Our Dumb Cinema
June 25, 2001 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Our Dumb Cinema : Miramax Films signed the popular satirical newspaper writers for The Onion, promising to purchase some undisclosed number of screenplays from Onion writers. But what will they write?
posted by tallman (41 comments total)

 
maybe something like spaceman?
posted by kliuless at 7:05 AM on June 25, 2001


At some point in the mid-80s, Disney paid David Letterman several million dollars to write or produce several screenplays for them, just becuase he was funny. Eventually Letterman had to return every penny, since absolutely nothing came out of the deal. This deal smells about the same to me. If they can really pull it off, more power to them, but there's nothing deadlier than a single joke stretched out to fill 95 minutes of screen time. "Clinton Deploys Vowels To Bosnia: The Musical" just ain't gonna cut it.
posted by aaron at 7:08 AM on June 25, 2001


Oh, I don't know, if they stick to small vignettes rather than trying to adhere to a plot, they could pull it off. Think Zucker brothers... One liners held together with bailing wire and a prayer.
posted by machaus at 7:11 AM on June 25, 2001


That said, if they just bank the money and wait for Miramax to ask for it back a few years down the line, they can pocket the interest.
posted by Grangousier at 7:12 AM on June 25, 2001


I just realized that I sounded like the guys who stroll into Tim Robbins' office in The Player and pitch movies saying stuff like: "Oh, and we envision Julia Roberts in the lead. Kind of a mix between Platoon and Jerry Macguire." Someone smack me...
posted by machaus at 7:15 AM on June 25, 2001


I pray with all my heart that they don't go the SNL route and turn all their feature columnists into movies. Especially since the Jim Anchower movie has already been done, as Dude, Where's My Car?
posted by darukaru at 7:39 AM on June 25, 2001


Two hours of "Area man finds church bingo to be profitable and spiritual." If Andy Warhol was still around to direct, it could be a lot of fun.
posted by skallas at 7:49 AM on June 25, 2001


there could absolutely be a herbert kornfeld movie.
posted by sugarfish at 7:57 AM on June 25, 2001


A life story of T. Herman Zweibel?
posted by dfowler at 8:02 AM on June 25, 2001


but who would play herbert kornfeld?

freddy prinze jr?

btw--the smoove b movie has also already been done. It was called The Ladies Man.
posted by dogmatic at 8:08 AM on June 25, 2001


The seduction of Winston Smith.
posted by clavdivs at 8:20 AM on June 25, 2001


I think that The Ladies Man couldn't lay a hand on what The Onion has done with Smoove B:

"Baby, you are the one true love of my life. You are the one I dream about both night and day. You are the one who lights the fire of my desire. Also, you have beautiful facial skin."

HAHAH
posted by Succa at 8:28 AM on June 25, 2001


FWIW, I read somewhere -- possibly in The Observer -- that "Canadian Girlfriend Unsubstantiated" was one of the things they were looking to develop to a full-length screenplay.
posted by snarkout at 8:31 AM on June 25, 2001


there's nothing deadlier than a single joke stretched out to fill 95 minutes of screen time.

I agree. I love The Onion and I read it every week, but often the joke doesn't have much life beyond the headline.
posted by jpoulos at 8:58 AM on June 25, 2001


I used to love the onion ... Then they sold out and announced the move to NYC. Sometime between December 2000 and February 2001 they replaced all the writers and killed off T. Herman Zweibel by launching him in to space. In the last year the onion has gone from ironic satire to stilted crap. I still come by every week to check it out but I read fewer and fewer of the articles. The only thing that makes me come by at this point is morbid curiosity, like watching a train wreck. It was fun while it lasted.
posted by Dillenger69 at 9:08 AM on June 25, 2001


there's nothing deadlier than a single joke stretched out to fill 95 minutes of screen time.

I have to disagree. It can be done. "Canadian Girlfriend Unsubstantiated," for example ,would make a fine premise for a comedy. A guy who claims to have a girlfriend who nobody's ever seen? That could be played so many ways. Or imagine a history of World War II as penned by the Onion (they once ran the headline "Germany neutralizes Polish menace" or something like that) -- it'd be like Mel Brooks' "History of the World: Part I" except, you know, ironic. These movies could turn out dreadful, of course, but there's no reason they'd have to.

I don't believe the Onion writers have much, if any, experience writing screenplays so presumably Miramax would team them up with someone who had such experience.
posted by kindall at 9:08 AM on June 25, 2001


Quite frankly, this disgusts me. For this to be called a creative endeavor is sacrilegious. Creativity is a partnership between man and a higher realm, a bridge between the mundane and the ideal. To hire a group of people to manufacture ideas like chickens laying eggs violates the process and the purpose. The power of creation is a gift meant to deliver us from the dull stupor that could be life.

