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What Makes a Movie a Movie?

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn April 13, 2009 at 3:18AM

What Makes a Movie a Movie?
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Bobcat and 'World's Greatest Dad' star Robin Williams at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Last week, I broke the news that Magnolia Pictures had purchased World's Greatest Dad, a joyfully dark and vulgar comedy that premiered at Sundance in January. It's not a perfect movie, but people who decried Bobcat Goldthwait's rather blunt directorial skills seem to miss the point: Goldthwait's not a flawless filmmaker, but he mostly succeeds as an amusing storyteller, and his self-involved, seriously dysfunctional characters are refreshingly easy to watch. There's a a delightful wide-eyed innocence to his movies, so that you only feel that "oh-no-he-didn't" wave of discomfort only after the fact. Approaching middle age, Goldthwait has plenty of potential as a writer-director, but much time will pass before most people stop identifying him mainly as the crazy dude from the seemingly endless run of Police Academy movies.

And, much as I hate to admit it, I'm still one of those people. I admitted that to Goldthwait when he called me to share the Magnolia news, and he seems to have made peace with this reality — but that doesn't mean he plans to return to it.

IMDb lists Goldthwait as playing Zed in a "rumored" production of Police Academy 8, set for release in 2011. Bobcat tells me that's bunk: "The only place Police Academy 8 exists is on IMDB," he says. "No one has ever spoken to me about it. If they do make another Police Academy, I think it would be wise of them to do a remake, seeing as a couple of us are dead now."

Fair enough, but if you take a look at the fallacious page on IMDb, there's really nothing to distinguish this essentially non-existent movie from the countless real ones listed on the site. In the early days of IMDb, it was a lot easier to submit fake movies to the database, but inaccurate entries still frequently slip through the cracks. This raises a larger epistemological question: What makes a movie a movie? If it gets an IMDb page, and fans start posting their reactions to the movie's potential ingredients (as they have in this case), has some element of Police Academy 8 snuck into existence?

I think there's a real value to asking this question. Web tools have enabled a number of ways for the seeds of film production to take root before any substantial part of a movie comes together. On IndieGoGo, users simply need to post the idea for a movie in order to start raising money for it. The new partnership between Massify and Killer Films suggests a similar situation, where movies begin their lifespans as "free form pitch videos and screenplays" that ultimately develop into full length features. If someone makes a pitch video for a great movie, should that movie get an IMDb page? How much does an idea have to form before it yields an actual product?

The easy answer? A lot. But it has become insanely simple to get the gears rolling.

This article is related to: New Releases, Independent Cinema, New Media, Digital Distribution