Heroes and Villains

Five examples of debased Hollywood, five beacons of hope

Hollywood is full of black hats--cynical moneymakers aiming at the knees of the audience--and a few white hats. Below are a handful of each: some who use their cred to push the art of cinema forward, others who use the business of cinema to accrue more credit cards.

WHITE HATS

Janet Yang She's an anachronism among contemporary producers--which is another way of saying she has taste, style, and backbone. While working in the development department of Oliver Stone's Ixtlan Pictures, Yang nurtured dark horses such as HBO's Indictment: The McMartin Trial and the People vs. Larry Flynt script. As an independent producer, she picks unusually classy projects, such as the said-to-be-amazing script for Chinese theater impresario Chen Shi-zheng's debut film Dark Matter.

 

John Lesher In a climate where 10-percenters flog top-earning clients till they burn out fast, Lesher is that rare honorable agent, known for his focus on cultivating writer-directors. And his clients are among the best in the business: Paul Thomas Anderson, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Kimberly Pierce, and David O. Russell.

 

Alexandra Milchan Scion of the alleged arms dealer-turned-mini-studio chief Arnon Milchan, she has used her first-daughter status at New Regency to become one of the most respected young producers in town, shepherding the schizophrenia drama The Crowded Room out of development hell and overseeing The Night Watchman, with Spike Lee directing a James Ellroy script.

 

Peter Rice Auteur-driven where other bosses are marketing-mad, Fox Searchlight's chief fills the void where there used to be Weinsteins. His 2004 slate, including Sideways, Kinsey, and I*Huckabees, recalls one of Miramax's classic home-run seasons.

 

Scott Rudin Forget the reported Where's my string cheese? tantrums and consider this superproducer's purchases of Tiffany material, including Ian McEwan's Saturday, Richard Price's Freedomland, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, and Don DeLillo's Underworld. At a time when the "quality" studio movie gets dumb and dumber, Rudin holds high the banner of serious literature--and God bless him for uttering those words without smirking.

 

BLACK HATS

Steven Soderbergh The leading studio director of his generation is developing a reputation as a producer who hangs his directors out to dry--from foisting inappropriate actors upon The Jacket's John Mayberry to firing Ted Griffin from Griffin's own autobiographical project Rumor Has It.

 

James G. Robinson It's already a legendary tale of Hollywood misfortune: Robinson punished Paul Schrader, director of what's now called Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, for the unforgivable sin of having made a Paul Schrader movie! Next he hired Renny Harlin to reshoot the entirety of Schrader's movie, turning it into a high-toned remake of Urban Legends: Final Cut.

 

Colin Callender The HBO Films head has presided over the diminishing of a once-impressive brand: Where smart, formally acrobatic movies like Norma Jean & Marilyn and Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom once appeared, now syrupy pap such as Warm Springs (FDR learns from polio) and Normal (Tom Wilkinson in a nightgown) dribbles and drips.

 

Samuel L. Jackson In John Boorman's In My Country, Jackson, playing a small-town American reporter, is supposed to arrive at South Africa's reconciliation trials like any curious scribe eager to make a buck. Instead, Jackson saunters in with a $500 haircut and a set to his jaw that says, "Out of the Office Today--Gone Golfing!" Once one of the strongest American actors, Jackson has gone AWOL to chase a paycheck.

 

Lynda Obst When this producer isn't single-handedly turning the romantic comedy into a heap of crumpled, smoking metal, she's blogging like a banshee--offering such sage advice as this canny strategy to get on a superstar's good side: "Love the last movie the star made, unless the star hated it. Then you must hate that movie and love the movie that the star loves."

 
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