Wells to Hollywood Journalists
Jeffrey Wells (email@example.com) writes:
Dear Journalist Friends,
I'm jamming on a major piece for Empire, England's coolest, best-read movie magazine, and the topic is Hollywood Now. And I'm looking for journalists to pipe in and, if they want to, be quoted.
The idea isn't exactly to come up with one of those "power" lists, thank goodness. Well, this aspect isn't being totally ignored, although the main idea is to put together a list of Hollywood MVP's -- Most Valuable Players. Who are the Sharpest, Hippest, Craftiest, Most Perceptive, Most Ahead of the Curve?
You could define them as the Hollywood people due the most credit for churning out those relatively few movies that really deserve to be called cool, great, memorable, awesome, etc. I mean, relatively small club...right?
Another way of looking at or defining these people is to ask who in Hollywood do you most admire from a journalistic perspec tive? The most honest, accessible, most consistently straight, most in the know, etc.? (Yes, I realize these are different questions and perspectives, but there's a certain overlap, I believe.)
I'm not asking that you stop what you're doing for my sake, but if you could just forward, say, the names of five people who fit the bill, in your opinion. And a brief explanation as to why you believe they qualify. And that's it. Whatever you feel like sending back, great. If you reply, just tell me if you're attributable or not.
P.S. Uhmm....there's more to this if you're in a productive mood. (Are you?) Here are 10 extra-credit questions. Ready?
1. Who do you feel are the most undervalued players in Hollywood? The most over-valued?
2. What do you think is going to be the among the most signficant directions, attitudes, discoveries and trends of the next ten years? And which people are going to be leading the way?
3. Who among the big or medium-sized players really needs to do take a different tack and basically re-orient him/herself and stop what they're currently doing? Again, try and explain WHY.
4. Whom do you think is most likely among, say, the under 50's to be standing at the Oscar podium 25 or 30 years from now with an Irving Thahlberg award in his/her hand?
5. Who in your opinion are the coolest High Pedigree Elites (Steven Soderbergh, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Chris Nolan...that type of talent)?
6. Name, if you will, one young mongrel currently snapping and snarling at the gates who may well become the hottest new filmmaker in five years time, or less.
7. Who, in your view, are the current up-and-comers of particular note right now? (I mean actors, directors,producers, etc.)
8. Who were the hot up-and-comers five or ten years ago, but are on the outs or on their way down today?
9. Who really, REALLY deserves to be given a second chance and be looked at afresh?
10. Name a recent, highly admired European, Asian or Middle-Eastern film that Hollywood will never remake, no matter what. Please explain WHY you think this. And if you have any pithy observations or wiseacre-isms of your own that you think might fit in with a cheeky sum-up piece of this sort, please send them along.
Topics Of Discussion Over My Sabbath
It's been years since a girl at an Orthodox day school in Los Angeles has gotten pregnant. The overwhelming majority of the kids who graduate Orthodox high schools are still virgins, I hear from kids who attend these schools. So much for the argument that they are going to do it anyway.
When marijuna-laced brownies were found at the most liberal of the Orthodox high schools (Shalhevet, where boys and girls attend class together and have an identical curriculum), the scandal was known throughout the Orthodox world in North America, and the students responsible for the prank were suspended from school, though not kicked out so it wouldn't affect their entry into a good college.
At the most strict Los Angeles Orthodox high schools, Bais Yaakov (for girls) and Yeshivah Gedolah (boys), students are not allowed to date or go to movies.
One unfortunate side effect of strict prohibitions in yeshivas against touching the opposite sex - boy-on-boy and girl-on-girl action.
When the Orthodox law court in Los Angeles was less condemning of Reform and Conservative Judaism, Reform and Conservative rabbis would often send their congregants getting a divorce to the Orthodox law court (that way their divorce would be accepted across th Jewish people). Now that the RCC (Rabbinical Council of California) is harsher towards Reform and Conservative, the RCC gets less cooperation from the non-Orthodox.
At Temple Sinai Friday night, Rabbi David Wolpe spoke about his visit to the White House last week and his dinner with President Bush (celebrating the opening of the Anne Frank exhibit at Washington D.C.'s Holocaust museum). Rabbi Wolpe sat one person away from the president and everyone at the table had the chance to talk with the president.
Rabbi Wolpe says the president called the Jews "the people of God." Rabbi Wolpe says the president was informed, charming and charismatic.
The president indicated it will take a while to educate Iraqis so that they can operate their own country.
Afterwards, a black Muslim cleric, an Imam from Guyana, spoke. This guy was pro-Israel and he used powerful arguments from the Koran about how the Jews had the right to the land of Israel. He teaches at Brandeis University but will soon transfer to San Diego State.
