Marlon Brando? Check. Warren Beatty? Check. Fidel Castro? Check. Yep, multi-media mogul Peter Guber takes aim at all of these big guns and then some in Shoot Out: Surviving Fame and Misfortune in Hollywood, the Tinseltown page-turner that he co-wrote with Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart. Yet he isn't worried in the least that a thin-skinned celebrity might take a swing at him. How come? It helps, we're sure, that as former CEO of Sony Pictures and founder of Mandalay Entertainment, he's one of the most powerful producers in showbiz, a living legend who has filled cineplexes with such hits as Batman, The Color Purple, Midnight Express and Bonfire of the Vanities. (Well, nobody's perfect.) However, he insists that he sleeps easy because he's just doing what we suspect he always has telling it like it is. While preparing to join Bart for a special July 31 speaking engagement at the newly-formed West Coast branch of the prestigious Harvard Club Independent Film Group, the mover and shaker stood still long enough to talk turkey with TV Guide Online.
TV Guide Online: Congratulations on Shoot Out's success it's No. 4 on the L.A. Times' bestseller list this week. But let's be real, given the book's subject matter, you couldn't have been too worried that it wouldn't score.
Peter Guber: No, I wasn't concerned that it wouldn't do well. But I've been in a lot of areas movies and television shows and music and I've always believed that the destiny of a creative product is uncertain at best, and you just have to really do it because of its discourse to you, what value you get out of making that movie or TV show, or writing that book, that makes you believe it's worthwhile. If you're emotionally connected to it and you can execute it reasonably well, it should do pretty well.
TVGO: That being the case, why was it important for you to take time out of your busy schedule to write Shoot Out?
Guber: I've been teaching for 33 years at UCLA I'm a full professor. So, having done that for all this time and having realized how little literature there was out there that was practitioner-directed meaning it was really for people [who make films] and about how people did it and why they did it I felt that [Bart and I] would add our language to that clarion cry of, "Here's how you don't do it, and here's how you do."
TVGO: While you were compiling all of Shoot Out's anecdotes, was there a moment when you stopped and said, "Holy cow if I print this, so-and-so is gonna wipe the floor with me"?
Guber: No, this is not a kiss-and-tell book, and it's not a how-to-make-movies book it's about how come they get made... and sometimes, frighteningly, why. So the materials were drawn from my own experiences and Peter's. Both of us together represent nearly 70 years of practice in the business, and we're still at the top of our game. Then it also represents all the observational experiences we've had in the business. Plus, it represents all the guests over the last four years we taught this course at UCLA, and the 30 years before that. So it was drawn from a broad base of exposure.
TVGO: Still, you're dealing with some awfully volatile individuals...
Guber: Yeah, but that's what makes it interesting. The cage here keeps us in and them out. It's a matter of protecting ourselves.
TVGO: What would you say was the biggest "shootout" you ever had with a star?
Guber: I've had so many that it's really kind of staggering. I've had little, subtle ones with Robert De Niro and giant ones with Sean Connery, and I've had ones with major personalities all through my business life. The real issue is that I've survived them and prospered from them... even though I've been shot and wounded many times.
TVGO: So what, are you bulletproof? How do you live to tell?
Guber: I survive by will... by the unconditional belief that what you're doing is worthwhile and you're doing your best to accomplish it effectively, and you're not trying to beat anybody, you're just trying to win. You're just trying to make it happen.
TVGO: Ever win a shootout and realize later that gee, maybe the other guy was right?
Guber: At least 50 percent of the time. Absolutely. Firing a gun doesn't mean you're right. You just better be sure that when you get hit back, it's not lethal.
TVGO: One last question... Given Shoot Out's subtitle, I have to ask, what has been the high point of your career... and the low?
Guber: The high point was... (Pause.) Probably something that'll happen in the next three or four years. That'll be the high point. The low point is the experience of confronting films that were abysmal failures and I thought they were going to be roaring successes, and [facing] the people who depended upon me to make them roaring successes. But you know, the high isn't the high without the low to work against.