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[Article] – The Snowman And The Filmmaker’s Hiatus

 

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Posted November 12, 2017 by

 
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The Snowman marks the return of director Tomas Alfredson, six years after the acclaimed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a rather long wait for a director who was then hot property, and the film has been met with a severely frosty reception, with measly 8% on Rotten Tomatoes, not to mention barely matching its budget in box-office receipts. The gap between Alfredson’s projects and the subsequent failure of The Snowman is a huge crux in a promising career, but when filmmakers endure lengthy break between films, is it always detrimental to their efforts, do they run the risk of becoming obsolete?

These kinds of hiatus’s can happen for any number of reasons, it may be a self-enforced break, projects that break down over creative differences or maybe the phone just isn’t ringing, being away from the limelight for an extended period suggests that a filmmaker has had to endure the cinematic wilderness, but is a longer break necessary for creative development? How does it compare to churning out films year in year out like clockwork.

When directors used to be contracted to studios, they would crank out films at their behest; the waiting period between projects was minimal, but now that directing is essentially freelance work (unless working within their own studio) with contracts only existing for mutually agreed upon projects, the gaps can grow. Breaks between films often reach four or five years, sometimes over a decade for some directors, even when following a great success, like Tinker Tailor.

The famously reclusive Bennett Miller can hardly be described as prolific having only directed another two films since his feature debut Capote in 2005, but those three films have garnered an incredible sixteen Oscar nominations between them, including two best director nominations for Miller. His success has not been diminished by producing at a snails pace, the same can be said of Paul Thomas Anderson, who only made three films between 2002-2012, but all were critical success, with There Will Be Blood being many critics pick for the best film of the 21st century.

Stanley Kubrick and James Cameron widen the gap even further, Kubrick’s films gradually grew further apart as his career progressed, a full twelve years passed between Full Metal Jacket and his final feature Eyes Wide Shut, a figure matched by Cameron with Titanic and Avatar. These gaps often represent a creative development period, for ideas that need time to develop, Kubrick famously poured through as many books as he could get his hands on to find inspiration, and in Cameron’s case the time was needed for technological advancements.

Though in all these director’s cases of prolonged gestation, they haven’t had to contend with failure, Kubrick may have courted continued controversy and Anderson has never had a film gross over $100 million, but nothing that could amount to a failure, there are more relatable cases to Alfredson’s. Terry Gilliam has had a notoriously tough time getting films made throughout his career, having only completed eleven (soon to be twelve) features in a forty-year period, his reputation for demanding complete creative control has often made studios wary of working with him, and became particularly damaging around The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. The film may not have gotten as damaging results as The Snowman, but only grossed a paltry $8 million, due to a botched release by studio Columbia Tri-Star, coupled with stories of a tumultuous production saw Gilliam turn into kryptonite.

This led to Gilliam making the more down to earth The Fisher King in order to reassert himself a director, and despite the film being a success; Gilliam has never been able to shake his reputation, continually struggling to attract funding for projects, and to get them released, though this can no doubt be attributed to Gilliam’s staunch reluctance to conform to a studio sensibility. Jacques Tati, another filmmaker with a slight back catalogue, only six films in twenty-five years, met catastrophic failure with Playtime. A full eight years after Mon Oncle, which won the Academy award for best foreign language film, Playtime was a gargantuan production, a huge cinematic experiment, all captured in 70mm film, that importantly didn’t offer the audience pleasing experiences of Les Vacances De M. Hulot or Mon Oncle. Despite good critical reception, the film was a huge financial disaster in its native France and didn’t even get released in the U.S. for another five years; the film created such problems that Tati eventually had to file for bankruptcy, and his career never really recovered, only completed another two features up until his death, like Gilliam he was director who would only work in his own signature style.

