Wednesday, September 21, 2005

significant 'tweaking' and elizabethtown

For the first time this year, I caught wind of a possible Hollywood trend that eluded the red carpet and the bright lights: more and more mainstream Hollywood filmmakers are trying to make movies that avoid formula and embrace meaning --- and their efforts are being thwarted perhaps by studio executives: business folks who are not really filmmakers.

Take the case of Elizabethtown. I first saw the film in a press/industry screening at six in the evening of the first Friday. That timing is important. The first weekend meets the highest traffic of industry delegates (see notes below). It was at this screening that the Paramount publicist advised the press corps that there were going to be “changes” to the film and the release version would be different. Someone piped up "how different"? To which the publicist responded, "significantly different." Yet, at the press conference, Cameron Crowe called what needed to be done, “tweaking” and said that he was headed into nine days of it after Toronto and before the picture had to be locked. Nine days of tweaking? Hmmm....

A publicist is the last person to overstate the changes that will happen to a film. When the publicist is overstating and the director is understating - chances are strong the desire for change is coming from the studio, not the filmmaker. (A publicist works for the studio first and and most likely the studio instructed him to say this.) My guess is that Mr. Crowe will not be alone in his little editing suite and will be bartering to do as much 'tweaking' as possible, rather than the 'significant' changes others may be angling for. The movie's running time (2:15) is long for the genre.

The press screening was not smooth. Most of the industry present was not with the film - and had lots to say afterward in the lobby about what the changes should be.

A friend had a ticket for the premiere of the film at Roy Thomson Hall the following night so I went again. Here, the stars and director were in attendance and there was no sign from anyone of the changes in store. Nothing said in the half hour introductions, or afterward - we were led to believe that we were witnessing the launch of the finished product. The renowned festival audiences lived up to expectation and laughed and cheered in all the right moments.

I had already liked the film, but it gained from being seen in those second circumstances. It became clear to me that even given its essential structural messiness, the movie had an inherent charm that could easily be lost by overzealous 'restructure' or an attempt to contain its length. Indeed, Cameron Crowe was right. All that was really needed was tweaking, and a kind of surrender to its sprawling nature.

Premiering a film in Toronto can be a great way to convince studios and distributors that a film is ready. Let's see what happens. Crowe may be doing a little softshoe of his own as I write this. Here's hoping he's as beguiling as Sarandon and his movie stays mostly intact!

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