Sharon Waxman expected some backlash surrounding the publication of her new book, Rebels on the Backlot, which, according to its subtitle, takes a look at "Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System."
The New York Times Hollywood correspondent knew that there would be universal praise for some of her choices (Quentin Tarantino, Spike Jonze), spirited debates regarding others (Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh), and a whole lotta folks bitching about what they perceived as glaring omissions. (David Fincher and David O. Russell are the other two directors who made the cut.) "Wes Anderson certainly could have been one of them," admits Waxman. "But I had to narrow it down. Basically, I was looking for films that were really innovative in their style or the way they told their story. They really had to break new cinematic ground. [Anderson's] Rushmore would have qualified, but it was between that and Being John Malkovich."
Rebels on the Backlot is about more than the guys behind the cameras, however. The groundbreaking films they made in the '90s get equal billing. Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Anderson's Boogie Nights, Fincher's Fight Club, Russell's Three Kings, Jonze's Being John Malkovich, and Soderbergh's Traffic are modern milestones, and Waxman rightly elevates them for admiration and dissection. "I tried to find films that were made in the studio system, as opposed to indie films that were not, but might also be very different in their style or tone," she explains. "And I was picking films that really had kind of sparked the culture."
This is hardly the first time directors have been called mavericks. In the '70s, such cinema auteurs as Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese were acclaimed with similar laurels. And while Waxman notes parallels between that group and the new band of filmmaking brothers, the differences among them are even more pronounced, she says. "There's a sense of unity among these filmmakers," she says. "They very consciously took on the mantle of the previous generation. They wanted to make films that were very personal and that they were very passionate about.
"But they're also making fewer films than the guys from the '70s, who churned them out on a regular basis."
Waxman (who grew up in Cleveland) interviewed more than 100 actors, producers, and executives for Rebels. Access to the directors themselves was easy, since she profiled them over the past decade for both The New York Times and the Washington Post. She takes a look at some supremely talented artists as well as some who are supremely screwed-up. (For example, Russell got into an onset fight with his Three Kings star George Clooney, and Anderson reacted to an unfavorable test screening of Boogie Nights by shoving the printed results into his mouth.)
"We'll see what the longevity of this generation is," says Waxman. "Most of the '70s generation burned out. This generation needs to resist the temptations of money and fame, and just focus on their work."
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