Just as the huge silent film industry segued into ‘The Talkies,’ and exclusive motion pictures in theaters segued into television; there seems to be a shift in television/film production, that changes course every 7 years. Technology has become so fast paced that there are many new complexities that determine the making of Television and Film. However, some things seem to carry on from one genre of Filmmaker to the next. Let’s take a look at what is happening in today’s “New Hollywood,” and some of the ‘Up and Coming’ new Filmmakers. This Article will give a glimpse into the mind of a Hollywood Filmmaker and what their driving force is; as well, just a little Hollywood history.
For this Article I interviewed one of Hollywood’s up and coming directors/filmmakers, Kevin Slowick. Kevin has produced and directed the Award Winning “Inside The Ring Of Fire” along with his latest Film Project; “Zombie Killer,” to name just a few.
Just as Otto Preminger sought to make films that flew in the face of racism, there is usually a ‘driving force’ that motivates Hollywood directors and filmmakers. Otto Preminger wanted to marry the beautiful and talented Dorothy Dandridge, but didn’t dare. Inter racial marriage at that time, was a ‘death sentence’ to any Hollywood director, producer, and especially actor. The only outlet that a filmmaker had when confronted with Society’s twisted and perverted opinion, was to make films that would eventually sway the Public’s viewpoint, on any given subject matter. In Preminger’s case, he Showcased Dorothy Dandridge in a starring role that was almost unheard of for an African American actress, at that time. Sadly, yet profoundly for that time, Dorothy Dandridge’ career slid downhill after attaining a substantial level of success in Films and the entertainment industry. Her official cause of death was ruled a suicide. Those around her and what has been written about the Actress, attributes her death to two factors: Not being allowed to marry the man she was in love with (Preminger) and a child born with Mental retardation; both subjects were strict taboo for the time (1950’s and 1960’s). Racism took a grave toll on the sensitive, yet talented and beautiful actress.
With Howard Hughes, it was to present Sexuality in his films, albeit masked or through subtle innuendo and other film technique. Hughes did this in most of his films to promote sexuality and same-sex sexuality. Hughes accomplished this via imagery that would convey what The Hays Commission would not allow; imagery such as Jane Russell and her highly enhanced breasts (which almost was not allowed to make it to the screen), or ‘Gladiator’ type actors to promote same-sex sexuality. Hidden sexual innuendo and imagery were rampant in almost all of Hughes’ films. As Powerful as Hughes was, he still had the Hays Commission and public outcry to consider when making any film. At that time, The Hays Commission was basically all mighty and had final say so on what would and would not make it to the big screen. They had the final say so on any film produced; what could and could not be shown. The Hays Commission was probably the only obstacle Howard Hughes ever had as a filmmaker. Not even with his power could he override The Hays Commission.
From Imitation Of Life (starring Lana Turner), to Carmen Jones (Starring Dorothy Dandridge), to Brokeback Mountain, to Warren Beatty’s Shampoo, to Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and other recent Eastwood successes; Hollywood Directors and Filmmakers have endeavored to make their mark in a World filled with prejudice: From racism to sexual taboo to political and global issues–Hollywood Filmmakers continue–making their mark.
Today, there is no Hays Commission but one thing has stayed true to what motivates many of today’s filmmakers: Societal Change. Certainly, profit is a motivating factor, as well. Some of the most successful and profitable Motion Pictures have been produced by Directors and Producers who sought to bring change to the ‘Court of Public Opinion,’ literally bringing changes to The World–Changes that seem to grow more substantial with every new Film Produced.
When I interviewed Kevin Slowick, I was already aware of some of his motivations for the type of Films he has or is currently directing and/or producing.
I asked Kevin: What is the Driving Force and Motivation for you to Direct and Produce the films you have chosen to do? His response: “It’s like being haunted by dreams and nightmares. A feeling inside that needs to get out of me in order to feel alive; in order to have a sense of accomplishment; in order to have a purpose in life. It’s a desire that often feels like a curse. Most of my Passion for Filmmaking comes from strong personal convictions I have on different subjects. I guess I’m like most Directors both past and present; but I can’t really say I have a strong desire to bring change to The World. I do know most directors would agree with me that film is a powerful medium for change; not to mention the power of television.”
