A blog about movies and filmmaking.

That movie would make a great movie…

In comedy on March 5, 2009 at 11:46 am

Movies made about movies being made, this is what movies were made for!! Being someone interested in not only learning how movies are made, but possibly one day making movies, I love to see these looks inside – and visceral opinions, of what the people that do this for a living think about the industry that they’re in. Imagine if the person working at the IRS, or the super-market had the capacity to document – either comedically, or dramatically – the inner-workings of what they do. Well, I guess certain ones do, and that’s how we get movies like STRANGER THAN FICTION and GO. Then again, most of these people aren’t getting paid millions of dollars, to then turn around and spend a couple million dollars making fun of what they do. 

But, that’s why these films are fun to watch. You know the people involved relate to some of the hijinks that go on on film sets, or know what it’s like to be the first time filmmaker and the gaffs and misjudgments that are made. It’s sort of our way of living trial and error, while not putting our own (possibly, in the far future) careers at risk. And that’s what the two movies, I’m about to discuss do. They let us see the errors in seeing how we go about making a movie, when we know absolutely nothing about making them, or once you’ve “made it” how easy it is to lose focus and a sense of identity, because you’re almost swallowed into the beast that can be Hollywood.

Andy Sargentee is a man who needs an idea. When we first meet him, he’s sitting in the bar of Butterface Fields, Sometown USA, thinking. All of his friends, and the regulars in the bar/cafe/clubhouse are trying to stop him from thinking. Because when Andy thinks, he gets himself and others into trouble. Furiously starting to flip through the local newspaper, and out the windows – everywhere he sees – are the innuendo images of SEX. Then Andy screams out, “We’re going to make a porno!!” Thus begins THE AMATEURS, a movie about a small town, a group of friends and their adventure in trying to make a porno. The movie stars Jeff Bridges as Andy, William Fichtner, Ted Danson, Tim Blake Nelson, Patrick Fugit and Joe Pantolliono as the group of friends who take their chances making a movie. It’s written and directed by Michael Traeger, whose only other screenwriting credit is DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS. Not being able to make a porno, well their idea of one, without women, there’s also a bevy of wonderful and beautiful women as well, including Lauren Graham, Glenne Headly, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Valerie Perrine. 

This is probably the cleanest, most innocent movie about porno that has ever been made. That’s not to say it’s puritanical, because there’s still some cussing and some bare butts to be seen and heard (possibly the most disturbing is Mr. Ted Danson’s posterior!) and the movie is still rated R – even though that seems like it’s an obligatory rating just because of the subject matter. The characters go out of their way to use alliterative, and innocuous (yet, hilarious) names for body parts and sex acts. And for a movie that hypes making a porno with a “lesbo scene, a girl diddling herself and a small white girl blowing three black guys” that’s a pretty high-standard to shoot for. Nonetheless, they do. 

The cast, led by Bridges all do a fantastic job – not that you’d expect less of any of these principle characters actors. And honestly, I was surprised by how many people were in this movie!! Just to continue naming names, there’s Isaiah Washington, John Hawkes, Mike Binder, Brad Garrett, Judy Greer, Eileen Brennan and Steven Weber. For a tiny movie, THAT is a cast!! The real stand-outs here though are Fichtner who plays Otis, the bumbling guy whose job is as the custodian at the church, who wants his job on the porno to be the guy that watches. So, Andy gives him the job as Executive Producer. He also comes through with two of our actresses that want to perform in the porno. Fichtner has always been a stand-out actor though, from roles in HEAT and GO to ARMAGEDDON and THE PERFECT STORM. The other major standout is Pantoliono, another character actor who is almost always good, from big movies like THE MATRIX and RISKY BUSINESS (yeah, remember that one?! Tom Cruise, in the underroo’s?!), who plays the character named Some Idiot. He rallys for the job of Writer/Director for the movie.

