Clint Eastwood’s new movie is doing strong business and seems positioned for several awards, so it’s all the more puzzling why this grizzled old pro had such difficulty assembling the funding for “Million Dollar Baby.” The script and budget ($30 million) drifted around three studios before an alliance of Warner Bros. and Lakeshore was patched together.
So why did Clint represent such a big risk? He’s never gone over budget. He shoots so fast he sometimes prints his first take — even the rehearsal. He’s famously good-natured, even though his movies aren’t exactly “Mary Poppins.” Yet they’re consistently successful (“Mystic River” grossed $150 million worldwide).
One key factor — depressing to be sure — is that studios don’t have much of an appetite for “serious pictures,” relegating them to their classics divisions or to oblivion.
Further, Clint Eastwood isn’t much of a pitchman. He puts his work out there and basically says, “You figure it out.” This behavior dates back to the days when he was a rising young star.
I knew Clint in that period, and, of all the young “comers” — the Redfords and Beattys — he was the most accessible and reasonable. Yet, nothing in his manner suggested that he would become a major “auteur.” He didn’t try to “sell” himself as a serious thinker. His convivial style never pre-saged the somber subtext of his films.
Clint Eastwood is simply an original — and a nice guy. And the studios should get in line to make whatever he wants to do next. Except they don’t need to. Clint next will direct a World War II picture for DreamWorks set during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Steven Spielberg is his co-producer. And on this film, unlike “Million Dollar Baby,” he’ll actually get his full fee.
A surfeit of screeners
Now that Oscar season has reached its zenith, Academy members are baffled by the following problem: What do you do with those screeners you no longer want?
If you simply stash them in the trash, a gardener or garbage man may decide to appropriate them, or even sell them. Since the screeners can be traced to their owners, you thereby run the risk of the FBI turning up at your door.
I asked the Academy for its recommendation on disposal. Its response: We don’t have any.
Then I asked several Academy members for their solution. Their replies: “The garage is full, and I don’t have an attic,” said one. “I’m resorting to the barbecue,” offered another. “I’ll call it the bonfire of the vanities.”
SAG’s recurring headache
Hardly anyone is paying attention, but there’s still a chance that the noisy, neurotic Screen Actors Guild could shut down the industry. As negotiations meander along, the following question is being asked by some of the grown-ups: When will professional actors take SAG back from the rancorous non-pros?
I looked at a confidential survey last week, which reminded me that those actors making under $1,000 a year cast more than 50% of the votes on recent ballots. For the nine elections since 1999, 70% of those voting earned under $5,000 a year from their trade.
In short, the fate of the working actor increasingly is being decided by extras or by those who may have had work in the past but are no longer active.
The upshot of this imbalance is readily apparent in SAG internal politics. Melissa Gilbert, the SAG president, and CEO Bob Pisano (both of them responsible leaders) cling to power by the thinnest of margins. Their asylum seems always about to be taken over by the outpatients.
Though there are several reasons for this, the bottom line is that the true professionals of the acting business — including the top stars — simply don’t take enough interest in the affairs of their own guild. Many are simply too self-involved; others have grown frustrated by the sheer nastiness of SAG’s internal dialogues. An example: Noah Wylie, who won a seat on the board, came to one meeting and, apparently disgusted by the vitriol, has never been seen again.
The structure of the guild is itself an obstacle, but other unions have reinvented themselves and SAG may have to bite the bullet — or risk being shot in the foot.