An Israeli woman starts screaming at him for quoting the Koran in a shul. Security is called and they take her away. She's booed by the crowd which is impressed with this Muslim cleric.
Another Jew Convicted For White Collar Crime Wraps Himself In The Torah, Disgraces His Religion
I'm tired of Jews like Dr. Samuel D. Waksal, founder of ImClone Systems, pretending to be all religious when they are convicted of theft. The son of Holocaust survivors quoted the Talmud in a plea to get a lesser sentence.
Remember how Ivan Boesky donated millions to the Jewish Theological Seminary and took a ton of classes there and Michael Milken donated millions to Temple Stephen S. Wise to get their high school named after him?
I'm glad my rabbi today didn't spend his pulpit time ranting about Dr. Waksal but instead admonished us about our petty white collar crimes like cheating on taxes.
From the New York Times: The lawyer's wide-ranging address cited Dr. Waksal's affection for his two daughters, his career as a researcher, his parents' suffering during the Holocaust and his close ties to Jimmy Carter — the ImClone janitor, not the former president — among the reasons for reduced punishment for his crimes.
The actress Lorraine Bracco, who plays a psychiatrist on the television series "The Sopranos," was among more than 100 people who wrote letters on Dr. Waksal's behalf; hers said that he had helped her through a bleak period when her child was sick. "I don't pretend to know about Sam's business, but I do know that without Sam's guidance and support, I wouldn't be here," she wrote.
A six-page letter written to Judge Pauley by Dr. Waksal, dated Monday, included references to "The Stranger" by Albert Camus as well as to the Talmud. It ended with a request for community service "as part of my sentence so I can continue to make amends to society and let me keep giving back."
Jim Romenesko Watch
Andrew Sullivan writes: In the past few weeks, blogger Jim Romenesko, a supporter of the gay left, has won some well-deserved plaudits for his coverage of the New York Times meltdown. Lost in this torrent of praise is the fact that Romenesko is far from an objective or neutral observer. He's a hard-line liberal who routinely refuses to link to any conservative media criticism. Blogger Ombudsgod notices how selective Romenesko can be in covering certain stories: no mention of a widely quoted piece about p.c. editing at the NYT, nor of the fact that the head of al Jazeera turned out to have been in the pay of Saddam, and on and on. Romenesko, ever since I complained about his role in violating my private life a couple of years ago, also refuses to link to any articles of mine anywhere. That's his prerogative. But the notion that he's somehow above the ideological fray is preposterous.
Reader mail: Romenesko’s omissions and Poynter’s biases
I don't think any Romenesko "silence" is odd. There's a long history in that column of ignoring inconvenient facts.
Kevin Roderick writes ombudsgod.com: "Your correspondent is wrong about Jim Romenseko not posting about the John Carroll memo on L.A. Times bias. Actually he did, which I know because it drove considerable traffic to L.A. Observed, the site that first disclosed the memo. Romenesko gave the proper attribution, which The Ombudsgod, among very few others, did not."
Ombudgod replies: "So noted. And sorry about not crediting your site with disclosing the memo. I located the memo through a link to a post by National Review’s Rod Dreher, and he states he obtained it from an “L.A. journalist friend.”"
I posted much of the above to the Romenesko page. My post was removed. I got this reply from Bill Mitchell of Poynter:
I stand on Melrose Boulevard outside the party with tall music producer Kim Fowley.
"He's sort of a legend," says journalist Erik Himmelsbach.
Fowley has a legendary scary look (reminiscent of Phil Spector?) and people take to him immediately.
He says LA is an easy place to get laid and to make money. He's got a cynical outlook on life. He lives in different parts of the world. He's brought his own body guard, Jude, who's the first person I talk to inside the party.
Kim worked in Melbourne, Australia, as a disc jockey. He's popular with the ladies throughout the party.
I walk in to The Larchmont at 5657 Melrose Blvd at 6:30 PM to celebrate the arrival of a new free weekly newspaper in Los Angeles - City Beat. The San Fernando Valley version is Valley Beat. They share about 70% of the same content.
Page three of the paper features a picture of Richard Riordan holding up a copy of his LA Examiner prototype. "Take My Picture, Gary Leonard."
Leonard is at the party. He's tall with a beart.
Out of the 50 or so people in the room, I know almost nobody. The music is obnoxiously loud, like most parties. Why make it so difficult to converse?
Cathy Seipp and her 14-year old daughter "Cecile du Bois" arrive at 7PM so they can get easy street parking. Cecile wears a Jim Treacher T-shirt bought for her by Cathy - "War makes me uncomfortable, therefore I don't like it."
Mordy writes: "I'm looking forward to your wedding to Cathy and 'Cecile.'"
Mordy, Cathy, Cecile and I will be getting married in two weeks. Dave Robb and Anita Busch, I bet they are really one person, will be the best man.
