Article on director Sam Mendes in Sunday Times
Posted 11 July 2002 - 01:38 PM
"Having run a theater for the last decade, Mendes, who is only 36, thinks like a studio head even when he's directing. Which means that he tries to win for both teams: commerce and art. "
"Mendes happily tests his films with preview audiences. 'With many directors, fear masquerades as confidence,'' he says. ''You have to have the courage to listen to the audience. If 200 out of 250 people say something didn't make sense, you have to consider their thoughts.'"
Is it possible to combine commerce and art, especially as consciously as Mendes proposes to do it? (In the case of "American Beauty," Mendes dumped the original more downbeat and cynical ending after test audiences didn't go for it, and substituted something more upbeat-- Spacey still gets blown away, but in transcendent fashion, and with a smile on his face.) I must say I quite enjoyed that second quote -- one reads about studios conducting hatchet work on their films because preview audiences responded negatively, but rarely do you see a director patting himself on the back for bravery for doing so, especially in public.
I wonder how this approach would work for, say, Godard. ("Jean-Luc, it's confusing and a downer. They get stuck in all this traffic for hours, and then she winds up snacking on her husband. We have to reshoot.")
Posted 11 July 2002 - 01:45 PM
And yet I always preferred Truffaut to Godard, finding the latter pretentious.
Obviously a disconnect going on there.
Now I'm with Mendes. There's a difference between, say, Dickens writing "A Tale of Two Cities" only to find his focus group wanted Sydney Carton to whip out a six shooter and blast them all to smithereens (oh, pfui on anachronisms, too) and then comply, and listen to what the viewers say and accommodate them while retaining a smidgen of his vision.
I think that the biggest lesson I learned writing book proposals to publishers, and then writing a book, was that one has to get over putting down everything one wants to say, and think, instead, of what the reader needs to know. I think that works in any art form.
Posted 11 July 2002 - 03:59 PM
I guess my feeling is this -- if you want to be popular and successful, that's fine. But don't make blatant artistic compromises for such reasons and then applaud yourself as if you've done something courageous. It's pretty clear that Mendes didn't think there was anything about the original ending of "American Beauty" that was not consonant with the theme of the film. The audience didn't like it. That was all, really.
Posted 11 July 2002 - 04:05 PM
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