If you’re like the rest of us who can’t resist to click on that link that inevitably leads to Celebrity Gossip you have probably stumbled across this article about Lindsay Lohan in the New York Times Magazine that details her adventures in producing the film “The Canyons”. (If you haven’t read it, here is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/here-is-what-happens-when-you-cast-lindsay-lohan-in-your-movie.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 )
As a filmmaker the article struck a chord with me when I read it; but not a good one. There story-line and the cast of characters is everything that a reader believes is the truth about Hollywood: that movies get made at the expense of human being and as a result the human beings that make movies are scummy and manipulative to one another. This is a reality of the entertainment industry. The momentum of a production often does come at the expense of the comfort of everyone involved. The problem with the article is the unspoken assumption that this is both necessary and desirable; that the ONLY way to produce a film in Hollywood is to be talented, manipulative and arrogant to the point of cruelty.
This is not true and it is not constructive.
The common misconception, which the article only serves to reinforce, is that as long as you have talent nothing else matters. If you are a writer or a director or an actress, the article seems to say, you can get away with ignoring The Rules that everyone else has to live by, like, for instance, honoring your contractual obligations or treating your co-workers like human beings or accepting constructive criticism as valuable input. From there it is a short leap to the belief that as long as you have talent it is better to actively ignore the rules. That if you don’t honor your contractual obligations that a new contract can always be drawn up. That if you mistreat your co-workers they will just be replaced. That your vision trumps all other considerations about the film.
This is how you become a Bad Filmmaker.
Sure you can also be like the Ed Wood style of Bad Filmmaker who actually, cheerfully, a maker of bad films, but a Bad Filmmaker is infinitely more insidious because a Bad Filmmaker can make excellent films at the expense of everyone else involved. A Bad Filmmaker produces films with the same kind of slash-and-burn intensity as a retreating Russian army. The landscape they leave behind is the barren salted earth that prevents other filmmakers creative growth and alienates everyone in the real world from everyone in the production world.
For better or for worse, film production is a team sport. Talent is just a small part of what makes the production machine run so that a movie can come out at the other end. Having talent is like having good looks; it will open doors, but if you aren’t good to the people and the community around you then you are going to discover yourself trying to produce a film that is your Last Chance.