When I asked Kevin what was the one obstacle to filmmaking, particularly “Inside The Ring of Fire” for which he achieved and won Best Sports Documentary of The Year at AOF, he had this to say: “Time. a lot of the obstacles to Filmmaking come down to time and/or timing. Especially, since a lot of the drama needed for certain projects, unfold as they are being filmed. This was the case in Ring of Fire. One of the Students had a ‘falling out’ with his coach and they became mortal enemies. This scenario, with all it’s underpinnings, created the drama that the documentary needed. So a lot of times, whether it’s a documentary or thriller/horror or dramatic romance; a lot of it comes down to having the patience as the story develops. True, for Zombie Killer and other non-documentary projects, there is a script; but even so–and more film and television directors are taking this avenue–changing the script and improvising as the project progresses can really work to bring a better result for the whole project. We did that quite a bit for Zombie Killer. It was just the nature of how that film was progressing. Everything from script changes to scouting locations to shoot, and in some cases casting. I didn’t know until the last literal second that Arlene Dhal’s nephew, Peter would make a cameo shot for a scene we were shooting. Everyone had been cast but at the last second, an actor did not show up. That’s when Peter Dhal showed up and we cast him right at the last second. And looking at the rushes that day, I remember thinking; this is good; and we got a small piece of Hollywood History to boot. So basically, I’ve kept an open mind and have been willing to ‘shift gears’ if I feel it will make a better picture.”
In my research and interviews I have conducted, I have found that Kevin’s willingness to change course–for both script and casting or even plot lines–are quite familiar avenues for today’s Hollywood Directors. It does seem to be a trend. Not necessarily so for traditional Hollywood film making going back ten years and beyond. The trend then was to ‘stick to the script’ weather it was casting, script, location, et al. One exception was Warren Beatty.
Warren Beatty is known for directing and producing his films in a certain way, specifically: Take after take after take. Beatty is known for shooting take after take (seemingly endless) for shots that have maybe one (seemingly) insignificant line. Ten years ago and going back, Directors tended to stick to the script and rarely were substantial changes made, once the script and cast were completed. In Beatty’s case, he was one of the first to be willing to improvise when he felt it would make a better picture. This, coupled with shooting take after take (sometimes this made even his big-name actors break down in frustration) is one of the many important factors that made most of Beatty’s Films so successful. Not to mention that most of his early work was groundbreaking and had never been done before. In fact, most of the Hollywood powers-that-be, mocked Beatty’s filmmaking tactics and predicted absolute failure–they were constantly having to eat their own words–his film’s successes saw to that. Beatty was also one of the first to take control of his films, and do so almost omnipitently. The kind of control that Beatty excercised with forethought was almsot unheard of for that time. His control started with purchasing the rights to the film he was acting/producing/directing. Kevin Slowick operates and controls his films the same way; a certain indicator for a film’s success in today’s New Hollywood.
Another theme that seems to fit with most up and coming filmmakers and directors is actually the ‘newness’ of just starting out. Being fresh and manic in creativity and willing to take risks that more mature and experienced filmmakers might not take. According to Kevin in regards to filming “Inside The Ring of Fire:” “As time goes on–and with each new project, the more difficult it seems to be. When you first start out, the risks are so much easier to take. Now that I have learned how difficult some obstacles can be; and how difficult in can be to profit from Indie Films (and even conventional films), it has become more challenging than ever. However, I have to say that knowing the odds are not necessarily in my favor, have made me a better writer.”
I also probed Kevin about the underlying message(s) in his films. I asked him to elaborate on “Zombie Killer:” What is the underlying message that you want the audience to know. Kevin was very reluctant to give the answer to my question. I probed deeper, bringing forth to him that almost every successful film has had a societal message for change–or statement–at it’s core plot, irrelevant of the subject matter. Here is Kevin’s response: ” I really make films to sic (like a lot of filmmakers) to entertain and at the same time I have an opportunity to exercise some personal demons. I must admit though..(like a lot of filmmakers)….I do have an underlying message to bring ‘forth to the fore’ and with Zombie Killer, I do have a message: Corporate America and the horrific state-of-affairs our medical care system is in. I am really disgusted at what is going on in this country regarding medical care and all it’s dysfunctional ill’s. Profit has super-ceded Human life.”
Having reviewed Kevin’s films, and being on Set of Zombie Killer, I am aware that he seems to have an uncanny sense of exactly how a shot is going to look on film. He seems to be able to look ahead at the whole picture, bringing the necessary essence that makes any good film; as he is filming and directing. This was his response: ” Well, I guess it’s probably inherent. I have no formal training–just trial and error. I do prefer being behind the camera, but visually, my mind thinks in terms of imagery. So, I try and create images that sublimely last for ever, Similar to Alejandro Jodorowsky. I remember seeing his work as a kid and his images have never left my mind. Twenty five years later, I still see them. As far as my films having a message, yeah they do. Zombie Killer has the message about Corporate America and placing profit above Human Life. But really, what drives me is making a good film that is entertaining. That’s real important to me.”
DSL & AP Interview #234: 10/08/10, 10/10/10