’s notoriously hard to work for.

  11. Ethan Edwards says:

    If we’re talking about Best Picture contender suspects. I’m putting my money down on “Jarhead”, looking at the cast and crew and subject matter, I’ll bet it’ll be the one the beat next February.

  12. Martin says:

    It may be Brooks, it may be Stroman, but something tells me it wasn’t Bailey. Poor guy gets stuck between a director without a clue and a producer that’s a pain in the ass to work with. The sort of thing that would cause a DP to go insane.

  13. Eric says:

    “Oscar talk,” especially this far in advance, is the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. You cater to the whims of the marketing department by indulging in the discussion of a movie’s awards chances half a year before anybody has seen it.

  14. jeremy says:

    This isn’t intended as a swipe, just an observation, but David isn’t the only person in town talking up THE PRODUCERS as an Oscar film. Unlike PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, this isn’t a musical that relies on bravura stagecraft to wow the audience; rather, it’s a playful, inventively choreographed, and accessible revamp of a film that has risen from cult to classic comedy status over the last decade or so. I like its chances, but my money will go on Spielberg’s Munich Olympics movie for now.

  15. Chester says:

    Dave, let me beat Joe Leydon to the punch and say your hypersensitivities are coming out again. Neither I nor (I believe) SB were targeting you with the “Phantom of the Opera” comparison. I know you’ve taken a lot of flack here for going out on a limb with your POTO predictions last fall, but that hasn’t been the issue under discussion today. My point was simply that I have seen nothing to justify the notion that “The Producers” has guaranteed success written all over it. Yet virtually every article/discussion I see now about the project talks about it as an Oscar frontrunner.

  16. Stella's Boy says:

    I second that Chester. That’s exactly what I meant as well.

  17. Joe Straat says:

    Seems too light, doesn’t it? I don’t know, it’s a remake, a comedy (satirical, but not high brow), the musical phase is kinda’ moving into “five minutes ago” as Entertainment Weekly would shallowly put it, and its hype seems to be too high too soon. If expectations get inflated too much, and the movie’s nothing short of a masterpiece, it’ll be set aside as “good, not great.” We’ll see, since we’ve seen nothing of the movie itself, but premature hype leads to “We thought THAT was going to be Oscar-worthy?!” I’m trying to think of examples save the dead horse PotO, but it’s REALLY late right now….

  18. David Poland says:

    The simple point is that there are a half dozen solid selections for the Best Picture race right now and another half dozen not far behind.
    The Phantom thing had a lot to do with the tone of the season that seemed to be in play at the time I wrote that column. The season was looking like all small movies. That ended up not being the case. There is no clear tone set right now. How strong will Cinderella Man play? Will Jarhead have the right political tone for Academy members? How good will Walk The Line be? We’ll know the answers to all of these question by the first of November and the tone of the race will start congealing.
    The much forgotten Rent and The Producers are the first two major musicals to arrive since Chicago. How will they play? We’ll see. But like Spielberg’s Munich movie and Jarhead, they fit one profile of the kind of movies that The Academy loves. Thus, speculation is appropriate.

  19. bicycle bob says:

    just not a musical fan. if u don’t tap the female market on this one ur not gonna hit a home run. even if will f is in it

  20. KamikazeCamel says:

    “Yes, the original is a classic.” is it? I thought it was good (i watched it just last week) but definitely not a classic. The musical is, though! And while Uma THurman’s role in the original film was small it was significantly larger in the musical and it may be larger in the film.
    But, seriously – almost every film with an ounce of prestige gets Oscar talk before anything has been seen. And musical’s aren’t “five minutes ago” because “five minutes ago” was when the first were coming through. This year there are 4 musicals that I know of
    The Producers
    Rent
    Romance & Cigarettes (which nobody seems to be talking about in general or in terms of Oscar)
    BRide & Prejudice
    And to whoever questioned Mel Brooks because he hasn’t had a hit in a while, I’d direct them to anybody who has had a big comeback.
    Not that he’s even directing it, though! We never know, Susan Stroman might be a great film director. She may not. We know nothing.
    And I’m not saying all this as a fan of the musical Producers, I’m saying it as a fan of musicals and as someone who tries not to dismiss something outright. Especially, as we all know, we haven’t seen anything from it yet.

  21. Joe Straat says:

    Rent…. I hope the screenwriter has the inventiveness the screenwriter of Chicago had in adapting the source material, because as the musical stands, it’s a mess. A mess with catchy music about living a rebellious and free (but poor) life, so the kids dig it, but still a mess.
    The ending’s a bit of a conundrum as well. Do you keep the musical’s ending, which is an appalling cop out of its original source material, utilizing a super duper mega happy ending that all but eliminates consequence (or at least delays it indefinately), or reverse it and have critics saying, “Been there, done that?”
    Plus, Chris Columbus directing twenty-somethings living La Vie Boheme? I’m not as hard on him as most people are (I liked The Chamber of Secrets better than Prisoner of Azkaban), but let’s face it, most of his movies are about suburban families with almost unreasonable amounts of wealth. This doesn’t seem to fit. It could be interesting to see how his conventional style meshes with a story of unconventional artists, but will it be interesting in a good way or interesting like a derailed train veering onto a highway?