It is worth noting that Alfredson is not working in his first language, Tinker Tailor being his English language debut, there are other directors who have struggled when it comes to adapting to the ‘Hollywood’ system, such as Fernando Meirelles. After the staggering City Of God, which earned him an Oscar nomination for best director – a rare feat for a foreign language film – Meirelles made the jump to English with The Constant Gardener, another success, but his next features began to see a downturn. Blindness was met with muted response both critically and commercially, but 360 fared even worse, with on 20% on Rotten Tomatoes and an embarrassing $1.7 million gross. Since City Of God, Meirelles has had three-year gaps between each of his films, leaving him in a similar position to Alfredson, only being able to boast a very scant filmography despite having been working for over a decade.

Following 360 Meirelles has gone back to working in his native Brazil, branching out into television and producing, even working on the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympic games. Going back to Sweden to find work may have to be a realistic alternative for Alfredson, if the fallout fro the Snowman proves to be that damaging, though with the wealth of Scandinavian dramas at the moment, it may offer short-term success. Perhaps jumping headfirst back into work would be a good move right now, directors like Gilliam show that it is possible to recover from failures and retain your cinematic personality, but it hardly offers a lucrative career.

Directors are often asked during press for a current project what’s up next for them, many will say they want to stick there head in the sand for the next six months, but for some work is a constant cycle. Clint Eastwood and Ridley Scott seem to keep themselves perpetually busy, but the real workaholic is Wood Allen, who has directed forty-seven films since his debut in 1966. Such a heavy workload seemed to benefit Allen for a long time; he didn’t direct a badly received film until Shadows And Fog in 1992, but more recently reception has been more varied, with the split between good and bad being fairly even. Criticisms levied at Allen’s worse films are often the project feels rushed or undercooked, and given that recently Allen has averaged a film a year, the short turnaround time did not work in his favour, and his latest – Wonder Wheel – has certainly been victim of this.

The film has been a critical flop, and the rumours surrounding Allen after the Weinstein scandal have led to distributors putting it on the back burner, but this has not dented Allen’s methodology, with his latest already in post-production. Though as with many of his films is it produced through his sisters production company, in light of the events surrounding Wonder Wheel it will be interesting to see how it is picked up for distribution. Ridley Scott is another who works through a family production company – Scott Free – a means that will always guarantee work, but like Allen, Scott has seen varied results from a relentless approach to work. The Martian has been Scott’s only unanimous success of the past decade and his return to the Alien franchise has divided fans and critics alike, though all seem to agree that the newer excursions cannot capture the essence of the original.

Scott’s approach to work is synonymous with his recent output, fast paced and tautly edited, a far cry from his style when he made films like The Duellists and Blade Runner, which were given room to breath, it is unlikely that his newer working mantra could have turned Blade Runner 2049 into the critical darling it has become, which unlike Prometheus or Covenant has been deemed as a worthy successor to its predecessor. Another director suffering from franchise fatigue is Michael Bay who has helmed five entries in the Transformers series in only ten years, as well as finding time to direct other critically mauled films in the mean time, though maybe all the time in the world couldn’t develop a good Transformers film, Bay’s approach has only seen the series worsen in quality as it continues to progress.

Churning out films at a breakneck speed seems to invariably lead to mixed results; there are not many who can boast wall-to-wall success, perhaps only a Steven Spielberg’s calibre can maintain a higher level of quality with less development time, remarkably Spielberg’s last unanimously badly received film was Hook in 1991 (Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull had it defenders.) The whirlwind nature of production can often devour the best of intentions and punish underdeveloped projects, ironically for Alfredson; The Snowman was rushed into production despite the time since Tinker Tailor and this is the kind of experience he will not want to repeat, but no doubt he will want to excise any memory of the film. Both methods of working have there downfalls, spending longer to focus on creative development may bring a better final product for Alfredson, but can he really afford any more time away, the goodwill surrounding his earlier career may not last for ever, another six-year hiatus surely would not be beneficial. And jumping right back in may a quicker way to dispel the negative fallout, but runs the risk of again suffering a frantic production, perhaps the biggest positive for Alfredson is that with such a catastrophic failure like The Snowman, any follow up will be an improvement, he is to good of a director to sink even lower, and hopefully the film will end up a slight anomaly on what should remain a promising career.

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Sam May
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