Monday, March 4, 2013

Not All Movies Have Happy Endings

"Do you like foreign films?"
"With subtitles?"

"I hate those types of films."

"Me, too," Cliff says. "Mostly because-"
"No happy endings."
      -Silver Linings Playbook

From Marcus Welby* to St. Elsewhere** to ER to House, and from the early days of movies right through today, there is a scene we all know.

The anxious loved one waits in the hospital. The doctor walks into the room, often covered in blood, and says something like this:

"I'm sorry. We did everything in our power...."

Followed by:


It would be nice if someone had a record of these scenes, and how many times the above dialogue was offered verbatim.

On the production side, not every movie needs to be a happy ending. Many productions go out not with a bang, but with a whimper. Last day of production comes, and the AD pronounces:

"That is a picture wrap on (last actor working). (Applause)."And, that is a picture wrap on (name of movie).(More applause).

Sometimes, that applause has multiple meanings, both for the actor and the picture.

Of course, there is still post-production and getting it sold and all that, but the movie is in the can (at least until reshoots and pick-ups). Some movies may not see much of an audience beyond the crew screening, but, hey, they got done

Then, there are the ones that don't get done.

The ones that don't get done are either never mentioned, or they become the stuff of legends; Terry Gilliams Don Quixote movie. or Jodorowski's Dune are among the latter.

For low-budget indies that do not finish principal photography, there are no cool websites. There is no film lore. Much like the 2nd favorite pet in the house, they are wrapped in a trash bag and tossed in a shallow grave in the backyard (not to mention the ignominious end to many a misunderstood Goldfish, gone in a rush of water meant to carry away less beloved matter.) No shoebox, and surely no tombstone for these.

The last series on Man of the Century was about one of the highlights of my career, though I can only take a very small credit. The following posts are about two projects - they never became movies - that never made it to the end of principal photography, and I can hardly accept a majority of the blame.

The Yin and the Yang.

Indeed, like in those medical dramas, I, and many other good and talented people, left that operating theater, bloodied and, yes, maybe a little bowed, able to say that despite our best efforts, the patient was lost.

With these two films, I need to go back to my rule here, which is that when mentioning people in an unfavorable light, I will use other names, to protect, well, let's just say "to protect" without the presumption of innocence or guilt.  We will call these projects Plaster and Double.

One had a very talented director, but from a commercial background. The director on the other was an actor with, let us say, different interests.

Even bad movies can amble along, hang on and let the respirator keep it going, make it over the finish line. Before a film flatlines, there are warning signs. The patient is lost when the folks in charge refuse to heed those warning signs and the entreaties of the people who understand them.

The two movies failed for very different reasons, but one thing they had in common was the unwillingness to listen to good advice, and not just my own. This is not an, "I told you so," because I was not the only one who saw the end coming, and not the only one to try and prevent it.

There is a new TNT show called Monday Mornings that revolves around meetings held at a hospital to review patients who were lost. It features one of my favorite character actors, Alfred Molina. I've only seen two episodes so far, but, so far, so good.

Yes, right there in the pilot is one of those scenes mentioned above - in fact, two, one in a flashback with one of the surgeons.

The point of these reviews is to examine what went wrong, and, hopefully prevent it from happening again. Consider this your Monday Morning, a chance to see what went wrong in projects that did not get completed, so that maybe some project - maybe yours - may live.

So, maybe, this doesn't happen to your movie:

*Go ahead, say it - you are too young to remember Marcus Welby, MD. It should have a footnote in TV history as probably the last of the "kindly doctor" shows, the cynicism of our age making those types of shows as impossible to believe as the perfect lawyer shows such as Perry Mason. Today, we like our heroes not just flawed, but in constant distress. See House.

**One of my favorite all-time shows, and one of the most inventive shows ever. The producers of E.R. have often said their show doesn't happen without St. Elsewhere blazing the trail. There are some direct character parallels - the Clooney character on E.R. with the Harmon character on St. Elsewhere, and the David Morse character on St. Elsewhere and the Anthony Edwards character on E.R.

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