After getting complimentary drinks at the bar (I have two waters on the evening), Cathy (soda water), Cecile (Shirley Temple) and I hang out front with City Beat editor Steve Appleford.
Cathy makes Cecile do the dirty work of asking the lanky 6'4" man with long black hair who he is - it's Appleford.
Group Sales Director for Southland Publishing, Charles N. Gerenscer, joins in the conversation. He served as the publisher of New Times Los Angeles for four years.
Cathy's itching to leave. She's surprised to see herself on the masthead of City Beat. She mentions something to Steve about turning in a column Monday.
Appleford remembers Cathy from the Los Angeles Daily News where he served as a copy boy from 1982-84, while Seipp worked as a reporter. She barely remembers him. She barely remembers VH1 employee and freelance scribe Erik Himmelsbach, who comes in at 7:20PM with his 13-month old infant in his arms, and his graphic designer wife Carrie. Erik served as an intern to Cathy in 1982. When he left, she gave him a tie.
Erik was the editor of the LA Reader. Steve served as the news editor.
Cathy Seipp is the mother of true alternative Los Angeles journalism, says Ken Layne. Her Daily News and Buzz magazine columns had much the dynamism of today's blogger movement.
Seipp and Samantha Dunn are listed as contributing writers.
Cecille wears a T-shirt, jeans and long purple lace-up boots Cathy wore when she was 17.
7:30PM: Joe Donnelly, 39-year old assistant editor of LA Weekly, walks in with two women.
Charles Gerenscer, a gregarious redhead, sees racism in the LA Examiner prototype, particularly in the Los Angeles Lakers article. He calls it a "neo-conservative racist publication."
Charles can't stand the new laexaminer.com and says he won't be back.
Cecile du Bois says Matt and Ken are friends of hers and she sticks up for them.
Cathy says Cecile likes Matt and Ken because they link to her site.
Charles Gerencser (charlesg at sdcitybeat.com) writes:
The Larchmont crawls with publicists. One old publicist, Bob Merlis, wears a bowtie, which seems completely out of place. What is not out of place is his tall beautiful young amazon assistant with a Latin American accent, who is dressed to the nines.
Appleford used to be a freelance writer and is glad for the steady paycheck. The debut issues of Beat sold a lot of ads. They're looking to corner the market for those businesses that can't afford the LA Weekly.
Cecile is forward in her questions and comments to Steve and Charles. Cathy's proud and concerned at Cecile's self-promotion. Cecile is interested in interning at City Beat. The youngest intern at the moment is 19-years old.
This is not Seipp's scene. Cathy and Cecile go home.
Cathy Seipp writes on her blog:
I thought that when you wondered if a journalist was drunk at a place with complimentary drinks it was taken in the trade as a compliment?
Investigative reporter Michael Collins slips in.
Andy Klein, film critic at the late LA Reader, is now on staff at the Beat. Arts Editor Natalie Nichols was also at the Reader. The Beat is a good looking publication.
7:45PM: I run into Hillary Johnson, editor of the Ventura County version of Los Angeles City Beat (circulation about 40,000). She's sorry to miss Cathy. She's never met her LA counterpart Appleford.
A Society columnist for The Los Angeles Times interviews Appleford.
8:40PM: I stand at the top of the stairs with Alex Lambert, author, photographer, documentary filmmaker. She's came to the party with Joe Donnelly and she will soon start work for the LA Weekly.
She's secured foreign distribution for her documentary on prison tattoos in Russia called The Mark of Cain. The book is published under the name, Russian Prison Tattoos. A 30-minute segment of Ted Koppel's Nightline program on ABC ran her footage.
Donnelly is glad to have Laurie Ochoa back as editor. It's been a hectic nine months for him running the show. At the LA Weekly for just a year, Joe served for a year as managing editor of the New Times LA.
Luke: "What's the juiciest nugget you've picked up at tonight's party about City Beat?"
Joe: "They know how to throw a better party than we do."
I ask a freelance writer the same question. He says City Beat doesn't pay much.
Food and drink at tonight's party is free to the attendees, who number at most 300.
An increasing number of people gravitate upstairs to the fresh air and the open smoking. It's a pleasant low key party with no bad vibes.
The average age of the crowd appears to be 30, with an even distribution of men and women. I saw no overt signs of religiosity. Nobody appeared to be having a great time. Rather, I'd describe the atmosphere as pleasant, low key, even dull. I detected no sense of excitement about the new papers though most people I talked to said, in effect, "I hope they make it."
Kevin Roderick writes on LA Observed: "At least one other writer's name had been on the list but since she never agreed to write for them, it was hastily removed this week. I don't know the truth of reports that CityBEAT is being frugal with writers, but this can't be a good sign: the top photo on the contents page was shot by editor in chief Steve Appleford.
