But back to the point. The crux of the production is that it went about $20 million over budget and hit an all-time high cost for its time at $50 million. With that much money at stake, everyone was doing double-takes, looking over their shoulder, forgetting the unity and concept of the movie because it had to be painstakingly separated into financial details: could this set be removed, could this actor be replaced, could this line be changed. And while that's all rice and beans in film production, the higher the budget the higher the stakes, and the more the fear. And when there's fear in a production, the film disappears. Movies are incredible in that while being these canvases of smoke and mirrors, these imperceptible illusions, they still reveal an incredible amount. The camera still, among all the lies, finds a way to tell the truth.
If you see the movie "Bonfire of the Vanities" it's so evident. This stamp of fear is practically everywhere. After 500 pages of reading about the making, you kind of forget the movie actually exists, so it's very strange to see it and recognize that everything on the page is seemingly true. The star-mongering, the excessive, stereotypical set dressing, the blatant camera choices, a De Palma staple, but clearly trying to add depth where the foundation of the movie crumbled away. Nothing fits, the movie's shallow and confusing and above all else, is more afraid of its material than anything I've seen in recent memory (for the full plot click here). It is so afraid in fact, that its twist of real issues into Hollywood ones really IS offensive. By trying to appease everyone, it appeased no one, and grossed about $10 million at the BO.
The book does not end happily, predicting a scary road ahead. "Bonfire" tanked due to its excessive spending and at the moment it was a lesson to the studios to keep their money in their pockets. But memories are fleeting and the afterward makes a point that the average budget jumped to $54.8 million in 2000 when in 1980 it was $9.5 million. A mere couple years later or so and Spiderman 3 smashed records by costing $300 million. And I feel like part of the system, part of the problem, because the movie I'm working on now is very big as well. Now that the economy is pretty much imploding on itself like a leaky stress ball, this budget inflation is a goddamn issue. Movies will ALWAYS exist for Americans, but if we're to make any money doing this anymore hopefully there's some change on the way, maybe similar to what happened in the early 70's, when the giants fell to let the little guys show their guns for a bit.
Hopefully slow ticket prices will remind executives to watch their material. Hopefully large chains will be forced to lower their ticket prices, movies shouldn't be and never were a luxury for the public. Hopefully there will be much needed reform in distribution. Film festivals have got to survive somehow. And hopefully the star's asking prices will finally go down to allow all of this to happen. Hopefully I'll still be able to work here.
Working at a studio, passing by big productions every day, I have to say it is amazing how quality becomes subjective when there is a lot of cash to spare. The more I hang around all of this, the more appealing Danny Boyle's words become:
The more money I take that is not restricted, which technically gives you freedom, equipment and more days, the more the spirit of the film dies, falls flat... These instincts you have when filming sometimes are often indulgent bullshit. You feel like a spoiled prince with a hundred people asking you what you want.
Well, clearly, I need to make a movie already. And stop philosophizing on one.