Are Actors An Endangered Species?
I love movies. Always have. When I was a kid, the Saturday afternoon kids’ double-feature was what I lived for Monday through Friday. I don’t remember the films – Westerns, for sure – but the one I recall from another day at the movies was “Ruby Gentry,” starring Jennifer Jones. Wow, she was hot, and what a story. Ray Charles sang the title song. My dad had dropped me off at the theater and was late coming back for me, so I got to watch it two and a half times. I was eight years old.
I grew to appreciate movies as an art form after taking an Intro to Film course in college. The film medium is very similar to fiction-writing in which we become interested in a character (or two or three) and their experiences in the story’s settings. The opening scenes of most movies establish the main character and their problem or dilemma, which the movie will try to resolve. This is the archetypal “cosmic hero-journey” from Carl Jung’s work in myth and the human unconsciousness. (BTW, novels are often more casual about getting the protagonist’s issue resolved than are movies.)
So when I begin seriously developing a novel, I create a file entitled “people, places, things,” because the work needs all three. They are the three-legged stool upon which rests the reader’s perception of interest in the story. This is not a “pick two out of three.” If one is missing, the reader notices it very quickly, either consciously or unconsciously, and subsequently loses interest.
I can extend this metaphor to how a novel gets chosen by the reader. My three prime criteria are the story, the author, and the title, not necessarily in that order. Cover art can nudge me into greater interest, but liking or disliking it won’t be a deal-breaker, not at all. And for the sake of my argument here, I am pretty much disinterested in identity of the publisher.
I feel similarly about movies, with particular regard for the actors playing the characters. I often target my interest in a film based on actors whom I like or enjoy watching perform. And of course there are favorite story genres, but for me not those CGI-overly-endowed thrillers, spies, superheroes, etc. One that stands out, though, was “Baby Driver.”
What is not, never, ever, a selection criteria for me is the production company.
Which brings me to my point: I’ve noticed a rise of prominence (promotion?) of the production company in movie advertising and streaming descriptions, and in particular at the opening of the movie itself. I imagine you’ve noticed this as well. It’s almost like sitting through a raft of previews.
Sometimes you’ll see half a dozen or so company logos for the participating production companies. Oh, they’re often cute, ripped animations or GIFs, flashing, booming, and so compelling . . . not. Aside from being forced to sit through this preening self-glorification, why should we care? Am I gonna think, Hey, that Orangutan Productions made quite a fine movie. Think I’ll find another by them to watch.
Uh-uh. I’ll bite on directors, but not backers. Even if one wanted to do that, there are so many instances where the production company was only created for this one film. Which of course points up the fact that the individuals and production fronts you see are the ones who provided funding. Some somebodies paid to be a named a producer. It’s only about the money.
So who cares? I don’t. What makes it worse for me, when the movie actually begins we might see the title but, often as not, no mention of the cast. If you wait patiently, you’ll see their names scroll in tiny type at the end of the film. If you’re watching on Netflix, they’re usually cut into or off completely by the urgent need to binge the next film down your throat. If you’re watching a movie on Amazon (bless them), if you hit pause at any time you’ll see the cast and their character roles named appear in a pop-up. Credit where credit is due.
We need producers and production companies, and I understand how this aspect of film-making has changed. But without good acting, and a recognition of the hard work actors put into their characters, the film’s producers, replete with their cute little logos, don’t really play much of a role in whether the movie is any good. If it’s true (and it is), then the success of the movie for the producers is a crap shoot. At least not to me.
But this business model has changed, hasn’t it? COVID-19 has shut down movie theaters, so almost everything about this nearly hundred-year-old moviemaking model is pretty much out the window. I recently watched a movie on Amazon entitled “Cosmos,” a unique spin on the idea of first contact with alien beings from outer space. Three characters with real humanity and a plot that transcends sci-fi. According to IMDB, the filmmakers are brothers, and they conjoined their first names in forming the production company. They didn’t spend a farthing (they’re British) on actors or sets, only equipment, and it took them five years to make the film. Numerous indies are making excellent movies on very small budgets. Could this be our 21st century, post-pandemic, business model?