But perhaps what disturbs me most about this article is the knowledge that the American people will gladly accept it. In fact, they will run with their arms open to embrace it. The integrity of the cinema is fast diminishing. One only has to look at what tops the box office to see this is true.

And so, I say drink the stagnant water of Hollywood, but don't cry for help when the desert threatens to extinguish your life. Give in to the easy, sly influences of marketing and money; neither will save you when you realize you have killed the very thing that gives you life, the imagination.
posted by Oddsea at 9:44 AM on June 25, 2001


The article answers a lot of the speculation in these posts.

This is tangential, but: the revealing anecdote about Steven Spielberg was gave me more pleasure, especially after reading his idiotic profile in the Sunday NYT. He obviously takes himself far too seriously while at the same time claiming not to.
posted by Joe Hutch at 9:49 AM on June 25, 2001


"you have killed the very thing that gives you life, the imagination."

or perhaps it could be a fun way to kill an afternoon at a matinee... sheesh
posted by machaus at 9:50 AM on June 25, 2001


Machaus: I don't mean to sound as if movies cannot provide entertainment. I only mean to point out that that's not all they should be concerned with. My forceful defense of the creative process is to simply highlight that we should not spend all our time killing afternoons.
posted by Oddsea at 10:14 AM on June 25, 2001


true, but I've never found The Onion to contain anything all that seminal, and I think that's their point. So, I don't see this as a crime against the artistic process. Now Disney on the other hand...
posted by machaus at 10:21 AM on June 25, 2001


I could see something in the Jim Jarmoush vein. Like "Jim's Journal" the movie. Or maybe a bunch of sketches or a fake news magazine.

Except how would they sustain the dry wit?
posted by Iberaband at 10:28 AM on June 25, 2001


Any one of their returning columnists has the trappings of a good movie in the Office Space vein. I'm with the Herbert Kornfield idea too. That could be a riot.
posted by crasspastor at 10:50 AM on June 25, 2001


Probably being the only person in the world who reads the Onion for its AV Club, flipping to the back of each weeks copy with aplomb... I would personally rather see their film critics try to write a movie rather than their comedy writers. It's a mixture of two reasons, (1) they are some of the harshest critics of film I've ever read (2) they seem to be very skilled writers...

But if the writers of the comedy half of the paper make something horrid, with the Onion reviewers trash it?
posted by drezdn at 11:15 AM on June 25, 2001


I used to read the onion back in champaign, when it was still in print and got delivered from Madison. Some of my favorite headlines from back then:

City Plans to Build New Railroad -- Right Up Your Ass
Beer!
Governor Jim Ryan Named Sexecutioner
Special Feature - Venereal Squirrels: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Family
posted by lawtalkinguy at 11:20 AM on June 25, 2001


I used to love the onion ... Then they sold out and announced the move to NYC. Sometime between December 2000 and February 2001 they replaced all the writers and killed off T. Herman Zweibel by launching him in to space. In the last year the onion has gone from ironic satire to stilted crap.

This is the most elitist, faux-indie poop I've read in a long time here. Right up there with "Oh, REM hasn't produced anything worthwhile since Document" and "Nirvana was great with Bleach, but then they sold out." What a load of shit. I've not noticed anything different in the writing; moreover, I never, not for one second ever got any of that T. Herman Zweibel tripe ever. Good riddance. God, Metafilter used to be so good, too.
posted by norm at 11:33 AM on June 25, 2001


God, Metafilter used to be so good, too.

That was before Matt sold out and announced the move to NYC.
posted by rodii at 12:08 PM on June 25, 2001


God, Metafilter used to be so good, too.

That was before Matt sold out and announced the move to NYC.


heartily agree. i liked mefi's older stuff.
posted by lotsofno at 12:16 PM on June 25, 2001


Oddsea? If you boil the stagnant water of Hollywood, it can be quite drinkable. It won't be as good as the sparkling water of Hollywood, of course, or even the tap water of Hollywood, but it will be better than the fermented mare's milk of Hollywood.
posted by rodii at 12:20 PM on June 25, 2001


I just don't know if the Onion gang can write a movie that isn't instantly a parody of itself and all the things they poke fun at every week.

They write very funny headlines, but the "news" articles rarely live up to the headlines themselves. And as much as the Herbert Kornfeld thing seems like a funny idea, I just don't know if you could sustain it for two whole hours' worth of screen time. Something like that just screams "direct-to-video".

