Peter Guber and Peter Bart Peter Guber and Peter Bart

If Ebert and Roeper simply aren't satisfying your appetite for movie talk, it's time to check out AMC's Sunday Morning Shootout (airing each week at 11 am/ET). The debate program is hosted by two men with some 70 years' worth of entertainment-biz experience between them. Peter Bart, before becoming vice president and editor in chief of Variety, helped shepherd such films as The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Being There and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Peter Guber, meanwhile, has helped bring to life such movies as Taxi Driver, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Rain Man. Though a bit intimidated by the Peters' resumes, caught up with each of them to gain insight into the Shootout as well as today's film industry. The top-shelf guests on your show often have such provocative and interesting opinions. Is there any preinterviewing done, or is some of what's said surprising to even you guys?
Peter Bart: I think it's wonderful for people to confront each other fresh. Guber and I never even really talk about what we're going to argue about at the beginning of the show. Either one or both of us know most of the guests in some way, so we're not completely surprised when they suddenly start popping off on an issue. But sometimes we are.
Peter Guber: I have never, ever done a preinterview. I've done research on what to say or talk about, but that's just for maybe the first question, so most of the time I'm surprised. Even with Bart, I'll look at him and think, "You really believe that Tom Cruise isn't a brand? You believe that Jim Carrey isn't a comedy brand?" When he says stuff like that, I think this guy must have dropped out of a tree or something.... These aren't interviews, they are conversations, and they become challenging because people come to it with their own point of view. Has anyone ever offered a behind-the-scenes anecdote you've never heard before?
Bart: Last week Jimmy Caan all of a sudden starts talking about turning down Kramer vs. Kramer and Superman and what an idiot he was for doing so. I didn't know that. That was very amusing. Is there anyone you have wanted on the show but not had, perhaps as the result of a professional rift?
Bart: That's a good question. Let's put it this way: It's no secret that I don't get along with, say, Jim Cameron, so I've never asked him on the show on the assumption he'd never come. [Laughs] At Variety, when he was going way, way over schedule on Titanic, once a week we'd run a little logo of a sinking ship with the number of days over that he was. He didn't appreciate that, and, understandably, we don't get along too well.
Guber: I've wanted Jack Nicholson, who I did like 12 films with, and I have not been able to get him to do the show. And he's a friend! Michael Douglas is another friend — I've taken vacations with him, I've been on boats with him — but he just resists it. Some people have a professional desire not to put themselves out in that way. Yet they'll do Inside the Actors Studio...
… where they're just sitting there and somebody's droning on lovingly. Everything's a bouquet of flowers on Actors Studio. Are there any topics that you two repeatedly agree to disagree on?
Bart: We see things pretty eye-to-eye in most cases, but there are certain issues where he may take the studio/corporate side of things, while I like to try to see things from the side of the artists and the artisans who work in the business.
Guber: We come from such a different bias. He has such a high intellect and so much experience as a writer and an editor, and is in the news business so that he comes at everything with his head and with a much larger-framed, right-brained attitude. I come from it intuitively, emotionally. "Wait a minute, let me get this straight: Movies are dead? Movies aren't dead. More people see more movies in more ways than ever before. What's happening is the revenue model is bad. But we're always going to tell stories." Now, I gave you no facts there; Bart gave me facts about the box office going down, people staying away. How worried are industry execs about so-so summer box office, and how worried should they be?
: I think they should be concerned, but some years are front-loaded; this could turn out to be a year where the big hits come out later in the year. In that case, there's a chance this could be almost as good as last year. Right now, it's about 8 percent behind. I'm not of that group that feels this is the beginning of a big downturn. It's sort of glib to assume that.
Guber: They need to recognize that they've got a stranglehold on a business that will always be a business. Visual literacy and storytelling — it's the 21st century art form, but the demonstration of it and the economic model that supports it is going to change.... What they should be worried about is that they don't [recognize] that change is an inevitable participant in their business life. What's your take on [Disney CEO] Bob Iger's proposal to narrow — if not one day eliminate — the theatrical-to-DVD release window?
Bart: Number one, I'm not sure he really did say that, or if he said it that he meant it, because I think it really would be very destructive to the theaters.
Guber: Well, he's just announced that they're going to go direct to theater in digital, right? So you have to peel that back and ask yourself, is that the whole story? Clearly not, because if you look at the food chain, from the epiphany of the artist to the eureka of the audience, every one of the places along the way has digital opportunity.... There's such a cost of marketing these darned things, you don't want to market them four times. If you've got a person who wants to buy [a movie], but only for their cell phone, let's sell it to them now. If someone wants to see it in a theater, show it to them now. So, pay $10 to see it in a theater, $15 to download it and, say, $25 to own it on DVD?
Or any combination thereof, or buying one gives you another one free. The supply is unlimited; it's the demand and how it's wanted that will determine the course of action. What is greatest hurdle facing today's film industry?
Bart: I'd say it's to not get caught up in "tentpole-itis," where almost every picture seems to be aimed at every part of the audience. Everyone is going for the sweet spot — that's a Guberism. I think the sweet spot can be a seduction. For every Spider-Man there should be a Sideways.
Guber: The greatest hurdle is the recognition that the cost of the product in relation to your return investment is not inelastic. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which cost $3 million, is playing at the same multiplex as War of the Worlds, which cost $150 million, and yet they charge the same price. I said years ago that if you own a dealership that sells Ferraris and Volkswagens, and you sold them all for $25,000, every time the salesman came in and told you he sold a Ferrari, you'd want to kill him. The cost of the product is different, the promise is different, so why not just charge differently and let the market determine? Which film that you have been personally involved with has the greatest emotional attachment for you?
Bart: When I was president of Lorimar, Being There meant a lot to me, because in a way it was the final effort of Peter Sellers [as simpleton Chauncey Gardiner], who was a great presence on the screen. And after that, [director] Hal Ashby, who I thought was a great filmmaker, began to nosedive. So I treasure that film as an important milestone in that way. That's one picture that, thank goodness, has not been remade — maybe because Chauncey is in the White House.
Guber: There are two for me: Gorillas in the Mist and Midnight Express. Gorillas because these were creatures that didn't have a voice, and the idea of creating a film in the worldwide marketplace that gave them a voice was an interesting challenge and a satisfying win. A magazine writer once called Peter Bart "one of the most despised and feared people in Hollywood." Do you take that as a badge of honor?
Bart: I thought it was just nonsense, so I don't. Let's put it this way: The most dangerous thing is when everyone loves you. Then you're doing something wrong. And Peter Guber, which upcoming release from Mandalay Pictures, which you founded, do you have the highest hopes for?
Guber: Here's my belief — the movie god is perverse. There is no certainty, only the illusion of certainty. We once did a film with Adrien Brody, who had just won an Academy Award, and Keira Knightley, right off of Pirates of the Caribbean, and we didn't do $12 in the United States. We have a film shooting now with Vince Vaughn, a comedy which sounds like the center of the sweet spot, and we have Into the Blue coming out with Jessica Alba, Paul Walker, Ashley Scott and Josh Brolin. Do I know which ones are going to work? Pfft. If I made all the movies I passed on and passed on all the movies I made, I'd probably come out the same.