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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

November 9, 2010 at 1:51 PM

The Hollywood language barrier

Enjoyable article today in the L.A. Times about Tom Hooper, director of the very fine British film “The King’s Speech” (coming to Seattle around Christmas). Hooper’s interested in expanding his British period-film base and making movies in Hollywood, but he’s having a little trouble with the language:

“I’ve discovered that the film culture in Los Angeles is very indirect — it’s almost Japanese in that way,” he said. “No one says what they actually mean. It must be why you need an agent, because you need someone to interpret the indirectness for you. It’s really quite odd. You’ll hear that the person from the studio doesn’t want to meet with you because they’re afraid that they’ll have to say no to you and you’ll be upset. So rather than risk saying no, they would rather not see you at all.”

So that’s what agents do.

Hooper admits that he’s often the cause of some of the cultural confusion. When his American agent would send him scripts, he would often be unimpressed. “So I would say ‘I quite like it,’ which in the English way means that I really didn’t like it. But my agent would go, ‘Oh, great, you liked it–we’ll set up a meeting.’ It took me a while to realize how different the meaning was over here.”

And Hooper’s already experienced the ephemeral nature of big Hollywood movie projects — this time “East of Eden”:

Still, after the success of “Elizabeth I” and “John Adams,” Hooper found himself being wooed all over town. He ended up signing on to do a new version of “East of Eden” at Universal Pictures, with Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”) penning the script and Brian Grazer, the studio’s top producer, overseeing the project. Everything seemed on target until the week that Hampton finished the script, which coincided with a shift in priorities at the studio (which had suffered a series of costly box-office failures). “Chris was due to turn in the script on a Friday, which turned out to be exactly the same time that [Universal co-chairman] Donna Langley gave an interview announcing that the studio was getting out of the drama business,” Hooper recalls. “So suddenly the project wasn’t happening. It was as if ‘East of Eden’ had fallen on the wrong side of history.”

Undaunted, Hooper says he’s learning a lot about what not to do in L.A. by watching “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Here’s wishing him luck.

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