Breaking may reflect period in filmmaking
rick mcginnis/metro toronto
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Veteran director, screenwriter and character actor Sydney Pollack has seen the many faces of modern Hollywood.
After breaking into show business as a director on several television series in the 1960s, the 72-year-old Oscar winner (for 1985’s Out Of Africa) made his name in what he refers to as “a kind of a golden era” in the mid-’60s to mid-’80s with directorial and production efforts in critically-acclaimed films such as Three Days Of The Condor, Absence Of Malice and Tootsie.
Pollack serves as producer on the new film Breaking And Entering, written and directed by his friend and business partner Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain), in what he refers to as a character-driven piece reminiscent of the films that defined an era which was driven by names like Streep, Beatty, Hoffman and Nicholson.
“I think if you look at the list of Academy Award nominees in those 15 years, you’ll have more memorable titles than you’ll have in a lot of other decade periods in our history,” Pollack says during an interview at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Pollack points to the ownership structure of today’s major motion picture studios to define what he feels have been the major changes in the film landscape since then — the primary one being that in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, studios were largely independently-run companies. Today’s movie production houses, however, are merely cogs in greater multinational corporate machines.
To complicate matters, Pollack explains, film studios are often less profitable than other divisions of these multinationals.
“The multinational corporations make in their other divisions repeatable products,” he says. “The repeatable products stand or fall on the basis of marketing so that philosophy has slid over into the movie business.”
Which Pollack feels is why studios now rely so heavily on the major franchises such as Spider-Man, Harry Potter and the Mission: Impossible films.
“You have a semi-known product that you can do variations on, like a soft drink or a tire or food. Then you can market the hell out of it.”
But the current movie-going landscape isn’t all doom and gloom in Pollack’s estimation. He points to smaller studio divisions such as Fox’s Fox Searchlight, Warner Bros.’ Warner Independent and Paramount Films’ Paramount Classics as catering to niche filmmakers who want to continue to make the character-driven movies that defined the pre-corporatization of Tinseltown.
He feels that Oscar season is a perfect example of the growing chasm between studio divisions that focus on tent-pole films and those that cater to the artistic sensibilities of filmmakers.
As in 2005, this year’s list of best picture nominees — The Queen, Babel, The Departed, Letters From Iwo Jima and Little Miss Sunshine — seem to back Pollack’s assessments.
“That’s what happened last year, all the movies that were nominated (for Oscars) were not the main studio movies, they were the classic divisions, but every once in a while one of those big studio movies is pretty damn good and it gets nominations, too.”