Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Year Of The Apatow

It seems like this is Judd Apatow's year. The next comedy he is producing has been announced - A Whole New Hugh - adding to an already heavy slate of pet projects he isn't even directing himself, and it looks like he's gotten the studio execs eating out of the palm of his hand.

I remember the first inkling I got that
40 Year Old Virgin might be something special. There was an article in Creative Screenwriter which discussed Apatow and Carrell's approach to writing - and they had a very sensible approach, truthful, structured and logical and definitely dedicated to quality. They really seemed to know what they were doing.

Even still, the film surprised me hugely. It was probably my favourite film of 2005, though not the one I would say was 'best, necessarily'. Not quite, anyway.

And now comes Knocked Up. I must be one of a handful to have not seen this at some kind of advance screening somewhere, and I am bitterly jealous of the billions who have. If Apatow and company have nailed this one as squarely as I've been told, then that pretty much cements the director's standing. Judd Apatow appears to be the new Billy Wilder. Well, if Cameron Crowe wasn't the new Billy Wilder, anyway. The other new Billy Wilder.

The key difference, time and place aside, is that Wilder didn't produce a massive heap of secondary projects that he himself wasn't directing. As I was worrying about above, Apatow's plate is looking pretty full - You Don't Mess With the Zohan, A Whole New Hugh, Walk Hard, Attorneys At Raw. For the moment at least, Apatow seems to be a one-man greenlight machine, launching films he finds interesting, giving leg-ups to the talent he admires. Lucky fellow - and that goes for his admirees too.

When will it end? Well, I expect it to be dialled down rather quickly. If Zohan or Attorneys, say, winds up a big money loser, that will probably see Apatow's wings clipped. But his primary career (I'm supposing) as a writer-director would still be safe. Curtailing that anytime soon would take Knocked Up to flop, and I'm confidently predicting that it won't.

Indeed, I'm confidently predicting over $100 million in domestic takings.

My main point, however, is that we're living in the time that Judd Apatow is actually working. and not looking back on it like some kind of golden era, as I've had to with Wilder, Preston Sturgess or even the 'first-half Mel Brooks'. Apatow is going to be treasured for decades but right now, he might be seen as 'just another Hollywood comedy director', if a particularly good one. It seems to take a whole lot of wasted time for studio films to get their due respect, while 'independent' films, of course, come under (typically unjust) consideration immediately.

Why are we surprised that the big, cash-rich companies can afford the talent to make most of the best films and make them well? For an independent film to meet the best studio productions on every level there's a ridiculous amount of luck required - principally involving good cast and crew being available at that budget level.

These 'Hollywood' folk make more of the truly great films than any other single 'industry' on the globe. They certainly don't make them all, and they also make an almost incomprehensible amount of dreck too, but there's no sense in knocking 'Hollywood' so quick-and-easily all of the time.

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