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David Poland

By David Poland

Thankful 2016: 20 Years In

I suppose in a year of the potentially horrific, we should be all the more thankful for the joyous things we have in our lives.

My wife. My child. My family. My health.

This is the 20th Thankful column and I am still grateful for so much.But what a long, strange trip it has been.

I am thankful to DP/30 and the variations of it (Celebrity Conversations, Lunch with David) that have become the work that I am still invigorated by every week. Talking to people who really care about their work has, I have found, no expiration date. I learn about them, about the jobs they do, and about myself as I sit down with first-timers, repeat interviewees and that group of people with whom I have now had hours of conversation. I still get nervous for some (Jeremy Irons and James L. Brooks, most recently) and find comfort in the familiarity with others. And while it is considered underperformance by some, I am proud of the 30 million views of the show online.

While on this topic, I am very thankful for the people who come up to me in unexpected places to tell me that they appreciate what DP/30 offers them, as film students, fans or just film lovers. I never quite know what to say, except to thank them for watching. The show has, with more than 1,700 half hours and continuing weekly, become an annual diary of movie history.

I am thankful that so many interesting filmmakers seem to be emerging and finding audiences right now. Who would have guessed that Pablo Larrain would have a hit American movie as well as a beautiful reflection of Chilean history in the same year? Barry Jenkins is back in the saddle and unlikely to get out of it for a long while. Jeff Nichols also has two films this year. Lonergan. Yorgos Lanthimos. Paolo Sorrentino is back with a TV series. Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan have expanded the Soderbergh Cinematic Universe on TV. (Amy, by the way, was a schoolmate of Barry Jenkins.) Ben Younger is back after 12 years. Denis Villeneuve has been so busy making the next Blade Runner, he hasn’t been around to support his amazing Arrival. Shawn Levy has remade himself as a serious film and TV producer. Taylor Sheridan has written himself into the director’s chair. Mel Gibson is turning heads again. Bayona (as everyone seems to call him) is doing amazing work on a studio level. Amazing work still being pumped out (as expected) by Verhoeven and Chan-Wook Park. Mike Mills just gets better and better. Andrea Arnold.

I am not thankful that I am surely leaving people out who I mean to mention… but I am thankful that someone will remind me and make me feel super guilty before the weekend is over.

I am thankful to watch veteran actresses explode on the screen in their 50s and 60s, from Annette Bening to Isabelle Huppert to Sigourney Weaver to Sally Field to Meryl Streep to Kathy Bates to Susan Sarandon and on… and even when they are playing grandmas (only two in this group this year), they aren’t ever just playing the grandma. Not only are they creating something special in their work, but filmmakers are creating special roles with these movie divas in mind.

I am thankful to Denzel Washington and August Wilson and Margot Lee Shetterly and Barry Jenkins and The Lovings for keeping us from going through another season of #OscarSoWhite, which is critically important to the industry, but gets reduced to a bumper sticker conversation that leads nowhere. I suspect that next year’s Oscars will be less (ahem) colorful next year… not because Academy members are racists, but because the industry simply doesn’t make enough of the kind of movies that are Oscar-nominated with people of color in the lead. Even though nearly every movie of color is in play this year, the miracle is that so many are so good, not that there are enough to make their inclusion in the Oscar raise inevitable. It’s still only six movies. And over a hundred contenders of the lily-white variety. The industry needs to deal with this.

I thank the industry for the increasing availability of filmed content. We have never had as much to choose from. And overall, home entertainment has never been cheaper. But I fear deeply for the misguided whims of major studios looking to break down the system of windows, the classic notion of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. I have been on the bleeding edge of the evolution of delivery. I remember (and owned) the earliest VHS players. I bought illegal copies of movies that were not otherwise available as a teenager. I remember the first Blockbusters, the first format war, the first DVDs (buying gray market hardware from Japan), the launch of sell-thru DVD, the first (horrible) streaming, and the industry destruction of DVD by flooding the market and competing with itself on price. The lesson is that change comes with a combination of demand and acquiescence. This industry has no problem shooting itself in the foot. As volatile as the last 40 years has been in this industry, we are about to face the biggest transition yet. And the diamond standard will be maximizing the first-viewer opportunity… because that will be the only place where premiums will be acceptable to large numbers of buyers. And not just on IMAX screens or for special events. We have to stop thinking that all grosses are equal… they are not. There are now $70 million grossers that make more profit than $400 million grossers. Hell, there are $400 million grossers that lose money. We must find a way to keep the future in perspective and not seek short-term solutions that will undermine the long-term (which might only be five years into the future). Think of the Iraq War and the short-term emotional fix it brought America… then think of the price tag, in lives, in trillions of dollars, in unexpected consequences. It is an absurd analogy only in the count of the dead.

I am thankful for A24 and their fearlessness and also their modesty. They are the current gold standard in quality distribution. Fox Searchlight is still the one with the widest shoulders and the amazing Oscar history. Sony Classics is still the only true art division thriving inside of a corporate studio ecosystem. Weinstein is still the loudest distributor. Focus is finding itself. Roadside Attractions has made a remarkable place for itself, playing to more fields with more diversity of product than anyone (sometimes for better, sometimes not). Newcomers, from Broad Green to Europa to Bleecker Street, are making their mark and evolving. But I don’t think there are many people around this industry who aren’t surprised and amazed and fascinated by what A24 pulls off. Who else would have made The Lobster an $8.7 million hit in America after picking it up from a dying distributor and releasing it two months afterward. They weren’t just satisfied adding it to their library and making the money on home entertainment. I love films from all of these distributors every year. But right now, A24 is the one that, when they decide to go there, you have the sense that something impossible might happen. For a lover of film and the industry, that is nirvana.

