Is it Smarter to make Bad Movies, or No Movies at all?

After years of hard labour, you birth your fledgling screenplay Little Miss Sunshine to the world, the film grosses $100m and you take the reins to the Star Wars Empire (the writing side of things, not the keys to a Death Star). Congratulations, you are Michael Arndt.

But such debut career-makers are rare, and for every Juno or Being John Malkovich, there are dozens of plain bad movies and straight to DVD disasters – which raises the question for upcoming talent; is it better for your career to have made some bad movies or made no movies at all?

The arguments for keeping a clean sheet…

Christopher Nolan
Nolan – kept a clean sheet on his way up…

1) Director Jail – last we heard, movies cost money to make. Lots of money. Bomb bad enough, and you might never again be trusted with the petty cash box. Andrew Sipes was one-and-done after Fair Game, Marcel Langenegger has yet to follow up the Jackman, McGregor & Williams starrer Deception whilst Kris Isacsson suffered TV movie relegation after rom-com dud Down To You.

2) Motivation – debut projects are usually the tip of the iceberg for film-makers’ efforts, with unseen masses of scrapped screenplays, college degrees, internships, rejection letters, short films, meetings and endless networking drinks. After all that, the wrong project can destroy the inner drive which fuels your creativity.

3) Typecastingagents are looking to sell a commodity. Did you take the money to write a grubby little rom-com to pay your rent? Good luck convincing them that your blood and guts horror masterpiece will scare the heck out of audiences.

The arguments for getting your hands dirty… 

1) Validation – you are a professional! And guess what – that puts you ahead of 95% of the competition. In an industry based around recommendation, the fact that other professionals once trusted you will be enough to open doors.

2) Networking – industry collaborators will pay off down the line.

3) What does ‘Bad’ even mean? – despite a measly 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, Date Movie still delivered $85m at the box office, and Aaron Seltzer is a man in demand. One person’s hell is another’s heaven. Is your career safer if you make money, or masterpieces that no-one sees?

4) Showreel – though by no means a ‘bad’ movie, it’s fair to say few of us have heard of The Journey of Jared Price. But execs saw enough in Dustin Lance Black’s tale of sexual discovery to trust that he could handle similar themes in his spec for Milk. And look where that lead…

5) Education – you’re being paid to learn. Which beats shelling out for film school. Bad movies happen. Blame somebody for it – that’s what everyone else will be doing.

6) Long development windows – by the time your misconceived atrocity sees the light of day, you’ll hopefully have had plenty of opportunities to find work based on your newfound status of film-maker or produced screenwriter. Run far, run hard, and no-one will even remember.

In Conclusion…

Though the film industry has a reputation as a cold, unforgiving place, most insiders understand that the bomb : beauty ratio is pretty high, and all CV’s need stepping stones. The rules may be a little different for directors – if you want to hog the glory, you’ve got to bear the brunt of the shame – but the experience and opportunity, even on what falls into the ‘bad’ movies category, is worth the risk.

Most film careers are short, and that future bargain bin filler could be your pinnacle – and many film-makers are fiercely proud of their seeming bad movies ‘failures’. And besides, people don’t see the bombs, right? Though after a recent viewing of the putrid Piranha Part 2: The Spawning, we’re certain THAT director will never work again.

*checks imdb to make sure*


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