Leslie Nielsen has died.
His performances in the ZAZ movies meant the world to me as a kid, and it was a true honor to work with him. Ever the professional, there was nothing he wouldn’t do. Didn’t matter how old he was, didn’t matter how physical the gag.
I thought today of the things I asked him to do. Spit milk at school children. Walk around nearly naked in front of an auditorium full of hundreds of people. Punch an old lady in the face. Climb into a coffin with a beautiful young woman and squeeze her breasts.
He did it all without ever complaining. Particularly that last one.
Leslie Nielsen wasn’t a natural comedian. He didn’t get into show business to be a clown. It was his unclown-ness that made him so great. I can’t tell you why certain lines were only funny if Leslie said them. All I know is that they were. When we wrote lines for Leslie, we knew they were “Leslie” lines, unperformable by any other human.
No one else could get away with it.
Leslie’s characters could be stupid, insane, proud, delusional, racist, violent, sexist… and people loved him anyway, perhaps because he played a deadpan dementia that made you excuse every word that came out of his mouth.
And yet, when the cameras weren’t rolling, he wasn’t a clown at all (well, there’s the matter of his famous “fart machine,” which someone will no doubt pull out at his funeral). He was a gentleman, a man’s man from an era that’s sadly bygone. Even in his old age, he was tall, broad and strong. He treated everyone with kindness. It didn’t matter that I was the new guy. It didn’t matter that I was the four thousandth director that had come and gone for him. It didn’t matter that he had achieved more in his career than I could ever hope to in ten lifetimes.
It didn’t matter that I asked him to do and say things no octagenarian should do or say.
He was respectful and professional, and he always tried. Leslie never phoned in anything.
I will miss him and anyone who worked with him will miss him, but more importantly, comedy will miss him. People can imitate him, but no one can bring that magical insanity he had. We lost one of the all-time greats today. I can only hope he’s in heaven with that Laplander…
And thank you.
Via commenter Coltrane…
Recently, Amazon launched “Amazon Studios,” a strange mashup of contest/development/crowd-sourcing designed to help filmmakers “break in” by getting noticed, winning money and even having their movies released by Warner Brothers.
It’s a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad deal.
Well, let me amend that.
It’s a GREAT deal if your script stinks and your movie shouldn’t get made. Under those circumstances, someone’s reading your crap, maybe even helping you with your crap, and perhaps as a result of human fallibility, you might even get some money for your crap.
But if your script is GOOD? If you’re actually talented? If you have real potential as a writer, director or filmmaker?
Bad, bad, bad, bad deal.
How is it bad? Let us count the ways.
I can’t say it better than John August did, so I’ll just summarize. Works of authorship are special because they’re not crowd-sourced. It’s a ridiculous misapplication of new thinking. I like progress, but crowd-sourcing is a tool, and you need the right tool for the right job.
Here’s where Amazon kind of disgusts me. They put this whole “Hollywood is old and lame, and we’re the new hotness” vibe out there. In their intro video, their hip spokesman with the spiky haircut is an inclusive, welcoming voice. Hollywood is represented by a fat old Jew at a desk.
Funny thing, though. The actual terms of Amazon’s “studio” are so much worse than those offered by Hollywood studios, it’s grotesque.
First off, forget about unions. Amazon ain’t into it. Not the WGA, not the DGA.
Next, let’s talk about their option. When you submit material to Amazon–say, a script–they have an exclusive option on the script for 18 months. During that 18 months, they can do whatever they want with your script. They can change it, smash it together with other scripts… and of course, make a movie from it, or commission a book, or any other derivative work.
You know what else they get to do? They get to sell your material. They can sell your script to customers. If you submit a movie, they can sell that too. Oh, but that’s not just for 18 months.
That’s FOREVER. They have a permanent right to sell that stuff. After 18 months it’s not an exclusive right, but good luck competing with Amazon, friend-o.
And if you’re not American, you have to waive your droit moral anyway, so don’t think about gettin’ fancy with copyright, foreigners!
But okay… what do you GET for all of this?
You get nothing. The option is frickin’ FREE, and the upside is capped. In Hollywood, if you option a script, it’s hopefully for something. Even a dollar. But the good news is that if the script sells to a studio, the marketplace sets the ceiling. You could get a hundred grand… or four million dollars.
Not in Amazon-ville. In Amazon-ville, you option your script for NOTHING, and the option buy-out is $200K. And when you get that 200K, my brothers and sisters, Amazon owns that script lock-stock-and-barrel for ever, just the way a studio would.
Okay, okay, but what if they make the movie?
NO GUARANTEES. Not a dime. In fact, the only way you get a penny more is if the film grosses $60M in the U.S. (not North America, btw, which is standard for domestic B.O. calcuations). If it hits $60M, you get a bonus of $400K.
Let me put this as plainly as I can: if your screenplay was good enough to be distributed by Warner Brothers and subsequently sell enough tickets to hit $60M at the box office, YOU DID NOT NEED AMAZON, and YOU SHOULD HAVE MADE MORE THAN $600K.
But wait. It’s even worse than that.
CREDITS AND RESIDUALS AND HEALTH CARE AND PENSION
Zero, zero, zero and zero. Here’s what Amazon says about credits.
We will determine in our sole discretion your credit, if any, in any film or other work we develop or produce that arises out of the Property, taking into account the guidelines set forth in the WGA Basic Agreement. Our determinations of credit will be final. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the WGA Basic Agreement does not apply to this Option Agreement. We are not a signatory to the WGA Basic Agreement.In other words, we’ll tell YOU what the credits are gonna be, bub. Now piss off.
Residuals? None provided. Health care? Pension? None provided.
Bottom line? This deal is unfair to writers, and it’s an obvious end-run around the basic union protections we have in place for professionals in this business. If you take this deal, you are a sucker. Amazon may want to present themselves as a cool alternative to the closed-off crusty, regressive Hollywood model, but this is the movie business, folks.
Things aren’t what they seem.
If someone at Amazon reads this and thinks I’ve gotten the facts wrong, I’m more than happy to host a back-and-forth with them here. From where I’m sitting, the deal they’re offering looks awful.
One more thing.
Some of you might think, “Hey, another Hollywood jerk badmouthing one of the few alternative ways in that we have.” First, I maintain that if you’re good enough to succeed with Amazon Studios, you’re good enough to succeed without them.
Secondly, the “access” that Amazon is dangling in front of people isn’t free, or even cheap. It comes at the cost of a fair market price for your work, credit protections and residuals. It hollows out the core benefits that the WGA has fought for and won over the course of decades, and it does so glibly, as if a pension or credit for your work are old-school shizz that cool kids don’t bother with.
Amazon isn’t doing this because they give a damn about you or your access.
They’re doing it because it affords them unlimited upside with very limited downside. Perfect situation for a corporation.
Perfect situation to avoid for a writer.