Why Hollywood fails to connect movie stars to filmmakers

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Jim Carrey Says He’s Done Acting After ‘Sonic 2,’ But Are Named Actors Getting the Right Material?

This week, anyone invested in the entertainment industry should follow recent developments regarding a major Hollywood player whose three decades of success may be coming to an end.

That actor, of course, is…Jim Carrey.

As Will Smith’s slap in the face continues to reverberate through popular culture, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” has made its way to theaters, with Carrey’s return as mustache-twirling gonzo villain Dr. Robotnik serving most likely from his swan song. In an Access Hollywood interview promoting the release, Carrey said he was “pretty serious” about retirement, attributing the decision to his “quiet life” as a painter. It would be a loss for many filmmakers whose work could benefit from his involvement, and raises questions about why he hasn’t been associated with the kind of opportunities that could keep him engaged – that is, say the work of young directors and original ideas.

Carrey tried. Showtime canceled its most ambitious venture of the past decade, “Kidding,” and its weak stab in 2018’s murder mystery “Dark Crimes” fell flat. “Sonic” and its sequel deliver the financial goods but almost certainly lack some creative sustenance. If projects don’t deliver and paychecks can sustain a modest existence without having to stay relevant, who’s to judge?

Losing Carrey would also mean one less major player who could help up-and-coming filmmakers. In theory, there’s a reciprocal relationship between veteran talent who needs liberating material and fledgling directors whose funding needs a top name. It is Adam Sandler who realizes, at a turning point in his career, that he needed the Safdie brothers and “Uncut Gems” as much as they and the project needed him. He still does, in between his parade of Netflix lowbrow efforts: Sources tell me that Sandler and the Safdies are already planning another project.

Who are Ben and Josh Safdie from Carrey? Rather than throwing in the towel, he should be looking for someone new to wrap him around.

It could still happen. In his interview for Access Hollywood, the actor said he might consider another gig “if the angels bring some sort of script written in gold ink that tells me it’s going to be very important for people to see”.

Suppose the “angel” in this case is WME’s Dan Aloni, Carrey’s agent of several years, who did not respond when I reached out this week to discuss the actor’s decision. Aloni juggles a dense roster of clients, so he may not see every festival with an amazing new storyline. Most big Hollywood agents aren’t looking for low-budget opportunities for their clients. One, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, said that at least one of the big three agencies had a policy against considering any project under $2 million. . (Note: The “Moonlight” Best Picture winner’s budget was $1.5 million.)

Carrey took a wild swing with his wordless performance as a desert-dwelling nomad in Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Bad Batch.” It signaled an actor’s inclinations ready to get weird with edgy filmmakers on the same page. Carrey has brought his unique brand of craziness to previously more adventurous material with a rather impressive lineup that includes ‘The Truman Show’, ‘Man on the Moon’, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless of the Mind’ and ‘I Love You Phillip’. Morris,” but it was “The Bad Batch” that hinted at bolder experimental leanings: In this movie, he’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. If only he could tap into that potential more.

For now, anyone who appreciates Carrey’s penchant for heartbreak-tinged slapstick has to settle for “Sonic 2.” Even in a throwaway cash grab, her unique screen presence stands out. Yes, I Endured It: Amid a sophomore storyline and CGI that appeals to kids who’d rather play the game, Carrey channels an eerie mix of Jacques Tati and German Expressionism. He’s a dynamic blur of energy begging for better filmmakers to shape him with fresh material.

Several agents have complained to me that they are dealing with a higher volume of film and television projects, actors pay minimal attention to new work. Instead, they trust these agents to act as filters and often don’t even bother to research filmmakers once new jobs are sent to them. Viggo Mortensen is said to have read every offer, while young stars like Riz Ahmed and Alicia Vikander pursue new work that generates buzz, but many would rather outsource this grueling process.

This often leads to big names in mediocre projects for bewildering reasons – often a hodgepodge of financiers and well-connected personalities who got their jobs in front of the right people. Most actors want to be paid well, but they also want to be taken seriously. It requires looking beyond paydays and in-between dramas to riskier options.

Actors – not just their representatives – would benefit from experiencing the most exciting new cinema in its early stages of gestation, aka the festival circuit. It was a screening at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival where Frances McDormand saw Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider,” reportedly saying “Who the hell is Chloe Zhao?” as the credits roll, and sought her out for “Nomadland”. Even Smith’s “King Richard” director Reinaldo Marcus Green came out of a meeting at the festival, when Jada Pinkett Smith saw Green’s “Monsters and Men” at Sundance and recommended it for the gig.

As for the Safdies, the enthusiasm of actors who seek them out for opportunities — Timothee Chalamet and Pete Davidson among them — reflects more than just an appreciation for “Good Time.” So few auteur visions reach actors at this level. For that to happen more often, actors need to see more movies.

Nicolas Cage’s upcoming “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has him doing another press spin on how he justified a hodgepodge of forgettable VOD titles because the money got him out of a financial hole. Amidst his very particular swings, he worked with Panos Cosmatos on “Mandy” and Paul Schrader on “Dog Eat Dog.” This led to the critically acclaimed “Pig” and now, her first starring role in a studio film in over a decade. A true cinephile, Cage realized he could leverage his exposure to make thought-provoking films and the move won him a new generation of fans.

“Mandy”

Everett-Collection / Everett-Collection

However, actors are often not the best arbiters of which projects match their strengths. A well-known comedian once told me that he was more inclined to take on roles that offered a challenge that could keep him engaged — say, an accent or a change in tone — rather than the director’s pedigree. Who’s had time to watch all those new movies, anyway?

While actors don’t always care which opportunities suit them best, there’s a lot of finger-pointing about how to engage them with better material. Agents say filmmakers early in their careers need to think about how to speed up that process with a manager or producer who can show up in front of a big agency, or a respected casting director (often quoted: Francine Maisler).

Responsibility also rests with established administrators. If, for example, David Fincher tells his agent he’s willing to serve as an executive producer on a newcomer’s project, that involvement could also help attract stars.

But there aren’t many. Agencies continue to be dominated by establishment numbers, and no one cares more about a career than the person who owns it – not even someone who takes 10%. There’s no substitute for an actor willing to scour festivals for future collaborators, but the next generation of agents (among them, people who begged me not to put their names in this story) are eager to sound out the lineup. Cannes next week for the possibilities. Strengthening those voices is good business; The cinematic talent that creates a singular work could prevent named actors from turning into punchlines.

Could festivals organize their programming to offer VIP satellite screenings in the best agencies for the most promising debuts? Perhaps the big three should have an ultra-exclusive “actor festival” attended only by their peers. These pie-in-the-sky possibilities may hold the key for players investing serious equity in substantial projects. Everyone has an interest in filling the gap here: the filmmakers jostling for their next chapter, the projects needing bankable stars, and the actors themselves.

And on that note, I guess we should speaks to Will Smith. As he settles into a decade of being banned from Academy events and sees more high-profile projects put on the back burner, he might consider fledgling filmmakers who would like to cash in on his talent. His name has more than enough value to carry out certain projects. I know a few filmmakers who might be willing to look past the drama and put it back to work when it could use the vote of confidence and do some good for the community in the process.

Or maybe the real challenge is that the industry isn’t asking enough of agencies and actors to pursue better projects. I encourage knowledgeable readers to challenge my assumptions and share their own solutions to the gap between high profile players and emerging talent: eric@indiewire.com

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