Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Should an Artist Take a Stand?

Okay, I'll admit it. I approached this trip with a lousy attitude. I focussed on all the negatives of business travel: crowded planes with sneezing, wheezing passengers; airport security lines; the two-hour-forty-minute flight; having to ask friends and neighbors for help; having to leave Tribble (my geriatric cat) at the vet, etc., etc.

While I was grousing, I forgot what a luxury it can be to walk away from your responsibilities--even if only for three days. I love having a king-sized bed to myself, having a maid and fresh fluffy towels every day, and finding the current edition of USA Today with my breakfast waiting at my door in the morning. I forgot my toothbrush (I left it out to dry while I was packing and walked out of the house without it). I called downstairs and the concierge sent up a complimentary new brush. I love it.

Tonight another of the conference attendees and I took the Metro to Dupont Circle, ate at La Tomate, a lovely Italian bistro, and spent an hour visiting an independent bookstore called Kramerbooks. The Metro got us back to the Marriott just before 10 PM.

This afternoon, I read an article in Monday's New York Times where an "artist" drew a line in the sand. See what you think about it.

The artist in question is Julie Taymor, the 54-year-old award-winning director who won two Tonys for her imaginative stage production of The Lion King and who was nominated for a best music Oscar for her lyrics to her film Frida. Taymor recently directed Across the Universe, a '60s love story set to the music of the Beatles and starring Evan Rachel Wood as an American who falls for a Brit. She made the movie for Joe Roth's production company Revolution Studios and for Sony.

Taymor finished shooting in 2005. After test audiences viewed her first cut (two hours and twenty minutes), Joe Roth complained that it was too long. She returned to the editing room, cut the film to 128 minutes (two hours, eight minutes)and delivered the new version to Revolution.

Without telling her about it, Roth took her film and edited it himself. "And last week Mr. Roth tested his cut of the film, which is about a half-hour shorter than Ms. Taymor’s."

Taymor is understandably upset by a producer editing her film. However, since she did not retain the "final cut" rights, the only choice left to her now is to ask for her name to be removed from the film. Such a dramatic move "could embarrass the studio and hurt the movie’s chances for a successful release." It is already six months past its original release date of September, 2006.

You'll understand Roth's reluctance to give a director the final cut after I tell you that the last time he did it was in 2003 with director Martin Brest's movie Gigli. Remember that little cinematic gem? Roth certainly does. That probably explains why he referred to Taymor's "hysteria . . . do[ing] the film an injustice."

Mr. Roth said he believed that the current tensions would be worked out, and that Ms. Taymor would find the best, final version of the film somewhere between his own and her last cut . . . Ms. Taymor herself struck a more conciliatory note in her statement: “I only hope that we will be able to complete the film we set out to make.”

I'll confess that, while I have some sympathy for Taymor, it's a little late to begin worrying about who gets the final word on the film cut. She's not a first-time director; she must have read the contract. I certainly remember swallowing hard when I read in my contract that my final edits had to be acceptable to my publisher.

I don't know if my "artistic vision" wasn't that important to me, or if my desire to see my story in print was stronger than that vision. All I know is that I was very clear early on who owned my story. It wasn't me; I'd sold it. And Taymor sold her artistic vision rights, too. I feel for her, but I also remember when Anne Rice acted out over Tom Cruise's selection as the lead character in her The Interview With a Vampire. She later ate those words.

The time to think about your artistic vision is BEFORE you sign the contract, not AFTER.

No comments: