During his long and distinguished career as a film critic, cinema historian and documentary filmmaker, Richard Schickel has already authored over thirty books and at least as many films and television programmes including the Emmy-nominated The Men who Made the Movies series (1973), Minnelli on Minnelli (1987) and Elia Kazan: A Director’s Journey (1994). He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the American Film Institute in 2003.
In 2008 he completed You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, a monumental, five-part documentary study tracing the history of the studio from its first inception through to the present day.
The first two parts of the film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and were later shown at festivals around the globe including the Cambridge Film Festival in September of that year. Schickel brought his documentary to Cinema City Norwich as one of that festival’s highlights, appearing on stage for a post-screening Q&A session in which he shared his thoughts on the Warner studio’s product and ideology, the filmmaking process, and Hollywood at large both past and present.
In that same month, the full five-hour version of the completed documentary had its first television screenings in the United States and a companion book of the same name, co-written with George Perry, was published by Running Press. You Must Remember This was released on Region 1 DVD in 2009.
I would like to express thanks to Tony Jones, Director of the Cambridge Film Festival, for arranging the screening and Q&A at Cinema City, to Cinema Manager Jack Thompson and the other staff in Norwich for ensuring that everything ran smoothly on the night, to all those in attendance at the event and whose questions are included here in a doubtless mangled form (where the microphone didn’t quite reach the back of the room) and, most of all, to Richard Schickel for finding time within an already hectic schedule to present his entertaining, stimulating and highly informative film to us and to talk so eloquently and memorably about his experiences of making it.
You’ve previously written books and made films about an immense range of people and topics: stars, directors and studios. This new documentary – a five hour movie – represents a huge commitment. So why Warner Bros?
First off, I have two parallel careers where I make films, usually but not exclusively about films, filmmaking and filmmakers, and at the same time I am writing books on similar topics. I think this is close to my fortieth film and they’re all kinda like this. But in all the work I’ve done I’ve never really gotten to do any kind of a studio portrait and I’ve always wanted to because I grew up on films of the studio system in the late Forties and in the waning years of the system in the Fifties and Sixties. Also, going back to childhood, I had always for some reason that I can’t quite explain liked Warner Bros. movies. I just thought they were great movies: great American movies that took up great, important American subjects, whether the Depression or the war years or film noir and all the subgenres that go under those topics. So when I got the chance to do this I encouraged them to let me do it. It was kind of a treat for me, and it remains a treat. If you go through the studio’s history and look at not only the movies you’ve always known and loved but also those you discover because somebody points the way to them, it just becomes a kind of wonderful mosaic.
It was a lot of hard work and we went way over budget and way over schedule, and it represents two years of my life really, but it was very educational. I don’t think I’d want to do it again but it’s something I’m pretty proud of and I think it makes an interesting statement about the studio and its relation to American life. I think it talks nicely about its ready sympathy for the downtrodden, for the underdogs, for the blue-collar people who were nearly always the victims of cosmic circumstances. I think the studio was more alert to that stuff than any of the other studios in Hollywood, particularly at the time that is covered in these two hours.
For me, one of the things that really stands out about this documentary is that it’s not just a history of the studio but a social history as well.
I meant that to be that way. There have been other studio histories that are very ‘film buff’, very oriented toward nostalgia and all that. I suppose it’s automatically nostalgic if you love Humphrey Bogart – here he is as we love to remember him. But nostalgia’s a cheap sort of pseudo-emotion. I believe that for people who care about movies they’re an authentic historical subject. I mean, it’s as important to write well or make films that are serious about the history of movies as it is to do any other kind of social or political history. It’s as important to get this right as it is to get right Civil War generals or early obscure Seventeenth-century poets. It deserves the same kind of scholarly effort as those topics do. But – let’s face it – film studies has always had a kind of a second class citizenship about it. It’s like, well, it can’t be serious – it’s about movies: movies aren’t serious, movies are what we do on Saturday nights. I happen not to think that. And then there’s a sort of perversity in that so many hacks do film history. There’s so much bad journalistic writing and clueless academic writing about film history that the whole topic gets a bad name. Everything I do in terms of film – films about films or books about films – is really aimed at Virginia Woolf’s ‘common reader’. I do think we share culture and want to have a good working knowledge of the history of that culture, so that’s the aim of this film: to enliven the past, make you be interested in it, and make a few pretty simple but basic points about that history. That’s all I’m trying to do with films like this.
That’s something you’ve certainly succeeded in. I asked you why Warner Bros. but, by the time I’d seen the film, I was thinking ‘who else?’!
It was crazy. You know, the Warner brothers were so at each other’s throats… that saga ends in hour three where Harry’s chasing Jack down the street with a lead pipe. They really didn’t like each other! But I think I said at the outset, this is what makes it a great studio. All that sort of weird energy that was generated at that studio made for good pictures in a way that a blander, more prosperous, more secure studio like MGM does not make for good pictures.
This is a five hour movie in its final version. When we were talking earlier tonight you told me that you’d probably like to have had seven or eight hours, which you thought would have been about right.
Well, I think this is pretty good. I think when you see the DVD or see it on television you will see that it’s a pretty thorough history. On the other hand, there are dozens of movies that I love that aren’t in this film because I just don’t have the room for them, or another film is even better and makes the same point so you make that kind of Hobson’s choice of which movie to play. But I think you could do another couple of hours and enliven it, enrich it. The DVD will probably be the best version of it and will include some stuff that we had to cut out to make our television times. So buy the DVD, definitely, that’s the good one!
The film includes an amazing array of archive material from the movies but also archive interviews as well as new ones that you’ve done yourself.
A lot of the archival material is stuff I shot: interviews with Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, Alfred Hitchcock. A lot of that is my own stuff because I made – I think we’re coming up on – twenty portraits of leading American directors, so I have my own kind of private archive of that material which is precious. I mean, not to toot my own horn but I was the first guy who did director portraits on television and this is back in the early seventies when I did Hitchcock and Hawks and that age group of American directors. But there’s other stuff in there. There’s a nice archival project that TCM has where they interviewed hundreds of people who had been actors, directors and what have you in the movies and there’s other material too.
When you set out on this project in the first place, how clear an idea did you have of ‘these are the things that I want’ and how much did it change and develop in the course of the years that you were making it?
Well, I sort of knew in general what the theme was. In this particular part I really thought about Warners’ identification as the New Deal studio at the time and its very close ties to official Washington in the early Thirties. The Busby Berkeley films – as I think we make clear here – are really about downtrodden people whose last hope is whether they can get the show on before the sheriff closes them down, and then they’re cast into the sea of despair that was the Depression. I find it amazing that they would take up that topic in the midst of all that fabulous Busby Berkeley imagery. So I always thought they were ruled by their own particular political passions at the time.
I think the breaking point in the film, which is clear here, certainly was a breaking point at Warner Bros. When that strike happened they really believed it was Communist led and inspired, and it may well have been. Within a couple of years they’re answering to the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Those are turning points. They turned away from their previous liberal beliefs and became like the rest of Hollywood: ultraconservative, politically. Yet they weren’t able to entirely tamp down the spirit of the place. Guys like John Huston went on making John Huston kinds of movies. I happened to come back into the auditorium during the Storm Warning [Stuart Heisler, 1951] movie… it’s not common to have made your stars flop in movies, I mean you just don’t see that kind of thing usually. So the consciousness went on even though the official Warner Bros. position changed in those years.
I think the DNA continued, especially when the studio revived in the 1970s (to jump ahead to episode four). The studio was really close to being finished, closed, when they sold it to Kinney National Services, Ted Ashley’s company. He sort of bought it for the record business! How times change – that was the big business at the time – it was a license to print money. He bought it for the record business and thought maybe he’d sell the studio or spin it off. He brought in some bright guys and for less than a million dollars they made Woodstock [Michael Wadleigh, 1970] and they made a fortune with that movie. I think it returned at least a hundred million dollars on the initial release and they’re still making money on it. Marty [Scorsese] was very much a part of that revival. ‘Boy!’, he said, ‘Warners was the place to be.’ They picked up Mean Streets , the movie that made Marty’s reputation. They made Deliverance [John Boorman, 1972]; they made Blazing Saddles [Mel Brooks, 1974]; they made The Exorcist [William Friedkin, 1973]; they made Dirty Harry [Don Siegel, 1971], and Clint’s career parallels the growth of Warner Bros. It became a great studio again because they figured out a way to make movies that were lively, relevant, violent, sexual, and which fitted the spirit of the Seventies in the same way their movies had captured the spirit of the Thirties and Forties.
