LOS ANGELES (REUTERS)–Hollywood is searching for a role to play in America’s war on terrorism.
Film veterans ranging from Robert Redford and Penny Marshall to the young producer-director brothers Albert and Allen Hughes are struggling with exactly how–and whether–to reshape movies to meet the challenges that the Sept. 11 attacks place on the entertainment industry.
Hollywood’s role during wartime has varied from conflict to conflict. It was patriotic and propagandist in World War II, and at first patriotic but then critical about Vietnam, with the key film “Coming Home,” appearing five years after U.S. troops left that country.
Except for during World War II, when the old studio system cranked out films quickly, moviemakers have delayed tackling war subjects until years later, partly because films take at least two years to develop, produce, edit and distribute to theaters.
The prevailing wisdom in interviews with producers and directors since Sept. 11 is that Hollywood will wait again.
“It just remains to be seen whether this is a permanent, fixed place we are in, or whether it’s a passing storm,” said Redford, whose new film, “The Last Castle” opens this week.
Major studios reacted quickly after the attacks, pulling ads for next summer’s “Spider-Man” and yanking action star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terrorist-themed “Collateral Damage” off the release schedule in October.
Behind the scenes, too, many industry players withdrew scripts in development and balked at pitching stories whose themes were too violent or seemed inappropriate to the time.
Dan Paulson, producer of made-for-TV film, “A Cooler Climate,” which was nominated for two Emmys, spent five months developing the drama “Get Bin Laden: The Making of a Terrorist,” and just as he was ready to look for funding, hijacked airliners rammed the World Trade Center and Pentagon, killing about 5,400 people.
“Timing is everything in life,” Paulson said. “And my instinct just tells me it is not time to go.”
Paulson’s story detailed how the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation have tracked Bin Laden for years but sometimes at cross-purposes. He likened his project to last year’s drug-trafficking film, “Traffic.”
He said he might let the story stand or maybe rework it, but whatever decision he makes will await a clear signal on just exactly where the declared war on terrorism heads.
Most filmmakers said the events of Sept. 11 will certainly alter filmmaking because the incidents have changed people, and Hollywood movies generally follow trends in pop culture.
Others were concerned that changing movie content would send the wrong message to those responsible for the attacks, and several people voiced concern over infringing the right to free speech in the current highly patriotic climate.
“Obviously we’re just as upset as anybody else. I think it will have an impact on the films we develop and films we make,” said Larry Gordon, former president of Twentieth Century Fox studio and producer of “Die Hard” and the upcoming “K-Pax.”
Veteran Gordon’s remarks were countered by Albert and Allen Hughes, whose films include this week’s “From Hell.”
In an interview with Reuters, they noted the biggest box-office success in recent weeks has been Denzel Washington’s “Training Day,” which tells of a cop gone bad at a time when most cops are being hailed as heroes.
“I don’t think anything’s really changed,” said Albert. “I don’t think movies should adjust to the climate unless you’re making a movie about terrorism and being schlocky about it.”
Entertainer Billy Crystal, who stars in Disney’s Nov. 2 release “Monsters Inc.,” said he hoped recent events would not change moviemaking, but that there was room for a new look at responsible storytelling.
“You can’t overreact and say, ‘We gotta be neat and clean about everything. [But] sooner or later, you have to look at yourself and say, ‘What am I really doing? … You have to question, but you can’t give over too much,” he said.
Marshall, former TV star turned director of movies such as 1990’s “Awakenings” and this week’s “Riding in Cars with Boys,” seemed to sum up most of the current sentiment in Hollywood.
“We have a nation in mourning, but they also need an escape,” she said. “We’re entertainers, that’s what we do, and people do need a break.”
But just how will Hollywood provide that break? Like almost everyone else, she’s still unsure.