Friday, June 24, 2011
ONE MOGUL TO RULE THEM ALL
The greatest thing about unlimited power is the inevitability with which it reveals the true character of the holder thereof. People say it corrupts absolutely, but I say it corrupts the corruptible. Which is kind of the same thing but a little more cautiously optimistic. Thankfully life affords us few opportunities to play God with the attendant consequences (i.e. fucking up the entire universe), but what few there are can be immensely satisfying in an extremely retarded way.
I like video games where the player gets to act as the general manager, head coach, or whatever the proper terminology for the given sport. I do have fantasies of being the omnipotent Michael Jordan baller who can bend time with his mind and dunk on four dudes in traffic, or break off one of those Maradona “fuck the defense, I just snorted three grams, I can take these assholes” runs and inspire grown men to cry in Spanish, or take a handoff and Barry Sanders my ass through 97 yards of steroid redwoods for six, or be Babe Ruth and blast homers into the upper deck without spilling my drink. But in sports video games, I get the biggest kick out of assembling unbeatable rosters and laying waste to the opposition. It's kind of like being a producer; assembling a baseball team full of high OBP/40 doubles a year guys, or a football team full of fast, mean defensive players, or a futbol team full of athletic two-way players I can play 70s Dutch Total Football with, or a basketball team of brilliant passers and team defenders is like making a movie where you get a writer, director, cast, and crew that all function harmoniously and selflessly in the pursuit of the work. You know, if you were able to manipulate every inconvenient variable to work in your favor.
This is why I've always been fond of the Hollywood Mogul computer games. They're strategy games where the player is put in charge of a studio, tasked with developing, producing, and releasing profitable pictures, created by a screenwriter named Carey DeVuono after a bit of frustration trying to get one of his scripts produced by Fox. It's all text-based, so there's a certain amount of imagination involved on the player's part in visualizing just what their pictures would look and sound like.
The game's also customizable so you can play with “real” actors, directors, writers, and scripts. In the first version of the game I played, Hollywood Mogul 2.something, all the fake original screenplays, novels, and plays you could develop into movies had thumbnail synopses, or you could create your own, and a number of variables like where you wanted to shoot, with how much FX, with which actors, and so forth. After figuring out a fairly decent system for making money (making big FX pictures with an A-list star in the lead, releasing them in the summer, radical shit like that) I decided to start screwing around, much like in Football Manager when I test the patience of Chelsea's board of directors by selling Frank Lampard for a buck because he's a dick (unless Chelsea are winning, they usually overrule the decision and fire me, cuz Frankie Lamps is one sacred fuckin cow, boy, lemme tell ya).
I decided to “create an idea” and hire the lowest-rated $5 million-per-script writer in the game to develop it. I used the first draft because it sucked. Since there was only one actor in the movie—which was set at a science station in Antarctica, because Antarctica was the most expensive place to shoot in the game—I cast Tom Hanks because he was the most expensive available, and had him produce and direct. I gave auteur Hanks a $600 million budget and let him do his worst. I don't remember exactly how I did this, but I made sure none of the $600 million was spent on anything practical like infrastructure (or hiring a crew), so Hanks had shitloads of delays and overruns and special effects disasters because he had to operate the cameras, do the effects, handle catering, and so forth. I was never clear on exactly what the movie was about, but I remember even though Hanks was the only actor in the movie there were “graphic sex scenes” and his nudity rating was as high as it would go, so as best as I can tell I was spending $600 million for Tom Hanks to shoot a movie in Antarctica that consisted entirely of him butt-ass naked and whacking it.
Eventually, after about five in-game years, Hanks' opus (which, if memory serves, was titled Fuck You, Motherfucker) was ready for release. Due to the way DeVuono set up the rating system in the game, as well as there being the normal G-through-NC-17 ratings there was also an X, with which the computer MPAA, not buying my beautifully crafted rhetoric about the film being a statement about onanism as a fractal of every dimension of existence itself (Ed. Note: this is back when I used to smoke lots of weed), slapped the unfortunate Mr. Hanks. And so, his $600 million epic, that I was supporting with about $300 million in P&A—damn, America must have been sick of Tom Hanks whackin' it into their cornflakes every commercial break—ended up grossing about $10 million. My studio, almost a billion dollars in debt, went tits up, and I think the only reason I ended up not getting whacked was because DeVuono had yet to release the “Russian mobster patch.”
