Don't Back Down
If there's anything more tiresome than listening to conservative complaints that the media hates them and the polls are rigged -- amazing how that meme turned around in a hurry after last week's debate! -- it's listening to Hollywood conservatives complain that they've been blackballed by the Industry due to their political views. While this may be true in some cases, particularly in the "below the line" crafts, it's difficult to reconcile with the larger picture -- which is that "conservative" movies do get made. And "liberal" movies. And movies with no political point of view at all. Amazingly, even in Hollywood, not everything is about politics.
Because the movies that do get made are, by Industry standards, "good movies," which is to say scripts that are well-crafted and well-executed on the page, that somehow will speak to the Zeitgeist two years from the minute the exec picks it up, can be made for a reasonable amount of money (always excepting superhero tentpole films), and won't get the exec fired the next day.
In fact, based on my perhaps atypical experience, I would say very few things are politically tinged at the working level. ( I know that many of my screenwriter colleagues are going to disagree with me on this one.) I've worked with one of the great producers, the late Daniel Melnick -- a good old-fashioned red-diaper baby and proud of it -- and our relationship was warm both personally and professionally. I count among my friends some of the most famous, and famously liberal, names in the Industry. If a conservative can't work with progressives in Hollywood, he or she is going to be very lonely and very unemployed. As I wrote in 2009 in Dan's obituary:
One final point, and it’s important, especially these days: politics never entered into our relationship. It’s not that we didn’t discuss them, but it was after the fashion of Yankee fans versus Mets fans: it never affected our professional and personal love for one another. Dan was a classic NY/LA liberal. I was, well, the multilingual son of a Marine Corps officer who had spent much of my career in eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union, who was there at the Berlin Wall with a sledgehammer when the Wall came down 20 years ago next month. But – and this is a truth I keep pounding home on both sides of the contemporary political divide in our wonderful town – none of that mattered if the story was served. And that’s the way it should be. In the end, in our business, story – and execution – will out. The rest is, or should be, commentary.
Sure, as John Fund notes over at NRO, the critics are hating Won't Back Down, while audiences are loving it. But so what? That says more about the skewed state of American journalism these days -- even sportswriters and food critics now feel free to toss in a Bush or Romney drive-by when the spirit moves them -- than it does about filmmaking. And I highly doubt whether Maggie Gyllenhaal or Viola Davis chose to attach to the project because of innate conservative sentiments.
The first lesson any fledgling screenwriter learns, or should learn, is to write a part an actor wants to play. Your script is not primarily about its music cues, its philosophy, its social consciousness, its crackling dialogue, or its politics. It's about getting made, which means it's about character.
(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)
Dr. Helen responds at PJ Tatler.