5/9/2017 - Are we now drinking the sand?

5/9/2017 - Are we now drinking the sand?
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On May 5th, 2017 IndieWire put out what I really hoped was a click-bait headline:

"David Lynch is done with film and promises 2006's 'Inland Empire' was the last movie he'll ever make"

The article was written by Michael Schneider covering the return of TWIN PEAKS to television later this month and quotes Lynch from an interview he did with the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Things changed a lot,” Lynch told the newspaper. “So many films were not doing well at the box office even though they might have been great films and the things that were doing well at the box office weren’t the things that I would want to do.”

Asked point blank whether he has made his last feature film, Lynch paused, and then confirmed it. "Yes."

I remember hearing about how Lynch and John Waters were serving on a panel somewhere (I think) and both of them told the audience that they could not really get a film made anymore. Lynch related an anecdote about a meeting he had with a young executive at a major studio who had never seen any of his films yet he was the "decider" about green lighting a potential project. At the end of the meeting this young exec arrogantly told Lynch, "You don't get it. We need a movie that's a theme park!" I guess the exec was desperate to compete with the new Hunger Games Theme Park being built in Atlanta.

Waters had a similar type story where another Hollywood exec ("at least he had heard of me and my films.") scoffed at Waters' box office numbers showing that his films had always turned a profit. The exec huffed, "We don't look at it as your film making a $40 million dollar profit...we see things in hundreds of millions. So your movies don't make $40 million, they lose $60 million." Waters did get an offer out of the guy for something like $200K...to make the entire movie. Lynch echoed that number too as to what his films are worth in today's market.

I know...most of us would love to have $200,000 to make a movie. But c'mon, these are two artists that have paid their dues. They've earned the right to make movies. Hell, studios should be encouraging them to make films. They shouldn't have to pursue a Kickstarter-level DIY production much less be kicked to the curb because their films don't make north of $100 million.

Some great filmmakers suck it up and try and fake it for awhile. Francis Ford Coppola did Peggy Sue Got Married and Gardens of Stone purely for the money and to keep working. He finally bottomed out with the embarrassingly inept 1996 movie Jack and really never recovered. He did try the cheap route with Twixt in 2012 but I don't think his heart was really in it and it faded into irrelevance.

Paul Schrader - the amazing screenwriter behind Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, Raging Bull and Bringing Out the Dead not to mention his fine films as a director (Cat People, Hardcore, Affliction) actually did the Kickstarter route with the Lindsay Lohan debacle The Canyons and went through heck trying to get that film in the hard drive (I'm actually one of the few who liked that film but what Schrader had to deal with was humiliating).

So the big question is are we metaphorically at that "drink the sand" moment in movie history? That's a reference from Aaron Sorkin's excellent, Capra-esque political fable The American President. Don't remember? Look up the actual scene on YouTube if you get a chance but I feel like altering the dialogue for my purposes here:

(Michael J. Fox to President Michael Douglas) "The America People want interesting and challenging films. And in the absence of interesting and challenging films, they will watch anything that gets put onto 8,000 screens. They're so thirsty for it, they'll crawl through the multiplex toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand."

(President Michael Douglas's response) We've had filmmakers who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherently edited sequence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand, because they're thirsty. They drink it because they don't know the difference.

Hopefully we at the 2017 Diamond in the Rough Film Festival can provide at least a little bit of real water to slake the thirst.