The Weinsteins, when they founded Miramax, were known for seeking out bright new talent, from Kevin Smith to Quentin Tarantino (my dislike of Tarantino is really beside the point right now). They built the studio with a boutique approach. Check out the excellent book Quick And Dirty Pictures to really get behind the scenes. I have commented to friends that my problem with screenwriting was that I started at the worst possible time, just as indie film was being co-opted by major studios and redefined not as something unique that was done but as its own genre with the pretension that comes with such a thing. In other words, there's no room for people like me, you have to be plugged into an already existing compay that already has an in.
Here's the proof: the image here on the right is for the new movie poster for Apollo 18. For those who don't know, the Apollo 18 mission is the stuff of urban legend. Supposedly, the flight did actually occur, and astronauts found evidence of alien life or visitors, ran like hell back to Earth, and the whole thing was hushed up. Using a little logic, the kind that reveals "moon landing hoax" believers to be a bunch of idiots, this is obviously bullshit. However, it does make a neat set up for a movie in a Capricorn One kind of way (a movie that has lots of detractors but I actually enjoyed it).
So what's my bitch? The movie is going to be shot faux documentary style. The narative will be told with that horrible new hoary cliche, "found footage." Folks, I loved The Blair Witch Project (yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh, I'll wait). I also got a kick out of last year's Paranormal Activity. But...
You want to know what the problem is? 'Cause I'm gonna tell you what the problem is. "Found footage" is a gimmick, and no one gets what it takes to make it work. Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity used it to create an atmosphere of "in the moment," that events are happening around you. But for that to work, you have to buy in. You can't be aware you are watching a movie for it to work. Without being sold on the illusion, the whole thing falls apart.
In writing, there are two ways to hit the audience. One is to dazzle them, the other is to connect with them emotionally. The clearest distinction is the programming on Lifetime ("Television For Women") and Spike ("The First Network For Men"). These two know their demographics and what they want to watch. Lifetime shows movies that try for emotional undercurrents, bringing viewers into the stories with, "I know how she feels, I'd react the exact same way". Spike shows movie that feature awesome shit, either through stunt spectaculars or what we movie buffs refer to as "The 4 B's" -- bullets, boobs, bombs, and Bruce Willis. As Ken Begg points out, any of these things can make for an entertaining movie, as long as they don't become the singular, obsessive focus.
This illustrates the problem with found footage movies. You have to really suspend your disbelief that characters will behave the way they do, complete with how they operate the camera. One of the things that ruins porn movies for me is when the actress, in the middle of a scene, moves her hair aside so that the camera and not the guy she's with can see her better. It's one of those moments that screams awareness that it's just a movie (once again, it's never so who she's with can see her better, it's for the viewers). The subtler shocks and quietly building panic of The Blair Witch Project used this perfectly because of its tropes, including one character using the camera to verbally attack the director for getting them into this. Paranormal Activity sidesteps most of the problems because it's basically one of those YouTube "ghost caught on tape" videos writ large -- using a security system set-up, it's just a question of finding out what is happening at the moment and disregarding the rest. Other films blow this (I made it partway through Cloverfield before I left. I just couldn't take all the 9/11 metaphors and references. It's the same thing that chased me out of Spielberg's War Of The Worlds). But the bigger the event, you start asking question. And the project, like Apollo 18, starts taking on aspects that you aren't sure they can pull off.
Now, it is possible, if they do their focus right. H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds is a classic, but not of sci-fi. We now know how scientifically inaccurate it is, from launch travel through space instead of propulsion to the aliens somehow being unaware of bacteria. No no no, what makes the story so great is the fear. The despair. That not only is there nothing that can be done to stop mankind's extermination, mankind is still ultimately helpless, saved not by its own spirit and ingenuity (Independence Day) but by a simple quirk of nature. War Of The Worlds is a horror story, and is why it still resonates today. It's not the science that he got right, it's the hopelessness and terror.
But to make such a thing work takes talent. And movies are not being made with talent anymore. They are assembled from a list of things that test well with audiences so that the studio that is coughing up a kajillion dollars for this turkey will at least get its money back. And also, if possible, to jump on the bandwagon or show so and so that they were wrong to think they didn't make something a hit (this is why Percy Jackson And The Olympians became a Harry Potter retread. Seriously. Watch the movie and count how many similarities you can find). It's not about good stories anymore.
And that's the disappointment. I used to love Miramax films, and knew that, more often than not, I would enjoy a movie with their brand. But now, I see what they are planning for Apollo 18 and wonder what happened to them. They are making a movie like everyone else. A great company and a great concept.
And a lot of missed potential.