If you want to be the best, talk to the best. OK, that’s not going on a fortune cookie any time soon. Conventional wisdom says that if you want to climb to the top of any field, follow the footsteps of those who walked before you. For first time director Jonathan Baker, he did just that and brought cameras along to record everything.
Neal Thibedeau’s Becoming Iconic really could be called “Directing Big Studio Films for Dummies.” That sounds bad, but it’s actually a fascinating treatise on big budget directing. Half of the film is a series of interviews with some of the top directors in Hollywood including Jodie Foster (Little Man Tate), Taylor Hackford (Ray, Dolores Claiborne), Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Flashdance), and John Badham (Wargames, Saturday Night Fever).
This incredible lineup of directors discuss the process of directing studio movies, while at the same time giving advice to Baker, who is about to direct his first film. The second half of the documentary follows Baker’s journey directing the feature film, Inconceivable, starring Nicolas Cage, Gina Gershon, and Faye Dunaway.
“…interviews…including: Jodie Foster, Taylor Hackford, Adrian Lyne, and John Badham.”
Let’s start with Baker’s story. Baker is an insightful person. The film’s title, Becoming Iconic, is clearly Baker’s dream as a director with the Oscar as the pinnacle of his dream. The beginning of the film is Baker in various New York locations talking and talking and talking about his neglected upbringing, his love of films, how he got into filmmaking, and the mentorship he received from Warren Beatty.
If there is a flaw in this film, it comes right at the beginning. Although Baker is a highly introspective person, he is a verbose person. His opening monologue at the start goes on for a long time and feels like a never-ending stream of consciousness. At first, I thought this guy was a class-one narcissist. You can tell by the title alone, Becoming Iconic. About a third of the way through, he transforms himself into a passionate student of the craft of directing and a passionate cheerleader for the art of film. You get to see how he incorporates the wisdom of the directors into his time on set.
Every single director talked about their first day on set and how that first day was a “shit-show.” Let’s face it; inexperience means you don’t know what you’re doing and for all of them, that first day was a waste. Baker, on the other hand, had is eyes wide open and prepared for that first day, which ultimately saved his project.
“…most importantly, how collaboration can kill your film.”
Discussed at length is this battle between the filmmaker, production company, and studio. When the studios invest millions of dollars in the first-time director, there is no trust in that director’s ability. Baker’s first day on set, he had representatives from the production company, bond company, and studio watching over him and waiting for Baker to fail. The studio, Lionsgate, even brought a replacement director along to take over, if needed. That pressure didn’t help the fact that the studio forced him to shoot 13 pages a day over the first half of production.
There’s a lot of wisdom to be mined from this documentary: financing, preproduction, working with actors, looking confident on set, holding true to your vision, and most importantly, how collaboration can kill your film. Becoming Iconic is a Master Class on directing. Film School teaches you the technical aspects of filmmaking. Becoming Iconic tells you how to be a leader on set and manage everyone around you from crew to studio without killing yourself of sheer exhaustion. You’re going to pay a few bucks to see this film. The lessons within it are priceless.