The “Risky Business” of Filmmaking

Film CrewDear Reader,

The American film Risky Business came out in 1983. It was written and directed by Paul Brickman. It stars Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Masur, Bronson Pinchot, Curtis Armstrong, and about 45 other cast members. There were three producers, an original musical composition team, costume designer, make-up department, set decorators, pre and post-production team members, assistant directors, editorial departments, cameras and electrical departments, stunt departments, special effect departments, sound, and art departments. There were people involved with advertising, with the premiere, with maintaining the buzz for the film, distributors, and so on. It has been thirty years. Yet, when you ask people if they have heard about the film Risky Business, it seems as though 95% of people will nod enthusiastically and say, “Oh yeah, that’s the film where Tom Cruise slides in his underwear, isn’t it?” Still. Forget the other 90 minutes of the film. Forget any of the other players. In the end, it all comes down to this iconic scene. (The same could also be used for the song “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger, though that admittedly had a life of its own before it was used in this scene.)

There is something very impressive, very amazing about this, though I am not sure if it is amazing because of how great or how sad the situation is. Of course film has always been a collaborative effort, and the more people involved, the more people get forgotten by the majority of the public. If there are iconic moments in the film, then you can greatly forget about including anyone else besides the person (s) shown on screen at the time of the iconic moment, and perhaps some of the sensory details (music, set, location). Is this really worth it? If working for a film, wouldn’t all of the other 300+ people who are not the principle characters or the director feel so ignored in their efforts? That’s not to say that the crew members don’t know what they are signing up for. And, in some ways, perhaps their hard work is recognized the most by not being recognizable. That is to say, you’ll know if the crew is doing their job by how much they blend—or fail to blend—into their film surroundings. Sometimes, the role of a film crew is to make all of the external elements feel so natural that nothing—whether it be the music choices, set decorations, weather, lighting—appears out of place. I suppose it would also be fun to tell friends of yours that you worked for an iconic movie, even if the work that you did was not individually acknowledged by more than a line in the closing credits. And, one could argue, that if a film bombs and does not become the cultural landmark you were hoping/expecting for, you can be spared much of the public shaming that the more prominent faces of the film—principal actors and producers/director—often are subject to. (Really, when have you heard someone walk out of a film and complain, “Wow, that second unit assistant director really ruined the film for me”?)

Reader, what do you think? If you have ever worked for a film as part of the crew (or even if you have not), feel free to express your thoughts down below. Would you want to be the star that gets the majority of the fame? Or would you prefer to contribute in quieter ways?


Jumbled Writer

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6 Responses to The “Risky Business” of Filmmaking

  1. I think you’re touching on the notion of consumer appreciation. We often hear of talk about “not being appreciated” or “taken for granted.” You mention the number of cast members and only one person being remembered from Risky Business. I can, without question, say I’m taken for granted by my customers. They want me to translate something as esoteric as Federal aid to universities and make them understand it on a sock-puppet level. They forget about me after they graduate.

    To bring this around to your topic. I’m only one step away from the consumer. The acting community is more distant than that. They do not see the face of every single viewer of their film. They are quite isolated from their audience. There’s almost a disconnect between the crew and the consumers. It’s like the actors and actresses don’t even seem “real.” That’s why I think people can be “star struck,” because a personality actually shows themselves to be tangible and present.

    Also, here’s a rare question. How much film is out there? Without being dramatic, there’s more than any one single human can view in a lifetime. Who makes the cut? Who gets unnoticed completely? Would you rather be on the cast and crew of a movie that has at least one memorable moment? That may be why people still work in film and don’t get discouraged with the anonymity. There’s simply so much out there, and the human mind can only retain so much before life becomes distracting.

    • That’s a very true comment. Just to see the amount of films released in a single year, in a single country, is pretty staggering. I just looked up a list for U.S. films released in 2012 and counted about 210. A few of those were re-releases, but most were original and largely had major distribution, as opposed to the more independent films. And it does speak to the power of the scene that people could remember the scene a year from then, much less thirty years on.
      I also like what you said about being star-struck. I think it is that idea that the actors don’t really exist beyond the movies/television. To think that you are in the presence of someone you admire and respect so much, but have never been in actual contact with, is probably like meeting someone who you swore only existed in your dreams.

  2. I identify Risky Business as more Rebecca DeMornay’s debut and less as the visually arresting event that showed us Tom Cruise dancing in tighty-whities although that scene inspired fantasies of what lay beneath the BVDs… I digress. The film was yet another example of the hot water 1980s teenagers typically got into when their parents left town. Remember Weird Science and Sixteen Candles? Jake Ryan’s parents were undoubtedly incensed over the damage to the coffee table alone after Anthony Michael Hall was entombed inside of it…

    • If you want a breakthrough role, being in a film like Risky Business is probably the way to do it–assuming that you had a good performance, which Rebecca De Mornay did. Yes, the first time I saw Risky Business, I was expecting there to be more of a punishment than there was. Things certainly fell into place for Joel.

  3. You make a good point. All those people, all that work, and it’s one iconic image that so often defines a film, and the actor owns that moment. I think films should belong first and foremost to the director and/or writer. They conceived and created it, with plenty of support, including those actors that tend to get so much attention. The Shining is a Stanley Kubrick movie, not a Jack Nicholson movie, even though ‘Heres Johnny!’ Is what most people remember. That said, I had no idea who directed Tom Cruise’s undies slide until reading your post!

    • I admit that I didn’t know who the director was, either, even though I’ve seen that image so many times. I think there can be room to include both. Stanley Kubrick gave a significant amount of energy and dedication to The Shining, but all of that work would not have resulted in a complete film if it wasn’t for each and every cast and crew member doing their jobs. Indeed the “Here’s Johnny!” moment brings a ton of focus to Jack Nicholson, but the music, editing, and direction also contributed to the complete feel of the scene. Though you definitely have a point about Kubrick, because the line was improvised. Kubrick could have demanded that Nicholson stick to the script, but it seemed Kubrick knew what he was doing when he kept it in.

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