There perhaps is no movie about the movie business as well known as Robert Altman‘s “The Player.” Starring Timothy Robbins in the role that increased his popularity, The Player is a very unique story. It’s actually a story within a story. Robbins plays studio VP Griffin Mill. Griffin heads up the studio’s script and story development department, so much he’s in charge of listening to pitches. But he’s worried about his job because a hot, young story executive from Fox, Larry Levy (played by Peter Gallagher), is making waves in the industry and rumored to come in and shake things up. To make matters worse, Griffin is getting anonymous death threats from a screenwriter he pissed off. The stress of the job plus the threats lead Griffin to murder whom he suspects as his harasser. But, there’s a good chance he killed the wrong person.
One of the things that makes “The Player” so much fun (besides the funny dialog and witty direction from Altman) are all the celebrity cameos. About three dozen or more Hollywood celebs have short bit roles as themselves, including Angelica Houston, John Cusack, Harry Bellafonte, Jeff Goldblum, Andie McDowell, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and a hilarious bit with Bruce Willis. What’s even cooler is that the celebrity cameos were not written in the script. Altman added them all in. No scripted dialogue was given to any celebrity with a cameo.
In addition, Whoopi Goldberg offers an hysterical performance as Pasadena detective Avery. Detective Avery suspects Griffin of the murder and it’s such a joy seeing her interact with him.
So there’s actually some valuable business lessons to take away from this movie:
- Don’t Fear Larry Levy: every industry has their version of a “Larry Levy.” Someone who represents the voice of change. Who challenges the status quo. Someone with radical ideas. Everybody wants to know him or her, and this person seems to be everywhere. Sometimes they’re nice people, and sometimes they’re jerks. But, make no mistake, you WILL come across Larry Levy’s in your life. Know how to learn from and work with them. And if you can, YOU be the Larry Levy of your industry.
- Network. Network. Network: in the movie, who you know can make the difference between getting a deal made, or being murdered in a dark alley. And this is true whether you run your own business, or if you’re on the hunt for a new job (not the getting killed in a dark alley part). You’re significantly more likely to land that job (or gig) if you know the hiring person (or if you know someone who knows the hiring person). That’s why social networking sites like LinkedIn can be so valuable as they facilitate introductions to key people. Network in your community and get to know the people in the know.
- 25 Words or Less: Can you explain the concept of your business, or what it is that sets you apart, in 25 words or less? If not, you should. A great pitch in Hollywood can land you the deal of a century. A great pitch for your business can do the same.
FAVORITE MOMENTS AND LITTLE KNOWN FACTS
- The opening tracking shot of the movie appears to be one long continuous shot. However, about 3.5 minutes in, the mail boy crashes his bike and the camera pushes in on a post card he’s dropped. You can see the slightest movement in the frame right as we zoom in on the card. That is where a new shot starts, but it’s virtually seamless. Very clever in how they did it. By the time we see an actual cut, it’s over 8 minutes. Overall, that is an extremely difficult shot to execute. Timing for everyone has to be perfect.
- In that opening tracking shot, the chief of studio security, Walter (played by Fred Ward) is talking to a filmmaker about the long opening tracking shot in Orson Wells’ “Touch of Evil”…just as we’re watching the long opening tracking shot of The Player.
- Throughout the movie Altman does cut-aways and close-ups to movie poster with titles that parallel the situation happening in the scene.
- All the pitches we hear in the opening scenes are typically, Hollywood fluff. This was obviously done to poke fun at the Hollywood “movie” machine.
- A little later we see Griffin having lunch with some industry folks and they’re all talking business. Griffin says to his colleagues, “Can we talk about something other than Hollywood for a change? We’re educated people” Pause. No one says anything. Then they all laugh when they realize that’s all they know how to do when they get together. (I often feel like that when at photography or videography gatherings. How about you?)
- Altman uses a lot of deep focus shots, using character dialog and action to focus your attention in stead of depth of field. Orson Wells used deep focus shots very effectively and creatively in “Citizen Kane.”
- The Rialto Theater exterior in the movie was shot in South Pasadena, where I went to high school.
- The first scene where we see Whoopi is very funny because she’s in Griffin’s office and asks if she can pick up one of the Oscars on his shelf so she can see what it feels like. The year before was when Whoopi won the best supporting Oscar for her role in “Ghost.”
- One the funniest scenes in the movie is when Detective Avery interrupts her questioning of Griffin to ask her assistant where her box of tampons are. When she finds a box she thinks are hers, she realizes they aren’t because they slim regular, and she wears jumbo. She then proceed to unpack one and starts twisting, fiddling, and casually swing it around while she continues to question Griffin.
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“Oh please, this is Pasadena. We do not arrest the wrong person. That’s L.A. You see in LA they kick your ass THEN they arrest you.” Detective Susan Avery, Pasadena PD