"With CityBeat and ValleyBeat, the plot thickens in the local alt-weekly domain. The new papers get to the street ahead of Dick Riordan's L.A. Examiner, and enjoy the business advantage of owning their presses. In fact, Southland printed the LA Weekly until April, when a stormy relationship ended in finger-pointing and a lawsuit (and now, new competition for the LA Weekly). An April story in the LA Weekly by Howard Blume reported the Beats intend to get by on the cheap, and one L.A. Observed correspondent who claims to know e-mails today that the weekly writer budget for each paper will top out at $800. That's a fraction of what the L.A. Weekly pays for a cover story and less than Los Angeles magazine pays writers for a single medium length article. In other words, don't expect to read many top local writers at CityBeat/ValleyBeat."
Ken Layne writes on LaExaminer.com : "Good luck, buddies ... even though you didn't invite us to your open-bar launch."
Exherald writes LA Observed:
At first, I thought 'same old names." Then I realized how much I missed Klein. Silsbee, and a few of the others. No points for imagination, then, but it's one of the better looking first issues I've seen. And the colors on the cover are in register -- something that the Weekly has never been able to pull off.
And hot damn, escort service and sex line ads! (I have it on pretty good authority that the Weekly had two ad cards; the lower rates for those who DIDN'T advertise in New Times. If that's true, I wonder whether the policy will apply here.)
Blackjack writes LA Observed: "Where do you find the thing? Haven't seen it anywhere in my travels. Online version's tiny type on black is no kind of reading material for an old man like me."
Eye Knowit replies: "It's in all the old New Times red boxes on the street and the ever popular ralphs, vons, albertsons, blockbuster and bally's."
AngryPhotog writes LA Observed: "Regarding frugal: Well I know that the Pasadena Weekly has a sliding scale regarding photography; $200 for cover, $100 other assignments and then $40 per photo for a category I can't remember. They have got to get a grip! Most newspaper photogs will not work for less then $200 an assignment!"
Khunrum sends this info about Kim Fowley from www.amg.com:
Producer Jay Stern
I interviewed Jay Stern at his Rat Entertainment office on Sunset Boulevard September 19, 2002.
Jay is president of Rat Entertainment, where he started in year 2001 as director Brett Ratner’s producing partner.
Jay: "I was a studio exec for 12 years, at Disney and then New Line. I don’t think I’ve really proved myself as a producer yet."
Luke: "That's ok. There are no definitions of the term producer."
Jay: "That's part of the problem. Anyone who passes the book store and says, 'Oh, that looks like an interesting title. I should producer that.' That person becomes a producer.
"Another problem is that there is no training ground for producers. They come out of being agents and studio executives. There's no system for creating good producers."
Luke: "It's the most undefined role in Hollywood."
Jay: "That's why producers get as little respect as they do. Many producers don't deserve respect."
Luke: "Tell me about your upbringing."
Jay: "I grew up in New York City. My father's a dentist. My twin brother is a psychiatrist. My sister has a Ph.D. in Scandinavian folklore and works in computers now. I went to private school in New York- Riverdale in the Bronx. Then I graduated from Yale with a degree in psychology. I was on the nine year plan. I was one of the only guys to graduate Yale in two terms…Nixon's and Carter's. I dropped out a couple of times. Then I was in a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology for about a year and a half. After leaving the program, I moved to Los Angeles for the film business."
Luke: "How did your family feel about your getting into the film industry?"
Jay: "Initially they were dubious. My mother would've preferred me to become a lawyer. It's scarey. I have a six year old boy. It's scarey to think, 'Is he going to make his way in the world? How rough is it going to be for him?' You want your children to avoid pain and have satisfying lives. My parents are happy now about my choice."
Luke: "What essential values did you inherit that allowed you to make your way in Hollywood?"
Jay: "I've been fortunate enough to last in the movie business. One thing that’s helped, I basically like people. I'm asked all the time, how could you go out to lunch with all those agents and managers? Because I enjoy most of those lunches. I actually like a lot of those people. Or let’s say that I find something to like and enjoy about most of them. Aside from that, I try my best to be fair and respectful in every situation, to deal with real integrity. Over time, that’s helped me build relationships, where people know they can trust me. Being completely selfish or singlemindedly opportunistic may help other people do what they do, but it's not how I'm constructed. I don't walk into meetings with complicated strategies. I don't walk into meetings expecting a fight. If you do expect a fight, you'll be more likely to get one. I try to keep an open mind about what’s best for the movie, which always takes precedence over what’s necessarily best for me Jay. Hopefully they coincide more often than not—in my experience they usually do.
"What's fun about working with Brett [Ratner] is that he is so collaborative. He'll ask anybody, 'What do you think?' If someone has a good idea, Brett will use it. He creates his vision partly out of all the smart things said around him. He hunts and sniffs out smart stuff around him like a rabid truffle hog."
Luke: "Is this a polite industry?"
Jay: "No. People are animals. Most people say that if you turn your back and give someone else the advantage, you're dead. I’m usually looking for agreement and resolution right off the bat. Maybe I'm not as successful as I could be because I'd rather resolve things than have a sustained confrontation, but everybody has to work as best as they can with their natures and constitutions.
"I started my career working for producer Michael Peyser. I read hundreds of scripts a year and did more notes than anybody should have to do. Over that time, I honed my tastes and my instincts. I learned how to give notes to a writer. It's different in every situation. You can have the most brilliant notes in the world, but if you are not able to get the writer or director to embrace those notes, you might as well not give them. You can't force a creative person to come up with inspired work if you can't get them to agree with you. Half of the battle is getting them to embrace your direction. Part of what you're fighting all the time is that you don't want to alienate the creative person. It's like being a good coach.
"We [New Line] bought the Rush Hour script for Brett. His film Money Talks had been a sort of dress rehearsal for Rush Hour, although we obviously didn’t know it at the time we were making Money Talks. We had a director walk off Money Talks three weeks before we were to start shooting. Brett came in for 20 minutes and talked about why he had to do the movie, and what it meant for him. We [DeLuca and I] hired Brett.
"After Money Talks came out, Brett said, 'You should come run my company.' I thought he had to be kidding. He was a child. Charming, at least somewhat talented, but a child. By that time, I was a relatively established studio executive. He'd only directed one movie. After Rush Hour came out, I had to take him seriously."
Luke: "How has being a father affected you as a producer?"
Jay: "It's much tougher to get through the pile of scripts on a weekend because you want to spend time with your wife and son [Eli]. It makes you a more compassionate person. I've got to figure out what's the best thing to do. It's not just about you. But what's the best thing for this young developing wonder? Figuring out ways to empower and nurture him isn't all that different from what I try to do with writers and directors. He's also a brutal negotiator, so my negotiating skills have definitely been honed by being a Dad.
"We were on vacation in Bermuda. My wife Vicki had seen the promos for a new show called Samurai Jack. She said we should watch it. We thought it was great. I got back to Los Angeles. Brett's assistant David Steiman had seen it on his vacation to the Caribbean. We thought the show was unbelievable and that we should do it as a live action movie. I tried to get the rights to it. I got Toby Emmerich involved. He got it immediately. We showed the premiere episode to Brett. He called me at 8AM to say he loved it, and he never does that.
"Eli has fantastic taste. David, Brett and I happened to share it."
Luke: "What did you learn about producing from working for Michael De Luca at New Line?"
Jay: "I first had an education from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ricardo Mestres while I worked for Hollywood Pictures, owned by Disney. Then I saw how Mike did it. They were two completely different approaches. Mike protected creative people and let them do their thing. He almost never tried to influence creative people into doing something they weren't interested in doing.
"Jeffrey and Ricardo had clear ideas of what they wanted and had specific ways of getting it. Jeffrey went from someone who gave a lot of specific notes to somebody who at least sometimes preferred to let creative people do their thing. He went through a whole evolution. Mike was a young, hip, culturally savvy guy. Mike De Luca and Bob Shaye at New Line loved movies and were excited about working in movies. Disney was much more corporate and efficient. Nothing fell through the cracks, whereas at New Line, a sort of creative chaos seemed to be encouraged. By the way, both approaches done right can work, though ultimately, I think it’s best to do whatever you can to really encourage creative inspiration Every movie is something that has to be created out of nothing. So our highest calling as producers isn’t necessarily to keep the budget, schedule etc. in control, though of course that’s important. It’s as muse—to help inspire the best possible work from the talent."
Luke: "How did Mike hitting the headlines and then going down that long road to getting fired affect the working environment at New Line?"
Jay: "I think of it more as a year when the movies didn't work. People get nervous and they start blaming each other. People do show their true colors. Mike and Bob weren't seeing eye to eye. It was harder to get stuff done. I do think, though, that Mike basically comported himself with a lot of dignity to the end. He was also surprisingly forthright about where he had not made the best decisions. And the truth is, he made a lot of the right decisions for years."
Luke: "It's funny to hear the word 'dignified' repeatedly applied to a man who was kicked out of Arnold Rifkin's party for getting oral sex in front of a crowd.
Jay: "Well even he said he didn’t see himself as that guy. And I think Mike as a person does have real dignity and substance."
Luke: "How did you come to make so many black pictures?"