Nick Chapman has graduated from film school. He won the top honor for his class and at the after-party is introduced to Allen Habel, played by JT Walsh, the head of a studio in Hollywood. Taking a meeting with Habel and his associate, Todd, Chapman – played by Kevin Bacon – starts his pitch for his movie. It’s about a couple who are staying at a farmhouse in the winter, and the guy learns that the woman has had an affair with their other friend – who is staying with them at the house. While Chapman is describing the scenario, we start to see it play out in front of us, and then when a phone starts to ring in the scene we’re seeing, we – and the characters in the movie-pitch – realize that it’s the phone of Habel’s, which he had previously said to hold all his calls. Thus is the beginning twenty minutes of THE BIG PICTURE, the directorial debut of Christopher Guest. The man behind other satirical fare such as BEST IN SHOW, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and having played Nigel in THIS IS SPINAL TAP, in 1984. Gathered here is a veritable “who’s who” of Hollywood character actors, including Jennifer Jason-Leigh, John Cleese, Fran Drescher, Martin Short, Elliott Gould and even Teri Hatcher, in her first film role. There’s also Michael McKean – who also co-wrote – playing Emmet, a cinematographer and Nick’s friend. 

The movie is filmed in a fun and loose way, whether it’s from the jaunty, poppy music or the many side-steps into Nick’s head – like imagining the guard at the gate to the film graduation as a Nazi checkpoint guard, or being stuck in a 1930’s Capra-esque movie where he’s sitting in a bar that won’t serve him now that he’s a nobody. There’s the fun it pokes at student/arty films – like with the movies we see when Nick is graduating, which range from awkward dating scenario, to jump-cutting, no plot antics of Jason-Leigh’s Lydia Johnson. And of course, the best part being that after Nick has had his days in the sun, and then been dropped, after doing something on his own and being rediscovered, he quickly becomes the talk of the town again, only to be out of town – and causing even more of a ruckus because of his being incommunicado. 

The one really, awful thing about this movie, is how it wallows in the time that it was made – and this is a problem that anything made in the 80’s suffers from – from the big hair (and I mean BIG!) to the crazy outfits and some of the set decorating. Although, in one scene, the way that Walsh’s character’s office is setup, with (remote-controlled) fireplaces on both sides of him, he sort of looks like the Devil plotting how to get back into Nick’s life. So, seeing those images – and the music, god-awful music! – was jarring and yeah detracts from some of the fun to be had. But, it is what it is. 

There are some great performances in this though. Bacon, who tends to come off sort of as a stuck-up jerk sometimes, is young and idealistic – if all too eager to sell-out once the ball has started rolling – and turns in a great performance as Nick Chapman. There were even a few moments where I was expecting him to start dancing around, like his FOOTLOOSE character. (The scene in the car, you’ll know what I mean.) JT Walsh, here plays, against what “type” would become for him. He seems like he might be the bad guy, in how he treats our hero, but in the end he’s just a hollywood big-wig, and does champion Nick and his career. The other character that I have to mention is Nick’s talent agent, Neil Sussman, played by Martin Short. He’s dressed in a large red wig, with a loose perm and is just cheese and strangeness. When we first meet him, in a restaurant, he keeps being preoccupied with a man in the corner (who we never see) that he has the waiter send over an Almond Tart, in-between nick that he’s not going to “bullshit him”. 

Even though the people, running Hollywood – that we see in this movie – are flaky and “in one ear, out the other” types, their biggest flaw – and probably largest attraction to us, the audience – is that they still come across as nice people. There are only two characters we see that are the slightest bit unlikable; one being a fellow student – Jonathan Tristan-Bennett, played by Dan Schneider – who is just kind of a jerk, who was born in the system and is using his family as his connection; and the other is Nick himself. Once he’s taken the bite from the studio on his movie – and it’s changed from the farmhouse in winter, to the beachouse in summer, with a lesbian love triangle and possibly even stewardess ghosts – he changes, buying a new Porsche, leaving his girlfriend for the hot actress and ditching his friends. And neither of these bits, are in the movie long. It’s a very friendly movie. 

guest does a good job directing this – again considering the time-frame – and I think that it’s a nice lesson for wannabe film-writers and directors. There’s something to be said for integrity, and if you want to make a movie that’s yours, then you’ll have to fight for it. A good lesson, and one that it doesn’t really seem too many mainstream creators have been doing over the twenty years since this movie was made. Only now does it really seem that there are more directors taking chances on what their movies are. Whether it’s Christopher Nolan going outside the box to bring audiences a new kind of comic book movie – and have it accepted not only by audiences but critics as something more than just “summer movie fare”; to Francis Ford Coppola reinvigorating his career by financing and making smaller, arty movies, like YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH. 

(No trailer,  Icould find, so enjoy the music video made in the movie)

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  1. […] 17, 2009 Continuing from my previous post about making movies – posted here – I’ve seen two more movies that journey into the realm of movies about making movies. This […]

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