Movie Moguls Talked, Joked, Mused About Oscars At Deadline's 'The Contenders' Event

I hoped there would be fistfights. Or at least a chair thrown or two. “I tried but no one wanted to rumble,” Jeffrey Katzenberg told me later. Instead, Jeff RobinovTom Rothman, Rob Moore, Stacey Snider, Harvey Weinstein, Rob Friedman, and Katzenberg demonstrated remarkable restraint as they talked, joked, and mused about the Oscars process today. Everyone was ribbing everyone, and a few zingers landed as well. There were so many studio bigwigs at the first day of Deadline Hollywood’s two-day ‘The Contenders’ event (which continues Sunday at 10 AM with still more moguls) that it became a running joke. Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond opened up the 2 PM ‘Moguls Panel’ by saying, “This kind of event has never been held before. You realize that, if a bomb dropped in here, Amy Pascal would own Hollywood.” (The Sony Pictures chairman couldn’t attend.) The other studio chiefs came from hither and yon to attend ‘The Contenders’, and the packed crowd was obviously appreciative. “Just sayin’ it doesn’t get any better than that. So rare in these times to have as august a group come together and discuss,” one of the attendees emailed me afterwards. That’s why our venue, the Landmark Theatre, pulled out all the stops, even reupholstering the seats in anticipation of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters and select Hollywood Guild members who’d sit in them. More details about ‘The Contenders’ in coming days. Next week we’ll be posting the unedited video of the ‘Mogul’s Panel’ which was moderated by Hammond and Deadline Film editor/NY Editor Mike Fleming. Here’s some of the studio chiefs’ 1 1/2-hour-long discussion:

DEADLINE: “This is one of the most wide open Academy Awards seasons. Does that make you more likely to launch an aggressive campaign?”
TOM ROTHMAN, Chairman/CEO Fox Filmed Entertainment: “Yeah, we have a lot of pictures between the studio and Fox Searchlight. But I am a contrarian about this. I think the whole notion of a race and spending is hugely exaggerated. I think voters know what they want to vote for once they’ve seen the movies. Our job is to get them to see the movies. To advance positions for them to think about. Ultimately the Academy is gong to decide. And I think in contrast to what is often said, ultimately I think it comes down to the movies. As it should.”

DEADLINE: “Can an aggressive Oscar” campaign hurt?”
ROTHMAN: “Well, I don’t know, I guess there’s some truth to it. I suppose it depends on what you mean by campaign. Academy Award winners sometimes gain a momentum because of a particular performance, and sometimes for length of career and all the work that has been done. Look recently at Paul Newman. You might not say [1986′s The Color Of Money] was his best performance. But he won for his great body of nominations and work. I don’t really think, being on the stump so to speak, when in the privacy of the voting booth which is their living room that it necessarily makes a difference.”
JEFF ROBINOV, PRESIDENT OF WARNER BROS: “I’d say Mr. Weinstein proves him wrong every year.”
HARVEY WEINSTEIN, CO-CHAIRMAN THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY: “That is the only thing that counts, so Tom and I agree more than you think.”
ROTHMAN: “You have just witnessed an historic moment.”
WEINSTEIN: “I’ve said this a thousand times. The most important job is getting voters to see the movie. If they don’t see the movie, they won’t vote.”

DEADLINE: “But it’s not as good to see these movies on a small screen via screeners.”
ROTHMAN: “It’s hard to get them to see movies on the big screen. Planet Of The Apes is not as good on a small screen. Also the other thing I think is time. It’s hard because of the crush of films that all come in at the end. Voters try to be responsible, but sometimes they’re seeing multiple movies [in one day]. I agree with Harvey completely on the need to see films in the theater as they were intended.”
KATZENBERG: “We could end up with a horse against an ape this year.”

DEADLINE: “Isn’t that especially true of 3D films?”
JEFFREY KATZENBERG, CEO DREAMWORKS ANIMATIONS: “Yeah, just to sort of cut to the chase on this, we spend 4 years and $150 million on trying to make an exceptional experience in the movie theater. And use tools one of which is 3D. So we settle for the fact that many many many people will never see it this way.”

DEADLINE: “Is it best to release an Oscar contender earlier in the year and get out early like The Hurt Locker did in June?”
ROB FRIEDMAN, CO-CHAIRMAN/CEO SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT: “I think what everybody’s saying is it’s vital to get the movies seen. In this case having the film out in June gave more time to build critical and audience response.”

