Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Writers and Managers (And Why I'm Happy To Be The Former"

The movie ends, and here come an endless scroll of credits. Are they all really necessary? Did they all make a contribution?
“Studio caterer”?
Maybe they did.
“The actors had so much energy. I wonder what they were feeding them?”
Movies and TV shows, they’re collaborative efforts. And to begrudge anyone their fleeting moment on the screen, how do you do that?
And yet I do.
In one category.
(Who often receive prestigious “Producer” credits. “Prestigious” only if you don’t know they insisted on a “Producer” credit, and somebody caved, just to make them go away.)
“Let me do the dirty work. I’ll make you so rich, you won’t even notice what I’m getting.”
But you do notice. (Not that I ever had a manager. I was pissed off enough just paying an agent. Some people have both agent and manager. They must be fuming all day long.)
Managers take with both hands. Sometimes, they take with three hands. There was a famous court case in which Garry Shandling sued his manager for collecting three fees from The Larry Sanders Show for doing one job. The case was famous, because Garry was represented by the lawyer who argued Bush v Gore in the Supreme Court. And lost.
For Garry, he was successful. Which makes the lawyer’s one-and-one. If your consider Shandling’s net worth and the fate of the country equivalent.
Reasons to dislike managers? Let’s start with these:
Managers broker deals the client could never get for themselves, making the client eternally beholden.
Reason Two to dislike managers: They always end up with the biggest house.
The “Revenge Factor” in the equation is this: Nobody ever went to a movie or turned on a TV show because of a manager.
And they know it.
Writers. Actors. Directors. They’re “The Essentials.” Without writers, you have actors opening their mouths and nothing coming out. Without actors, it’s scripts on the screen. Without directors – people bumping into each other, and the camera aiming at their shoes.
That’s who the public leave the house for. That’s who they tune in to watch. The manager?
The Public: “Who’s he?”
Here’s some quintessential “Manager Wisdom.” A member of that fraternity’s most famous pronouncement:
“It’s not show art. It’s show business.”
This was his way of saying, “Get your head out of the clouds, Shakespeare. You’re selling toothpaste, only it’s a script.”
It’s also the manager saying, “You’re ‘show’ and I’m ‘business.’ I’m half the operation.”
If you’re wondering where this uncharacteristic outpouring of venom is coming from, it stems from some research I did for my post about the movie Arthur.
I mentioned yesterday, that, although I like Arthur tremendously, there’s a part of it that’s really disappointing.
The ending.
That’s an important part. And I really didn’t care for it. Here’s why.
The movie is structured as a dilemma. Arthur can marry the woman he loves, but he loses all his money, or he can marry the woman he doesn’t love, but he’ll retain his wealth. The entire movie builds to his decision:
Love or money? Which option will he choose?
What happens? Arthur chooses the woman. After which his tough-minded grandmother inexplicably caves, so Arthur ends up with the money as well.
I never understood it. The movie was so smart. And then,
That ending.
My research explained how it happened. Arthur was tested in preview screenings with a “he gets the girl but loses the money” ending, and the audience hated it. They then re-conceived the ending, so that Arthur gets everything.
Arthur’s writer, Steve Gordon, died at the age of forty-two (anecdotally, after just receiving a clean bill of health from his doctor.) There is no way I can ask him about the ending. Though I’m sure, judging by the creative integrity of the rest of the movie, he could not have been happy.
His manager, on the other hand – Pragmatism Incarnate. For him, the inane ending was a “no-brainer.” It’s what the audience wanted. It was now just a matter of execution, on which his philosophy, and I quote, was:
“The trick to an irrational ending is speed.”
You see what he did there? The manager accepted the requirement. And went directly to the “savviest” strategy for pulling it off.
For a writer, the trick to an irrational ending is not speed. It’s finding a rational ending.
Not the manager.
The situation decrees an irrational ending.
Here’s the secret. Do it fast.
The man is a genius.
I’m sorry if I went overboard here. I can’t tell you how angry reading that manager’s “wisdom” made me.
Or maybe I just did.

1 comment:

Keith said...

I think the key is to write the story as a book first. Then, when you sell the rights to Hollywood and they screw it up, you can point to the last chapter and say, "See? This is the rational, proper ending." That way you can reap the Hollywood money and still retain your respectability.

But, then again, who wants to write a book?