YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

In Hollywood, Ever Bigger Is Better


The modest, middle-budget picture--one that costs somewhere between $15 million and $40 million--has clearly given way to stampeding T. rexes this summer and in general is going the way of the dinosaur in Hollywood, according to many industry insiders who attended "Words Into Pictures," a film and television writers forum sponsored by the Writers Guild Friday and Saturday.

"The middle is dead," said Robert Bookman, an agent at CAA. "It's [those] writers and directors that are hurting in the business."

"The thinking is that you have to make a picture for over $70 million. Below is no good," said Oscar-winning producer Saul Zaentz ('The English Patient," "Amadeus," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest").

Several big-name Hollywood players participating on panels at the writers' forum, held at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, told aspiring screenwriters that it is easier these days to get a $100-million movie made by a Hollywood studio or, conversely, to break in as a new filmmaker with a low-budget critics' darling, than it is to make a reasonably priced movie with recognizable actors.

Not surprisingly, the opinions of Hollywood insiders discussing "Twister Impossible: The Movie as E Ticket Ride" differed markedly depending on whether they had written or produced special-effects-laden blockbusters or made lower-budgeted, more character-driven pictures.

The panel provided a rare opportunity to hear those who make big-budget movies defend criticisms by their fellow filmmakers.

Director Rob Reiner ("When Harry Met Sally . . . " "A Few Good Men") scoffed that dialogue in "Twister" consisted mainly of "Run!" or "Hold on to something!"

Kathleen Kennedy, the film's producer, defended the film and the blockbuster genre.

"I do think the concept of people who study and chase tornadoes is very strong," said Kennedy, who also produced "The Lost World," "Jurassic Park" and "E.T."

"Sure, the plot might not have been wonderful . . . but when you get a movie like 'Twister' you have a different set of expectations than you do for 'Sense and Sensibility.' . . . You're not appreciating or respecting the genre. It's a level of writing that often gets very little respect. And it's very hard to do."

When asked if there will be a sequel to "Twister," Kennedy replied that there will be one, but added, "We're struggling with the story."

Zaentz muttered loud enough for most to hear: "Oh, I wonder why."

"You're trying to force one kind of movie into another kind of movie's model," said David Koepp, who wrote "The Lost World" and co-wrote the original "Jurassic Park" with novelist Michael Crichton. "There is more of an urge to satisfy in this kind of movie perhaps, but that's showmanship. It is a different process, but it's not some kind of nefarious process."

The advent of modern blockbusters--huge movies geared for a younger audience--began in 1975 with Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," according to Reiner.

"You start with an idea of what's merchandisable, what appeals to kids, and the story is insignificant and the characters are insignificant," Reiner said. "For a writer starting out, the question is, 'What do I want to do--make a movie that will make $300 [million] or $400 million or make a story that starts with characters and a smart story?' "

Koepp defended the story lines of special-effects-filled screenplays.

"I wouldn't have written what I think are two of the best movies ever made if they weren't what I want to see," Koepp said. "These are genuine, heartfelt movies. The characters are not insignificant. The story line and characters are labored over mightily."

Reiner persisted. "The characters are rendered insignificant. These are rides. They're not real stories. That doesn't mean it's not a fun movie. . . . But character and story become pushed aside, because ultimately the fantasy of it is more important."

"Of course it's a fantasy," countered Koepp. "Dinosaurs don't really exist. But the new 'Jurassic Park' is a plausible premise to build a fantasy film on."

Reiner cited "E.T." as an effects movie that is also a well-told drama.

"It's a great movie because it comes from a very real place in Steven [Spielberg]," he said. "It's about a little boy who feels disenfranchised because his parents are getting divorced. You can make a picture that has character, substance, effects and stars."

Film studios are so diversified these days, as parts of larger corporate entities, that they increasingly shell out millions for blockbusters without having to worry if their big investments will sink them, panelists said.

The growing trend has been for big studios to make the more critically acclaimed "art films" within their classics' divisions, or to purchase smaller independent film companies who make the artier movies.

Zaentz, whose "English Patient" was made for Miramax, which is owned by Disney, was quick to point out the pitfalls of that phenomenon.

"You have to be careful that 'classics divisions' are not just ways to make actors, directors and writers work cheaper," he said. "[Big studios] would love to make better pictures because they would like the credit that they assume for them anyway. Disney takes the credit for 'English Patient' and they had as much to do with it as my 4-year-old grandchild."

Los Angeles Times Articles