If you're like me, you are drawn to the movie business for the stories, the wild tales of eccentric producers and egomaniacal stars. Forget what's happening out front, tell me about the man behind the curtain, that nut pulling the levers and making the fake lighting. What makes him tick?
So if you're like me, Sunday is a special day. You check the b.o. tally at boxofficemojo.com and think: "See! I knew it!" and when 11 A.M. rolls around you tune in to your favorite TV show, the Sportscenter for movie junkies, AMC'sSunday Morning Shootout hosted by Peter Guber and Peter Bart.
The Shootout was born from a seminar that these two Hollywood legends gave at UCLA Film School a few years back (where Guber is a full professor according to his bio) and the book of the same name that came from it. And though it's really about two movie veterans re-fighting old arguments by reinforcing their philosophies on new ones, the "shootout" boils down to a simple dilemma faced by Hollywood moviemakers every day: Art Vs. Business. And from that simple point/counter point a great piece of kitsch is born.
Let the schmooze-out begin!
Sitting at a table in a coffee shop set "somewhere in Hollywood," while faux customers read the paper and whisper around them (you know they're fake because no one gets up to complain to the barista) Bart and Guber take on the hot Hollywood topics of the day and field guests you don't get anywhere else. And if you're lucky the yelling starts early.
It's hard to say which Peter I like best. Their knowledge and experience alone is honestly breathtaking considering that between the two of them, they have either made or had a hand in making a goodly chunk of Hollywood's best movies of the past 30 years. And each one has taken from that experience lessons that sometimes unify and sometimes contradict each other. Though both have worn many hats, Guber is "The Producer," the guy most famous for the outrageousness of Guber-Peters, makers of Batman and the man who re-wrote The Art Of War at Sony by taking his Japanese overlords for the ride of a lifetime. And though Bart helped Robert Evans run Paramount in the '70s, and shared responsibility for bothof the Godfathers and Paper Moon, he is "The Writer," Ÿber-Editor of Variety, author of books and screenplays, and whose column "The Backlot," often written in the form of an "open letter" to industry players, can be scathing, insightful and wise. Both are the most connected people in the business, old enough to have seen it all, young enough to still be in the thick of it and enjoy the notoriety that parading their insight in front of TV viewers can bring.
More often than not, Guber will take the business side, how do you market it? what'll it cost? why bother doing it at all? Like all great producers, in mood and temperament Guber is restless, facile and built for expediency. Bart takes a more Mandarin-like big picture view, often standing against trends and for the following of one's gut. But they swap these points of view when the lesson of the moment dictates. After all, in Hollywood it is more important to win than to be right. And on any given argument, they can both be right.
But the joy of the show is the banter, the gossip and the subtext. Knowing where these guys have been, the turf battles they have fought, and the secret grudges they must still keep, every comment is rife with meaning and double entendre. What their weekly chat doesn't reveal is often more important than what they're saying up front. Both are smart and lighting fast, drawing their knives on guests, and each other, and putting them away with a "just kidding" smile. They reveal that Hollywood friendships like theirs are built on this thrust and parry, probing for weakness and hoping your friends can protect themselves -- even from you.
And some of the moments in the six months since the show debuted have been priceless. My particular favorite was when manager Bernie Brillstein dropped by to gave his rabbinical views on the state of the business. But you also got a great story about Bernie being told by his wife during the high water mark of his success in the late '70s to take off the Blue Brothers production jacket please, that he looked like an ass. Having been there themselves, having ridden the ego train that wild success can bring, the two Peters enjoyed the put-down but laughed even more when Bernie reminded them that while his wife was %100 correct, she was also his ex-wife
And last week's interview of Mel Gibson was a good one, too. Prior to Gibson's entrance to the coffee shop, Guber went on about the discomfort he felt sitting through Gibson's movie The Passion Of The Christ and had clearly found it an unpleasant experience only to glad hand and praise Mel when the star/director finally sat down. Up close, Gibson was twitchy, a tic-plagued shadow of the character he played in Conspiracy Theory. But with$250 million in domestic box office it's the kind of performance now labeled "eccentric." Like all arguments in Hollywood, success trumps everything.
At its worst -- when it's a means of self-promotion as this past week's installment with Brett Ratner and Pierce Brosnan proved, it can seem like every other weekly show biz wrap up. And while the need to have something to flog is the life's blood of movie promotion and will always draw stars and directors with movies to plug, it's the real business talk I prefer. We get enough Bright Smile pangloss and "cute things the cast did" on Entertainment Tonight. Me? I want the war stores and ultimately, the truth. And when they miss an opportunity to get at the truth, or let it skate away, the two Peters can disappoint. Take Sylvester Stallone's recent visit during which the superstar got off light. He's fascinating, Stallone. He's had ups and downs, and he's at a really interesting point in his career and I didn't get enough from the interview. I kept waiting for Bart to take the gloves off and give his guest the kind of insight found in one of his Backlot open letters. But the growing tension that he might do that was left hanging there in the caf.
Nonetheless, I love the show biz life this deli-world represents. And if I have a complaint it is that the show could be more so. I can stand a little more rye and Russian dressing being spit at me by some in-the-know macher. A little more Nate & Al's and a little less Starbucks si'l vous plait. Still it's the best game in town. And movie junkies who want to hear the backstage gossip in between tales of ex-wives and "my lawyer the crook" have no better place to turn. The two Peters prove that living successfully may be the best revenge, but living to talk about is the best payback of all.