Share

Tate Taylor – The Invisible Director

The Help is enjoying the success most dramas this year haven’t quite reached: 100-million dollar baby status.  Actually, The Help grossed $160 million, unheard of for a movie that only stars women and isn’t necessarily about sex and a city, or a wedding, or this guy or that guy.  And yet, for all of its success, its director, who is arguably responsible for bringing the thing to the screen at all, not to mention making it the crowdpleaser that it is. In the hands of anyone else, The Help’s writer/director would be lauded right along with the film but because Taylor is unknown that has so far eluded him.

There are only a small handful of films ever nominated for Best Picture or winning that received a solid A from the Yahoo users movie section. You might think that’s a ridiculous barometer, but what I like about that rating system as opposed to, say, IMDb’s, is that at Yahoo Movies they have no agenda.  They aren’t fanning a movie to get on top of their list and they aren’t really a specific crowd of cinephiles, fanboys or what have you.  They are just people going to see movies.  While no film has ever received lower than a B- and been nominated for Best Picture, very few have earned the A grade.  Those movies, as far as I could tell, are: Toy Story 3, Up, Avatar, The Blind Side, The King’s Speech and The Help.

That says a lot.   The New York Times’ Melena Ryzick (aka The Carpetbagger) did a write-up for Taylor I somehow missed. It goes into his background, his history growing up in Mississippi, how he came to the rights for the book (his childhood friend is the book’s author).  The article also talks about the amount of research Viola Davis took on.  She also addresses the ridiculous double standard placed on her to carry both the burden of our shameful past and the burden of presenting it now in a politically correct way.  It isn’t enough that the movie exists at all, that it made $160 million, but because it isn’t quite PC enough it doesn’t go quite far enough for white writers, and some black writers, who object to what I think are tensions that still exist today.  Say what you will about The Help but for me it made me think about the lives we’re living right now.  How far have we really come?  Will this movie inspire other young women to take pen to paper to tell their story, black or white? I hope so.  Anyway, the article is well worth the read and I’m sorry I missed it earlier this month.  Here’s Davis, eloquent as always:

“There was so many expectations placed on us,” she said. “Expectations from the African-American community. Expectations from the people who read the book and really wanted to keep the integrity of the characters. Expectations from the people who lived this life. And then our expectations.”

She at least expected the film to cause debate. “I knew it was coming,” she said after the lunch, “because I understand where it’s coming from, I really do. People are tired of those images — of the maid, uneducated, a thick dialect.”

“But what I stood by and what I still stand by,” she continued, “is that those women actually existed. They’re my mother, and they’re my grandmothers, and they’re people who paid the price so we could enjoy the freedoms we enjoy today.”

Beyond all that, she added, she stood behind her work.

“You’ve got to get beyond the image and the message and look at the execution,” she said. Of Aibileen, she said: “I found her to be a brave character. I was attracted to her because she was quiet and simple, and I felt like she was someone that I knew. I didn’t feel like she was a device or function. I felt like I could put my hand on her. And I felt like when people saw her life on screen, if I was successful, they would be moved by it.”

A bit more from the story:

Ms. Stockett’s novel was turned down by 60 literary agents before she found the one who sold her book, three weeks later; it quickly became a hit. By then she had already sold the movie rights to her childhood friend, Mr. Taylor, an actor turned fledgling director. He wrote the script in the apartment they shared as roommates in the East Village. Later he worked on the script in Los Angeles, where Octavia Spencer, who plays Minny, was his roommate; the film is a web of his relationships. Nonetheless studios were skittish about entrusting a neophyte with such sensitive material. (The director Chris Columbus, a producer of “The Help,” was eventually dispatched to be a full-time on-set baby sitter.)

Mr. Taylor was determined to shoot the movie in his beloved home state. “Mississippi is an assault of life,” he said, speaking by phone this week. “The heat, the bugs, the fried food, the history, the religion, the roadkill everywhere. It absolutely permeates you. I wanted Mississippi to be a character, but I didn’t want to create it. It only made sense to bring the spend of a studio movie to the place where it happened.”

