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Lonely at the Top – A Director's Narcissism

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Not the director but the writer is film’s first artist, if for no other reason because she’s first. There’s no use for upscale stars, fancy effects, and sophisticated equipment without a worthy script.

- Richard Walter


Heave a sigh of relief.

If you’ve been losing sleep worrying about director Peter Berg, there’s good news. The box office success of his LONE SURVIVOR (based upon the novel by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson) seems to have resuscitated his career.

His summer 2012 disaster BATTLESHIP was reportedly the biggest sci-fi money loser in movie history. Berg was blamed for the debacle and became for a while persona non grata in Hollywood.

How can any movie studio have imagined that a picture based on a board game would turn out any other way? Berg is quoted as having said, “You should see it. It’s fun, but leave your brain outside the theater.”

BIKER BAR BOUNCER Some audience members have brains.

Respectfully, shouldn’t audiences leave their brains outside the theater every time they go to the movies? Movies are not for the brain but the heart. They’re not about thinking but feeling. If BATTLESHIP were truly ‘fun,’ wouldn’t larger audiences have seen it? Couldn’t the problem be that for all its fireball effects the movie isn’t fun at all but boring?

The same studio that produced BATTLESHIP spent a quarter-billion dollars releasing the wretched -- and wretchedly ignored – THE LONE RANGER. When THE LONE RANGER sank, the studio announced it would no longer produce original movies.

THE LONE RANGER is Disney’s idea of an original movie?

Seventy years ago it was a radio series. Sixty years ago it was a television series. It has also been a comic book series. There have been multiple LONE RANGER novels. Prior to Disney’s Johnny-Depp-as-Tonto iteration there were two feature-length theatrical releases.

According to The New York Times, the work Berg "loves most, and is best at, is making small films..." in order to resurrect his career, he decided to make what The Times characterized as a "...low-budgeted, emotionally powerful film...," LONE SURVIVOR. The Times goes on to report that Berg planned to make LONE SURVIVOR "...on the cheap. A 42-day shoot, a $40 million budget..."

Forty million dollars is Hollywood’s notion of ‘on the cheap.’ Half that much would cover all the student films made at UCLA since our school’s birth seventy years ago and into the next millennium.

The Times points out that with LONE SURVIVOR Berg “…was directing for scale, the minimum salary the Directors Guild would allow (which in this case was $17,000 a week)….”

A show of hands: how many readers of this column are willing to work for as little as $17,000 a week?

Berg was able to win a major studio’s approval to direct a high-budget blockbuster like BATTLESHIP due to the success of (again from The Times) “..his first foray into big-summer-movie mode, HANCOCK, starring Will Smith...” which took in $600 million at the box office. Regarding BATTLESHIP, Berg explains again to The New York Times, “I discounted the effect of Will Smith on HANCOCK’s success. I thought I could pull off BATTLESHIP without a big star.”

Is there a shred of evidence that it was Will Smith’s presence in HANCOCK that accounts for the picture’s success? Has Berg not heard of AFTER EARTH, the 2013 Will Smith starrer that brought in receipts worldwide totaling eleven dollars and forty cents?

Do big stars truly deliver audiences? If so, what star is bigger than Johnny Depp? If superstars mean anything, why did THE LONE RANGER tank?

Is there the slightest possibility that HANCOCK’s box office triumph is due to the fact that it was written by a pair of Vinces: Ngo and Gilligan? The latter is, of course, the genius behind the timeless and incomparable BREAKING BAD.

Not all battleships deliver their payloads.

Can Peter Berg seriously expect anyone to take him seriously when he suggests that BATTLESHIP would have succeeded big time if the cast had been led by Will Smith? He volunteers, “I thought I could pull off BATTLESHIP without a big star...” he says. He couldn’t afford one, however, because the budget was a mere—are you ready?--$200.000.000 (Two. Hundred. Million. Dollars).

I forgive Berg for his disrespect. He’s merely a director and doesn’t know any better. What infuriates me is The Times. How could so distinguished a publication print such drivel?

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