The Safety Zone is a dangerous place to be for filmmakers. When it comes to making movies, danger and risk is a good thing. And while I’m not saying that directors should pander to the widest possible audience, I do think that playing to an audience of one, yourself, is a must-to-avoid. Too many filmmakers seem to believe that staying in control is their best course. To a degree, it’s wise not to cede control to the wrong people. But input and collaboration bring vital nourishment.
And connecting with an audience, be it small or large, is advisable too. I keep reading dismissive reviews of Coppola’s Somewhere (76% on the Tomatometer), a movie that I respect and admire, while wishing that Coppola would open the windows and let in some fresh air. She’s living inside a protected, hermetic world of friends, family and Coppolas, producer father Francis and brother Roman. After winning the screenwriting Oscar for her second film, Lost in Translation, Coppola ventured into big-budget filmmaking with Sony’s lavishly stylish Marie Antoinette. With Somewhere, she retreated back to personally observing the insider world of Hollywood privilege she knows too well.
Somewhere is well-written, produced, directed and acted. Coppola knows what she wants and isn’t pandering to anyone (here’s my interview with her). But Coppola has tread this track too many times. She needs to open up to other collaborators and voices. But she is not receptive. Imagine: one of the most powerful and respected producers in Hollywood, Scott Rudin, had a project for her to consider. But when he tried to reach her, he couldn’t get close.
There’s something wrong there. Coppola needs to step into the outside world. Steven Soderbergh (who is threatening to retire, but that’s another story) has talked of needing to avoid directing movies from the back seat of a limousine. Coppola isn’t alone. I’d argue that staying inside the Safety Zone (not listening to other voices) has stifled the considerable talents of big-budget filmmakers and micro-indies alike: James L. Brooks, John Sayles and Jim Jarmusch come to mind. Any other candidates?