The relationship between a director and producer remains a barren no man’s land where they battle between commercial needs and filmmaking know-how in making a movie.
In this battle, the director rarely wins unless we talk about small independent productions that often give their directors more freedom.
Otherwise, often whoever puts up the money wins, of course, since reaching extremes can close the production or replace the director if they cannot or will not get an armistice.
One of the most egregious instances was David Lynch‘s 1984 Dune, which we extensively discussed upon the release of the modern two-part remake by Denis Villeneuve.
This esoteric vision of his famous novel came in an over three-hour movie that the production refused to distribute.
Indeed, producer Dino De Laurentiis, having the ultimate word on the final cut, had the footage re-edited into a confusing montage version of just two hours that stripped the story of all soul with continuous monologues and nonsensical time jumps.
Sometime later, they made peace by making one of the best noirs ever, Blue Velvet, with an infinitely smaller budget but complete artistic freedom to David Lynch‘s poetically dark genius.
So we have the same director and same producer, yet two completely different results that underline how wrong it is to harness an auteur with a unique and recognizable style.
And there is no point in bending a creative mind to commercial logic that any camera craftsman could follow, creating fewer problems if that is exactly what a producer is looking for.
The movies we will watch today arise out of production short-circuits of this kind when cinema collides with filmmaking while trying to create cinema.
To start at the top tier, let’s get an art biopic about the making of what I ( and not only I) consider to be quite simply the best movie of all time.
Citizen Kane is the greatest masterpiece born of the rebellious genius of Orson Welles, a rigid and unyielding master who helped rewrite the rules of the seventh art.
Although still very young at the time, he was so promising that Hollywood gave him absolute freedom and forty million dollars to make his movie.
The director then decided to hire Herman J Mankiewicz, an author hated by every producer for his strong leftist ideals, to write the screenplay for what would become one of cinema’s immortal monuments.
Called simply Mank by all, the writer created a hate-filled, irony-filled story that was a cruel parody of the life of his ultimate enemy, namely the newspaper boss William Randolph Hearst.
He had ruined the life of an aspiring filmmaker who was close friends with the screenwriter, exploiting him for Republican propaganda and then abandoning him to public reprisal that led to his suicide.
Jumping back and forth from the heyday to Mank’s fateful fall, David Fincher tells the behind-the-scenes story of the complicated relationship between this bizarre screenwriter, the brilliant director, and their uncompromising egomaniacal producer.
As the lead, we have the great Gary Oldman fully capturing the self-destructive genius of this character, for whom Citizen Kane was the last movie he could work in, dying alone and forgotten a decade later.
Mank is a beautifully photographed black-and-white gem that marks Fincher’s evolution from Seven and Fight Club to more challenging cinema such as Zodiac or this splendid biopic.
We continue to talk about screenwriters by framing the most brutal period in the life of Dalton Trumbo, one of Hollywood’s most influential and respected pens for every director and producer.
Unfortunately, in the late 1940s, the cyclone of the inauspicious McCarthy Commission fell on him and numerous colleagues.
Under the pretext of defending American values, it ruined the lives of countless communist sympathizers or activists.
The commission not only prevented him from working and even sent him to jail for nearly a year when Trumbo refused to disavow his ideals and name other aforementioned leftist agitators.
The screenwriter found himself out of jail with no money and no friends. Still, fortunately, the famous Frank King, an ambiguous low-budget movie producer, gave him the work to fix his ramshackle and improbable screenplays.
In addition to feeding his family, this work brought him back to the attention of two masters, Stanley Kubrick and Otto Preminger.
Defying their producer, each director did not compromise and entrusted him with the screenplay of what would become two cinematic masterpieces, Spartacus and Exodus.
Trumbo is the perfect metaphor for the absurdity of American society, which drove to exhaustion and even death countless people who did not think the way the Republican government liked.
Amid this medieval censorship, the screenwriter even won two Academy Awards, albeit under a false name since he must absolutely work in hiding.
Playing the great writer is Bryan Cranston, the famous star of the Breaking Bad series, after which he clear-cut in international cinema.