I had some massive successes with Hollywood Mogul 2.whatthefuck, including the massive hit franchise Holy Shit, It's a Fucking Earthquake parts 1-5, each of which grossed about a billion dollars. I loved the game dearly, but there was room for improvement. In 2006, after fielding hundreds of requests for features for the next game, DeVuono released Hollywood Mogul 3.
HM3 has a whole lot more detail and more closely resembles the actual development process in a lot of ways. The only thing that ever really bugged me about HM3 as opposed to the previous iteration, is the writing process. In the older game, sometimes no matter how hard you tried, some scripts just sucked and you were stuck with them. In HM3, if you're willing to wait an in-game year or two, your writer will invariably deliver you a literary masterpiece. However, the sacrifice in realism leads, as it so often does, to a gain in escapist value: you can be sitting there like “EVERY PICTURE I RELEASE IS A FUCKING MASTERPIECE.”
Because the customization in HM3 permits—kind of—directors to write their own scripts, I decided to replace George Lucas in one of the real-director files with one “Danny Bowes,” since I also, obviously, write. And, naturally, I put all my talent levels, things like “action, comedy, drama,” “visionary,” “authority,” “story sense,” and so forth to the maximum. Not only does this accurately reflect reality—seriously, I'm a fucking genius, people—it's a lot of fun to be like “Hey, I need a director for this $200 million adaptation of Voltron . . . let's get Danny Bowes, if I can pry him away from his five other incipient masterpieces.”
As a result, no matter what I'd hire “me” to direct, I ended up winning the Oscar for Best Director. I won Best Director for video game adaptations (I mean, not my $100 million-grossing big-screen Leisure Suit Larry, but I totally took home a statue for my three-hour adaptation of Red Dead Redemption even though it tanked like a fuck at the box office). I won Best Director for my big-screen version of The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist with Anne Hathaway in the lead (we did not win Best Costume Design, because Phoebe doesn't have a costume, of course), that despite being an NC-17 (the price one pays for having the heroine be nude for the whole picture) ended up grossing $100 mil because I went gonzo on P&A and got big-ass stars like Angelina Jolie to play the Amazon lesbian villainess (in a move that would enrage purists and add box-office, thus making it a perfectly cynical Hollywood move) and Daniel Craig to play the badass secret agent guy who gets killed five minutes after being introduced.
Just about everything you could possibly want to customize, you can in HM3. It offers over a dozen different kinds of properties you can acquire, from comic books to graphic novels (it differentiates) to foreign and domestic remakes (same) to short stories to novels to non-fiction books to original screenplays to plays to TV shows. Like its predecessor, you can cast these with “real” actors. It's an incredibly fucking geeky way to spend one's time (though it passes a long-ass train ride nicely) but like many incredibly fucking geeky things, potentially a lot of fun.
The Hollywood Mogul games also, weirdly, can serve as a critique of actual Hollywood. Originating as they did in DeVuono's “goddammit, is my fucking picture ever going to get made?” frustration with the studio system, the way the in-game system works, with dumb pieces of shit becoming enormous hits, the Oscars being really retarded and meaningless, and creative decisions being made capriciously by inscrutable entities for reasons other than the good of the work . . . why, it's almost like . . . no, that has nothing to do with the way Hollywood actually is. It's just a computer game. Cough cough. (Ed. Note: the author may want to do business with a studio some day).
However realistic though it may be, it's equally as much fun to fuck around and be like “I'm going to make a $600 million movie about Tom Hanks masturbating for six hours in black & white and only release it in New York and Los Angeles” (HM3, if anything, only adds to the genius of this project). I'm not ashamed of the hours I've spent hiring Michael Bay to direct the imaginary comic book movie Space Marines, nor of turning my own scripts into big Oscar-winning movie star things, nor even of the Hanks. Actually, especially not the Hanks. If liking Hollywood Mogul makes me a nerd, then you can take being cool and blow it out your ass. Especially next time I gotta Amtrak it somewhere.