J. Thomas J. Thomas Music producer & aspiring writer

The Final Cut

What seems common sense to me is actually a well-preserved privilege in the movie industry.

The definition of art has been changing ever since the word has been invented, but it’s safe to say that it is a process through which one delivers a message and speaks to the emotions and intellect of an audience. The product of this process, whether it’s a musical symphony, a sculpted piece of marble, or fourteen rhymed lines, is meant to draw attention and engage people. The artist is the one who creates the art (and eventually takes all the credit), through the use of a particular skill. I say “the one” because art is generally the vision of a single person.

Let  us consider to what extent a film can (or should) be considered a piece of art. We do call it the filming industry. And it does take much money to entertain the audience. Is art just meant to divert people? I wonder.
Taking into account the amount of people involved in the creation of a single film, how can we spot the artist? Is it the writer, who came up with the plot and dialogs? The main actors, whose performances carry the drama of the movie? The producer, who gathers everyone involved in the process of creating the film? Or the director, who controls all actors in a well-defined arrangement?

As a matter of fact, the director is generally the one ending up in the spotlight. He is the one rewarded through the success of a movie. He takes credit for the final sequence of audio and video of which the audience takes benefit.
Wait, did I say “final”? I meant close to final.
The director doesn’t get to decide upon the final editing of a film, right before being sent to all movie theatres (or printed on DVDs). And it is well known that the editing plays a leading role in the quality of a movie. So why isn’t the last one left to the director to settle?

The answer is : money decides. The producer has made an investment, on which he wants a maximum return. So any part of the movie that might offend or disappoint the audience is meant to disappear, whether it alters the plot or impairs the quality of the film.

Is this final privilege common in other forms of art?

Let’s take a look at music, which is nowadays a 5-steps process. Writing, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering. The producer is the only one involved from start to finish. Where and when does the artist take action? In the first 3 steps. He seldom participates to the mixing and never to the mastering, although they are the last steps before the final CD printing.
What if the artist isn’t pleased with some decisions taken at these moments? He can alter the process. It has happened. For example, the Foals weren’t happy with Dave Sitek’s mixing of their Antidotes album, so they remixed it.

If a final product doesn’t meet a musician’s demands, modifications can be asked for. In contrast, a director’s hands seem quite hardly tied. His word doesn’t weigh much against a production company’s decisions. You’d have to be highly bankable, like Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, in order to be granted the privilege of the Final cut.

What if I wanted to direct my first movie in Hollywood and still decide upon the final cut of my film, and turn it into a “director’s cut”? I guess it’d take me to produce, write and direct it, all at once. A process which would leave a genuine imprint of accomplishment on my work.