David Geffen is notoriously press and camera shy. (Unless it’s with Maureen Dowd or Barbara Walters.) But he appeared at TCA today for the upcoming PBS American Masters: Inventing David Geffen documentary billed as an “unflinching” portrait of his life. He was brief with his answers to reporters and critics, emphasizing repeatedly this afternoon that he has little to do with showbiz anymore except for the 3 million-4 million stock shares which his foundation owns in publicly traded DreamWorks Animation run by Jeffrey Katzenberg. (He pointed out that he hasn’t even seen Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln yet “but I’ve heard it is very good” from DreamWorks 2.0.) Geffen said today it would be “impossible” to raise the $2 billion financing that formed the original DreamWorks which he co-founded back in 1994 with Spielberg and Katzenberg as the first new Hollywood studio in 50 years. “I don’t think it can be done today for a start-up. I don’t think anyone can raise $2 billion, I couldn’t do it today.” Geffen repeatedly spoke about the differences in showbiz between when he was coming up in the biz – and now. One of the most dramatic changes? “The demise of the DVD has a huge impact on the finances of the business,” he said. “The business model has changed. The industry will exist in very different ways than we experience it today. It’ll still be here. But I think there will be industries that will be far more profitable.”
Specifically about the film biz, Geffen said, “The biggest movies in the world have no stars in them today. Avatar has no stars. Avengers, with the exception of the small role that Robert Downey Jr had in it, had no stars. Today it is the story not the stars,” the mogul said. (He bluntly said Rock of Ages bombed because “it was a bad movie.”) Geffen did say what’s still the same is how hard it is to get into showbiz. “It was very hard then, and it is now. A very hard bullseye to hit.” His own early years as a working class Brooklyn boy in the William Morris Agency mailroom in 1964 spanned into the music industry and his early success with Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and Guns N’ Roses through his companies Geffen/Roberts Management, Asylum Records, and Geffen Records. He also reached into feature films through Geffen Pictures and onto Broadway. A multimillionaire by 1972 and a billionaire by 1995, Geffen’s final hurrah in Hollywood was DreamWorks and its evolution also is the subject of the PBS’ two-hour Inventing David Geffen documentary. Along the way, the mogul’s relentless ambition, business deals, political activism, and philanthropic causes are woven into the narrative.
Written, directed, and produced by Susan Lacy for PBS’ American Masters, it will air on November 20th. More than 50 of Geffen’s friends, colleagues and clients, as well as other media bigwigs, contributed to the doc exploring the highs and the lows in Geffen’s professional and personal life, like Irving Azoff, Jackson Browne, Cher, David Crosby, Clive Davis, Barry Diller, Maureen Dowd, Rahm Emanuel, Nora Ephron, Tom Hanks, Don Henley, Arianna Huffington, Jimmy Iovine, Elton John, Calvin Klein, Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Mike Nichols, Yoko Ono, Frank Rich, Slash, Jann Wenner, Neil Young, and of course Spielberg and Katzenberg. Notorious for his fierce loyalty, bluntness and chutzpah, Geffen has not avoided conflict or controversy. American Masters’ Inventing David Geffen addresses his fallings out with Laura Nyro, the Eagles, and the Clintons, his lawsuit against Neil Young, his unsuccessful stint at Warner Bros Pictures, his whirlwind romance with Cher, and his struggles with cancer, homosexuality, and the AIDS-related deaths of his friends. Since its 1986 premiere, American Masters has earned 23 Emmy Awards, the 2012 Producers Guild Award, 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, and three Grammys.