Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don't Aim For The Stars. Concept IS Your Star...

Recently, I said that "Story and Character Trumps Star..."in regard to the recent release of the teen motion picture TWILIGHT.

It seems that in principle, Michael Patrick Sullivan agrees with me. At least he notes that it's cool the writers and the director were the only cast or crew named. The studios are not pushing the "stars" of the movie, the book and its writer are the star of the movie (along with the characters). I say this is a positive for independents - that studios understand that the selling point is the book and its characters.

But of course, Will Dixon, good friend of the blog had this to say:

"But Bill, the BOOK was the star, with a zillion fangirls lining up around the block. Whoever was in it was irrelevent.

I'm not sure how that translates to a positive to filmmakers producing movies with no stars AND no book that sold millions."

Will, look at it this way:

You have a project that's just as high concept as TWILIGHT, but you run into the same old "We need a star to sell it."

No you don't. You already have one - the concept. You sell the concept to the audience - that they are going to see something new and entertaining. That they are going to see a world they haven't seen before, but will feel just like home. A world that they will want to see again and again.

That's a hell of a lot easier (and more fun) and actually less expensive than saying: "It's the latest Angelina, Reese, or Goldie's daughter movie. "

Concept, Story, Character takes the focus (and the big paycheck) off of star power. It brings the actors back into the team instead of leading a charge alone in the big publicity game. It helps develop new talent, "Wait until you see this guy in this role - I don't know who he is but he'll knock your socks off."

When was the last time you heard that?

This also puts writers into the publicity game where they have been largely ignored by Hollywood. When was the last time the writer was interviewed as the creative source of a movie (we know they do this in TV) ?

When was the last time people shouted out - not their name, but their character's name - to an actor?

Concept, Story, Character ... these are the things to focus on. These are your stars because they never get old. Good Concepts, Stories and Characters create stars, not the other way around --

Billy Bob Thornton in SLING BLADE or ONE FALSE MOVE...
Hilary Swank in BOYS DON'T CRY...
Kevin Smith in CLERKS...
Pre-Crazy Mel Gibson in MAD MAX...Et al.

This is a good thing. You can develop story. You can develop character. You can develop concept. It doesn't cost you anything. Stars cost... a lot. Sometimes they cost you your movie. For example, what if while shooting your movie a star falls out of favor with the public? Instant movie death bomb if the star is the focus.

Let's create those stories that entertain. That's what the public responds to the most and it's what costs us least. That means more opportunities for everyone long term.


wcdixon said...

I'm not trying to be contrarian, Bill...but I'm still not connecting all your dots.

I mean, of course I can agree that that good concept/story/characters are definite assets to low budget/no star projects (see 'Juno', 'Saw', 'Once', Open Water' or any of your examples), but I really don't see 'Twilight' as any different than 'Harry Potter' or 'Fellowship of the Ring' or 'Chronicles of Narnia' or 'Divinci Code' for that matter.

Yes, some of these films had A list acting 'stars', but the book(s) that the films were based upon is STILL the star.

And I dunno if I'd even agree that Twilight's premise was 'high concept'...the reality is that the book hit and hit big, and thus the movie release starring ANYONE would have opened large because of that built in audience/fan base.

And if Twilight's author Stephanie Meyer was paid like 5 million or 10million for the book rights... isn't that like paying for a costly 'star' in a way?

Like I said, I agree with your conclusion...but using Twilight as the model to emulate doesn't quite track for me.

On the other hand, I do have a cold...and on meds...so, um...yeah.

Cunningham said...


You're not a contrarian. My point in all this is that studios are beginning to realize the power is in the concept, the story and the characters and not in the stars who portray them.

It's damn nice to see the creators get the PR and not the star "that must be attached to the vehicle in order for it to get a green light".

It's not a 180 degree turn, it's an alignment.

Where this is good for indie folk is that they can actually pitch the concept and not have to waste time pitching stars who would be "perfect for the lead." That will happen of course, but it will be further down the process.

Any day of the week I would dance a jig over a BOOK being the star of the show rather than a vacuous meat puppet.

There. Said. It.

I love good actors. They are a joy to work with, make you look good, and make sure they do the story and their character justice.

Stars on the other hand can run hot or cold.