Wednesday, October 1, 2008

You Are Not Alone: Empathy and Inspiration Edition


A little while ago I wrote about our industry's lack of respect for the final product. Sure, we are a business, but we are also making an entertainment product which must entertain. Unfortunately, entertainment in any media doesn't always come out on exactly the date we planned. When the breakdown is caused by the developer or director, they should suffer the consequences and bear the burden of the missed date. But, often, it is not the fault of the person, or persons making the thing. Sometimes, like in the case of the film "The Reader," as described in a lot more depth, and exclusively, by the most astute and outspoken of all entertainment industry journalists, Nikki Finke no one can anticipate or do anything about the delay. The film was delayed by Nicole Kidman's pregnancy and a minor's lack of age.

The film is currently at what we would call alpha. If the alpha period is not compressed and beta virtually eliminated, the film will be released too late to qualify for the awards season, or what we would call 4th quarter. Like game publishers who believe games should only be released in the 4th quarter, film distributors believe only things released in the 4th quarter enjoy awards consideration and the accompanying box office rise. The distributor/ financier - publisher - would like the film to be released in their 4th quarter and is doing everything he can to get the film out, regardless of quality. The irony eluding the distributor is the same one which often eludes publishers. If the production time is cut short and the film released "on time" it will not be good enough to win an award - or in the case of games, sell well. Unfortunately for the distributor, the director, Stephen Daldry, did well enough with his last films to secure a precious right called "final cut." In games, we call this a game from Blizzard or id. It means no one can release the film until he is happy with the final version.

Well, as many of us know from personal experience, film distributors/publishers can be a stubborn lot. While they may suffer some financial harm from their short term focus and the release of a less than perfect film/game, it is the developer/director who suffers the real harm. If the game/film comes out poorly, people point at the creator, not the distributer/publisher. They won't be able to get another job. You can fill in the blank to support this one. Unfortunately, most game developers don't have the ability to stand up and assert their right to not put their name on a piece of shit, or demand enough time to properly finish the game they were engaged to build. This distributor continued to push. Fortunately for Mr. Daldry, his producer stood behind him, and his assertion of his contractual right. In the end, he prevailed.

For this reason, I give you this excerpt from Daldry's email to the distributor, the email many of us would like to have written and an example of triumph of the little guy and the reason for my nomination of Stephen Daldry as hero of the day:

"I am unable to deliver the film for release this year...

"I simply cannot -- and will not -- do that work in the very short time that remains. You are asking me to cram months of work into perhaps 24 hours of editing time. It can't happen. It won't happen. I will not be able to work with the composer. I will not be present at the recording of the score. I will not be able to mix the film. This work is my job...

"I cannot be party to a process that strips me of my ability to make my work good. That is not something you can require of me. I am desperately committed to finishing this movie well so that it is worth the pain that this process has been for all of us. Believe me, nothing would make me happier than to fulfill the obligation I made to you -- and done with the anguish that this release date has put us squarely in the middle of. But I cannot work this way. I need time with the movie -- concentrated tome, I need momentum and a clear head. I have neither.

...I have to call a halt to this process, this arguing over a date, and simply say that there is a line I will not cross, and this is it. We have reached it. I am not able to continue in this process this way. I cannot make this date -- and it's not for a lack of desire or a lack of effort. It's for a simple finite, irrefutable lack of hours -- and a dangerous lack of self-possessoom. Nobody but me knows what my personal limits are but I will -- in fact, I must -- tell you that I am perilously close to mine. That's bad for me but it is a disaster for the movie...."


Thank you Mr. Daldry.




No comments: