The Big Picture

Institute History

  • 1989 Sundance Film Festival


If ever a film were made for the United States Film Festival and the independent film community, The Big Picture is it. This David Puttnam—backed project, a wild send-up of Hollywood filmmaking, quietly survived the change of regimes at Columbia Pictures to see the light of day as our Festival premiere. When Nick Chapman (Kevin Bacon) wins a student film award, his Hollywood career takes off. Set to direct a “big picture,” he changes his life to suit the outward trappings of success: new car, girlfriend, clothes, apartment, etc. His fame, however, is fleeting; his fall from Hollywood grace as rapid as his rise. Down and out, he finally returns to a vision of filmmaking closer to his heart.

From its first spoof of student filmmaking, to a hilarious bit by funnyman Martin Short as Nick’s agent, down to the set design of his producer’s power office, The Big Picture is an exact, ripping parody of the Hollywood community. The disclaimer at the end of the film that “any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is coincidental and unintentional,” while no doubt legally true, is, in fact, the ultimate in-joke. The film is riotous in its sense of studio reality: many in the audience will be tempted to stand up and yell, “Hey, that happened to me!” The Big Picture seems drawn from the collective soul of all Southern California independents—as their last-laugh revenge.

The Big Picture is Christopher Guest’s first feature film (although he is familiar from his role as the dimwitted rock star of This Is Spinal Tap and regular appearances on “Saturday Night Live”). He directs with the pace and rhythm of a seasoned jokester, so precise is his depiction of the ridiculous. Kevin Bacon, too, is particularly well cast as the gleefully naive young filmmaker, Nick Chapman, seduced and abandoned by the industry. No one escapes the razor wit of screenwriters Michael Varhol, Guest and Michael McKean—except for film critics who, in reality, should rally around this fine and very funny film to ensure its deserved success.

Screening Details

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