No director better represents the sorry state of the current moviemaking scene than Lawrence Kasdan. For most of his career, the studios supplied him with steady work as a screenwriter (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, The Bodyguard) and writer-director (The Big Chill, Body Heat, The Accidental Tourist, Grand Canyon). The writing has continued–he’s still a well-paid fixer-for-hire–but Kasdan has had a tough time getting arrested as a director. He is now one of many senior players who are no longer in demand at the studios, which chase young whiz kids with VFX skills who can deliver them what they want without demanding final cut. And it takes a while for once top-tier directors to admit that with the studio jobs gone, the only way to get a smart non-tentpole non-genre movie made now is to raise the money independently.
That Kasdan has done. “Whenever I feel bad I look at my colleagues and compatriots,” Kasdan says. “A lot of them are struggling to find work that is meaningful to them. They might take a big job, but it’s not being offered to them. When I first arrived in Hollywood, Billy Wilder was out of work. He didn’t make movies for the last 20 years of his life.”
Monday he starts shooting Darling Companion (written by him and Meg Kasdan), which was passed on all over town before Minneapolis-based Werc Werk Works (Howl, Life During Wartime) agreed to fund it (for their cap of $5 million). Kasdan and producer Anthony Bregman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) assembled a strong cast willing to “get paid nothing,” said Kasdan, who just added Dianne Wiest, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer and Sam Shepard to an ensemble including Diane Keaton as an empty nester who loves her rescue dog more than her distracted husband (Kevin Kline). When he loses the dog after a wedding at their vacation home in the Rockies, a search and adventure ensue. Richard Jenkins and Elizabeth Moss also star.
“It’s a struggle to reach this older audience,” says Kasdan. “They’re out there dying to go to the movies but it’s harder to get them to come the first weekend. It’s harder to penetrate with advertising. Anything harder is not on anyone’s agenda anymore.”
Kasdan spent the seven-year directing gap since Dreamcatcher working on many projects that never got made. He adapted Richard Russo’s The Risk Pool at Castle Rock for Tom Hanks, who “decided not to do it,” he says. “It was a great book and a great story. For the movies the studios are making, the perameters have narrowed enormously. They’re only making a small variety of pictures, particularly those aimed at young people. They’re looking for talented young directors who don’t have final cut or a back end, who do what they are told, who grew up with FX. It’s nothing new. They now depend on independent film to pursue prestige projects. The whole business of prestige and awards doesn’t mean anything to the studios anymore. It’s very hard. The few remaining independent arms of the studios are run pretty much like studios on a different scale. They need stars and pre-sales. The hope is to get a movie financed, do a good job, and then distributors will become more bold and buy things you couldn’t pre-sell in Europe or overseas.”
Kasdan also wrote an original, personal script, but decided not to make it. He wanted to direct John Logan’s Genius, with Steve Carell as editor Maxwell Perkins, but that too fell apart. (Now financeer Bill Pohlad is set to direct with Sean Penn.)