So I think the social conscientiousness of the studio persists to this day. Michael Clayton [Tony Gilroy, 2007] is a real Warner Bros. movie: It’s about a working class guy who discovers corruption in a law firm where his career is blocked because of his background: that’s a Warner picture. So is Mystic River [Clint Eastwood, 2003], so is Million Dollar Baby [Clint Eastwood, 2004] – kind of throwback movies that I think the people at the studio understand are the kind of movies we’ve always made here on this lot. So I think the DNA is a real factor in keeping Warners a lively place. Obviously they make most of their money on things like the Harry Potter films, The Dark Knight [Christopher Nolan, 2008], something like that, but they’re still open to making these kinds of small, meaningful, socially conscientious movies.
You mention Clint Eastwood who I believe has narrated sections of the film that we’ve not seen yet.
Oh yeah – his career is more than one third of the history of Warner Bros. Next year Clint will have been on the lot thirty-five years and he will have made thirty-five movies – Warner Bros. movies – and probably a dozen at other studios. He’s a major, major Warner employer. And I think it’s important to notice that Clint Eastwood has never played, or really even made a movie as a director, about anything that’s not about working class people. That’s what he is: a blue-collar guy from Oakland, and that spirit moves him – the Warner spirit. I think George Clooney is a similar type. They’ll both make rainy-day movies or Ocean’s Eleven [Steven Soderbergh, 2001] movies or whatever to keep in good with the studio but it’s ‘one for them and one for me’. That’s the way they work and that’s fine with Warner Bros. because the ‘one for them’ – and sometimes the ‘one for me’ makes a lot of money for them – but almost invariably the ‘one for them’ does well for them. So it is open to those kinds of slightly long-term arrangements. George Clooney said to me, ‘most places you come in, you make a picture, you leave’. He’s got the office next to Clint’s on the lot and these two birds have been doing their pictures there for – between them – over fifty years. So those kinds of arrangements are not common in movies, and anybody who’s been there for any length of time talks about a ‘family feeling’. Okay – in Jack and Harry’s day it was a dysfunctional family but it was still a family and now it’s a more functional family I think.
This is my third endeavour with Warner Bros and I think there’ll be a fourth one next year. I sort of have that feeling. It’s a nice lot. It’s a very pleasant lot to go on and to work on because the core of it is exactly as it was in 1927 or ’8 when they bought the lot and moved there and it has a kind of a homey quality about it. You go past the sound stages and they’ve all got plaques on: they shot such-and-so here and such-and-so on this stage, because they have those records and they have a nice museum and a nice archive and they have preserved their past in a way that’s not true of any other studio that I know of. You can access papers, photographs by the thousands, the library. It’s a historically-oriented studio which made my task obviously much easier.
You spoke about Eastwood’s long relationship with Warners. You’ve had a very long relationship with Eastwood. You’ve written his authorised biography, you’ve made more than one documentary…
Well we go back to The Outlaw Josey Wales . We’ve been mutual friends now since I was in Los Angeles working on another film entirely and we just sort of hit it off. I’ve learned a lot from Clint – not so much about what lens to use or something like that but it’s an attitude towards filmmaking that I very much believe in and it’s low key, it’s the exact opposite of the sort of the high maestro European manner of making movies. It’s much more about allowing the actors room to breathe; it’s much more a quiet set. He’s likely not to call action – it’s ‘start’, or ‘whenever you’re ready’, or something like that. He never says ‘cut’ – it’s ‘okay, we’re finished’, and it’s an attitude that encourages you to take the real part of moviemaking seriously but not to take all the bullshit that goes around it genuinely seriously, and so I like that quality. I’ve just learned a lot from Clint. He’s a very smart guy, part of whose smartness consists of pretending to not be so smart. So it’s been a wonderful relationship, but I’m very pleased that he can come on and narrate the film and very pleased with his support of the film in Cannes and elsewhere in the last couple of weeks when we’re promoting it in the US. He’s just a good guy. What can I tell you? There are such things as good guys in the movie business!
[From this point on we turn to questions from the audience.]
At the beginning of the pre-production phase, how do you decide who you’re going to speak to? And you’ve said sometimes you had to leave certain things out, so how do you decide that you’re going to include that comment…
I’m not a big outliner. I have to generalise where I want to go with the film but I don’t write down a lot of roman numerals and stuff like that. A lot of these people are in fact my friends. There are academics I knew who could speak to the political questions of the late Thirties and the war years and the immediate post-war years so I wanted them to be on. There are directors, obviously, who had made significant Warner movies that I wanted to be there talking about them. There were people like Robert Towne, a friend of mine who will appear later and who will talk about Bonnie and Clyde [Arthur Penn, 1967]. I knew he’d loved Errol Flynn just from having dinner with him and so I said, ‘come on and talk about Errol Flynn because you’re really good on that subject’, and it kinda went that way. Then I just get it in there and mess around with it with the editor, see where we’re going.
