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Movie Review: They Shoot Movies, Don’t They?

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When They Shoot Movies, Don't They? premiered on the Independent Film Channel, many viewers wondered whether the film – which follows independent filmmaker Tom Paulson, whose life spirals out of control as he tries to raise the money to complete his self-financed project, Mirage – was a real documentary. In retrospect, they probably should have known better. They Shoot Movies, Don't They? was made on a shoestring budget, and even though it's about the seedy world of low-budget, independent film producers and distributors, it never quite looks convincing. One scene, set in a major studio executive's office, looks like it was filmed in someone's kitchen.

If you can get past the obvious budget limitations, They Shoot Movies, Don't They? is quite a compelling film. Paulson (played by Tom Wilson, who also executive produced) is a former high school baseball phenom whose promising career is ruined by injuries. He makes his way into a college film program instead, and on the strength of a baseball-themed short film, gets a cushy job with Universal Studios. But after his projects languish in development hell for three years, he bets all of his money – $250,000 – on a deeply personal project called Mirage.

Unfortunately, his distribution deal falls through, and Paulson is forced to hustle producers, distributors, family, and friends for the funds needed to complete the picture. As a deadline approaches, Paulson is reduced to begging the documentary filmmaker following him around for money to complete the film, and he eventually sells his baseball cards and tries to win completion funds in Las Vegas. Things get worse for Paulson before the film is over.

The most interesting thing about They Shoot Movies, Don't They? is that we never see any scenes from Mirage, nor do we learn many details about the plot. (What we do learn parallels Paulson's own life, and that's why the ending doesn't come as that much of a surprise – although some interesting twists do follow.) Most importantly, the film leaves open the question of whether Mirage is actually any good. It would have been easy for the filmmakers to give us another black-and-white story about how money-grubbing Hollywood types can't appreciate true genius, but the possibility that Paulson may have bet everything on a flawed film makes They Shoot Movies, Don't They? even more poignant.

They Shoot Movies, Don't They? shows us a side of Hollywood we don't get to see very often, and it tells an interesting story. However, a genuine documentary called Overnight  – about an independent filmmaker who briefly became the toast of Hollywood while making his first film, The Boondock Saints, before it all came crashing down – tells a similar story, and has the unfair advantage of being real. Even the most accomplished fake documentary can't compete with real life, unless there's a bad British rock band involved.

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