James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In Support of Hollywood Collusion

On July 4, I happened across the HBO mini-series John Adams. The tv was left on that channel for the rest of the day. I didn't catch every scene, but I found it interesting.

But it wasn't worth the time investment. If it was condensed into a 3.5 hour movie, it would have been great. It could have covered...
  • The early scenes of mob violence and the Boston Massacre trial, in which Adams defended British soldiers
  • The drive toward independence, which Adams led
  • A brief summary of the years Adams was a diplomat and vice President
  • The genuinely tenuous relations with Britain and France, and a hearkening back to mob violence that motivated Adams to sign the Alien and Sedition Acts (not to justify it, but to understand it better)
  • Eventual reconciliation with Jefferson through letters, and living to see his son become President.
That would have made for a long but fine movie.

Here's the problem.

All the set pieces are necessary, as well as the costumes. In the ideal John Adams movie, you need to have him at Versailles, even if just briefly. And that means you have to reconstruct Versailles. That's expensive. Once the set design and costumes are done, why waste them on just a few scenes?

I looked at the cost of making John Adams on Wikipedia. Over $100 million.  Much of it going to set designs and costuming extras. I could see why HBO would want to to shoot more hours to exploit these dead-weight costs, even though, let's be honest, Abigail Adams and the Adams family/personal life aren't interesting. Much of the mini-series was a waste of time.

And it makes me wonder: why don't Hollywood studios collude and coordinate in the construction of period sets and costumes? Why do they have to reconstruct Versailles over and over again? Unless the movie is particularly surreal or Tim Burton-esque, why have new "costume designs" or different "art direction" for period pieces? Why not just borrow/rent the sets and costumes from other period movies?

I recall, in the mid-90's, a Siskel & Ebert Academy Awards special. They were asked what they felt were the worst nominations. Siskel chose a Best Costume nomination for the Mel Gibson/Jodie Foster/James Garner vehicle Maverick, saying "They're Western outfits!"

That's how I feel about period dramas. If you have a good script, shoot the movie. And if you borrow old sets and old costumes, so much the better. That's preferable than trying to re-invent the past time and time again, and period movies could become more profitable with the reduced costs.

Michael Keaton played the same supporting character, Ray Nicolette, in two different movies based on Elmore Leonard novels: Jackie Brown and Out of Sight, for two different studios in a two-year period. It seems even more plausible that Hollywood studios can cut costs and increase profitability by negotiating with each other on "period" movies and when to shoot them.

As a movie-goer, I wouldn't care or mind.

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