September 23, 2007 06:14The Oxymoron Follies: Hollywood Reality
I'm all geared up for the new fall season, aren't you? It's not the new shows that are premiering, nor the old shows that have been renewed for another year. No, for me it's all about the crappy awful shows that aren't coming back ever again. Bon voyage, suckers!
On the tippy top of my list of shitcanned shows from this past year is On the Lot, the high-profile Steven Spielberg/Mark Burnett project billed as an effort to find Hollywood's next hot director. Would-be filmmakers from all over the world submitted their shorts for scrutiny, and a whole mess of them were selected to be on the new reality show. Most of them were destined to be cut as quickly and cruelly as possible in the opening rounds, with no time to do lunch between airplane meals on flights to and from L.A. It promised to be The Apprentice by way of the backstabbing film industry.
On the Lot sounded promising, until a couple of episodes in when it took a sharp left turn into American Idol territory. Suddenly, it was no longer about the strife and struggle of competing directors trying to get their shot list done before the sun went down. It was all about showing the end product. Each subsequent week turned into an hour-long short-film fest. And if you've ever been to a short-film fest in your life, you know it's like booking appointments with your dentist and your proctologist back to back. Most short films suck, and you end up sitting there, film after film, hoping at least one of them will have a halfway amusing fart joke to break the pretentious tension.
The assignments should never have been about making films in the first place. Anybody can make a goddamn movie. It won't necessarily turn out to be good, competent, or even watchable, but a monkey can point a camera and press a button. Browse Youtube if you don't believe me. No, there's nothing all that special or challenging about shooting a movie. It's actually working in the movie business that's the bitch.
Let me pitch the sort of assignment they should have gone with. One of the regular judges, Garry Marshall or Carrie Fisher, comes out at the top of the show to address the competitors. They're on location in the middle of nowhere, far from the safety of the studios. And they're told, "Your male lead is due on set in one hour. He's just woken up in a Las Vegas motel with a hangover, a dead hooker, and blood everywhere. Your tools for this assignment are a Geo with half a tank of gas, a bottle a bleach, a shovel, and the vast Nevada desert. Go put out the fire."
Now THAT'S going to prepare them for work in the film industry. I wanted to watch these bright-eyed hopefuls learn valuable life lessons -- the kind that would crush their spirits and give them the ruthless, cynical edge they needed to function as a cog in the studio machine. But no. We got stuck watching their stupid, crappy short fiction. News flash for Spielberg and Burnett: there are five hundred more channels of stupid, crappy short fiction to be had on my television, a mere click away. So why should I hang around and watch yours?
The show spiraled out of control almost immediately, becoming a game of "Eliminate the foreigner." Everyone from a country other than the United States got the boot quickly. Then the competition randomly cannibalized whoever failed to be male and white, whittling the directors down to a modest handful. A lone Canadian survived the axe heading into this final phase, until it was accidentally pointed out to the voting public that Canada is not, in fact, a state. Up until this factoid faux pas by a confused and disoriented Carrie Fisher, most people watching had incorrectly assumed that Canada was another one of the Dakotas, pronounced strangely due to some quirk of the local accent. Once exposed as an unwelcome infiltrator, the Canadian was promptly escorted off the lot and shot, execution style, by a small death squad of teamsters behind the nearest available Denny's.
I stopped watching by the end and had to read the results online. The guy whose first film was, quite literally, a retarded comedy, came in second. His near-certain victory was edged out by the guy who spent the whole season whining about how this was his one shot at working in the industry and that, if it didn't pan out, he was going to have to give up, get a real job, and spend the rest of his life feeding and sheltering his children. The pansy. Everyone knows that sacrifices have to be made if you're going to make it in Hollywood. His unwillingness to pimp out his wife and sell his children to organ harvesters proves he never had the balls to make it in the business. His ultimate success in this fantasy game-show facsimile had to be handed to him by the four viewers left watching the final episode, who text-messaged their pity vote to Fox just so they wouldn't have to hear him blubber about being a daddy director yet again.
On the Lot is gone and forgotten already. The official website was pulled down as quickly as possible, serving no further purpose than allowing trolls to flood the message base with epitaphs proclaiming just how worthless the show was. If you go there now, a message of congratulation to the winner appears for a few seconds before you get redirected to the Fox homepage. It's the most acclaim the poor bastard is ever likely to get. He may have wept after winning a million-dollar development deal at Dreamworks, but he'll really cry when he finds out that will barely cover the first round of lunches in the real world.