David O. Russell

Day Two

We just got back from seeing George Segal in the 1969 film “Loving” at the Film Forum. They’ve been having a 1970s film festival there, which is pretty much heaven to me. “Loving” took its time, was never boring, was morally ambiguous and disturbing, and ultimately very depressing with a dark ending. I found it particularly depressing because it was set in the Westchester-Connecticut suburbs where I grew up, with all the anguish of middle-class acquisitiveness and its so-called antidote, sexual promiscuity. Nevertheless, I feel invigorated and refreshed about my own writing. Making Hollywood phone calls for much of the day about scripts, rewrite jobs, budgets, etc., takes me further and further from what makes movies really compelling. Not that they all need to be depressing and dark, but there’s a richness of human experience in these 1970s films that is increasingly missing from our cinematic “rides.” There are too many rides being made altogether. Roger Ebert told me, when I met him on a panel we were both on, that today there are 500 more films made per year than ten years ago. I started asking executives about this, and Fox president Tom Rothman explained that it used to be good enough for a studio to be profitable–didn’t matter how many movies they made, as long as they were profitable. Then Wall Street became obsessed with something called “market share” and this required “quantity” on the studios’ part: lots and lots of movies in production (even if most of them are bad and not very profitable) as long as the studio could say: “We had 18 percent of the market last year.” Now, with all these films being made, the window for the public to discover each film grows smaller and smaller–gotta make way for new films coming down the pipeline. The window is especially small for challenging or difficult films. End result: homogenized movie product. Ironically, this must not be working, because Disney, which has one of the biggest market shares, announced last week that it’s scaling back production by 50 percent. I hope others follow suit.Although my aim is to make films that are, like those in the 1970s, subversive, somewhat disturbing, more original, etc., I still operate in an environment where too many movies are made. Which means that I can’t wait until I’m done writing my script to meet certain stars and cast them, because these stars get booked one or even two years in advance. Better to meet them now, while I’m writing, and tell them what I’m doing before they commit to seven other pictures. Today I called Gwyneth Paltrow, my agent having gotten permission for me to do so from her agent, and introduced myself, chatted for a while, and made a date to have coffee on Thursday. I think she’s one of the best young actresses working these days. I’m also arranging to meet her beau, Brad Pitt.What else? My assistant, Kate, faxed international distributors a list of “translation-sensitive” comic phrases from “Flirting With Disaster” in hopes that more of the comedy will survive the journey around the world. Example: “Even if you were Jeffrey Dahmer we would love you.” (Lily Tomlin says that to her son). Suggested translation: use Charles Manson instead, the American Express of internationally recognized psychopaths. Another example: the epithet “Bitch-boy.” Not just bitch. Not just boy. But bitch-boy, a phrase I picked up when Henry Rollins used it on a disc jockey nervously asking him for an interview. Or how about when Tea Leoni ironically says, “Thank you Mrs. Cleaver,” to the acid-dealing mother of Ben Stiller. Question: Are there Brazilian, Finnish, and Italian corollaries for Mrs. Ward Cleaver?