When A-Lists play Director

Opening remarks: To be completely honest, since joining in September, I have found Twitter is a great way to stay in the loop as an emerging indie in 140 characters or less once you get past its surface appearance of being just another addictive site with butchered english and random updates of strangers’ lives. I highly recommend it as long as you follow the smart folks in the room. 

It’s not necessarily a new thing that Hollywood actors – young and old- take a turn behind the camera directing. Clint Eastwood’s been doing it for decades and both the Hollywood and indie community just roll with. However, today is the new “Twitter” wave of filmmaking, where all things celluloid-related are spread by hashtag. When new Hollywoodites like James Franco decide to enroll in NYU film school, I might know what his first film is about before his mom.

So what’s the big difference between Clint’s “Million Dollar Baby” and Franco wanting to pick up a Bolex? In my personal opinion, it’s about longevity. Perhaps in the scope of a truly versed actor-director, one must make damn sure you’re great at one of the two careers first.

This year, two shorts by Hollywood’s young blood actors taking on the directors chair caught my eye (via Twitter hashtag, of course). The first was MANIAC by “Transformers” franchise playboy Shia LaBeouf. The other was KAYLIEN by recent space traveling-blue lady-action blockbuster star Zoe Saldana.

MANIAC was hard to digest, to the say the least.My immediate reaction was to the gruesome unflinching portrayal of violence in the black and white docu-style piece. Maybe Shia just needs a hug or perhaps he really wanted to switch up America’s association with his actor persona. Although, honestly with the roles he’s taken, I’m not sure he ever really had one. Remember when he was just crazy Louis from Disney’s “Even Stevens”? While LaBeouf only briefly pulls a Hitchcock moment on-screen, the film’s star seems to be raptor (rapper-actor) Kid Cudi from the recently cancelled “How To Make it in America” TV show on HBO.

The strategist in me does wonder however the difference in the method celebs decide to send their shorts out to the masses. Zoe Saldana’s short KAYLIEN was clearly curated, produced and designed specifically for Glamour Magazine’s annual A-list women direct shorts campaign titled “Reel Moments”. Saldana was brought in only as the director.

I thought the premise of Saldana’s film was very intriguing as it shows a young protagonist with autism as a literal alien in her world. Unfortunately, unlike Kid Cudi’s transformation in MANIAC, I didn’t really buy Bradley Cooper or Malin Akerman as Kaylien’s parents in the short. Judy Reyes from “Scrubs” and “Gun Hill Road” added much-needed depth/commitment on-screen in her role as the intolerant school teacher.

I’m definitely not trying to play film critic here and in fact, film analysis was my least favorite class. I’m interested in strategy and who the gamechangers in this industry. At the end of the day, my question is are these actors dipping in the director pool for publicity or are they discovering an appreciation for a new craft? Maybe both? Proceeds from each view of Saldana’s film went to the charity, Actors for Autism. MANIAC, however just came out of nowhere, got buzz and kinda dimmed. As a recent film grad, I first look at the method behind the madness. Commenters across the blogosphere were actually dissecting, appreciating and critiquing Shia’s film from every angle. Zoe’s short, on the other hand, was very unique, relevant to a social issue, but nothing groundbreaking cinema wise.

I advise folks to watch both shorts. See that they are just learning too. I’m very curious how this will affect the future short films of the average Joe/Jane still, as I fall into that category myself. Is it fair that Zoe and Shia (and Franco, but that’s a whole ‘nother post) have an A-list advantage? Did MANIAC trend so quickly online because it was good or because it had Shia’s name on it? Why couldn’t an unknown female have been brought to direct KAYLIEN with the same resources such as Hollywood actors and online curation by a popular women’s magazine read by thousands. And most of all, at the end of the day, does anyone really care if these new young actor-directors are even any good?

Shorts are how a lot of us get our start in the film game. If now we are expected to compete with Hollywood stars to get even ten minutes of web space, what’s next? I’m not worried though. I say that the indies can actually learn from the tactics used by these million dollar folks to build our own A-List personas one well-crafted project at a time.  Because as one wise person once tweeted “Once in a while substance trumps flash.” I say let’s make that a hashtag to trend for the indie in 2012.

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