February 02, 2008

Means fights movie stereotypes

Native rights activist to kick off film seriesThe 68-year-old Means, reached in Wyoming recently as he and his wife, Pearl, were driving home to Porcupine, S.D., says acting is a way of continuing his activism. One role at a time, he chips away at negative stereotypes of Native people.

Every script he gets contains racist material, the Oglala Lakota actor says. While he can't eliminate whole scenes—that would cost the production money and actors who do that don't get work, he says—he can urge inexpensive script changes.

"First you have to get the job ... and then you can talk with the director," Means says. Most directors are in control of the script. "I've found every director to be human and easy to work with."

In Pocahontas, Means says, he was able to influence a script that had Powhatan dismissing Pocahontas' efforts to talk to him before a council meeting. In the movie, Powhatan considers his daughter's words.

In Native cultures, "when a younger person speaks, every elder stops, like the old E.F. Hutton commercial," Means says. "Not only does that give them self-esteem, but you get jewels of wisdom from them once in a while." In fact, Pocahontas helped avert a war. "I'm very proud of that," he says.
Comment:  I once interviewed Means for an article I wrote on Pocahontas.

For more on the Disney movie, see Pocahontas Bastardizes Real People.

5 comments:

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Ah, at last Russell Means has wandered afield into Russell Bates' bailiwick! There are NO 'inexpensive script changes,' as the usual course is to have the original screenplay writer(s) perform any script doctoring AT WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA MINIMUM BASIC AGREEMENT RATES!! "Integrity of work performed" is the language in the MBA and that usually means that the writer(s) has/have been given the additional job description as 'Associate Producer(s).' Most times, that means either presence on the set and/or location, or at least being on-call should any rewrites be demanded. Naturally, as the WGAw wishes to make sure such ameliorations are limited, the rates are set quite high. Russell Means could not write his way out of the box lunch he gets from craft services, and so he doesn't know how such matters ordinarily are handled...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I presume Means meant the writer(s) and director could revise the script in the draft stage, not on the set. Scripts are often revised after actors are cast but before filming starts. An actor's comments could be incorporated then at minimal cost.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Wrong-o, Rob! Production companies are allowed one full rewrite and two polishes (100 words or fewer) for less than scale, and everything after those brings up the gravy train! And that is where Sonny 'SkyHawk' Roubideaux and Mark Reed and HENRY Geiogamah have found their niches, being 'Technical Advisors' who rubber-stamp scripts as written! Thence again, companies may reassign writing and rewriting chores to additional writers but those rates become punitive to the extreme. Hence, making the original writers into Associate Producers allows for some amelioration of higher costs as the writers then become 'hyphenates'...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

So Means could ask for changes during the "one full rewrite" phase and not incur additional costs. Which tallies with what I said and thought.

We often hear about scripts going through multiple revisions for reasons other than Means's complaints. If changes were being made and paid for anyway, Means could chime in without incurring additional costs again.

FYI, here's a description of the standard development process:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screenplay#The_development_process

Once a studio has purchased or commissioned a script, it goes through the process of revisions and rewriting until all stakeholders are satisfied and ready to proceed. It is not uncommon for a script to go through many, many drafts on its journey to production. Very few scripts improve steadily with each draft, and when a certain avenue has been exhausted the writer will often be replaced and another brought in to do a rewrite.

Rob said...

What's the WGA scale for a rewrite, anyway? $20-25K? In a $50-100 million movie, that's peanuts. The relatively low cost probably explains why so many screenplays go through multiple rewrites.