Wednesday, April 14, 2010


We deal with a theme on the show -- struggle of the small business owner.  Charming is an anachronism.  It's Mayberry.  It's all mom n’ pop, no chains, no mega-stores.  The MC has worked hard to keep it that way.  For them it's about keeping out the masses and the law enforcement that comes with that.  The Sons need the pond small so they can remain the big fish.  That idea is loosely inspired by a town not far from LA -- Ojai.  Ojai has an ordinance that states only residents, living within the town's borders can own and operate a business.  This keeps downtown Ojai small, profitable, community-oriented and refreshingly quaint.

By contrast, the rest of America is getting swallowed up by corporate globalization.  It's not a new trend, Huge mega-stores -- Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe's, Home Depot, etc., are wiping out smaller independently-run businesses.  The days of substantial family-owned stores are all but dead.  So what you are left with are chains -- Starbucks, Gap, Jamba Juice, Whole Foods, etc. -- and boutiques.  Small, niche businesses that try to find a product or service that has slipped through the cracks of corporate greed.  Take a stroll down any business district, any mall, anywhere -- all you will find are homogeneous Goliaths and quirky Davids -- nothing in between.

Last week, at the FX upfronts, I was having a conversation with my buddy, Walton Goggins.  Walt and his partner Ray McKinnon, have written, directed, produced and starred in several great, small independent films (Their first short, The Accountant won an Academy Award).  I was bitching to Walt about my frustrating hiatus and how my movie never happened.  I am attached to direct a film from a script I wrote years ago, Delivering Gen.  We have all our financing in place, a great casting director (Avy Kaufman), great producers (Lorenzo DiBonaventura, Brian Oliver), great roles for actors.  All the pieces were there, and yet I couldn't get it cast.  

Why?  The globalization of America is impacting the film business as well -- the days of the 7-15 million dollar movie are dying.  Take a stroll into any movie theater complex, anywhere -- all you find are huge, 50-500 million dollar studio projects and small, 1-5 million dollar indies -- homogeneous mega-movies and quirky boutique films  -- nothing in between.

I was very naive about casting my movie.  I mistakenly thought that because there were less films being made that it would actually be easier to attach talent.  The thought of not getting it cast never crossed my mind.  The two main roles are tremendous vehicles for actors.  It's an actor's piece.  Even though all our money was in place, you still need to attach an actor of a certain caliber to satisfy the financing.  I won't mention names, but we started at the top with offers, A-list stars, then worked our way to the next tier, and when that tier wouldn't play, I realized how short the list actually was -- we were out of put-production names.  (Complicating the issue when you are dealing with talent of a certain caliber, is that there are so many fucking people filtering projects -- agents, managers, lawyers, assistants, producing partners, girlfriends, gardeners, second cousins -- 80% of the time the actor never reads the script or makes the decision.)

Everyone’s representatives loved Delivering Gen, it wasn't a big paycheck, but it was a respectable money offer, yet no one would commit.  Why?  I'm not sure, but this is my guess, and it speaks to theme of this piece -- in the globalization of content, the creative middle-class is dying and as a result everyone is scared about scarcity.  Actors who could normally earn their rate or close to it with a 7-20 million movie, were no longer getting their quote, or because there were less projects, they were losing roles to more bankable actors.  So actors were nervous.  They were either holding out for a big studio movie (cash) or, if they were going to do a small project, they'd opt to work for a director that could at last bring them some critical cache (potential Oscar nod).  The scarcity trend has created another problem.  Because of the economic crunch, financiers are now demanding a substantial name to get even a 1-5 million dollar movie made.  In the past, a smaller budget meant you had more flexibility in casting.  You could hire a lesser-known actor (Jeremy Renner in Hurt Locker) because he was the best choice, not because he got it made.  This trend of star restriction will handcuff independent film makers to cast their movies with the right name, instead of the right actor, inevitably bringing down the quality of American independent films.

What's left?  An idea, people willing to work for a lot less money and a Red Camera rental.  Filmmakers are going digital.  Most of these movies never see a screen beyond the walls of a festival, but occasionally some break through.  So like the rest of the US business culture you have the great divide -- elite lavish pigs and the inspired, hungry crumb-snatchers.  The American dream -- life, liberty and the pursuit of more.  This of course, is all my personal conjecture, based on my inside observation.  I may be completely off the mark, but from where I sit, the film industry is in deep creative straits.  Or maybe I’m just pissed I couldn’t get my movie made.

I'm not sure what will happen with Delivering Gen.  It's still in the mix, but I have a feeling it will suffer the same middle-class fate as others.  It's too bad, (and yes, I know this is self-serving) it's really a special little movie.  I hope someday that story gets told.  I've always referred to features as my "virtual career".  I've been writing movies longer than I have been writing TV, yet when I generate a feature script it slips into the netherworld of development -- perhaps never to be seen again.  In TV, I have an idea on Monday, write it Tuesday, shoot it Wednesday and Thursday I'm watching it on dailies.  My day job is very satisfying.  

This brings me back to my chat with Goggins.  Walton, who is starring in FX's new series, Justified, was expressing deep gratitude for cable.  Both, for his opportunities on The Shield as well as his new gig.  We were looking at the landscape of television and noting all the A-listers who are jumping into cable -- Close, Hurt, Pacino, Hoffman, Keaton, etc.  It was Walt's observation that cable is now fulfilling the creative and compensatory void that has been created by film's dying middle-class.  I think he's right.  As network television continues to spiral down the shitter, cable continues to attract more and more talent.  It's one of the few mediums that is actually thriving and growing creatively.

The world is in a media/content upheaval.  Digital has changed the game.  Everyone is grasping at what they thing might be the next big thing (that handful of WTF was the major reason for the WGA and SAG strike).  But the truth is no one fucking knows.  TV, internet, movies -- it changes every day.  The good news is that no matter what it looks like, how, when or where they get it, people want entertainment.  So there will always be a need for content -- writers, directors, actors. 

I take solace in my experience with the human condition.  Knowing that men and women will always find a way to express themselves.  When I was a kid in 70’s and 80’s in NYC, it was performance art, Hip-hop, and bad experimental theatre.  Artists always found a way to communicate ideas and feelings.  Now we have You-Tube, Funny or Die, I-movies, even Twitter and Facebook.  All grown from that same need -- communication of expression.  I don’t really know what the point of this blog is, so if you’re expecting a clever, concise wrap-up -- I got nothing.  Maybe the point is that we don’t need a middle-class, maybe we are already part of it, maybe I’ve had too much coffee.  I don’t know.

Something to think about, or in my case, something to obsess over.