  22. Stella's Boy says:

    I know certain readers will jump all over me for this, but I really wish Spike Lee was directing Rent and not Chris Columbus.

  23. Jeff McM says:

    Chris Columbus obviously has no interest in this material except to see how he can squeeze awards out of it.

  24. Terence D says:

    Why would you say he has no interest in it? He obviously does since he is directing it and putting in a year of his life into it? No director takes a story with the only thought of “It will get me awards.”

  25. Stella's Boy says:

    Terence, you honestly believe that no director has ever done a film thinking “this will get me awards,” or something along those lines? I beg to differ.

  26. bicycle bob says:

    spike lee would have turned rent into a 3 hour movie about nothing, with terrible performances, an even lousier message, the worst white characters who are nothing but racist and foul mouthed, and had another reason to hire his father to do some terrible music. but if stella thinks its good, i agree

  27. Stella's Boy says:

    What a shocker. Why even bother bi-bob? Your shit is tired. You honestly believe Columbus is a better director than Lee? Who would your choice be? Do tell.

  28. Mark says:

    Stella’s Lady is President of the Spike Lee Fan Club. Home to the most overrated and over praised director of the past 50 years. What has Lee ever done? His one good film was made in 1989. He hasn’t even come close to that level since. I know what you’re going to throw out there. 25th Hour. Blah Blah. He will go down as a waste of promise and a Knick fan more than director. Columbus for all your bashings has actual made entertaining movies. How would Lee have made Rent better than him? Its an entertaining musical. What in Lee’s background makes him a better choice? I know you have blind faith and trust in Lee but this is getting ridiculous.

  29. Stella's Boy says:

    Certainly no more ridiculous than your insane hatred of Lee and his movies, right Mark? And please, do tell, what entertaining movies has Chris Columbus made? If you actually believe that Columbus is a better director than Lee, I can’t take anything you say seriously.

  30. Joe Leydon says:

    Lee showed great promise as a director of musicals with the music/dance sequences in “School Daze.” And he’s proven he is more than capable of rendering multi-dimensional white folks (see Danny Aiello in “Do the Right Thing,” Harvey Keitel in “Clockers,” Edward Norton and Brian Cox in “25th Hour,” even Richard Beltzer in “Get on the Bus”. Come to think of it, you could turn the question around and ask: What in Chris Columbus’ background makes you think he’s capable of doing a gritty inner-city musical with a multi-ethnic cast? “Home Alone”?

  31. Stella's Boy says:

    Amen Joe. You are right on the money. Unfortunately, I’m sure that will go right over the head of Mark and bi-bob.

  32. Angelus says:

    I’m one of the few black men who think Spike has sold out his talent. He has become more of a caricture than a directing. He hasn’t even mentored anyone younger. Never given hope to a younger black filmmaker. He’s really a disappointment to the community especially when his attempts to crossover blow up in his face. Like when he did 25th Hour and Summer of Sam with all white casts. I’m glad he’s not doing a great show like Rent. They don’t need him.

  33. jeffmcm says:

    Meanwhile, from Columbus we’ll get what he can deliver: something very mainstream, respectable, and slightly boring. He won’t add anything to Rent but he probably won’t take anything away, either, which is why he got to make Harry Potter: he’s safe.
    Obviously he’s at the stage in his career when he wants to stop just making money and start becoming an artiste.

  34. Lota says:

    I don’t think Spike sold out his talent as much as he didn’t get a whole lot of help (from those who have been given Much) when he could have used it, from 1986-mid nineties when most of his pictures were successful & made money.
    He also helped Gina Prince who is a young (relatively speaking) director via production, and she’s still working. He’s currently exec prod Lonette McKee(sp?). 25th hour was a decent movie, Summer of Sam too long and not so great. he doesn’t have to do Af-Am/urban flicks all the time and if he doesn’t have the capital, he may not be able to make them.
    He’s done some educational stuff in a few big cities and given vital help with documentaries and that’s giving back too.
    Don’t always like his stuff, but he’s far from a pale or high yellow failure. he brought alot of color to film for a long time.

  35. KamikazeCamel says:

    Summer of Sam didn’t have an all-white cast. It had a nearly all hispanic cast. If you’re gonna bash his movies, at least get the details correct.
    I’ve only seen a few of Lee’s films and they’re all great. I actually think Summer of Sam is a MUCH better picture than people give him credit for. It’s probably my second fave (after Do The Right Thing) out of the 4 or so that I’ve seen.
    And when I was younger I enjoyed Columbus’ movies greatly (and I still do enjoy the older ones because when I watch them it takes me back) such as Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone 2. Home Alone 2 is pretty great.
    And I know that HA2 comment will be torn apart, but seriously, I was like 12 when I saw it, so I think you’ll have to deal.
    However I hated his two Harry Potter films (Azkaban was great though) so I have no idea what Rent will be like but as a fan of musicals I hope it’s great.