Now, given that they don't intend to "repurpose" old Onion stories (as mentioned in the article), maybe it will turn out that they can write an entire screenplay and have it be funny. If it's just a lame attempt to be like the Zuckers or like the South Park guys, it's never going to work.
posted by briank at 12:20 PM on June 25, 2001


fermented mare's milk of Hollywood

Kumiss, beverage of the stars.
posted by iceberg273 at 12:34 PM on June 25, 2001


I bet we could kick the Onion's ass in a fight. Punks!
posted by rodii at 1:00 PM on June 25, 2001


Especially if we've got exploding kumiss.
posted by iceberg273 at 1:01 PM on June 25, 2001


Did anyone actually read T. Herman Zweibel?

And if so, did anyone actually enjoy it?
posted by dogmatic at 1:17 PM on June 25, 2001


Did anyone actually read T. Herman Zweibel?

Yes, and I enjoyed it. Best use of hyphens any-where!

I don't think Miramax would expect the Onion writers to adapt their parody headlines into films. That's taking things a little too literally, no? Rather, I think they realized how far those folks had taken a very restrictive concept. You would think, then, that once the restrictions were lifted, they could really go nuts.

Then again, Harvey and Bob may just want to use them to "punch up" existing scripts. ("Needs more oomph, needs more zing."...etc. etc.)
posted by D at 2:04 PM on June 25, 2001


This is the most elitist, faux-indie poop I've read in a long time here. Right up there with "Oh, REM hasn't produced anything worthwhile since Document" (D69> I'm more of an OMD fan) and "Nirvana was great with Bleach, but then they sold out." (D69> Never liked 'em) What a load of shit. I've not noticed anything different in the writing; moreover, I never, not for one second ever got any of that T. Herman Zweibel tripe ever. Good riddance. God, Metafilter used to be so good, too.

I thought the Zwiebel stuff was the essence of whet the onion was. That, and the obscure references to places only recognizable by people who grew up in Wisconsin and the surrounding states.

To me the Onion has just seemed kinda wierd and off since January. I actually put less emphasis on the move to NYC for that. Not knowing the internal working or politics at the onion itself I just attribute it to the evolution of the organization. Not everything stays the way you like or goes where you expect it to. The onion has just subtly changed in to something that really doesn't appeal to me any more.
posted by Dillenger69 at 2:32 PM on June 25, 2001


If you actually read through to the 2nd page, it suggests that one project they have in the works is The Onion's Tenth Circle. There are surely many possibilities for fleshing that one out. (Of course, that would totally scotch one of my dream projects, Niven and Pournelle's own modern-day Inferno. Hey -- that's a neat site all its own. You're welcome.)

If you ask me, the Onion's 2000 Election Special Nation Plunges into Chaos (not to mention the startlingly prophetic Bush or Gore: 'A New Era Dawns') represents some of their best work of all time. No, it's not as fresh as it once was, especially when it was a cool secret we Midwestern folk kept to ourselves, but The Onion ... despite inspiring a host of halfway-decent imitators ... remains the best at maintaining a joke for article length. And they have their sidebar headlines feature for the ones that won't work stretched out (Jenna Bush's Federally-Protected Wetlands Now Open for Drilling).
posted by dhartung at 3:09 PM on June 25, 2001


To hire a group of people to manufacture ideas like chickens laying eggs violates the process and the purpose.

That's good. THAT is funny.

Comedy writing has a long and harrowed history of hiring a group of people to create, on demand, screenplays, television shows, and theatre.

I don't believe anyone from Second City, The Harvard Lampoon, Monty Python, the writing staffs of the Simpsons, Letterman, Friends or Frasier believe they have a relationship with a higher realm or are to building bridges between the mundane and the ideal. They do, however have relationships with the folk who hired them, and I do believe that if you hire a few of them, they could do some really really funny stuff with those claims.
posted by dchase at 3:38 PM on June 25, 2001


A few weeks ago the Onion ran something on their front page to the effect of "Cheesy Memeorial Springs Up at Site of Car Accident" or something, making fun of those horrid little shrines of teddy bears and styrofoam funeral wreaths that people invariably create whereever some popular kids drove themselves through a guardrail into oncoming traffic in a drunken stupor. I wanted to keep it onhand for future reference, but it doesn't seem to have ever shown up online. Anyone know if it did and I just missed it?
posted by aaron at 4:00 PM on June 25, 2001


I saw it, and I only see L'Oignon online.
posted by rodii at 4:52 PM on June 25, 2001


If you had a website that got hundreds of thousands of hits weekly, would you look for a means to capitalize off that and put a few more $s in your pocket? Hmmm....
posted by daragh at 11:54 AM on August 27, 2001


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