This weekend, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, premiered in theaters starring two of the biggest names in the business, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. This is the first time the two have shared the screen in a major motion picture feature, but this is not the first time the two have worked together. Martin Scorsese directed and also starred alongside DiCaprio, Pitt and Robert De Niro in The Audition. This short is often slated as the most expensive short film ever made, coming in at a reported (yet unconfirmed) $70 Million!
In the short, the cast play themselves meeting up at a high-end hotel in Macau and then hopping to the other hotel locations in order to chat with Martin Scorsese about a potential role. The comedy of the piece lies in De Niro and DiCaprio’s fight over the same role as the head of a casino in Scorsese’s next movie. The duo is then replaced by Brad Pitt by the end, who is only in the short for less than two minutes.
De Niro and DiCaprio have not been in a movie together since the nineties in This Boy’s Life. The dynamic between them is funny, and it is easy to see the chemistry of Scorsese’s two muses working with their favorite director.
Terence Winter wrote The Audition, who wrote multiple Scorsese films. The short run time proved challenging for Scorsese, whose films often run long. In a 2015 LA Times article, Scorsese was quoted saying, “A short film is even tougher in a way. It has to be something that’s not a prologue to a bigger work. It has to be contained in and of itself.” On the plot, he said it is, “not biographical but a kind of reality-based, with humor about ourselves.”
The $70 Million dollars spent on a 15 minute short is only part of the backstory. The A-listers reportedly made $13 Million each leaving tens of millions for production. The production itself shot in New York in a green screen studio. The hotel settings were added in post from 3D renderings of the actual hotels. Although it looks clean, it is pretty obvious what is real and what is digital, especially to the well-trained moviegoer who is now used to CGI sequences.
The Chinese company Melco Crown Entertainment paid for the movie. The company is a partnership between Chinese mogul Lawrence Ho and Australian businessman James Packer. Packer shares the production company RatPac with director/producer Brett Ratner. Melco and RatPac produced the film under Ratner’s supervision in order to showcase the opportunities in the Chinese film market to Hollywood. Reversely, the film can show the cagey and strict Chinese government that big stars are game to play when it comes to foreign content. The biggest stars in the world and a legendary director is proof positive and will work as a calling card for both Melco and RatPac.
The short was initially to be featured at the Venice Film Festival in 2015, but was canceled because of “technical issues.” Yet, rumor had it, the film was removed for being far too commercial to be considered for the competition. All involved claim it is not a commercial, but watching it makes it clear, the hotels are the main characters despite the star power.
The full-length short screened ahead of films in movie theaters in China ahead of mainstream films. The Chinese government has strict rules about casino ads in mainland China, so this short works as an elegant loophole.
The short does feel as though Hollywood is happy to find a way into the Chinese market, yet play by their rules. Many films are edited or originally written to follow Chinese policy these days. Iron Man 3 from Marvel Studios featured an added scene of Iron Man flying over China and included a major Chinese star in the Chinese cut of the film. The Audition represents the marriage between Hollywood’s financial interests in the Chinese film market with Chinese commercialism. The behind-the-scenes story of this short offers a microcosmic look at the international Hollywood conversation.
Hollywood has been leaning closer and closer to the international box office in the last decade or so. Primarily, this is making films focus less on America-centric story while using Hollywood’s filmmaking prowess to create content only Hollywood can. From this, filmmaking in other countries may not develop into its own brand best representing its own culture. The more Hollywood dominates, the less room there may be for local films to make it big.
China is actively trying to up their game, but their films rarely reach outside of China. A greater exchange of ideas and culture through cinema is the optimistic version of the future of film. The pessimistic side pushes us into culture-less story with risk-averse films guaranteed to make money back by utilizing preexisting and popular content. The Audition sits on the more optimistic side, if only it was given a wider release and wasn’t scripted with so much commercialism in mind.
Although the film is not perfect, it is fun. The talent behind it is impressive. Those involved think this could be developed into a feature. The only version posted online in 2016 is in poor quality. Check it out below for a taste of this funny little project.
What are your thoughts on The Audition? Share in the comments!