Jay: "I'm only white on the outside...skin deep, baby. The truth is, I went into New Line right after Helena Echegoyen had left. She'd developed a number of black movies. New Line has a tradition of doing urban movies. Love Jones was the first one I did. I do, by the way, have a natural affinity for urban culture. There were a couple of movies lying around that I could jump on and develop. Then Mike started giving me those projects and the community started sending me those scripts. And really what I want to do is A Room With A View, only with black people."
Luke: "Did white people go to see movies like Love & Basketball [about middle class blacks]?"
Jay: "I think it did some crossover. There are [urban] movies that do $35 million box office and almost no crossover [into a white or Asian audience]. I'm guessing that Barbershop had an 80-90% urban audience.
"I think we could've gotten more blacks into Love & Basketball too. I think black males shied away from it because of the love side of it and black females shied away from it because of the basketball side. In the trailer and the commercials, there was a scene where he said, 'What are we playing for?' And she said, 'Your heart.' And I think that young black males stayed away from the movie because of it. I tried to get involved in the marketing. I wasn't able to convince the filmmakers that that was going to have a cooling effect. It was still a good movie, New Line still made money on the movie, but I was a little frustrated it didn’t find a bigger audience. Money Talks did about $40 million box office to an audience that was probably 75% urban. Chris Tucker was not that known a quantity yet in the white world. People weren't rushing to see Charlie Sheen at the time.
"When there's a big urban turnout to a movie, it scares whites away. Ten years ago, when there were some fatalities in theaters, there were black people who hesitated to go to a theater house packed with an urban audience. They think there's going to be trouble. For the same reason they're not going to a street fair with an overwhelmingly urban crowd. They fear there's going to be trouble. And plenty of white people are terrified to go to a movie theater where the audience will be largely black.
"Theater owners love Eddie Murphy and Will Smith but if they don't know the black person in the movie, they're hesitant to pick up the movie. Booking the theater can be the biggest problem for black movies, particularly in white suburbs."
We resume our conversation 9/24/02.
Jay: "What makes producing exciting, aside from working on different projects all the time, is that you have to bring your whole being to the table to do it well. All you have is your character. You have to bring all of it to the picnic - your intelligence, sense of humor, taste, ethics. The people who don't have some charm won't be as good as the people who do. Jeffrey Katzenberg is tough but he would never have gone as far as he did without his sense of humor. Some people are good bullies and that can help in Hollywood."
Luke: "Producer Rob Long just told me that he didn't know what any studio executive had to contribute by going on set."
Jay: "Television tends to be driven by the show-runners (executive producers)."
Jay's mom calls. Jay tells his assistant: "Tell her I will have to call her back. I'm in a meeting."
Jay: "If he was like most producers in Hollywood trying to get features made, I don't think he'd be saying that. There are some smart people out there trying to make the movie better. I think that's another [example of the] 'Creatives vs the suits' attitude. I guess there are brilliant directors who are auteurs. I've heard that [director] Michael Mann is tough and doesn't like to listen to the studio. Most people in this business have to be collaborative to survive.
"To work your way up in the studio system, you have to be willing to eat some shit and smile while you're doing it. Nobody likes someone who is eating shit and actually grimacing.
"It helped my career that I was on the slow track. I got to observe and learn. People often overplay their hand. They get themselves in positions of power where it feels like they can do anything and they can't. You overplay your hand a bit and the people above you tend not to appreciate it."
Luke: "Does the low status of producers in the business bother you?"
Jay: "Yes. We're right there with the writer going after the Polish actress. She might sleep with us. The smart ones go after the director and the studio exec. I had a tough time moving over from studio exec to producer. Respect is built into the job of studio exec because you're a buyer. The tendency on most studio executives' part is to be dismissive of the producer. It's habitual. I don't know if Jerry Bruckheimer or Scott Rudin run into it but I certainly run into it. I run into it at every level - notes, creative and deal.
"When they give me notes, I have to come up with good arguments. I enjoy the autonomy of being an independent producer as opposed to an exec."
Luke: "What's your favorite and least favorite part of your job?"
Jay: "Working creatively on a project. Least favorite - trying to sell something that I know is a tough sell to people who aren't receptive. There are producers who love that challenge."
Luke: "Are there things you have to do for appearances?"
Jay: "I like to go to premiere and to restaurants."
Luke: "Is it necessary to go to parties?"
Jay: "It's not necessary but it is helpful. You run into a lot of people in one place. Rather than sitting here and making 30 phone calls, I go to a party and see 30 people and get a little business done."
Luke: "Do you have to be seen?"
Jay: "If Brett Ratner weren't my partner, you bet I'd have to be seen. It does help to go to The Grill occasionally. You have to schmooze stars."
Luke: "Take them to ballgames or concerts?"
