IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Urgent advice for Hollywood (to ignore)

In this era of media transparency, it seems only fair that those of us outside the industry should be in the loop. And so we send out these urgent, eyes-only communiqués to Hollywood, fully confident that they will be carefully and thoughtfully ignored
Image: \"Pineapple Express,\" \"The Reader\"
Dear Hollywood: We'll take more James Franco (at left with Seth Rogen in "Pineapple Express) and fewer sexy Nazis ... or any Nazis for that matter (Kate Winslet in "The Reader").Columbia Pictures, Weinstein Co.
/ Source: The New York Times

The memo has a long and glorious history in Hollywood. From the days of the steno pool to the age of the text message it’s how the self-styled players have talked trash, kept score and shared wisdom. But what about the spectators, the kibitzers, the hecklers and even the movie critics? In this era of media transparency, it seems only fair that those of us outside the industry should be in the loop. And so we send out these urgent, eyes-only communiqués to Hollywood, fully confident that they will be carefully and thoughtfully ignored.

To: The Internet
Cc: Hollywood
From: A. O. Scott

People really like movies. In theaters. On TV. On DVD. Whatever. We don’t mind paying for them, but we like to see them without too much trouble or inconvenience or confusion. It would be nice to be able to see some on our iPods or our computers. It might even be the best way for specialized, uncommercial movies to reach us. Can you come up with a business model to make this possible, while also ensuring that the artists and producers can make a living? When you figure something out, kindly forward it to the music, newspaper and publishing industries. Thanks!

To: John Lasseter
From: Manohla Dargis
I’m psyched that you and the guys at Pixar Animation Studios are finally making a movie with a girl as the lead character and with a woman as director, no less — another first for you! Congrats! Of course we have to wait until 2011 to see “The Bear and the Bow,” but on behalf of 51 percent of the population, I salute you.

To: Every animation studio except Pixar and sometimes DreamWorks
Cc: Pixar, DreamWorks
From: A.O.S.

You can do all kinds of great things with animation these days, and it’s often fun to watch the results of your visual wizardry. But it’s also not enough, and the formulas are starting to get tiresome. Enough with the winking, tiresome pop-culture allusions, the self-conscious celebrity voiceovers, the knowing jokiness, the insincere moralizing. Try telling a simple story with conviction. The merchandising tie-ins will take care of themselves.

To: Straight filmmakers
From: M.D.

Enough with the gay slurs, the gay baiting, imitating, limp-wristing, so-not-funny lisping — in other words, enough with the hating. Yeah, some gay men are hilarious (Oscar Wilde). But people are funny, their identities are not. Try this simple test: Every time you feel the need to mock or denigrate gay men or lesbians, replace that joke with an equally vicious dig about African-Americans or Jews. Doesn’t sound so funny anymore, does it?

To: The M.P.A.A. Ratings Board
From: A.O.S.

What the heck? “Some language”? “Thematic content”? “Dangerous situations”? Yes, it’s hard to keep up with substance abuse, sexual mores, violent behavior and Anglo-Saxon idioms, but come on. What started out 40 years ago as a common-sense, informative alternative to censorship has turned into a maze of mystifications and technicalities, wherein perfectly wholesome dramas are stigmatized while violent, sadistic trash merits an implicit seal of approval. Stop trying to read our minds or guess our values: just give us clear, rational and consistent information.

To: Producers
From: M.D.
Give your cinematographers a break — your audience too. Last year, John Bailey wrote an alarming article in American Cinematographer about how he and his colleagues were losing control of their images because of the industry’s move to digital. Most filmmakers no longer watch projected film dailies (which might allow them to actually see what they shot); they tweak the images during the digital-intermediate process. When it was first introduced, the process seemed as if it might expand the cinematographers’ toolbox. But because of their ease of use, those same tools are being usurped by studio executives, producers, directors and even actors who all want a say in how to digitally “fix” the image. The results of this meddling and cost-cutting are apparent in the smeary, degraded images of too many movies.

To: Heads of production, Sony, Universal, Paramount, Fox, Disney
Cc: Joe Swanberg, Andrew Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski, Greta Gerwig, Aaron katz and all their Facebook friends
From: A.O.S.
You all keep trying to make Rock Hudson-Doris Day-style romantic comedies with the golden guys and gals of the moment, and the results are sexless, subtextless, bland career-girl-in-search-of-Mr.-Right retreads. Meanwhile, a bunch of hungry directors with digital cameras, time on their hands and not much money are making free-form studies about tentative hookups and long conversations among actual, overeducated, undermotivated young folks.

Hollywood, it’s time to co-opt those dudes! Give them enough money for song credits and some production values and let them reinvent movie romance for this age of diffident couplings and vigorous social networking. And dudes, remember: you’re never too young or too hip to sell out.

To: Filmmakers, especially under 40
From: M.D.
The tripod is your friend. Few filmmakers can pull off florid handheld camerawork because most aren’t saying all that much through their visuals, handheld or not. (Also: Shaking the camera does not create realism.) Though it’s a cliché of contemporary cinema, fiction and nonfiction both, handheld camerawork that calls aggressive attention to itself tends to make empty images seem even emptier. If you want us to notice your cinematography, make sure you have something to say, like the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (“Demonlover”), whose restlessly moving images convey a searching intelligence. He isn’t just waving the camera around; he’s saying something about the world and the people in it.

To: The liberal elite, Hollywood division
From: A.O.S.
Back in the old days, you used to have a feel for the common people, a sense that the “popular” in “popular culture” meant of and for the people, not, as it does in high school, “cool and obnoxious.” But now it seems you prefer to mock or condescend to regular folks, or else just render them invisible in fantasies of universal ease, affluence and entitlement. That bubble has burst, and it’s high time you emerged from yours.

