Oh happy day! The miracle-worker has come to Hollywood and solved all our problems. With his help, it’s only hits and blockbusters from now on, according to the New York Times, and the only issue is: Can we afford this guy? Quick, get your hammer and head for your piggy bank!
The article Solving Equation of a Hit Film Script, With Data profiles the success of one “chain-smoking former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese,” who is providing “script evaluation for as much as $20,000 per script” to producers in town gullible enough to believe he can analyze their projects into becoming win-win propositions.
“Demons in horror movies can target people or be summoned,” Mr. Bruzzese said in a gravelly voice, by way of example. “If it’s a targeting demon, you are likely to have much higher opening-weekend sales than if it’s summoned. So get rid of that Ouija Board scene.”
Given that name, that voice, and the other personal details that emerge from the piece by journalist Brooks Barnes, Vinny sounds like a character right out of a movie, i.e. if he didn’t exist, someone would have to make him up (my favorite bit: "He bills himself as a distant relative of Einstein's, a claim that is unverifiable but never fails to impress studio executives"). And come to think of it, the last time I encountered someone with a line of horse manure this well-crafted, he was wearing a straw boater and being played by Robert Preston, in a show called The Music Man.
If you’re the age of the average movie executive, you’re probably too young to have seen or even heard of The Music Man (recently a fellow reader giving notes to a studio exec on a sci-fi project realized that the exec had never seen Star Wars: true story). So this may account for Mr. Bruzzese’s success. What was that quote again – people who skip history class are doomed to keep taking make-up classes? – something like that.
The Onion’s version of the Times article would likely be titled, Hollywood Still Largely Populated by Idiots. But you really must read it. If it makes you laugh, as opposed to making your head explode (literally!), that’s a good sign. It shows that you’ve been around the block at least once or twice. If you’re reaching for the phone to get hold of Vinny, however, you deserve the resulting hole you’ll soon find in your pocket.
I’ve always thought that the famous William Goldman dictum about the industry – “Nobody knows anything” – while a great quote and a good argument-ender, isn’t entirely accurate. In my experience, Nobody knows everything. There are some people in Hollywood (many of them deservedly at the top of the heap) who do know some things. The savvy chairman of a major studio was recently heard to say, “People like to see dogs in movies.”
Well, yes. This is inarguable, and I’ve got the data to back it up (in my desk drawer with the paperclips and bong-filters). But what I’m saying is: There are some knowns about storytelling and movie audiences that can be known. So chances are, Mr. Bruzzese’s “20-30 page reports” do contain insights that aren’t 100 % bullshit, or – I’m sorry – focus group-informed conjecture. So the hapless rube who’s paid through his nose for the report figures hey, it’s all good!... and Vinny departs with another suitcase full of moolah. Nice work if you can get it, bro.
It’s too bad, however, that those poor misguided amateurs Spielberg and Lucas didn’t have Vinny on hand when they were making Raiders of the Lost Arc – you know, the movie that featured the climactic scene (“Don’t open that ark!”) with all the summoned demons who spectacularly melted the Nazi villains into goo? Not a targeting demon in sight, yet the scene stayed in the picture, which probably accounts for that little project’s ignominious failure.
And we could continue in this vein, but why bother? The con-men and their latest gizmos have been with us since Biblical times, and will surely be there in centuries to come. As one Hollywood writer once said (he’s got a movie opening this week, years after his untimely death):
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.