Filmmakers in Media

Jordan Sebers

2/23/2014

Pop Culture

Filmmakers in Media

When I was growing up I loved to play games, run around and just have fun with my family. But the one activity that influenced me the most was watching movies, they boosted my imagination and made me think deeper over the years. As I got older I started to become a filmmaker and making movies with my friends, and to be honest I never really thought about how popular culture portrayed people like me in the media. But as I started to do more and more research I discovered that popular culture viewed filmmakers as very eccentric people that were either losers, successful, pretentious or very egotistic. Now this didn’t really shock me too much because when I sat back and thought about it, all of these characteristics applied to artists in general with their portrayal in popular culture.It seems harsh but popular culture has portrayed the filmmaker like this over and over again, and the best examples of these come from it’s source… films. Now before I begin I should state that I am not here to slam movies that portray filmmakers with these stereotypes, i am merely examining how the filmmakers portray their characters or how the audience could interpret them as one of the above stereotypes.

There are countless movies out there that are about the filmmaking industry or about specific people that are real or fictional. Right now lets focus on the stereotype that all filmmakers are eccentric on and off the set. One of my favorite movies of all time is about making a fake movie and that film is called Wag the Dog (1997). The film focuses on a political sex scandal involving the President’s before a big election. To help cover it up a spin doctor joins forces with Hollywood producer to fabricate a fake war. The producer is played by Dustin Hoffman in an oscar nominated role, and to be honest the character is excellent. But this character joins all of the other filmmakers in pop culture that are eccentric and ego-centric. His character is driven by how great and odd he is to the rest of the characters in the film who mostly play their characters straight. The character shows the idea that great artists are eccentrics and need to be to be as good as they are at their craft. Now this film is written by David Mamet (one of the greatest writers of all time) who makes the film a dark comedy with tongue in cheek humor that is not suppose to be realistic in the slightest, but Hoffman’s character is still one of the more famous portrayals of filmmakers and that is why I even bring it up. Another successful and ego-centric character that I can think of is Alan Arkin from the movie Argo (2012). His character is so close to Hoffman’s from Wag the Dog, but instead this time he is given more humanity as a once successful and disillusioned man who loves what he does. It may also help that Argo was written and directed as a straight story that was suppose to be funny and dramatically tell a true story. Both characters are the prime example of filmmakers eccentrics and ego’s.

As I stated before there are more stereotypical characteristics of filmmakers show in film and the next has to be losers or unsuccessful people that didn’t make it. This mostly applies to a person that never really left home and still tries to follow their dreams of becoming a filmmaker in Hollywood. The perfect example of this would come from the film American Movie (1999), a documentary about a 30 something filmmaker living in his hometown trying to make a low budget horror movie. Now the interesting part about this movie being added to the discussion is the fact that it is a documentary, not a fiction account. Filmmaker Mark Borchardt and his friend Mike Schank are two average people that are going around their hometown and are trying to make their dreams come true. But since they still live near home and are hitting the big time they could easily be considered losers to the average audience. Neither Mark or Mike have gone anywhere or are really going anywhere, so maybe it is true that some filmmakers are losers. This idea could apply to the theory of the starving artist, an idea that has been around since the dawn of art itself. Any audience member could see it that way, but the film is great because it can also be viewed as inspirational to indie filmmakers around the world. Follow your dream no matter what others think of you, any lesser film would leave this idea out.

Another interesting thing I came across was how popular culture portrays real life filmmakers in movies.  The best examples of these would come from movies like Ed Wood (1994) and Hitchcock (2012). Both of these movies portray two very different and yet very similar filmmakers that changed Hollywood as we know it. Ed Wood jr. was a famous schlock filmmaker that has made some of the worst movies ever, while Alfred Hitchcock is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. So what do these two people have in common? Well both of their movies about them portray them as eccentric people that wanted to make movies and be successful in the process. The films show them as odd balls that had visions and saw them through to the very end, so this brings up another characteristic for filmmakers and that would be persistent. Each film I have talked about that has been about filmmakers in central roles have shown the popular culture stereotypes of filmmakers, but this is hardly even done in a poor or degrading way. In fact maybe these stereotypes are true to real filmmakers and that is why popular culture continues to portray them this way.

