Authors: Art Linson
âLast I checked, I was doin' just fine.'
âLook at your eyes; they've lost their confidence.'
âWhat exactly are we trying to get at here, Jerry?'
âI'm trying to get you to look at the last few years, really look, and maybe, just maybe, it will give you the grace to continue.'
He was turning into Mr. Rogers, and I was becoming Sally Field.
âYou care. You really care,' I said without a shred of enthusiasm.
âI do care,' he said, his eyes almost moistening with concern.
âI get it â¦ I get it. This isn't about me. You just want to hear the grim details. You're lonely and my failures comfort you. What to give a studio head has-been for Christmas? I know! Fill his stocking with the bitter memories of a producer tailspinning out of control. That'll keep him till Easter.'
âActually, I can't deny a certain delicious pleasure from all of this. By the way, did you hear about the movie producer who got
robbed and beaten on his front lawn by the Crips after he was followed home from Mr. Chow's?'
âThat's a good one.' He cackled with glee.
âJerry, your heart is bigger than a bread box.'
Everyone, of course, knew about this incident, but only the most twisted were taking delight. I guess it just didn't get weird enough for Jerry. A few years back, he was devouring producers, writers, agents, like chum. Now, his only sustenance was to sit on the sideline and watch them burn. Most people preferred sports.
âI want to hear it all â¦ slowly, please.' He was begging now.
âWhat's in it for me, again?'
âLet me count the ways: Hollywood salvation, a good throat-clearing, the will to go forward. Take your pick. I'm certain you will find it purging. It seems like a good bargain to me.'
He said this without his usual self-satisfied smirk. He was suddenly glowing with generosity and concern. Was he really interested? Not ole Jer. He used to be president of the Hollywood Venality Club. Could it be that the old warhorse wanted to shine a little light on those left behind?
âJerry, let me get this straight. I get to delight you with all of the shit I've taken over the last few years, and your commiseration is going to make me feel good.'
âYou are one sick fuck.'
âThink colonoscopy. Believe you me, it's preventative. And besides, who else but me wants to hear it?'
He was vibrating now. The hook was in the water. He was having a terrific day.
âJust know, Jerry, if I were busy, I'd be gone.'
âI'm sure you would, but you're not and I'm not. I want to hear it all. What was that first picture you did at Fox?
! Let's go torture another classic. Oh, boy â¦ who can we cornhole after we're finished with Dickens? Or was it that “bear”
thing that Mamet wrote? Was that the first picture? Oh, yeah, Alec Baldwin. I bet he's a lot of fun. Loves producers, I hear. Hoo ha.'
The vein on the left side of his neck was pumping. He was known in the back rooms of Hollywood as the ultimate swine and there was no stopping him now.
âAnd how about that seventies rock movie? What was it called?
Go Go Bliss
or something like that.'
âIt was called
âWhat the hell was that? As I recall, Fox opened it in only one theater. How about that. One theater! A baby-killing! What a massacre that must have been. Your idea, was it?'
âI'm afraid so.'
âFuck me â¦ and they still let you continue after that? Please, save that barbarous tale for last. What visionaries those Fox execs must have been. Real high-watt bulbs, there. You must love those guys. Oh â¦ wait â¦ I almost forgot â¦
Fight Club. Fight Club
. Woowee â¦ Good God, man, you really like to make people feel warm and fuzzy, don't ya?'
He was certainly prepared. You had to give him that.
This was going to take more than a breakfast.
âHi, this is Bill Mechanic.' The call came directly â no secretary. He was the new film production head at Fox. Dialing the phone all by himself, I thought, was rather casual and rare. In Hollywood, when you were on my side of the mattress, a little bit of generosity went a long way, especially if you wanted to kiss on the first date.
âHi, Bill, howsit going?'
âI'm well. Listen, I'm in Palm Springs now, but when I return, I think we should get together.' He spoke matter-of-factly, almost as if we had met or talked before.
The truth is we only knew each other from press releases in the trades. I knew that he just got the new big plum job at Fox, having been wooed over from Disney by Peter Chernin, and he knew that I was at the tail end of a contract at Warner Bros., where I had just put out the artistically interesting but dismally unsuccessful
This Boy's Life
. I remember that when it was first test-screened in a Pasadena multiplex, Terry Semel, the then graceful but remote head of Warners, walked up to me at the concession stand, dressed in the newest Armani casual, looked me square in the eye, and slowly nodded.
movie and that's
that's important,' he said in a calm and reassuring voice.
âWell, thanks so much, Terry, it is a
movie, isn't it?'
âIt's hard to make a
At previews, everyone spoke euphemistically. I was fucked.
I knew too well that at that very moment Terry's entire distribution staff was in the back alley throwing up on their shoes. You could almost hear them through the crack in the men's room door: âOh, mother of Christ, De Niro is in this dining room kicking the living piss out of sweet little Leonardo DiCaprio â¦ how the fuck are we going to sell this shit!' âI know! How 'bout selling it as
Father Knows Best
for the criminally insane?!' âDead beavers and pedophilia, what are they gonna let those disturbed assholes do next?!!' You get the picture.
in Hollywood is a euphemism for âgrease up, bite the belt, and try not squeal too much when this baby comes out.' Well, I tried not to squeal, but I can't say it bolstered my confidence any. Let's just say the call from Mechanic came at a very good time.
âLookin' forward to it, Bill.' I couldn't have been friendlier.
It was several weeks before I heard from Bill again, but during that time I had started to work with Michael Mann on what would eventually become
. It was the early stages. Michael was reworking a script that he had written several years earlier and had actually produced and directed for ABC television under a different title,
. No writer likes to throw anything away. So with a fresh rewrite, we had hoped to attract De Niro and Pacino and expand the story into a much larger movie. Since Michael had already told the same story once before, his only option was to try to make this one bigger, and hopefully better.
