Directing a movie has become much, much harder in the past 10 or 12 years due to a number of new and old foes, according to Bruce Beresford, who has experienced his fair share of trench warfare in a career that has spanned 27 feature films.
The veteran filmmaker identifies the newest enemy to a director's creativity as the increasing trend to shooting digitally, which means virtually everyone connected with a movie can offer unsolicited opinions during production.
The other bugbears, he said in a keynote speech at the recent FCCI Frames conference in Mumbai, are ignorant sales agents, the big talent agencies which try to package movies exclusively with stars from their roster, and meddlesome distributors.
The director has just experienced first-hand one of these obstacles with his latest film, Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding, a comedy about an uptight New York lawyer (Catherine Keener) who visits her hippie mother (Jane Fonda) in Woodstock after her marriage breaks down.
Beresford discovered the US distributor, IFC Films, is recutting the film without his involvement or permission before its debut in June.
“The distributor is making changes and I don't even know what they are,” he told SBS Film.” I found out by chance. The film company told the producers that 'we either make the changes or we don't show it.' That happens on a lot of films.”
In his view sales agents to a large extent have supplanted casting directors as some producers increasingly rely on their opinions on which actors to cast in order to finance a film. “Little attention is paid to suitability for the roles under discussion, which accounts for the numerous examples of miscasting in so many current films,” he said.
“Sales agents may know who is currently popular – not exactly a difficult assessment – but they are notoriously bad at pinpointing the up and coming stars.”
During his career Beresford has often wanted to cast an actor before he or she became famous but was overruled. He was keen to cast Michael Fassbender in an English film five years ago, before the actor's breakthrough in Hunger; he wanted Daniel Day Lewis to play the title role in 1985's King David (the studio insisted on Richard Gere); and he had Sarah Jessica Parker in mind for the lead role in 1996's Last Dance, which went to Sharon Stone.
Every US studio rejected Beresford's choice of Morgan Freeman to play the chauffeur to Jessica Tandy's elderly Jewish character in 1989's Driving Miss Daisy and only the support of Canadian producer Jake Eberts made the film happen. Even now he shudders at the studios' preference: Eddie Murphy. He suggested Judy Davis for several films and was knocked back each time.
Explaining why the digital era poses problems for directors, Beresford said, “The introduction of digital filmmaking means that virtually everyone connected with a film, and all too many not connected, can instantly be given copies on disc or simply by email of all the filmed material. It's very easy to view this material at home or on an office desk, which means that snap judgments can be made by a large number of backroom meddlers.
“Further, the more technical of them can edit the scenes themselves on their own computers. It's then a simple matter to get in touch with the director, on a set or on location, and inundate him with comments about what he's shot along with advice on how to improve it.”
But he concludes, “Despite all these difficulties many fine films are made all over the world; there are great directors in every country, dedicated to their art and imbued with the spirit that conquers every obstacle.”
Beresford flew to London last week, followed by Los Angeles, for meetings on various projects. Among them are Taliesin, a film about fabled American architect Frank Lloyd Wright from writer Nicholas Meyer; Killer Instinct, based on Joseph Finder's novel about a young sales executive who's befriended by a former Special Forces officer and discovers he's caught up in a deadly game; and The House Gun, an adaptation of Nadine Gordimer's novel about an architect in South Africa whose son is accused of killing his housemate and is represented by a black lawyer.