To: The audience
From: M.D.
There’s no denying the easy pleasures of watching movies at home, but DVDs and downloads pale next to the big-screen experience. Audiences complain that there’s nothing to watch, and that may be true if you live near a multiplex that plays only the latest in schlock entertainment. But if you live in a city like New York or Los Angeles, you have no business whining. New York in particular is a cinephile’s dream, and there’s almost always something shaking up the screen at Film Forum, the IFC Center, the Walter Reade Theater, Anthology Film Archives and BAMcinématek. Foreign-film distribution in the United States is in a state of acute crisis: New Yorker Films, which released masterworks from the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Ousmane Sembene, was recently forced out of business, and other companies are on the brink. If you don’t support off-Hollywood cinema now, it will disappear from theaters and sooner than you think.

To: Anxious studio heads
From: A.O.S.
Did you notice the last election? People paid a lot of attention, took sides, argued back and forth. As they had, come to think of it, for much of the previous eight years. And yet so many of your “serious” movies tiptoe around areas of real public concern, trying to be vaguely topical while strenuously working to avoid offending anybody. As a result, nobody bothers to go see them. So why not risk troubling the waters a little bit? A lot of the audience likes to argue about movies and also about politics. Why not feed that appetite instead of suppressing it?

To: Lionsgate
Cc: Extreme horror filmmakers and fanatics
From: M.D.
Yuck! Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s only a movie. But if films don’t have any wider meaning in the culture, don’t have real impact on minds and bodies, why do so many of us dedicate our lives to obsessing over them?

To: Members of the Writers Guild of America
Cc: M. Night Shyamalan
From: A.O.S.
You may think that slipping a doozy of a third-act surprise into your screenplay — a shocking twist that no one could possibly see coming — might make you look smart and the audience feel dumb, but please consider that the reverse might actually be the case.

To: Anyone who can make this happen
From: M.D.

More Rachel McAdams, please. Also, James Franco.

To: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Cc: Every actress in Hollywood
From: A.O.S.
Calories: please consume more of them. Also, fire your personal trainers.

To: Will Smith
From: M.D.

What’s with the martyr thing?

To: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese
From: A.O.S.

Think small again! Your buddy Francis Ford Coppola has made his last couple of movies on a relative shoestring in Romania and Argentina. Brian De palma shot “Redacted” on video with an unknown cast. You are fortunate to be able to do just about anything you want, and you’ve certainly earned the right to work on a large scale. But it’s also sad to think that your days of small, scrappy, personal movies are behind you. Well, maybe they aren’t. Maybe you could go scout a location or two. Work with available light, a skeleton crew and unsung actors. Fly by the seat of your pants. Just for old times’ sake.

To: Screenwriters
From: M.D.
Enough with the dead moms: I appreciate that the Bambi Principle is one of the tenets of mainstream narrative cinema and a surefire way to make us feel something for your characters. Yet in the past few years, the dead mothers club has grown awfully crowded what with the additions of “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Uninvited,” “Nim’s Island,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Sunshine Cleaning,” “Knowing,” “Then She Found Me,” “Shoot ’Em Up,” “The Kite Runner,” “Grace Is Gone,” “Smart People,” “Eastern Promises,” “Dan in Real Life,” “No Reservations,” “Hannah Montana,” “Mister Foe” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.” I’m sure it’s nothing personal about women (right?) and that you love your mothers (not that it’s any of my business), but some more time on the couch might be in order. (P.S. Does John Cusack not like being fictionally married? He played a widower in “The Contract,” “Martian Child” and “Grace Is Gone.” Just asking.)

To: Scott Rudin
From: M.D.


  "type": "Slideshow",
  "element": null,
  "html": null,
  "ecommerceEnabled": false

To: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
From: A.O.S.

It’s just not working: the Academy Awards broadcast, with its mixture of snark and high-mindedness; the pool of pseudoserious, faux-prestigious specialty-division B-pictures; the long, dreary slog of the awards “season.” You’re losing touch with the mass audience on one side and the tradition of popular art on the other. Take some risks, rejigger the formula, expand the membership pool. Do something!

To: The Academy
From: A.O.S.

Disregard previous memo. Kill the Oscars.

To: Hollywood
From: A.O.S. & M.D.

Yes, green is good. But there is no ecological benefit in recycling intellectual properties or in treating pop-culture treasures like so much scrap material. Let us read our comic books and watch our DVDs of old movies and television shows and try to capture our imaginations with something new. So, enough with the serial killers (unless you’re David Fincher); period dramas; movies in which children die or are endangered; (bad) literary adaptations; superhero epics; tween-pop exploitation vehicles; scenes with bubble-breasted women working the pole in strip clubs; shady ladies with hearts of gold; Google Earth-like zoom-ins of the world; sensitive Nazis; sexy Nazis; Nazis period; dysfunctional families; dysfunctional families with guns; suburban ennui; suburban ennui with guns; wisecracking teenagers; loser dudes scoring with hot women who would never give them the time of day even if they were drunk out of their minds or too young to know any better (hello, Judd Apatow!); feature films that should have been sketch comedy routines; shopping montages; makeover montages; bromances (unless the guys get it on with each other); flopping penises; spray-on tans; Kate Hudson; PG-13 horror remakes; or anything that uses any of the “classic” songs that we are sick of hearing. What’s left? We don’t know. Isn’t that your job?

This article, "Memos to Hollywood," first appeared in The New York Times.