Jay: "I don't think I've ever taken one to a ballgame or movie. I've had meetings with them and begged them to do my movie. You've done well if the agent or manager lets you sit down with the star or director. You're looking for the elements that can get your movie made. It's not going to be the costume designer."
Luke: "Have you had any conversations about switching the race of a protagonist?"
Jay: "Many. Brett was interested in doing a movie called Paycheck. Denzel Washington and Nick Cage were interested in playing the same character. Denzel and Will [Smith] are the names that come up as [blacks] who could come in and replace a white lead. You then ask the question if his love interest can be white or do you have to go black all the way. To be safe, you may want to go black all the way, or at least a person of color. It's easier to go black and latino than black and white because there is a bias in the black community against black men and white women. I don't think you're going to have a black man and a white wife that works [in a sitcom or movie] any time in the next few years.
"We may be making strides in overcoming racism but we're not color blind."
Luke: "How do black leads play overseas?"
Jay: "That's a huge consideration. That's the biggest reason why there aren't more black leads. The traditional conventional wisdom is that they don't sell overseas. The economics dictate this. These days, 60% of a studio movie is paid for by overseas. The exceptions are Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy and Chris Tucker.
"You can make a movie for up to $20 million and turn a profit from just your domestic market but you're not going to make a $40 million movie starring black people unless one of them is Will or Denzel..."
Luke: "Is there a type of movie you make best?"
Jay: "Certainly multi-racial action comedy is what I've done best till now but I swear there's A Room With A View in me with South American pygmies. People do tend to send me action comedies."
Luke: "Have you been recognized by the black community for your contributions to black cinema?"
Jay: "I don't know that I have been but I should be. A friend of mine used to joke that I'm the hottest black executive in town. Occasionally I'll run into a black writer or black producer..."
Luke: "But not civilians?"
Jay: "Again, it's all about Brett [Ratner] and Chris [Tucker] and Jackie [Chan]. They don't know I exist.
"As a producer, you have to put your ego aside. The actors and director will always command more attention."
Luke: "How much would it mean to you to win an Oscar?"
Jay: "It would be really nice."
Luke: "Do you ever dream of receiving a Best Picture Oscar?"
Jay: "I'd be lying if I hadn't told you that I'd fantasized at least a few times about it. It's not like I thought I would ever get up there for Rush Hour 2 and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen of the Academy.' I didn't think it was in the realm of possibility. If all I ever do is movies like Rush Hour, that would be ok. One Room With A View, one statuete, that would be ok too. I'm better suited to making Rush Hours than A Room With A View."
Luke: "Can you imagine Joel Silver winning a Best Picture Oscar?"
Jay: "I think it would be great to see. In the category of what's strange about this picture. For anyone who appreciates irony, Joel Silver addressing the Academy... 'You really like me, you really do.'"
Jay and I collapse with laughter.
Jay: "If he just broke down and started blubbering..."
Luke: "Do you resent that comedies aren't respected by the Academy?"
Jay: "No. Somebody said about iambic pentameter, you do the best job you can within the form you are working in. The action comedy form should be fun and entertaining. It's not meant to be particularly thought provoking. Though, the first time we screened Rush Hour, a number of people in the audience began spontaneously singing kumbieya. We're not just entertaining people. We're helping bring people together. That these guys, the characters of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, are from two different cultures and find a way to get along, it's better than the alternative."
What's So Wonderful About Dean Baquet?
I keep hearing wonderful things about The Los Angeles Times managing editor. I read the LA Times every day and I don't see what's so wonderful. Yet Seth Mnookin at Newsweek proclaims Baquet the leading candidate to be the New York Times editor. I bet much of the hype is simply because Baquet is likeable and because he's black.
Bring Back The Comments
LaExaminer.com has changed format and I miss the old one, particularly the comments. Bring 'em back.
Ken Layne writes: "No way! We're almost rid of those people who ruined our site and made us lose all interest in updating it. And why don't *you* have comments, Mr. Ford?"
LF says: I loved those people who fought in the comments section. It was a great gathering ground. I'm sorry it made you lose interest in it. Kevin Roderick doesn't have the same snarky approach. It will take me a while to adjust to the new format and to comment on Kevin's site, fine as it may be.
I guess I don't have comments because I am in the stone age technologically, and it sounds like a hassle keeping an eye on them for libel/obscenity etc. I'd rather filter them through email.
The Return Of Writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
From Media News:
"The Dirty Girls Social Club" author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez -- she also wrote a 3,400-word Los Angeles Times resignation letter -- tells Lydia Martin that so much inaccurate information has been written about her "that I'm considering defamation of character lawsuits against certain publications." Romenesko is told that Valdes-Rodriguez is upset with the Washington Post's Jennifer Frey for writing that she was "practically a pariah in the industry just two years ago." Ironically, Valdes-Rodriguez once sent Romenesko an essay that she titled "Industry Pariah."