I was still looking at film for episode five in August of this year. That’s how loose it was. And we only finished episode five about three, three and a half weeks ago. So it’s not the most efficient way to make a film to be honest with you but I don’t know any other way. It’s the way I do it. Other people do it differently – make outlines, and make sure they cover certain points. I do look at it as like a story. If you’re writing a biography of somebody you can’t cover their entire life. You have to find your own thread through the life and you find a document or something that seems to trigger some thought about what are the main lines of that life as you perceive them. If somebody else had taken the same batch of material and made quite a different movie about it than I made then that’s okay too. But I feel I can defend everything I say in the film when I’m done with it. There’s a reason everything is there – it’s not just plonked in there.
Did you just say, ‘I’m going to make this film’ and you took two years and went through the archive and so on and so forth? Was it something that you had planned?
No, I hadn’t planned to do it. I’d wanted to do it but that’s different from planning to do it. I would say that I first got into some fairly serious discussions about making this film about four, four and a half years ago. There was a different management at Warner Home Video then and they were less interested then. This film got made because the two guys who were running Warner Bros. (the big Warner Bros.), Barry Meyer and Al Horn, had heard about it. We were trying to make deals with Turner Classic Movies and one or both of them said, ‘what does it cost?’ I said, well, X- dollars, and they said ‘well why do we need a partner on this? Why don’t we just do it? It’s our history, it’s our eighty-fifth anniversary, it should be done’. And if the top loves it, the bottom is going to run around and make sure it happens. So that’s how this film happened. It was almost stuck – Turner Classic only wants to put up $700,000 and we need more than that and it was getting into one of those tangles that happens – everybody wants to do it but no one wants to cough up the dough. And I give Barry and Alan a lot of credit for just saying, ‘let’s do it and own it and put it on DVD and sell it on television where we can and so on’. And so that’s what made it happen.
Unlike some earlier work, you’re saying that Warner budgeted so that in terms of clips you actually had free rein with what you could grab?
Here’s where Clint was so important. Almost three years ago I said, ‘I’m trying to do this and I’d like you to be executive producer and maybe narrate it’. He said, ‘well, it wouldn’t be a whitewash job would it?’ I said, ‘no – simply as accurate a history as we can’. He said, ‘okay, well in that case I’ll do it’. Now, he really didn’t have to go to them and yell at them and say ‘you’re trying to censor my friend’s movie’ or anything but he’s a very potent figure at Warner Bros. So basically all you had to do was say ‘I don’t think Clint would like that’ – you know, whether he would or not, I don’t know – and they’d say ‘okay’! So he was a hugely important factor in making sure the film was honest and honourable and not a big suck job. That was important to me. It was important to him. He didn’t want to be associated with something that was creepy-crawly. So that’s how that was. I was lucky, you know. I knew the guy who had made the previous Warner history about ten years ago, I think, and he didn’t have that clout. They were telling him, ‘well you have to plug our new films and you have to do this and you have to do that’. I knew him – he was working in the same building as I was and it was kinda driving him crazy. I didn’t have any of those problems. Also, I think it helps a little bit that I do have an independent reputation as a critic and a historian so they’re not going to say, ‘you can’t’ or ‘you mustn’t’ or ‘you shouldn’t’. But it also helps to have Clint on your side.
Now that Warner Bros. is a big Hollywood conglomerate do you still see the studio as being political today?