  36. jesse says:

    When Lee is on, he’s brilliant. I think, like Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers, a lot of his good work gets dismissed by blanket statements (i.e., “hasn’t made a good movie in [x] number of years,” where x = a ridiculous number like 5, 10, or 20). 25th Hour, Clockers, and He Got Game are GREAT movies. Summer of Sam is interesting if really messy, and even She Hate Me is one of the more interesting bad movies you’re likely to see.
    25th Hour in particular is a great New York movie, and will be admired for years.
    Even addressing Columbus vs. Lee seems almost a waste of time– Mark, you must really hate Lee to favor Columbus in that non-match-up. Oh, Columbus “makes entertaining movies”? That would work, if he hadn’t made (say) Bicentennial Man, Stepmom, all of that expensive-suburb crap. What’s next, his movies are great because they generally make money?
    The best Columbus movies are two Harry Potters, which themselves were handily bested by Azkaban more or less from the first frame, and the first Home Alone, which is pretty charming for a kiddie movie. Oh, and his script for Gremlins, that was pretty cool.

  37. TheBrotherhoodOfTheLostSkeletonOfCadavra says:

    Returning to the original topic: it’s very tough to make a prediction on PRODUCERS, because there’s really no equivalent in the modern movie era. What few Broadway musicals that have been filmed of late are either dramas, (EVITA, PHANTOM, RENT) or comedies turned into dramas (CHICAGO). Unless I’ve forgotten something, you’d have to go all the way back to 1982 to find a film of a Broadway tuner that was an outright laffer: BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE. And PRODUCERS may be “too Jewish, too gay” to sit well with nervous-nellie voters (not to mention a big chunk of red-state moviegoers) who are constantly being assailed by cable news as being “out of touch with mainstream America” (don’t get me started on that again). I see lots of nominations–but NOT Best Picture–a couple of tech wins, and maybe even a surprise upset by Lane for Best Actor if the competition is weak and/or the same old faces, but that’s probably the extent of it.

  38. Mark says:

    When has Lee been “on”? 1989? The guy is a no talent who gets by because he’s black. Thats really it.

  39. jesse says:

    Lee was “on” most recently in 1995 (Clockers), 1998 (He Got Game), and 2002 (25th Hour), as I implied before by listing these non-Do the Right Thing movies. The performances and photography in those movies are terrific. The montage/monologue at the end of 25th Hour is one of the film endings in years.
    Some of the movies in between his peaks (Get on the Bus, Summer of Sam) are worth seeing as well. Mark, have you seen any of these movies?

  40. Eric says:

    Jesse, I hate to write a “me too” post, but I have to agree with you– the final few minutes of “25th Hour” were astounding.
    I’ve never seen a more powerful message against a life amongst drugs– including “Requiem for a Dream”– than that monologue about the future Monty could have had. I still get chills up my spine when I hear Brian Cox’s voice.

  41. bicycle bob says:

    clockers was on? that ruins the whole arguement. i’ll give u 25th hour being decent but thats what it is. decent. a great story of how a white boy sells drugs then is scared to go to the joint cause he knows hes gonna get gang raped on a daily basis. thrilling premise. don’t forget the fact that two over 30 yr main characters had the hots for high school sophomores. big part of it.

  42. jesse says:

    Eric, not to get all “me too” right back at you, but, yes, Brian Cox’s delivery at the end of that movie, and the images Lee puts in front of it, are so masterful, the way he evokes both hope and dread. Until that point, I liked the movie, but the last sequence just blindsided me; I was not expecting to leave that movie in tears.
    I feel like the movie got lost in the year-end shuffle at the time (I seem to recall the last 2-3 weeks of 2002 being absolutely jam-packed with awards-maybes), but I know a surprising number of people who had similar reactions.

  43. bicycle bob says:

    the cox monolugue at the end was comical. norton really should have left

  44. Mark says:

    25th Hour getting awards? What are you smoking? It was lucky to make top 30 lists that year.

  45. Stella's Boy says:

    Mark, you continue to dodge questions, like always. What Spike Lee movies have you seen? Any? Put up or shut up already. And yes bi-bob, Clockers is an excellent movie. If it’s good enough for Scorsese…

  46. bicycle bob says:

    clockers was a waste. a good book turned into a boring movie. and keitel is no deniro which scorsese would have brought to that if he directed it.

  47. play with this. There’s kobe bryant something to be done with harry potters it. Another point Phil made cris webber in an entry – something to vince carter the effect of that when a san andras band splits / diverges into jason kidd solo albums (and, I would madagascar add, side projects / splinter george lucas groups), the results are final fantasies rarely as satisfying, whether charlie and the chocolate factory or not you (as the listener) tekken are expecting the same music. severus hermione I find that to be true. Another teken thing that seems related teken to me: when the focus of kingdoms hearts a band is several different lord of the rings songwriters writing their severus snape

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin