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THE (ALMOST) UNDELETED • View topic - 1985: Introduction (Eye)

1985: Introduction (Eye)

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1985: Introduction (Eye)

Postby In His Words » Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:04 pm

Introduction (Eye) 1985

It was a happy time, an educational time and I was utterly fascinated with making a film of my novel, Dune.

Early in the experience, I reverted to my background as an investigative reporter. What you read here is editorial comment (subjective) and reportage (as objective as I can make it).

When Sterling Lanier bought Dune for Chilton in 1963 we had no ideas about a movie. It was enough that the novel would be published and I could make jokes about Chilton, publisher of many how-to manuals, saying: "They'll want to re-title it How to Repair Your Ornithopter."

My first visit to Churubusco Studios in Mexico City put a different stamp on what it means to adapt a novel to the screen.

The snaking lines of electrical cables, the big yellow buses with "Dune" on the front, the mobs of people in and around the sound stages, the shops turning out props, costumes and special effects, the pulsing sounds of machinery, the glaring lights, the shouted orders -- all said "industry."

It was poetic justice that we should be in Mexico, which had given me an inexpensive place to live when I began writing, and now Dune was providing well-paid employment for more than a thousand Mexicans.

I was glad to be back in Mexico and worried about it -- a worry borne out by the troubles that plagued shooting the film there: the necessity to bribe Mexican officials before you could work or ship your film; shoddy equipment; some of the worst air in the world; and something apparently no one considered when deciding on a location -- in at least some of the major cities, Mexican police are the criminal syndicate and corruption goes very high in the government.

The problems created by that corruption were no surprise, but the film industry itself? That was full of surprises.

I had heard many warnings about Dino De Laurentiis, yet I found him honorable and Trustworthy. He was a creative force, able to hold back and allow others room to work. Daughter Raffaella was a hardheaded businesswoman and an organizational powerhouse as concerned as a mother would be about those who depended on her.

Director David Lynch and I hit it off because I understood film to be a language different from English. He spoke it and I was a rank beginner.

To make a film, you translate, as though from English to German. Each of the world's languages contains linguistic experiences unique to its own history. You can say things in one language you cannot say in another. I was continually brought up short by the process of taking pages from Dune and shifting them to quick visual effects.

Example: Dune recreates a feudal society. To impress that on you, the film decor echoes Renaissance (and feudal) Italy -- a stroke of genius and visually exciting.

Filming Dune did something else. I have David to thank for teaching me to write screenplays. During that education, I was able to influence some decisions about the film, but I was unable to influence the ending or how much would be cut for the theater. From the approximately five hours of film in the original footage, only about two-fifths emerged from the cutting room.

What was cut? Here's a partial list for the aficionados:

The confrontation between Stilgar (Everett McGill) and Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow) where Stilgar spits on the table -- the gift of his water.

Development of the relationship between Shadout Mapes (Linda Hunt) and Jessica (Francesca Annis).

Most of the love story between Paul Muad'Dib (Kyle MacLachlan) and Chani (Sean Young).

The fight where Paul kills a Fremen and cries (giving water to the dead).

Development of Kynes (Max Von Sydow) as the Imperial Planetologist and (most vital) the place of melange in a space-faring society.

The relationship between Paul and his mentors: Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan); Thufir Hawat (Freddie Jones); Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart), and Dr. Yueh (Dean Stockwell).

The death of Thufir Hawat.

The relationship between Paul and the Fremen widow, Harah (Molly Wryn).

Scenes with Jessica and The Reverend Mother Mohiam (Sian Phillips) that would have made the Bene Gesserit sisterhood more understandable.

That's only a partial list.

Dino and Raffaella have talked about restoring the out-takes and making a miniseries (à la The Godfather). This may happen because Dino wanted a longer film all along.

The film of Dune is the result of a paradox -- product of an industry that pretends to creativity and shies away from risks. Creation takes risks and that's the movie industry's dilemma. It's why so much control over creativity is in the hands of noncreative people. The reasoning behind their decisions is enlightening.

So many films are aimed primarily at early-to-late teens because this age group is more easily seduced by hype. These also are viewers with time and money and the inclination to join a date at the local Cineplex -- powerful forces in the entertainment business.

Why a film of only about two hours?

Because that length can be shown more frequently on a day-to-day basis, returning the investment quickly.

Don't condemn this out of hand. If investors had not been found to put up about forty million dollars, Dune would never have been filmed. And all of the essentials in the book are on film, even though all of it did not get to your screen.

Never forget it's an industry.

There is more here than meets the eye. One of the most important things is corporate politics. Big corporations are bureaucracies that often promote people who are best at covering their asses. Such people run scared, fearful of any suggestion they can make mistakes. And they surround themselves with others who run the same way.

Don't take risks.

Find out what succeeds and copy it.

Some of the most successful practitioners plagiarize and steal without a qualm, knowing they can stall their victims for years with expensive legal maneuvers. Creativity often has little to do with movie making except when writing promotional copy.

So what happened with the movie of Dune, the sixth biggest money-earner of 1984? What happened to the film that, at this writing, is still number two at the box office in Germany, Japan and France? I can only tell you what I saw.

There was scrambling and many false starts around the film's release, a clear signal of nervousness to audiences, including critics.

Critics who were inclined to be sympathetic were not permitted to see advance screenings.

The hype machine grinded into action, telling people to expect the complete Dune. My efforts were enlisted. I joined in wholeheartedly because I enjoyed the film even as cut and I told it as I saw it: What reached the screen is a visual feast that begins as Dune begins and you hear my dialogue all through it.

Overseas there were none of these negative signals and Dune set box office records. It was up 29 percent the third week in Great Britain. There were some 40,000 viewers each day the first three days in Paris alone, and to quote a French commentator: "Visually magnificent, rich enough for many repeat viewings."

In Europe you did not find critics bragging (as did one closet aristocrat on CBS): "I don't like movies that make me think." (He wants to feed you "bread and circuses" and keep you docile.)

Was it a success or a failure as a movie? I'm the wrong person to ask. Like me, Dune movie audiences, fans and newcomers, wanted more. They would have returned many times to see that "more." What they saw was true to my book, even though most of it stayed on the cutting room floor. Dune fans could supply the missing scenes in imagination but they still longed for those scenes.

Investors will get back their investment. There will not be large immediate profits as there might have been had they risked a longer film and satisfied the expectations they raised.

Catering to the lowest common denominator is the way you play the no-risk movie game, and David, with agreement from Dino and Raffaella, went against that directive.

I have my quibbles about the film, of course.

Paul was a man playing god, not a god who could make it rain.

Dune was aimed at this whole idea of the infallible leader because my view of history says mistakes made by a leader (or made in a leader's name) are amplified by the numbers who follow without question.

That's how 900 people wound up in Guyana drinking poison Kool-Aid.

That's how the U.S. said "Yes, sir, Mister Charismatic John Kennedy!" and found itself embroiled in Vietnam.

That's how Germany said "Sieg Heil!" and murdered more than six million of our fellow human beings.

Leadership and our dependence on it (how and why we choose particular leaders) is a much misunderstood historical phenomenon.

You see, we often get noncreative leaders, people most interested in preserving their own positions. They flock around centers of power. Such centers attract people who can be corrupted. That is a more descriptive observation than to say simply that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

If you are corruptible and your imagination is confined to worries about loss of power, you exist in a self-destructive system. Eventually, as all life does, you must encounter some thing you did not anticipate, and if you have not strengthened your creative resources, you will have no new ways for adapting to change. Adapt or die, that's the first rule of survival.

The limited vision of noncreative people is not difficult to understand. Creativity frightens the unimaginative. They don't know what's happening. Things new and unexpected arise from creativity. This threatens "things as they are." And (terrible thought) it underlines illusions of omnipotence.

Besides, at least in the movie industry, they "know" an audience can be enticed into the theater by the right promotion. It's all a matter of "hype." You buy an audience.

The next time you watch a political campaign, ask yourself if that sounds familiar.

There is more.

David had trouble with the fact that Star Wars used up so much of Dune. We found sixteen points of identity between my novel and Star Wars. That is not to say this was other than coincidence, even though we figured the odds against coincidence and produced a number larger than the number of stars in the universe.

The fact that David was able to translate the written words into screen language speaks of his visual genius. If you were disappointed or wanted more, chalk it up to "That's show biz" and pray for the miniseries.

So much for the wonderful world of film and corporate decisions. I recommend you read Ed Naha's "The Making of Dune" and Harlan Ellison's two-part essay in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Screen them through my comments.

Don't get the idea from any of this that I'm ungrateful. Making that film was a superb education. And don't take this as a swan song. I'm alive and well and intend to stay that way while I continue writing as long as possible.

It's my opinion that David's film of Dune will also be alive and well long after people have forgotten the potboilers that come out of corporate boardrooms. This is based partly on the reactions of everyone who worked on the film: They were sad to be parting when it was over and glad they had done it. The wrap party was a rare scene of happy nostalgia.

Francesca labeled it: "Hard work but great work."

Dune is a film addressed to your audio-visual senses in a unique way, forcing you to participate and not just sit there while it is "done to you." A miniseries restoring the out-takes would make this even more apparent.

That's how I wrote the novel, wanting you to participate with the best of your own imagination. I did not aim for the lowest common denominator and 'write down" to anyone. You and I have a compact and my responsibility is to entertain you as richly as possible, always giving you as much extra as I can. I assume you are intelligent and will enlist your own imagination. You'll see that when you read the Dune excerpt and the other stories in this collection.

Don't ask yourself if I succeeded or if the film succeeded.

The only valid critic is time. Does it endure? We can only guess and give our opinions. No one living today really knows, but people in the next century certainly will.
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