I don’t think there’s a major studio in Hollywood that is not owned by a conglomerate; there is no free-standing studio the way Warners once was. Universal or Fox, they’re all owned by Rupert Murdoch or somebody like him. Is the studio still political? Yeah, I think it is what drives the right-wing crazy in America, which is Hollywood leftism. The guys who run the studios are (with the exception of people at Fox who are Rupert’s guys) liberal minded people. They give to all the causes you would give to if you lived in America. So they’re quite capable of those gestures – within reason. There were in recent years at Warner Bros. a couple of little pictures – In the Valley of Elah [Paul Haggis, 2007] and North Country [Niki Caro, 2005] – which are very socially conscientious films and they were pleased to have made them. And both guys who run the studio now in the course of their interview mention those movies. Both of them made no money for the studio but they were pleased enough to do it. Partly they starred actors whom they were interested in maintaining a good relationship with and partly the fact is the budgets were low and they couldn’t get hurt particularly on those movies. So it’s liberalism at a price. You can’t go in there and say, ‘I want to do the true story of Sacco and Vanzetti and it’ll cost you a hundred million dollars’. They’re not going to do that, but they might do the true story of a feminist worker at an ore mine in Minnesota who defends feminism in the context of a really sexist institution [North Country]. That they’ll do because they can do it for a relatively low price. And it’s a decent movie, by the way. It’s an honourable, honestly realised melodrama about that situation. So yeah, they’re approachable at that level. But Clint in recent years has taken pictures to them that they didn’t so much want to make, like Million Dollar Baby. It’s ‘I don’t know, we don’t want to do boxing’, and Clint goes, ‘but it’s not a boxing movie per se’. And yeah, they say, ‘we made a mistake, we’re sorry. We misjudged that movie; we should have owned all of it instead of half of it’, because Clint was going to make that movie wherever he got it financed and so he got some of the financing from another avenue. But within reason they will make liberal-minded movies at the studio.
Do the people running the studios now have a film background or do they have a different background these days?
One of the best lines in hour-five of the movie is from Alan Horn who is Warners’ head of production. We were talking about Marty’s film, The Departed , which finally brought Marty his long-denied, long-overdue Academy Award and was a very successful movie too, commercially speaking. Alan was saying, ‘do you know, it was just really one of the most thrilling nights of my life. Here is Marty finally getting his award, and our picture was getting an award, and we had made money out of the picture and yet also it was a good picture so we’re proud of everything.’ He said, ‘I was just a-tingle. It made me so happy I hadn’t stayed at Proctor and Gamble!’ So I like that.
Movies are – and I don’t think I’m projecting – a very magical business if you’re involved in them. Whether you’re writing for them or about them, whether you’re making real films or films about them, there’s something about it that’s extraordinarily seductive: kicky, fun, melodramatic. We are none of us at Proctor and Gamble! Working on these films, even if they’re very modest films like this one, really beats the hell out of almost any other occupation I can think of because it’s never boring. It’s sometimes terrifying but it’s never boring. So I feel fortunate to have drifted into making films as well as writing about films because, in terms of a career, it’s been more fun than if I’d just stayed home writing books all day. It gets you out there, it gets you involved with curious, interesting, slightly nutsy people. I feel lucky, that’s all.
There’s obviously a lot involved in making documentary films about people rather than simply writing books about people.
I’ll say this: clip shows are like the bottom end of the feeding order in filmmaking but they are not easy to do. There’s a lot of selection, a lot of choice, a lot of trying stuff out. I once made a clip show with an Academy Award-winning editor, highly regarded in the feature film world as a really good, competent editor. About half-way through making the film (and he was not an editor I would have chosen – somebody at the network or somewhere insisted we had an editor of that stature) this guy was shaking in his boots, he didn’t know what to do! I’m not taking anything away from feature film editing but a director brings in a fairly limited number of takes he’s shot and all you really have to do is cut the heads and the tails off and assemble them in a decent order, and then the director will come in and make more nuanced choices and so forth. But compared to this, that is really easier work. Because if you have, as we surely had in our cutting room, five hundred movies with excerpts pulled out of most of them, you’re sitting there with this mess of stuff and a whole mess of interviews and me wanting to make certain points stressed in the course of the film. It gets complicated, it really does.
I was thinking about this today because I had to speak to some young kids at a school who want to have film careers. The kinds of films I make – which have nothing to do with the kinds of films Clint makes – are really writerly. They depend upon an idea about the material that they’re dealing with, and executing the idea as attractively and efficiently as you can. But it’s not filmmaking in the sense that [Akira] Kurosawa would understand it to be. It’s a much more writerly activity making a film like this because it has a lot to do with intellect, a lot to do with your historical sense, and a lot to do with simple ideas – certain films are made in certain eras that wouldn’t be made in a different era, and that kind of thing. So it’s not all that simple-minded. People think, ‘Hey! Let’s just put some good clips together and it’s done’, but it’s not.
You didn’t have any historical re-enactments.
