Auteur theory is bullshit. It can take hundreds of people to make a film and many of them have creative input and an impact on the look, feel, and execution of the film—the idea that a singular director can have uncompromising control over a project is increasingly rare/impossible. But I am consistently challenged in my beliefs by BLANK CHECK WITH GRIFFIN AND DAVID, a weekly podcast diving into the filmographies of famous/infamous directors and the “blank check” concept, that one or two great movies can guarantee a career’s worth of bizarre, misguided, or fantastic projects. Basically, you direct a THE DARK KNIGHT and then you get a “blank check” to direct INTERSTELLARs until you die or the “check bounces”. The show is hosted by Griffin Newman (Amazon’s THE TICK) and David Sims (The Atlantic), long-time friends (they frequently note this as their “competitive advantage”) with an obsessive knowledge of film and pop culture in general. They are occasionally joined by a third guest (usually someone from the film criticism world) and their podcast producer Ben Hosley (whose many nicknames are a running joke of the show). In many ways this is traditional for a comedy podcast in 2017, or a film podcast, but personality and actual insight set BLANK CHECK apart.
The podcast originally started as a Star Wars podcast focusing on the works of George Lucas and their broad spectrum of quality, but for the sake of novelty and keeping the podcast alive they switched to a miniseries-based format focusing on a rotating group of filmmakers. I first jumped on for their takedown of Colin Trevorrow’s THE BOOK OF HENRY (between miniseries gaps they’ll occasionally do one-offs on particularly “unique” films), but I became hooked on their Christopher Nolan miniseries. As hosts, Griffin and David exhibit a range of neuroticism and peculiarities, but they have an excellent, brotherly vibe that brings just the right amount of levity to every conversation. Beyond that, Griffin’s nuanced insights into performance from his years of acting and the hosts’ shared knowledge of film history and the broad “movements” of the industry provide valuable information as well. For the Nolan series this came up through an appreciation of Nolan’s stable of actors and his particular thematic obsessions, whether it be with time or the conflict between life and art. Even for films you know you already like, these kind of conversations offer the space and opportunity to really think about what attracts you to a filmmaker’s work and how their skill can often be corrupt or perverted by the industry’s inability to take smart risks.
In this way this podcast lives and dies by the auteur theory and Hollywood’s dated, Golden Age insistence on obsessing over certain filmmaker’s “voices” or “visions,” but for a disbeliever like me, there is a kernel of truth. It might take more than just one person’s persistence to make a great film, but it only takes one to make truly bad movie.
Its simple in its structure, but ultimately this podcast does that good thing that many “friends-hanging-out-together” podcasts do: after a few listens you feel like you might actually know the people on the show. Not who they are or what their life actually is, but a strong sense of their personality. This is something that is unique to these kind of shows. Because they speak passionately about something they actually care about, you feel the meaning behind their words and you endear yourself to them. Few podcasts I’ve listened to achieve this in as little time as BLANK CHECK has, but when it happens to you, you’ll know. Don’t be intimidated by the in-jokes or the dense filmographies. Listen to the interactions and the passion and let the rest happen naturally.