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No business like show business for B-listers begging for dough

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Toback (left)  and Baldwin search  for money  on the streets  of Cannes.

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Toback (left) and Baldwin search for money on the streets of Cannes.

It's called show business for a reason -- you can't put on the show until you look after the business.

That's the simple, practical premise that drives Seduced and Abandoned, a fascinatingly entertaining documentary in which a quest for feature-film financing offers an enlightening glimpse at the inner workings of the film business.

Seduced and Abandoned, which airs Monday on HBO Canada), follows actor/producer Alec Baldwin and writer/director James Toback as they make the rounds at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival in pursuit of funding support for a movie they're hoping to make.

The project, tentatively titled Last Tango in Tikrit, is pitched as a 21st-century update of Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial, sexually explicit 1972 feature starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. The new version, which would star Baldwin and Canadian actress Neve Campbell, would place a similarly psycho-sexual exploration against the backdrop of the political and military tensions of the Middle East.

It's an ambitious notion, and Baldwin and Toback are so confident that the hunt for financing will be interesting that they take a documentary crew with them to record their whirlwind schedule of meetings with producers, actors, studio moguls and assorted billionaires looking to associate themselves with showbiz.

The film opens with on-screen text of legendary Hollywood figure Orson Welles' view of the moviemaking racket: "I look back on my life and it's 95 per cent running around trying to raise money to make movies and five per cent actually making them. It's no way to live."

And from there, it's off to Cannes for Baldwin and Toback to begin the often-undignified process of shmoozing for dough.

They might not be A-list enough to convince the money folks to break out their chequebooks, but they've clearly got enough Hollywood clout to get people to sit down for an on-camera chat. The list of interview subjects is beyond impressive, ranging from film-making giants such as Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Polanski to hot actors like Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain and Diane Kruger to such major-studio heavyweights as Ron Meyer, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Mike Medavoy.

Throw in a handful of billionaires looking to use their limitless cash to create a bit of showbiz-connected caché, and you've got quite a menu of potential investors. But what's obvious -- and, for those nostalgic about Hollywood's golden age, rather discouraging -- is the current bottom-line-driven climate in the movie business simply doesn't embrace non-blockbuster, un-sequel-friendly film ideas such as the one that Baldwin and Toback are pitching.

Especially -- they're told over and over again -- if such a movie stars the middling likes of Baldwin and Campbell, who are not considered to be bankable stars who can guarantee a crucial opening-weekend box-office haul.

Baldwin insists he's at ease with his current position on the Hollywood status ladder.

"You never have to wonder about where you stand in the business because... someone's always sticking a thermometer in your mouth and telling you how hot you are or are not," Baldwin said when he and Toback sat down for an interview during HBO's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "You're constantly being forced to accept whatever their assessment is at that time of how good things are for you.

"You know, when they made Lincoln and they were casting people to play Abraham Lincoln, Spielberg did not call me. He did not ask me to play Lincoln. And, you know, you know that. You just know that there's a time in your life when things are more verdant and they're more rich for you in the movie business and then that changes.

"There are very few people like Cruise and Hanks and Julia Roberts and Denzel and people like that, who can go on for decades and have the best scripts, the best directors, the release dates, the studios behind them, the money, which is a big part of it, too, to buy the (opening) weekend. And rewrites and casting and musical scores -- all of the varied elements that make a movie a good movie, they have a lot of that at their disposal. And that handful of people who ride that wave for years and years and years, God bless them. That's great.

"But for everybody else, the movie business is a very, very... it's a lot of white water. You know, if it doesn't work out, you wind up going and doing independent (films) or you do television. I went to Cannes knowing that there was nothing those people could say to me or about me that I didn't already know."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 G9

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