Oh, well I am a classicist when it comes to documentaries – I don’t believe in reconstructions and I don’t believe in complicated voice-overs where you hear voices from the past talking at each other. I also have a journalistic background so I really believe in factuality and being as true as you can be to whatever historical truths you know and can put on the screen or put in a book so it’s important to me to not tart it up. Movies are so easy to nostalgise, trivialise, patronise, do all those things with, and so I try not to do that in these films. It’s like a principle, and that comes out of journalism as much as anything.
As an historian and a journalist, how do you see the impact of the startling events that are happening in the world now?
You mean like the collapse of the international economy? Well I don’t honestly think it’s going to be the Great Depression. My hope is that it puts paid to John McCain. I don’t know. One of the things I think about cosmic events is that – you know what – most of us aren’t going to lose our homes, the majority of people who are paying their mortgages and so forth, and most of us aren’t going to lose our jobs. And more important, people will keep getting married and keep having babies and struggling along through life. That’s what life is. So thinking about this film, I think that so many of the movies they made at Warner Bros. in those days were very much coloured by the climate of the times but the bottom line of those movies was just about that: a boy and girl fall in love, they have terrible problems, she may even die (as she does in Heroes for Sale [William Wellman, 1933]) and terrible things happen to them as a result of these cosmic events. Warner Bros. uniquely was willing to play those out to tragic and dark conclusions but, nonetheless, life at that level does go on. So I guess I’m getting old. I was born in the Depression, I grew up during the war, I came to maturity in the God-awful 1950s in America, so I sort of feel like I’m rolling with the punches and I’m towards the end of my career, toward the end of my life, and it’s been okay. I’m here to tell you!
You’ve met so many stars and directors and have a large interview archive. Do you still get star-struck?
No! I feel this: there are obvious exceptions, but I’ve now lived in Los Angeles and made films there for over twenty years, I’ve met a lot of people who make movies – directors, actors, writers, producers even – and you know what? By and large I don’t find them any more monstrous, to take a really good analogy, than the people I run into in book publishing. In fact they’re even better. I’ve never ever talked to a book publisher who’s said anything but, ‘it’s a tough time to be a publisher’. I’ve been publishing books for forty years, like it’s been tough all those years? I mean there’s something paltry about book publishers. There is something grand about movies. These guys are risking a hundred to a hundred and fifty million on an opening weekend. They’ve got a little more balls and I like that quality but, at the bottom, I like the kind of raffishness about them. Yeah, I’ve met some guys that I wouldn’t particularly want to have dinner with or pursue a friendship with but I’ve met a lot of people who strike me as not at all dissimilar from me and my friends – they just make a lot more money than we do! But they’re the same people. They’re not necessarily carting around in enormous, inordinate vehicles and stuff like that.
I think Hollywood gets kind of a bad rap and it’s an historical bad rap because it goes back to the era this picture’s about, where they hired a lot of one-shot wonders out of the novel-writing and play-writing community and they came out to Hollywood and, oh my God! Harry Cohn was a vulgarian and Jack Warner was a vulgarian, and who wasn’t a vulgarian that they worked for? And then they would run back East and tell terrible stories about these guys with funny accents and crude sensibilities and everybody believed it. I think the problem with movies right now is that they really sold out to a particular demographic. I guess they feel they have to, and I also applaud it when they don’t, when they make a Michael Clayton or a film of that kind. But I have no moral qualms about doing business with these people.
It’s a weird world out there. The people who are supposedly the friends of the artist and the art turn out to be total assholes and the people who are crassly making money for the studio turn out to be honourable, decent men who will do anything to help you make your picture. So go figure! I mean that’s my life’s wisdom on this subject. You take them as you find them and you’re blessed if you’ve got an honourable guy behind you and you’re cursed if you’ve got some crazy person right on your tail. So you just never know. That’s my motto in life. I think it was Fats Waller: ‘One never knows, do one?’
How do you see the role of the big studios now, with the growth of independent and pseudo-independent production?
The studio of Warner Bros. is an eleven billion dollar per year activity and it’s a multi-media company. It probably makes more money producing DVDs than it does producing films, and that says nothing about television, marketing, merchandising, a whole wide range of stuff that place does. It will be oriented, as all businesses have to be, toward its bottom line: its mega-corporate masters will insist on that kind of performance or there will be a new management in place there. But will studios continue? Of course! They’re central to so many processes in a world that is determined to entertain itself to death. So the studio is a kind of a nexus. It’s where the television guys and the movie guys and the DVD guys and all those people bring together their plans and hopes and so forth: a very necessary sort of nexus of communication within the show business universe. So yeah, like cockroaches, they will be forever!