In a meeting with executives from DreamWorks Studios, which ultimately backed the film while Disney distributed, he offered a look book that Mr. Ricker had put together, showing images from their road trip, to make his case. By the summer of 2010 the crew (at least half of its members native Southerners) and the cast — including Viola Davis as Aibileen, Emma Stone as Skeeter, Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly and a memorable Jessica Chastain as Celia, a ditzy but warmhearted wife — were on location in sweaty Greenwood. They were greeted rapturously by the locals, nearly 1,000 of whom wound up as extras.

Ms. Davis, who is considered a shoo-in for a best actress Oscar nomination, arrived a month early. She had already started her research, watching civil rights documentaries like “Eyes on the Prize” and reading books about that era.

“I read anything I could possibly get my hands on to just recreate what it was like to live in that time period,” she said, “because I did not want to bring my 21st-century sensibility to Aibileen and turn her into someone I wanted her to be, instead of something that she was.”

Ms. Spencer too worried about putting a contemporary spin on her character. “I was judging the fact that Minny was an abused wife and didn’t leave,” she said. “I had to understand battered-wife syndrome, which was a phrase that wasn’t even around, a diagnosis that wasn’t even around” at the time. In Ms. Spencer’s portrayal Minny deals with the degradation she suffers at home by maintaining some semblance of dignity at work. “I always tried to make sure to be as erect as possible when dealing with white people,” she said, “because Minny wanted them to know: ‘I know you think that I’m inferior to you. I’m not.’ ”

23 Comments on this Post

  1. I would love to se Taylor get nominated for best director, if you watch the behind the scenes he is pretty interesting, unique and his achievement with this film (as mentioned above) is worth a lot.

  2. Greg Russell

    Great piece and loved this film and just wanted to add that the Film’s Editor Hughes Winbourne did a Fantastic job and should be Nominated for his contribution to this Marvelous film.

  3. julian the emperor

    I have said this all along…don’t count out this guy for best director!! If The Help is as popular among voters as I think it is, surely Taylor will be in serious contention for a spot among the five. Just because he is up against some of the legends of the business doesn’t mean he is automatically an also-ran. Just look at Hooper’s win last year or Lee Daniels who got nominated for Precious a few years back. Daniels didn’t exactly do a great job behind the camera on that one, and still he got nominated in front of bigger names.

    I imagine The Help will win big time with SAG and afterwards The Help will suddenly look like a real contender, and, naturally, so will Taylor.

  4. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Brandon. That’s not helpful.
    If you want to be specific here’s where to reach me to do it right: ryansadams.AD@gmail.com.

  5. Kind of like Bruce Beresford for Driving Miss Daisy.

  6. The Help was just a really enjoyable movie experience. I thought the color schemes Taylor used were great because they created a kind of vivid palette that contrasted sometimes alarmingly with the grimmer looks at black poverty. And a lot of praise has focused on the actors, who surely owe Taylor at least some credit.

    I guess The Help was sort of a simple presentation of complex themes, probably the best way to go about a film regarding southern racism. I’d heard this type of story told in many mediums, and I wouldn’t call it a great movie but any film with such strong visuals and performances deserves credit. And the care given by the filmmakers alluded to in the above articles really showed on screen.

    ….And now we wait for the “Oh Jesus, another article about women in film, give it a rest, other directors are better, who’s paying you to write this article, bias bias bias…”

  7. I’d be kind of surprised not to see him nominated for a DGA, which could set him right up for a “Jason Reitman for Juno” nomination that everyone is kind of surprised at even though no one is surprised to see the film nominated.

  8. Indeed, it’s very interesting to watch the Special Features (Making of the Film) featurette on the dvd. He comes across very well, knowledgeable, and amiable. Could be a sleeper nom.

  9. I still do not understand why The Help is not getting much traction. It’s such an Oscar bait movie–a movie much better than The Blindside. Easily a Best Pic, Best Director, Actress, Supporting Actress (2x), Adapted Screenplay–maybe cinematography and costume. That’s 8.

    I think this is a case where the critics’ awards and the blogs are gonna be way off when it comes down to the Oscar awards. I’m partial to The Help as a movie…and gasp!!!! This could be the year that The People’s Choice Awards will be right on.

    And Oprah? Where are you these days??

  10. The director Chris Columbus, a producer of “The Help,” was eventually dispatched to be a full-time on-set baby sitter.