I was entering my final year at Warners, and the likelihood of them renewing my contract after
This Boy's Life
was extremely remote. Since it would be at least eighteen months before
could be released, assuming that it would even get madeâsomething you can never count on in Hollywoodâmy contract would have long since expired. On the lot, I was viewed as a man slowly dying of a disease that might be contagious. If you were listening, there were always clues.
âSo, what's goin' on for you next year?' Bruce Berman, then head of film production under Semel and a man not well known for sticking his neck out, would subtly ask.
âGee whiz, Bruce, I'm thinking of taking up fishing, how 'bout you?'
âYou know what I mean. What's the five-year plan?'
Since I had only ten months left, I knew where this conversation was going. Bruce was a crafty insider. He could take the temperature of the town. I think he was trying to help.
âYa know, you producers have the toughest jobs in town,' he continued.
âBoy, I can't tell you what utter respect I have for it.'
âRequires real fortitude to be a self-starter.'
âBruce, you're making me cry.'
âAlways flying sans parachute. No safety net.'
âI thought a contract was a safety net.'
âThose deals are getting passÃ©, too costly. Might as well read it in the trades â they're dryin' up.'
âIs this a trend or a phase?' I queried.
âLet's just say it's a good time to be an
I asked Bruce about the other producing deals on the lot. I couldn't help myself.
âWhat about Jerry Weintraub? He's still here.'
âOh, he's very close with the Bush family.'
âGet a grip, pal.'
âAnd Joel Silver?' I asked, but I knew he was a long-time permanent fixture.
âOh, c'mon, my man, he's off buying furniture with Jane [Semel].'
I was going to need a job.
My first meeting with Bill was at the Fox commissary. Since I hadn't been to Fox since Dick Zanuck was running the place years ago, I was looking forward to driving through âthe front gate' and getting that little buzz one gets when first entering a movie lot. After a cumbersome ten-minute hassle waiting for the guard to find the âdrive-on pass' (the days of âHow nice to see you Mr. L., please
drive right through' were long gone), I was allowed to park in a new parking structure about one quarter mile from the commissary. Call it a buildup of years and layers of cynicism, but there was no buzz. As I was rushing through the parking structure and down the walkway to the commissary, not wanting to be late for the initial meet, something felt off. The place, for me, had lost its allure. The vibe was gone. The new corporate headquarters being built across from the
set was jutting skyward with foreboding glass and steel sides and a witless entry sculpture â some giant black ball spinning in water. It had an architectural intention that said the past is dead, California is dead, the foreign takeover is almost complete.
I guess the obvious target in all this is Rupert Murdoch, who, after all, had bought the place and if he wished had the right to turn Fox into a used-car lot. Blaming Murdoch alone, however, would be too easy. The lot's new look was a sign of the corporate times. But this was about more than looks. Efficiency because of rising costs had replaced inspiration. There were too many lawyers, too many marketing stiffs, and not enough creative types for this kind of dream machinery to work. For the people who make the stuff, it was a dangerous sign. A bad mix. It might have been my mood, but for me a delicate dance step had clearly been violated at Fox. It didn't bode well for greatness or success.
The commissary was even worse. The overlit dining room had a flat, used smell. Bad colors, shitty wallpaper. It had become institutional. The waiters with pale neoned complexions were mechanically stalking the room. As I was being led to a table in the rear, I recognized Murdoch, sitting with two âsuits,' making private phone calls while occasionally glaring across the room. He was imperious. So what? Imperiousness was benchmark behavior for studio owners. It was assumed, a familiar pattern where the guy at the top and his minions were oceans apart. With the invisible ax always inches from their heads, they withheld their disdain with obsequious smiles. But this wasn't anything new. What was new, with the rise of corporate vertical integration, was that the guy at the top â in this case Murdoch â didn't care about movies any more
than he cared about baseball. Owning Fox's motion picture business was merely a required charm on the mega-media-conglomerate bracelet. A necessary evil. An essential irritant that economically didn't pencil out. I wondered if the food was going to match the atmosphere.
If you're asking, with all of my split-second dire observations, why I didn't call for my car and head for the front gate, the answer was simple:
Mechanic was already seated, three tables away from Rupert. As I approached him, I ran into the venerable Fox producer Larry Gordon. I knew, he knew, and everyone in the street knew that he was soon to be on the way out. But, what was interesting about Larry was his ability to maintain a bemused defiance in the face of some of the most horrific setbacks that a producer can confront. He'd had some past successes, but his recent losses were piling up like New York garbage. I respected his indomitability, but his lunch gave him away. All he was eating was a dry baked potato with salsa.
âHey, Larry, I guess you didn't care for the special, huh?' I asked.
âNo fats,' he replied. âI'm going light these days.'
âBad heart. Can't tolerate fats.' He shrugged with a wave and a breezy smile. Underneath the charm, his digestive system and his arteries had paid a wearisome price.
I knew that when he saw me with Mechanic, he would quickly assume I was being lured over to Fox. But did he know that I was to get
offices after he was tossed? And so it goes.
âReally nice to see you, Larry,' I said.
âYeah, really nice.'
As I neared Bill's table, he stood and we shook hands. My first take on Bill was that I liked him. He was rounder than your typical executive, which gave him a more available, less threatening demeanor. His shirt was too dark to be corporately correct, his tie was all wrong, his shoes were strange, very strange, actually. I found out later that he was an animal rights activist and a
strict vegetarian, so naturally, his shoes were made of Naugahyde with rubber soles and his car upholstery was made of cloth. He might have to skin an agent now and again, but I suppose the cows were safe.