It Must Suck to be a Studio Executive

I am about to put the final touches on my DVD review for Deliverance and there is one thing that director John Boorman says about the film and its creation that really struck a cord with me. In the final feature of the four-part documentary he says the following:

In the ’70s studios depended on directors and gave them an enormous amount of power. When I made Deliverance there was no notes from the studio, we didn’t preview it – no sneak previews, no audience cards and things. Today this kind of film would be made in a much different way, but the ’70s were a period of originality and daring and we were free from censorship largely, for the first time. That’s something that’s often not taken into account. There were all sorts of possibilities available to us that hadn’t been before.”

This quote says so much about the state of movies today and this latest news out of the UK’s Daily Mail makes it all that much more relevant.

Word is that Warner Bros. has asked director Tim Burton to tone down the gore in the screen version of Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp. Apparently the studio executives became a tad squeamish when they viewed grisly footage of blood splashing across the set as Depp slits the throats of his customers in the movie, based on Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical.

Word is that a scene that particularly bothered the studio bosses was when they saw a ten-year-old boy cutting up body parts, which were then thrown into a meat grinder and turned into mince.

Bringing it back to Deliverance for a second, Boorman mentions the censors being a bit unhappy with a particular death scene in which one of the hillbillies takes an arrow through the chest. Know what he said, “We fought it, and the studio backed me up. Eventually I ended up cutting six frames, which is one-quarter of a second. That was all we changed.”

One-quarter of a second! The movie is still an R-rated movie and the rape/abduction scene in that flick is still considered one of the most controversial of all-time, and guess what, it is a Warner Bros. movie!

What does Warner Bros. want to do now, now that it is the year 2007 and we must be shielded from such violence? They want to turn Sweeney Todd into a PG-13 affair, not an R-rated effort for adults.

Here’s the deal, and tell me if you see PG-13 in this description, the film is about a “demon barber” played by Depp whose victims are sat in a mechanical chair, their throats are cut and as Johnny flicks a switch, the floor opens and they slide down a chute into the lair of Todd’s mistress, Mrs Lovett (the pie maker) played by Helena Bonham Carter. Yup, Mrs Lovett uses Todd’s ‘gifts’ to fill her meat pies.

The Daily Mail tells us that during filming at Pinewood studios, prosthetic lookalike limbs were used and they were so gruesomely lifelike that some of the crew became nauseous and had to take fresh air breaks. Sorry WB, I don’t see a PG-13 anywhere in what I am reading! Even more than that, why cut the fucking film and ruin Burton’s vision?

Too much of what Tim Burton has done has been watered down, and despite the creepy factor in some of his recent films we haven’t seen a good bit of gore from the visually capable helmer since Sleepy Hollow in 1999, a film I actually quite enjoy even though I know it isn’t a popular title for most. I would much rather see a duplicate rating reason for Sweeney Todd as I did with Sleepy Hollow (Rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality) rather than see “Rated PG-13 for some sequences of action/violence,” like we did for his mess of a film called Planet of the Apes.

Burton has vision and it is about time we saw it, leave the movie alone and stop fucking with creativity. The movie industry is so hell bent on making films “accessible to the widest range of audiences” that they forget they are making art in many cases. If all the studio execs didn’t put their fingers in other people’s work and just allowed them to do the job they were hired to do I get the feeling we would see much better films in theaters.

Why does it suck to be a studio exec? Obviously the money is probably pretty damn good, but you have to reach in and grab a director’s heart until he/she submits to your wishes, even if it means he/she has to put his/her name on something that doesn’t resemble their original vision (example). What a shitty way to leave an impression.


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