So we cannot but love a film that tells us about the greatness and contradictions of an America that does not forgive but sometimes often willfully forgets.
Once again, let’s talk about the birth of one of the greatest movies ever, a true milestone of psychological horror films.
Alfred Hitchcock certainly needs no introduction, being a famous name even to those who have never seen even one title from his enormous filmography.
However, those unfamiliar with his history think that the director was like a privileged protégé of the big major producer when actually much of the Hollywood entourage intensely disliked him.
Therefore, when he dogged his decision to make Psycho, producers strongly opposed his project, as it was a horror film very different from his romantic thrillers to which he had accustomed audiences.
Indeed, Warner Bros. wanted him to make Casino Royale, a famous chapter in the 007 sagas, since the director still had one more film to make under contract, and that was the title that promised the best box office.
Going against everyone, Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville committed everything they owned to find the money and make it, with producers even stupidly hindering its distribution once they completed it.
With this 2012 movie, director Sacha Gervasi chronicles the long months of Psycho’s production, using a splendid directorial style that is a tribute to the entire career of what everyone rightly called the master of suspense.
His stubbornness and his wife’s invaluable help were rewarded by the great success of what was, on balance, the highest-grossing film of his entire long and prolific career.
Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren play this historic pair of filmmakers, two creative minds who stimulated and provoked each other, struggling to keep alive the creativity that the commercial machine too often unintentionally crushes.
Hollywood Ending (2002)
After three movies about the lives and careers of some of Hollywood’s most brilliant directors and screenwriters, we now turn to fiction by another master among the most frequently mentioned in my movie articles, Woody Allen.
Of course, although it is a fictional story, as in many other plots, he takes cues from his own life and experiences, creating a character who is an ironic parody of himself.
Indeed, Allen plays a director with a glorious past but an unhappy present full of disappointments who occasionally directs commercials to make some money.
However, his ex-wife brings him an opportunity for revenge when she convinces his current partner, a film producer, to hire him to make a high-budget movie.
Swallowing his pride and putting aside jealousy toward the woman, Allen begins shooting the story, only to find himself utterly blind in the middle of filming.
Tests show no physical problem, so the doctors say he has a psychological block that will fade as time passes.
In the meantime, however, there is a film to finish, and the director absolutely cannot afford to miss his last chance, so he starts doing everything to make it look like he can still see.
Woody Allen creates a perfect metaphor for the glamour and arrogance of American cinema, blind and deaf to any criticism from the outside.
Hollywood Ending is one of his last old-fashioned comedies, moving on to more adult stories such as the excellent Match Point, Midnight in Paris, or Café Society.
For those who love this director’s silly/intelligent irony, it is absolutely a must-see, while for everyone else, it might be a good starting point to learn about his style and filmography.
Ed Wood (1994)
We conclude this cascade of filmmaking talent with the fictionalized biography of Ed Wood who, for once in the unanimous opinion of audiences and critics alike, is universally recognized as one of the worst directors in film history.
Yet his desire to create art was so strong that he overcame all his personal and budget limitations, managing to enter the hearts of other significant filmmakers such as Tim Burton, who dedicated this movie to him in 1995.
Playing this mad and clueless film visionary is a hallucinated Johnny Depp, looking for the money to make his absurd little stories that mix comedy, horror, and science fiction.
After some disappointing experiences, he finally arrives at the trial by fire, making the movie that will make him into history entitled Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Along the way of his failures, however, he also made numerous friends who enthusiastically agreed to participate in the project.
Many of them actually do not have many alternatives, such as a beautiful television presenter who had fallen from grace, a retired wrestler, and former film superstar Bela Lugosi.
Especially for this great actor, ruined by his morphine addiction, Ed Wood‘s crazy movie will be a splendid swan song, even though he will die before filming, forcing the director to find the most incredible ideas to replace him.
Ed Wood is the most heartfelt film directed by Tim Burton, who has waned in popularity in recent years despite having brought some fantastic and absurd horror films such as Dark Shadows to theaters.
This eulogy to talentless creativity is a love hymn toward the drive to want to make movies, regardless of money and the possibility of a career.
How can you not love the pure childish dreams of a filmmaker like this?