Friday, July 03, 2009

Auteur Watch - Les Mayfield

You know, there are many paths to becoming a great film director. You could start out as a great editor like Stuart Baird. Or you could start out as a great cinematographer like Andrezj Bartkowiak. Or start out as a great choreographer like Jeffrey Hornaday. Or a great hairdresser like Paul Abascal. There's many, many more examples, I'm sure. The only other one I can think of right now is Bo Welch, who started out as a great production designer. Those are the big ones that get studied in film school. But for those of you whom fate has not yet smiled down upon, you might want to hedge your bets and be a jack-of-all-trades. That's sort of what Les Mayfield did, our auteur of the week. But not no more! Why, just look at that handsome guy, all confident and smiling. He's thinking to himself, "Sorry, guys! I'd love to stay and answer your questions, but I've got a premiere to get to!"

I've seen the name before, but after watching 1984's Making Of documentary about the film 2010, I'll be damned if I can't get it out of my head! The director of a Making Of documentary about a real film? Well, you gotta start somewhere. And frankly, that's the kind of wise-ass comment a non-believing naysayer would make, but we'll change your mind. Okay, so it's not quite directing actors in a potentially Oscar-worthy performance, but you do get to ask actors questions... or maybe that's someone else's job, too. But Les Mayfield is a uniquely talented man and, with a little bit of luck, he was able to spin those credentials into his first directing gig, 1992's Encino Man. With his producing partner George Zaloom, another name from the aforementioned 2010 documentary, they crafted the script that would launch Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore into the stratosphere. But unfortunately or fortunately for Les, Pauly's not one of these one-director-only primadonnas. If you read the credits carefully on that Costco 5-DVD Pauly Shore Fun Pack you bought your kids for their birthday, you'll notice that Pauly's five biggest films each had different directors. And so, Les had to move on to riskier projects, but the gambit paid off. In 1994 he ended up under the wing of mega-titan John Hughes and he became the new Chris Columbus with 1994's remake of Miracle on 34th Street. And while it didn't make enough to warrant a sequel, he did team up with Hughes for 1997's Flubber. But alas, if there's one thing Mayfield knows about this business, he knows when it's time to move on. And move on from the downward trending John Hughes he did to the upward trending Martin Lawrence for 1999's Blue Streak. A bittersweet end to that apocalyptic decade known as the 90s, which surely is his favorite decade of his directorial career, when he was just starting out (as a director), lean and hungry and eager for work.

And then, on to the decadent 2000s. Not quite as busy, and he was able to be a little pickier and choosier with his projects, such as 2001's American Outlaws. I haven't seen it, but I imagine it has hilarious outtakes at the end, just like 2007's Code Name: The Cleaner. You see, Les knows how to play the game, and he's not afraid to destroy that delicate illusion a film can leave behind after it's over. Sometimes you just gotta bring the viewing public back down to earth with hilarious outtakes during the ending credits. You know, for legal reasons. But every once in a while an opportunity comes along where you can help a guy out. In 2005, he tried to resurrect Eugene Levy's leading man status with The Man. Sure, Levy's gotten plenty of juicy supporting roles over the years, such as the long suffering dad of the American Pie series, but once upon a time in 1986 he was bitten by the leading man bug with that year's Armed and Dangerous. I think it's fallout from the success of Splash. And once you've had that chance to be the next Tom Hanks, you can't help but wonder for the rest of your life afterwards... could it ever happen again? Sometimes you just gotta roll the dice, for cryin' out loud.

Now, for those of you who aren't devotees of the IMDb, there's a new feature where they try to lure you into the pay version of the site by showing you what they call "In Development Credits," where you get the inside scoop on all that stuff that only Variety seems to know about. So what does the future hold for Les Mayfield? Well, they don't say. But that's the kind of guy Les is. He's playing it cool. He's thinkin' legacy, he's thinkin' Lifetime Achievement Oscar, but he's playing it cool. He doesn't need to put what he's up to out there for everyone to see, like Steven Spielberg or (one of the 300 producers of Code Name: The Cleaner) Brett Ratner, no. He could be up to just about anything, like a remake of Matewan, or maybe a documentary about the upcoming Tintin films. You know, just getting back to his roots. Not because he has to, but because he WANTS to. Perhaps find the next Les Mayfield out there, mentor him or her, and try to help him or her not to make the same mistakes along the way, which as we all know completes the circle of success in Hollywood, as in life. Keep on keepin' on, Les Mayfield. We'll be keepin' an eye out for ya, big guy.

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