Resisting Pressure

A couple of weeks ago, I reprinted an excerpt from John August’s website where he and Craig Mazin were talking about the pressure from film producers to cut corners and trim budgets at the expense of the artistic merits of a film.

Here’s another example of the way producers can interfere, not to save money, but to try to make a film more commercial, more marketable, this time from the recent movie Gravity.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s a film about a disaster in space that leaves shuttle astronauts stranded in low-earth orbit. It’s shown entirely from the perspective of the astronauts, with no cutaways to earth, and is entirely about the natural and real-life hazards of existence in space, with no added threats of evil saboteurs or menacing foes.

This is from an interview the director Alfonse Cuaron did with the site io9.

So there was no pressure anytime from anyone to focus more on the destruction and less on the characters?

When you go into the process, yes, there are a lot of ideas. People start suggesting other stuff. "You need to cut to Houston, and see how the rescue mission goes. And there is a ticking clock with the rescue mission. You have to do flashbacks with the backstory." But we were very clear that this was the film that we wanted to make.

I can’t imagine this movie leaving [the main character’s POV]. But I understand people pitch things. So what was the weirdest suggestion that you heard on how to change Gravity?

This is the thing, you will always hear voices. With making a film it’s like trying to create a tune in the shower, while you have a hundred people singing around you. You have to focus yourself in on the tune that you’re trying to create. Because you have hundreds of people singing different songs at the same time around you. There’s always that.

The whole thing of the flashbacks. A whole thing with… a romantic relationship with the Mission Control Commander, who is in love with her. All of that kind of stuff. What else? To finish with a whole rescue helicopter, that would come and rescue her. Stuff like that.

via All the Ways Hollywood Tried to Ruin Gravity.

If you’ve seen Gravity, you understand how these suggestions would have made it a different movie, turning it into a generic action movie, instead of the intense, unique, and personal experience that it is. The cutaways would have relieved the tension, rather than adding to it, the romantic sub-plot would have softened the impact and made the rhythm, cadences and resolutions the sort of things we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Obviously, there is no easy answer to how to surmount these kinds of pressure. My usual inclination to avoid big budget filmmaking (and the subsequent pressure from investors) and move away from mainstream film’s obsession with expensive, clean and polished production values, would not have worked for Gravity, which required a kind of photo-realism that only comes at great expense.

What is always required is a clarity of vision and a dogged perseverance to achieve that vision, and the fortitude to say no to people who aren’t saying yes to you.