BEHIND THE LINES WITH DR: Garbage In, Garbage Out

Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder. Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels.

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garbage in garbage outGarbage In Garbage Out…

Subject for your approval: Mr. Felton Farmer. This former big time TV exec-turned-producer thought himself to be a snob of sorts. Whilst he toiled in TV during a period when—let’s just say—the quality of product wasn’t quite what it is today, he would pride himself in only attending the toniest of movies. After all, if he was going to pay for his own movie ticket, he demanded some arty bang for his buck. Pretty much, if it wasn’t indie, he didn’t trust it would be worth either his entertainment dime or time. Sure, there were the studio pictures that cropped up for awards season. If a particular film had buzz or was written or directed by a prestigious director, he would make the obvious exception. Otherwise, he’d keep his movie watching to classic DVDs or whatever was flickering at the nearby Laemmle (LA’s most well known art house chain).

Felton and I were having sushi when he told me about a cocktail schmoozefest where he found himself amid a flock of movie folk. Studio types and otherwise. When the conversation came around to his particular tastes in features, his opinion had been mocked in something resembling this:

“What do you mean you don’t watch studio movies?” joked one exec. “What are you, anti-American?”

“Not at all,” replied Felton. “Just a personal preference. Seriously. I have nothing against commerce. Why would I? I work in TV.”

“You’re just a snob,” argued a studio-ette.

“Puh-lease,” begged Felton. “Don’t shoot me because I’m not the biggest fan of all things CGI or superhero or sequels.”

“Don’t forget remakes,” added a nearby agent, waiting his turn in line to have a go at the studio suits.

“You see?” Felton pretty much thought the conversation itself had put the correct punctuation on his point.

“You think it’s easy?” asked a production exec. “Making big giant blockbusters?”

“Never said I thought it was easy,” said Felton.

“The amount of work and overall effort that goes into these behemoths is way beyond most people’s comprehension. I mean, you’re making these movies to a release date. That means they have to be good. The marketing schemes alone are massive. The perfect weekend. Keeping other studios from poaching your date. The pressure. The planning. The production headaches with directors and special effects?”

When I was listening to Felton’s tale, I was all nods. But now felt I needed to chime in on the exec’s last point. I recall when I was prepping my version of Die Hard 4. I was discussing a particular sequence with the Fox production president. When I brought up using CGI for a stunt he rose to his feet and pointed his index finger at my head.

“No fuckin’ CGI,” he pressed. “This studio has had it with directors and special effects.”

The production prexy went on to complain about a particular director and the challenges that came from handing over the picture’s expanding art palette to the CGI team.

“It was like a kid in a fucking sandbox,” complained the prexy. “Once he started playing with the paints, he couldn’t stop. Fix this. Tweak that. It became an addiction that we had to pay for.”

Talk about your metaphors—garbage in garbage out. That very studio, along with every other high flying Hollywood banner, has become so CGI dependent it’s an addiction we’re all paying for.

Back to Felton Farmer. Because he’s a man of strong conviction, he had challenged his own personal logic that no good movie ever came with a tent pole attached. And come January 1 he made himself a resolution. For the coming calendar year he would attend only the big budget blockbusters. If a movie’s production budget was over a hundred million buckaroos, he would force himself to see it at the exclusion of all others. No more indies. Zero movies in his Netflix queue that weren’t a mega-financed sequel or some kind of superhero effects-o-rama.

When I heard this, I practically performed a spit take with my miso soup. What a strange thing to resolve upon the New Year. To gorge oneself only on the popcorniest of product.

It was the moviegoer’s version of that Morgan Spurlock documentary Super Size Me. For an entire month, the filmmaker filmed himself eating nothing but junk food from McDonald’s.

“Helluva a bar you set,” I said.

“I thought why not?” said Felton. “Why not support the biz? The town? Shake off my snobby self and see what comes of it.”

“And?” I asked.

“Truth? Didn’t make it past June,” he shamefully admitted. “Maybe July. There was like two of these giant crap-filled pictures on every weekend. I couldn’t keep up. I swear, there was a point if I saw one more flying superhero or Transformer I was gonna puke.”

“Too much of a good thing?” I jested.

“I mean, yeah. Some of it was good. But most of it was the same shit over and over and over.”

“Well, you tried,” I toasted.

“And I so supremely failed,” he admitted. “Really, man. Couldn’t take it. And if I watched any more I felt I’d either have to kill myself or convince myself that I liked what I was seeing.”

Of course, he couldn’t take it. He was already in the low hanging fruit business. By day he had to swallow crap and pretend that he liked it. Must he also live that way by nights and weekends?

But the point that stuck with me—at least beyond the Herculean try of one year of watching only the biggest of the blockbusters—was how Felton felt that his own entertainment standards were diminished by the ingestion of so much mental junk food. And not just by pure biological osmosis. But by will. By that I mean we all want the best of things. We plunk down our cash, spend another crazy sum on popcorn and whatever, then park ourselves in a theater seat with the pure hope that the next two hours of our life won’t be wasted. We want to like the movie. Hell. We want to love the movie. Because that’s why we watch. We want to laugh, be moved to tears, thrilled beyond our human expectations. To pay and expect the opposite is the definition of defeatism. Possibly even insanity. Thus, we lower our expectations only so we don’t disappoint ourselves.

You’ve heard of this I’m sure. The power of low expectations. Well, I posit that maybe the saying has become the mantra of too many moviegoers.

So bully for Mr. Felton Farmer for bailing on his Everest climb in order to save his soul.

Now I suggest we all go out and save ourselves.

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