The Weeknd and The Idol: HBO has a copyright problem

Do successful actors have to produce? Sure. But that doesn’t mean they should call you.

This week brought some disturbing news about an actor calling the shots about his own project, but before we get to the subject of this week’s column, it’s worth giving thanks to the authors around the corner. Cannes is buzzing, with reports of the premieres of “Indiana Jones and the Disc of Fate” and “Killer of the Flower Moon” hinting at a lot of Hollywood on the Croisette. There’s another film on offer that won’t wow red-carpet goers, but should wow true cinephiles: a 20-minute short directed by the late Jean-Luc Godard.

“Funny Wars” is the last full-length film vision of the French New Wave legend before his assisted suicide last year, and sources say it’s locked in the lineup. (He left notes for another short, “Scenario,” which his old collaborators Fabrice Aragno and Jean-Paul Battagia are working on completing.)

The premiere of “Funny Wars” offers a bittersweet salute to one of the most adventurous filmmakers in history. Like much of Godard’s late work, “Funny Wars” didn’t require actors: Godard used a collage-like approach that mixed together fragments of images and text to convey ideas more abstract than any performer could deliver. Expect a wide range of philosophical musings on the modern world, including some chilling references to suicide as a form of disobedience. Godard didn’t just make films to the end; he lived in them, more than any actor. Filmmaking was his state of mind.

I thought about Godard’s growing disinterest in actors in light of new reports about the production of HBO’s upcoming The Idol . Much of this troubled history isn’t new: As I reported in this column last year, series director Amy Seimetz was ousted after series star Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and co-creators Sam Levinson and Reza Fahim took over over issues with the show’s so-called “female perspective”.

“Euphoria” creator Levinson was already an executive producer on “The Idol” — he had several producers on the shows — but became its writer and director when Seimetz left. Anonymous sources have slammed the revised show for containing sexually violent script drafts, including a scrapped scene in which Tesfaye’s character gets an erection while attacking her romantic partner, played by Lily Rose-Depp.

As much as the internet-fueled rage machine questions Levinson for coming up with such grotesque material, it’s likely acting out of respect for his star. No one’s talking, but when I heard about the aforementioned scene, it sounded oddly familiar — then I realized it was essentially stolen from Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer , the extremely gory 2001 Japanese cult classic featuring a killer. kill.

And it just so happened that Tesfaye acquired the rights to an English-language remake of “Ichi the Killer” a few years ago and went so far as to hire Paul Schrader to write a screenplay and then cast him. “I asked him if he was sure he wanted to play Ichi,” Schrader said when asked about their initial exchange. “Ichi was a supporting character. He said yes. That made me think he didn’t think much of the business. It was Ichi in the title, so of course it wanted to be Ichi.”

It’s also possible that after Tesfaye moved on from this idea, he decided to sublimate it into another project. By all accounts, “The Idol” is The Weeknd’s first project, and “From the Creator of ‘Euphoria” is their second project together. It looks like the same guy who garnered his own Super Bowl appearance has entered the expanded universe of HBO’s most-watched series after “Game of Thrones.”

It’s hard to say how this will turn out. “The Idol” may shrug off the drama if it becomes a hit, but the result is an infuriating headache that no one should have. According to sources, Levinson wanted to distance himself from “The Idol” while trying to take a break between “Euphoria” seasons, but was brought on for talent management rather than creative oversight. There was too much at stake to outsource: the future of “Euphoria” and its role not only within HBO, but as a critical part of A24’s growing television presence and overall market value. (The company recently launched the makeup line inspired by the performance.)

Although the end result comes together, “The Idol” suggests a cautionary tale about inexperienced talent being given too much creative control. The Weeknd may be a musician and stage presence extraordinaire, but in this case he’s playing an author despite being greener than your average production assistant.

The Weekend and Lily-Rose Depp "The Idol"

The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp in ‘The Idol’


In recent years, more and more American stars have insisted on making credits in order to receive adequate compensation for the final result. These credits often lead to the perception that the actors can also direct the show. There’s a reason France still embraces the auteur theory, to the point where the country actually has laws protecting the director’s final cut: The best storytelling in film and TV requires tremendous collaboration, but the greatest results come from a singular vision. results in In films, this is the director; on TV, it has to be the showrunner — although currently the official showrunner for “The Idol” is Joe Epstein, who has no other roles listed on IMDb. Again, there is no question as to who is actually calling the shots.

Major actors who want to influence popular culture, as Tesfaye did, can consider creating a new work without being in it. That’s what Emma Stone did with her new production company, which will see Julio Torres make his directorial debut with the Tilda Swinton-starrer “Problemista” at SXSW this month. (The timely comedy, also produced by A24, is strong.) Stone’s talent and stardom are assured; if “The Problemist” achieves widespread acclaim, it can bask in some credibility without forcing itself on it.

Of course, The Weeknd didn’t just want to see “The Idol”; he wanted to be the literal star of the show, and he got his wish. But talent with such extraordinary resources should think twice about forcing others to tell their stories or allowing real storytellers to create their own works. Whatever the best solution, when dramas like this play out in public, it’s hard not to imagine Godard looking down on the mess with a wry grin and having the last laugh.

As usual, I invite feedback on the issues highlighted in this week’s column by emailing [email protected]

See previous columns here.

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