I am thankful for the distributors who fill the middle lane, from Oscar-winning Open Road to STX to (this year’s B.O. winner-to-be, again) Lionsgate/Summit to, really Weinstein and Searchlight and Focus, the three of which have feet in both camps. The film industry is having growing pains, trying to figure out where it will land financially, and these companies are releasing movies that aspire to commercial success. But they also have the freedom to be daring. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Sometimes the right films rise and sometimes not. They can’t make you love their films when you don’t, but they often pick films that studios are put off by and it turns out that you like them… you really, really like them.

As I sit here considering the industry, I am thankful for the testosterone of Disney. The mega-budget business is the most misunderstood thing in the business right now. Media swings between the arousal and hype of giant numbers and the manic depression of seeing so much of the media landscape dedicated to giant movies that are, for the most part, mediocre at best. (Of course, the irony that media is upsetting itself by obsessing on shit is beyond most.) Disney is, really, the only company doing what they do. Because Disney is the only company with so much undeniable IP. The concept will implode at some point. Every trend does. But they are not standing still either. Marvel has simply been a lot smarter than DC, which has some great IP, but less so than the, rawer, more humanist Marvel. And they have earned the benefits of their big ideas for how to do this. I don’t have to see every film that comes out of the shoot. And when a really fun one lands (like Doctor Strange), I am as thrilled for that as any other great movie surprise. (Well, not any… but…)

I am thankful that the good people at Paramount are about to have a great run of movies. And I am thankful that some of the less good people at Paramount will likely be saying goodbye in the new year. Hopeful, the powers that be with pick wisely. If there is one constant in the craziness of industry change, it is that studios’ fortunes tend to improve right after major transitions that were meant to get rid of (alleged) failures. Weird. Some of my favorite people in this town are on that lot. I will be rooting for them and their films as I also look forward to the change that will make Paramount a fully functional studio again.

I am thankful for the support of people at studios who appreciate what I have been doing all these years. And I don’t really mind those who do not. I am not hungry the way I once was. I am certainly in a more peaceful place than many of the people employed by studios. I do not fit in the simplistic formula that is in operation at many places these days. I don’t seek being an anomaly, but an anomaly I am. I am not a shiny new object, unclear about who I am or what I offer. But I am a shiny old object for those who care to pay attention. And it has been my good fortune that many do. And for that, I am thankful. Very thankful.

I am thankful for Laura Rooney, who started MCN with me and for Ray Pride, who has become my primary partner is keeping it rolling in the last number of years. And for everyone along the way who contributed a lot and a little and everything in between. There are choices I have made that have been good and others that have been bad… some for me, some for others. But I have always asked that people who participate in my little world of MCN want to be there and are doing work they want to do. And I have been self-indulgent enough to expect the same of myself. Many, large and small, have come and gone during this 15 years here. I’m thankful that I still have some choices.

I am thankful. Period. A lucky man. I am lucky that there are people upset with me because I don’t write enough anymore. I am lucky there are people watching and appreciating my interviews. I am lucky that publicists create space for my oddball product. I am lucky to have a healthy 6-year-old (6 and 99/1000ths, he’d tell you) and a wife who has put up with the nonsense of my life and work for these years.

I am thankful for being allowed to be a part of an industry I love and to have found places for myself over these last 3 decades that make me feel at home. Never too easy. But never too hard either.

Of course, I am thankful to anyone who is reading this. I believe that one should not act in the world to get the response that comes back from your acts (or words). But without you, the readers and watchers, this high-wire act would have been a messy spot on the concrete below long, long ago. I have not held up my part of the conversation with you as much as I once did… and for that, I am sorry. Still, I thank you deeply for engaging. Agree with me or not, thank you for caring enough to care, not just about me and my work, but in the big, wide conversation about movies (and TV too). We are a minority group. We are not under attack, but we are a minority of people, held together with a shared love. Life in the bubble has been good to me. And I thank you.

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5 Responses to “Thankful 2016: 20 Years In”

  1. The Pope says:

    1,700 half hours? Incredible archive. And I am thankful for that.

    Enjoy dinner!

  2. EtGuild2 says:

    Thank you DP! Much Love to you and your family.

    And yes, Bravo to A24! I don’t know that I’ve ever treated a studio like an auteur director or Grade-A actor, fiendishly tracking upcoming projects…till now.

  3. Hcat says:

    Looking at the other thread I was going to mention how many A24 titles were listed in peoples top tens. Not since Miramax in the mid nineties have I seen people so ga-ga over a distributor. And that they have been able to do it without the normal indie standbys like a merchant ivory type film or a UK comedy about eccentric small town folks who do something outlandish when the factory closes. They have tapped into the hip indie crowd when that was never really a sustainable audience before.

    And I am truly thankful for everyone who comments here and how their love of movies comes across while still being able to be and treat each other like adults. I will promise to interact more if you do!!!!

  4. Scot Safon says:

    Agree about A24…but I also liked how you took it all in. There is a lot to be thankful for– making films is hard as hell, and I am thankful for all of you who bust your asses trying to make them, get them finished, get them seen. David, I’m thankful that you’ve kept at this with so much passion, intelligence and perseverance. I am glad it’s paid off, and I’m glad we all get the benefit of watching this industry and its players with you.

  5. David Poland says:

    This may be the first year that I didn’t officially thank you, Scot Safon, and Andy Jones for getting me onto the web in the first place. For whatever reasons, I was in a different mindset this month.

    But I thank you with all my heart. You were (and are) a great supporter, both in $s and spirit. God knows what I would be doing if you had not come into my life all those years ago.

    I hope you and yours are all well. To think of your kids in college is scary and thrilling.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon