A Warning From Michael Douglas

January 28, 2011

I was very moved by the reception Michael Douglas was given at the recent Golden Globes ceremony, and even more touched by Matt Lauer‘s interview with Michael on a recent “Dateline”. I am so happy that Michael seems to have completely recovered from his battle with throat cancer. Many years ago, Michael gave me some great advice about producing movies. From Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

A Warning from Michael Douglas

I was flush with confidence (arrogance?) again.

The new kid was back.

We had Christopher Reeve for his first film since Superman and I was on my way to being able to produce all the movies I had ever dreamed of.

Or not.

One day as we prepped the film, I ran into Michael Douglas. Even though our parents were good friends, Michael was a couple of years older than me and while we were cordial when we saw each other, we had never been friends.

I very proudly told Michael that I was about to produce my first film. With a knowing smile, he asked me to sit down for a few minutes so he could tell me something important about producing movies.

Michael’s first film as a producer had been One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, which received multiple Oscar nominations.

Michael told me that, just before he attended the Oscar ceremony, he set up meetings for the next day with several studios so that he could try to make a deal on the next film he wanted to produce.

He told me that he was confident that Cuckoo’s Nest would win at least one or two Oscars and he wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest actually won five Oscars that night, including the one that Michael personally won as the producer for Best Picture. In fact, Cuckoo’s Nest became the first film in over forty years to sweep all the major categories: Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay, and Picture.

The next day, flush with that success, Michael went to his meetings, certain that he would be besieged with offers to produce the film that he was pitching.

He was rejected by every studio.

Every one.

The day after winning the Oscar for Best Picture.

(The project he had been pitching was The China Syndrome and it actually took him almost four years to get it made.)

“So look, Stephen, I didn’t tell you this to scare you. It’s just a really important thing to know. Actors, directors, they can live off hits for a while. As producers, we start over from scratch every time.”

He had told me the story with great humanity and very warmly wished me the best of luck with my film as he walked away.

Michael had given me a wise, compassionate piece of advice and, of course, I managed to ignore it almost immediately.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nikki Di Virgilio January 28, 2011 at 10:52 am

Great advice and I can see why you ignored it. Just starting out who wants to hear that. I get that as a writer. But what a gift. To be expected to start from scratch everytime. This way you don’t get messed up after you’ve had a hit thinking you have to beat it. You can literally start from scratch and allow the organic process to take shape. I think I will remember this for myself.

A note about Michael Douglas. It was wonderful to see him so humble at the Globes. It often takes something like what he’s gone through to access that part of us. It doesn’t have to though. Imagine Hollywood if it were more humble. Not sure what it would look
like…Would it be the like The Old Hollywood?

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Stephen Simon January 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm

A wonderful insight and question—and, yes, I believe it would be…Old Hollywood actors knew there were part of a business that was interdependent…they were part of the system, they didn’t run the system…..today, there is no system…..it’s a free-for-all…..or maybe that should be phrased expensive-for-all…

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