From the Miami Herald 6/10/03: She can't help bad-talk her former lover. She says much of what has been written about her is inaccurate. ``To the point that I'm considering defamation of character lawsuits against certain publications.''
Her big beef is that some newspaper called her unemployable even though at the time she finally got the book deal, she was also finally employed -- as features editor of The Albuquerque Tribune. She says she wasn't dead broke, as some newspapers said, because she was running a public relations business with her husband. And that there were no magical six days at Starbucks.
``I had about 100 pages and then an agent asked me to finish it. So it was more like two weeks from the time she asked me to write it to the time I had a first draft 300 pages long.''
The way Valdes-Rodriguez sees it, all the buzz surrounding her book has little to do with her ethnic background and everything to do with her past life as a journalist. After all, she is a story unto herself: A former staff writer for the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, Valdes-Rodriguez famously destroyed her own burgeoning career when she capped her resignation from the Times with a vicious e-mail to superiors that attacked colleagues by name and accused the institution of discrimination and racist attitudes. Much to her fury, the e-mail was posted on the Internet, giving her an industry-wide label of more trouble than she's worth.
Pregnant, out of a job and practically a pariah in the industry just two years ago, she now has the sweetest revenge: a big check, a bestseller and a national book tour. And she's clearly enjoying every minute.
"Journalists find the actions of other journalists fascinating," she tells the audience at Vertigo Books.
Then adds: "In a really bad way."
Let's just be upfront about it: It's not easy being a journalist in the presence of Valdes-Rodriguez, because the contempt she has for her former profession is not something she hides. Mention that to her -- her contempt -- and she'll swear it's not true, even seem a bit shocked.
Then, a few days later, she'll post this on a journalism Web site: "Jayson Blair is not the only one inventing his stories," she wrote. "He's just the one who got caught. There are hundreds just like him, googling and snickering away in their cubicles right now, and many hundreds more people out in the world whose mouths are being stuffed with words they never said in order to help the reporter overcome his/her personal issues. Is it any wonder the public trusts used car salesmen more than they trust reporters?"
Or there's this, from her book, which includes a depiction of a big-city newsroom populated with racially insensitive colleagues and an idiot editor: "I flip through them all, read the made-up quotes that are nothing more than approximations of things I've said, written in ways I would never say them by people too lazy to take thorough notes or use a tape recorder," she writes in the voice of Amber, who has just made it big in the music industry.
Kickin' With Maggie and the Boys
I spent Wednesday May 21 in Canoga Park and Chatsworth.
11AM. I run into a tall blonde girl named Aussie. She's lived in Florida the past five years. She's talking to Duane, a soft-spoken black man, college graduate and former Christian.
I go for a walk.
Herbie the Dentist: "I am enjoying the Hell out of the whole L-ke F-rd thing. I am just a consumer. I have no time or energy to actually follow people in the industry around or ask questions. The fact that this guy comes out of nowhere and digs up so much stuff (some of it true - some of it not so true) is amazing!
I leave the room and chat with Ron. He had 80 fights as an amateur and 33 fights as a pro. He had 11 fights at Madison Garden.
Country sips a Red Bull. He also has a beer and cognac.
Alexandra says her friend Cameron was getting ripped off buying bad-quality drugs at an exorbitant price so Alex sends her to a better drug dealer.
Luke Ford recently wrote:
"A friend of mine, Felecia, lost her dog. She offered a $1000 reward for it. Other people piled on to raise the number over $2000 and several websites wrote about it. ... Why the hysteria over Felicia's dog that received coverage on many sites? Because many secular people tend to lead lives empty of real meaning and hence are particularly susceptible to getting swept up in hysteria over things that have little ultimate meaning, like pets. [emphasis added]"
Moxie writes: First thing that came to mind is a nun at a local church near my parent's residence. She takes in strays of all kinds and remains very pious and devoted to serving her church. If god's creatures have "little ultimate meaning" remains to be seen. We'll have to wait for an animal lover to die and come back and let us know if being kind to animals doesn't mean a thing to the big man upstairs.
Luke has a certain knack for taking a completely secular topic and making it a religious issue -- it makes me chuckle!
[P]ets are more loving, loyal and kind than many people out there. Also, I've found that pet owners are just more responsible and caring than non pet owners. I just don't see how religion or lack thereof plays into being upset over a lost pet!
Trevor writes Moxie: So, does this mean that if I become a born-again Christian I would love my dog less? If so, I guess that's just another reason that I'll be going to hell...
H writes: His comments about Mexicans in his Moxie interview showed that he places a higher value on cultural and socioeconomic stasis than on empathy and openness. Which is fine, but Christian?