Posted on Thursday, October 10th, 2013 by Russ Fischer
Having a strong story vision and a strong producer are of paramount importance when trying to guide a film through the studio machine. Without those elements, any given story can fall prey to different visions, or to the fear executives have of working with the unusual or unproven, or (worse) an idea they can’t quite visualize for themselves.
When faced with such things, the typical approach is to shoehorn in tried and true elements to make the story in question look more “normal.”
Alsonfo Cuarón has recently explained just how studio execs’ need for safety and easy visualization nearly came together with his new film Gravity. If Cuarón and his team had been less solid, the film might have fallen prey to the studio impulse to make things softer and safer. We might have seen flashback scenes, or a love story subplot, or even a male version of Sandra Bullock’s character. Cuarón explains below.
Meredith at io9 talked to the director, asking him specifically what some forces at WB wanted to change or add. He explained,
“[They said] 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. [They wanted ] 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.
But Cuarón knows the drill, and he understands where those ideas came from. (And in the end, he got his way, and he’s got a great and financially successful film.) He went on to say,
You have to understand that in this is the process… in many ways I don’t know how they did it. Because they put a lot of money [into Gravity] and they couldn’t see absolutely anything for not months, years. And not because I didn’t want to show them anything. Just to put together the footage took years. So while the process goes, everybody gets a little nervous. A little anxious. “Are you sure you don’t need this? Are you sure we don’t need to pump up the action value, like having an enemy, like a missile strike?” Everybody is just dropping stuff, because they are flying in the blind. Literally that sentence “Houston in the blind,” which is something used in the space program. Pretty much, the studio was flying in the blind.
One of the not at all hidden elements of filmmaking, but one that doesn’t always get huge press, is a real need for the ability to manage people, and communicate. Makes sense, right? Film is a communicative medium, and so if you’re making something that no one has seen before, there’s a huge need to be able to tell them what you’re doing. And there’s also a need to understand why they’re going to respond out of uncertainty or fear at times, and to be ready to manage that. Filmmaking is the weirdest combination of team sport, art, and business management there is — and that’s why it’s so great when it works.