It was inevitable, given the advance of the technology and big finance’s distaste for living human beings. But the appearance of a long-dead actor, Audrey Hepburn, in a chocolate commercial should give filmmakers – and actors – pause. While it’s been clear for years that the studios and big content producers hate directors, and make a point of pairing them with inappropriate material so as to reduce their capacity to create, up until now they have been forced to treat actors (at least famous ones) with some respect. No more. A company called Framestore has, at enormous expense, resurrected the deceased Hepburn to promote a chocolate bar.
Above is a still. You can watch the commercial here. Note that it isn’t a still from an old Hepburn movie. The technology doesn’t just involve taking old clips and matting them into new environments, Zelig-style. These guys have actually modelled a virtual Hepburn, using all the footage they could find, and stills as well, to create the simulacrum. VoIla! You can read the dull details of how this wonder was achieved here.
What has this to do with us? Not much. I’m not a big fan of the actor in question, nor of the chocolate bar. The problem, for actors and filmmakers, is that the line has been crossed in a unique way. Never mind animations or cartoons or talking animals or costumed superheroes (all recent efforts by the studios to wean themselves off the greedy big star problem), big money now has the means to do without actors entirely. Why cast some troublesome alleged star in a picture when you can make a deal with the next of kin and cast (the dead) John Wayne instead?
This is a real issue. Walk into any big box store and check out the DVD section. For the average couch-potato DVD consumer, Wayne is still a bigger draw than Brangelina. Consider the situation of celebrity children: Wayne’s kids may love him, but the value of his simulacrum will be enormous. And what of kids who detest their actor parent: Joan Crawford’s, say? Done deal! Sell mommie dearest’s likeness to the highest bidder.
We’re looking at a strange and wretched future, as far as the product of the Hollywood studios is concerned. Whereas independent film, unable to afford either the technology or the license from the next-of-kin, will struggle on, employing real living actors and telling stories that weren’t dreamed up by studio execs. Which may not be a bad outcome. Want to see THE SEARCHERS re-made for a hundred million dollars as a cops-versus-the-ghetto drug war movie, starring John Wayne and Marky-Mark? Nor do I. But here it comes…