Another film I was thinking about that portrays a real life filmmaker and is also a documentary is the critically acclaimed film Overnight (2003) a film about overnight sensation Troy Duffy. Troy Duffy has only made 2 movies to his name and both of them are about the same characters, they are the cult films The Boondock Saints (1999) and The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day (2009). Both of these films have a history behind them which is the reason why a documentary was maid, but during the making of the documentary the focus went from the films to the director himself. Troy Duffy was a bartender who became a filmmaker and people began to learn that this man had a serious temper on him. He pissed off so many people that he has had a hard time finding work for any studio thanks to this film. This man would do anything to see his vision though and maybe that is why his career backfired. His anger and ego was so big that oscar nominated filmmaker Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, Crumb and Bad Santa) had a character act like Troy Duffy in his film Art School Confidential (2006). This is a poor portrayal of what a filmmaker can be like when success gets to their head. The film paints the image of filmmakers being pretentious and angry and like I said has influenced pop culture in one way or another. This may not be a popular culture character made for a film, but sometimes a real life example needs to exist for the stereotype to come out and grow in popularity.

It doesn’t matter if the characters are important or small bit parts, but the stereotypes listed here can be found in countless films and countless other sources. Some of these stereotypes are true to life, in fact some of the best filmmakers are eccentric people and that is what makes them such great filmmakers. Eccentricity is going against the norm and a lot of people see them eccentric people as oddballs. But to be honest maybe this isn’t such a bad stereotype for filmmakers and artists in general. Being eccentric means that you have your own personality that is not “normal” and that could be a big factor that leads to your inspirations in life and how your work can become something of your very own. This is why they make movies about famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock and John Carpenter (Auto Focus [2002]), these are two big time directors that have a personality of their own and you can see it when watching their films.It’s better to be eccentric than just blending into the crowd and maybe that is why filmmakers continue to make movies about eccentric, egotistic filmmakers to tell future filmmakers that the best way to stand out is be yourself and make your projects your own. Or the other option is that popular culture portrays filmmakers this way over and over again because originality is lacking in popular culture. No matter what you think, these are the stereotypes of filmmakers in popular culture and they definitively stand out.

Bibliography:

  1.  Wag the Dog. Dir. Barry Levinson. Perf. Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary and Kristen Dunst. New Line Cinema, 1997. Film.
  2.  Argo. Dir. Ben Affleck. Perf. Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Kyle Chandler. Warner Bros, 2012. Film.
  3. American Movie. Dir. Chris Smith. Perf. Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank, Monica Borchardt, Ken Keen and Bill Borchardt. Sony Pictures Classics, 1999. Film.
  4. Ed Wood. Dir. Tim Burton. Perf. Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Touchstone, 1994. Film.
  5. Hitchcock. Dir. Sacha Gervasi. Perf. Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirrne, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel and James D’Arcy. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2012. Film.
  6. Overnight. Dir. Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith. Perf. Troy Duffy, Willem Dafoe, Billy Connolly, Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus. THINKFilm, 2003. Film.
  7. The Boondock Saints. Dir. Troy Duffy. Perf. Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, Willem Dafoe, DAvid Della Rocco and Billy Connolly. Franchise Pictures, 1999. Film.
  8. The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day. Dir. Troy Duffy. Perf. Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, Billy Connolly, Judd Nelson and Peter Fonda. Stage 6 Films, 2009. Film.
  9. Art School Confidential. Dir. Terry Zwigoff. Perf. Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent and Matt Keeslar. Sony Pictures Classics, 2006. Film.
  10. Auto Focus. Dir. Paul Schrader. Perf. Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Maria Bello, Rita Wilson and Michael E. Rodgers. Sony Pictures Classics, 2002.
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