DEADLINE: “How did The Hurt Locker manage to compete since its revenue cycle was over by the time big Avatar came out?”
FRIEDMAN: “By the way, I did offer Tom [Rothman] and Jim [Gianopulos] the offer to trade revenue streams.”
ROTHMAN: “We thought about it.”
FRIEDMAN: “Actually we had not completed our revenue cycle. It was not out on DVD yet. It performed massively in those revenue environments. We knew that any kind of Middle East/Iraq film was challenging at best. It found its level theatrically, but was enormous in the home market.”

DEADLINE: “Tom, would you have been happy to forget awards for Avatar as long as could count the money?’
ROTHMAN: “I guess the technical answer to that would be fuck, yes. [BIG LAUGH] Yes, we were disappointed to lose. I think Robbie and I found ourselves waiting for our cars by the heater that night, and I congratulated him mightily. But I made my career being honest, and if I said I wasn’t brutally disappointed it would be an understatement. I think it is a common problem that happens. David and Goliath is a very good narrative. It is easy to root for the little guy. I understand that emotionally. Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire was small and won. The Academy giveth, and the Academy taketh away. We had a good year with Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan and Best Actress last time. Those things happen. I do think, if I can get on my bully pulpit for a few seconds, that sometimes I think the craftsmanship and artistry in what is thought of as commercial cinema is not always given its proper place. Hurt Locker was ultimately thought the better film that year, that I understand. But when you look down categories, sometimes I think that other crafts get swept along. I was surprised and I would also say disappointed that the hard-working creative folks on Avatar were not recognized.”

DEADLINE: “Which other of your films were unfairly overlooked over the years?”
ROBINOV: “I think the quality of Harry Potter films has been somewhat discounted. Especially the last one.  It feels like the type of movie that traditionally would receive some Oscar attention. Also Inception was a very bold movie, yet it was not rewarded for risk-taking, I do think there is some bias against Hollywood and the resources that it has. Nice when a movie like Titanic actually gets what it deserves.”

DEADLINE: “How difficult is it having more than one film in serious contention.”
STACEY SNIDER, PARTNER, CO-CHAIRMAN, AND CEO DREAMWORKS STUDIOS: “We do love both movies, The Help and War Horse, and there are similarities to both of them. What we focused on was getting audiences to see both of the movies. The Help had an extensive word-of-mouth campaign all summer to build enotion around the movie. It was left to audiences to remark on these extraordinary performances. The film has taken on an awards-worthy patina. With War Horse, we’re getting audiences to see it especially on the big screen. It led us this time around to something never done before: to screen it widely to regular audiences and let them see it with their hearts.”
ROTHMAN: “Movies are like children, and my mother treated all four of her children like the favorite. So I can’t pick one film over another to favor.”
KATZENBERG: “I’m calling a technical. You aren’t supposed to invoke your mom or dad until after the nominations.”

DEADLINE: “Do Oscars matter to the box office of the big studio movies?
ROBINOV: “Every time we’ve gone out to make an Academy movie, it’s failed.”
ROB MOORE, VICE CHAIRMAN PARAMOUNT: “I think what you find at this time of year is, the movies that get this recognition, they get attention with filmgoers. So one of the biggest pieces of this is movies that you may not be able to sell in 30 seconds but have great performances. As you start to get attention from the Academy, people start to say, ‘That’s a movie that I should see.’ It’s easy to sell big special effects films. But when you have a film about a girl going back to steal her married ex-boyfriend from his pregnant wife [Young Adult], that’s harder to say to someone in 30 seconds.”
KATZENBERG: “It’s hard to say that in two hours. Harvey is the smartest one of us. He uses the awards seasons to market his movies. He uses all of this competition, and he makes money.”
WEINSTEIN: “Not only that we get to make some great movies and inspire other studios to finance some great movies instead of some of the movies that studios sometimes do. [Lots of laughs]. Harry Potter is a seminal franchise. I’m going to agree with Jeff: that franchise is not getting the respect that it should. An entire generation grew up into those films. For the young generation, it was a seminal experience saying goodbye to a franchise. [Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2] is as good as any movie that’s in competiton this year.”