    Yeesh, that’s like sending the janitor in to check on the medical students.

  11. The Help hasn’t earned $160 million but closer to $170 million in US & Canada.

  12. I agree with Richard A………….”The Help” should be high on the list for Academy Award nominations.Mr. Taylor happens to pull off what directors are supposed to do: get the best out of his actors that makes the film appear simple and not challenging. On the contrary, he is gifted in being able to bring to the screen brilliantly the controversial times and sensitive topics, which are further enhanced with an All-Star cast, whom all were terrific in their respective roles. The only regret I would have is not giving Cicely Tyson and Sissy Spacek more screen time. Hopefully, the Academy will embrace Mr. Taylor and award him with an Oscar nomination, which is very deserving of!

  13. re: parker

    The thought of producer Chris Columbus winning an Oscar, let alone a Critic’s Choice Award, makes me a little sick.

  14. I dunno… I love the Help– it has more heart and spirit than almost any other BP contender this year– but it also has some flaws. As director/screenwriter, I think Taylor should have noticed that a few of the subplots were going nowhere (Skeeter’s boyfriend comes to mind). Between those flaws, a long running time, and the ability to chalk up the film’s spirit to the source materials, I’m not surprised that Taylor hasn’t gotten more traction and I’m not sure that he should.

    But he sure is cute. :)

  15. Tom Hooper was a nobody in the race last year. He ended up beating five of the greatest directors working today. Anything is possible when the award is more about campaigning and schmoozing than actual talent. And did anybody ever stop to think that maybe the film just wasn’t well directed? It’s a crowd pleaser much like other crap that has managed to find it’s way into this mainstream beauty pageant (The Blind Side, Avatar) and it might have a harder time finding a space in a year that doesn’t require 10 slots. It’s just not a very good movie. It’s a very cute Lifeitme-esque film with strong performances with some extremely manipulative moments to seal the deal (the realistic version of this film would’ve given the film a hard R and a not so happy ending.)

  16. I think the film will definitely have at least 5 nominations (picture, actress, supporting actress, supporting actress, song), I think – though not a lock – it will also get a script nod, and then it could even sneak into best costume and maybe even best score.

    The question is whether Tate Taylor will be recognized by the Academy, and if he will HOW ?

    Option 1 – The film receives a Best Picture nomination and individual nomination for Taylor in either Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay.

    Option 2 – The film receives a Best Picture nomination AND a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. This way they could nominate Taylor without giving him a slot in the Best Director category.

    Option 3 – The film receives Best Picture AND Best Director AND Best Adapted Screenplay nominations.

    I think at this point, #1 is a given, #2 is the most likely and #3 will come down to the DGA-WGA.

  17. Option 1 – The film receives a Best Picture nomination and NO individual nomination for Taylor in either Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay.

  18. He’s a capable director, but he’s hardly earned a Best Director nod. If he does get a nomination, it should be noted that it’s really a nomination for the author of the Help, Kathryn Stockett, who stipulated that it was to be only Tate (a childhood friend of hers) that should direct.

  19. “In the hands of anyone else, The Help’s writer/director would be lauded right along with the film but because Taylor is unknown that has so far eluded him.”

    I disagree. “Nobody” knew Tom Hooper, but everybody talked about him.

  20. Profile photo of Sasha Stone

    I disagree. “Nobody” knew Tom Hooper, but everybody talked about him.

    They did know him. He directed John Adams and the Damned United by that point. Weinstein made sure people knew him, made sure they thought of him as prestigious enough to win. Cough cough.

  21. Keil Shults

    Who edits these articles?

  22. Janet Whitley

    Joan Rivers said it perfectly when she said the Help was so boring that she fell asleep. When she woke up, she asked “Did the house get cleaned yet?”. This movie bored me and I’ve heard the same sentiments from many others. Just a silly MOTW (Movie of the Week) perfect for the Hallmark Channel.

  23. Mario Braga

    Gentlemen

    I´m journalist, I live in Brazil and I write a lot about movie. I wonder through the gentlemen, if there would be the possibility of sending an email to the director Tate Taylor for “Help”(one critique) and it could reach the hands him?

    Thanks a lot.
    Mario Braga

Leave a Comment

Warning: Assholes get their comments deleted