DEADLINE: “You all defend the concept that studio filmmaking isn’t bad just because it is big budget and gets big promotion.”
ROTHMAN: “Jeffrey, as sharp as he always is, put his finger on the essential dynamic. There is a split in the modern movie business, and that split has reduced, and I think oversimplified. It has more to do with the method of marketing the movies than in the movies themselves.  Audiences just don’t care what a movie costs. They care how it makes them feel. But they do respond to how it’s presented to them. So big commercial movies that may go out high, wide and handsome with millions in TV advertising, I think it’s fair to say that awards for films like that are validation.”
SNIDER: “I do think that the little/big, independent/studio comparision is a thing of the past. Studios can bring love to storytelling and attention to quality, but they should not be penalized because they are availing themselves of big marketing budgets.”
ROTHMAN: “All I was saying is, in the life cycle of a picture, the value of the recognition is different.”

DEADLINE: “Is the Oscar season too long?”
KATZENBERG: “I think starting next year on Martin Luther King weekend, January 14th or whatever it is, on that weekend everybody gets their night. The first night we have the Golden Globes. The next night some other awards. All the way through the week. Everybody gets their night. The entire awards season will be 9 days long. We’ll do it together here in this theater. [BIG LAUGHS] The answer is yes, for sure. For some movies that is a huge benefit to them. They need that time, need that nurturing. The extension of this four months allows the films to be seen. But I think that the many awards, the long season, has made it anticlimactic. For me, I find that deeply disturbing. It has lost its patina. Academy  Awards are the gold standard. I’m afraid it won’t be as important to my son as it was to me.”

DEADLINE: “Do you have a seminal Oscar moment?
KATZENBERG: “On the other hand, the thing for me, you ask do we have memorable moments, I do know when I arrived here when I was 24 years old from New York, I very much remember that the single most inspirational thing for a young PA is that you would have some association with something worthy of the Academy Awards.”
WEINSTEIN: “When Rain Man won on Academy Awards night I was waiting for my car with that film’s producer Mark Johnson. And it took 2 hours for Mark to get his car, and 2 1/2 hours for me to get my car. It was a great equalizer. And tomorrow we’ll all be saying to Justin Bieber, ‘Do you want to read this script?’”

  1. Thanks for this event, Nikki. It was illuminating and entertaining to listen to this group of leaders together live. There are some wonderful films rolling out this season but the elephant in the room was still definitely the quality level of studio pictures in general.

  2. Darryl Zanuck, Dore Schary, L.B. Mayer, Jack Warner, Lew Wasserman & Irving Thalberg are all smiling down approvingly.

    Well done.

    1. maybe they’re smiling down at nikki, but they’re likely not giving a flying fuck about the “moguls.” then again, i have no knowledge of the afterlife (yet).

  3. If you wonder why there is a considerable lack of diversity in Hollywood, just look at this panel. White males and one white female. This is like looking at royalty who throws crumbs and scraps to the poor. Diversity has no chance Hollywood with leaders like these.

    1. Then get your money up and be a film mogul. Either that or write a script, it’s free. It’s almost 2012, Elia, whining is played out.

      1. Oh, brother. Do you think these clowns put their money up? These are corporate guys for the most part. The only one who comes even close to putting his own money up is Harvey, and that’s only if you think begging, peading and conning other folks out of moeny to support your movie habit means putting up his money.

  4. Great article. I’m sure the event was great as well. Everyone being honest and open, saying all the white things at the white time.

    Granted, it’s been a bit sluggish numbers wise this year but it’ll come together at the white time.

  5. I thought this panel was great. A few of the other Q & A’s that day felt way too brief, so it was nice to get one hour with these folks. It’s not everyday they’re all answering questions under one roof. It was nice to see some genuine passion and nostalgia for what the academy awards used to be. I found it funny that Harvey Weinstein kept downplaying how much he campaigns for Oscars, when his company cut an entire documentary purely for their deadline panel that took up the majority of their allotted time. I also liked how everyone bitched about screeners and Rob Friedman pointed out that it’s their choice to send them out, the academy doesn’t force them to do that. All in all, very fascinating to listen to these folks. Really enjoyed the event.

  6. This shows more about Nikki and the change that is happening all over than about the studio heads. The idea that a blog in the back pages of the LA Weekly could somehow overtake the major trades in Hollywood and get almost every studio head in Hollywood to come down and beg for their supper in less than ten years shows a lot. A lot about the changing media world and a lot about the kinds of people that run things.

  7. Any one ask them why they make shit movies? Anyone ask them why 50 years ago there would be 20-30 CLASSICS released a year, now there is maybe 1-2 every 5 years???

  8. Which is why I now go to the movies 2-3 times a year and those movies are usually not what I would consider “classics”.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,189 other followers