I am often asked what it was like to be a studio film producer in The New Hollywood.
While I write extensively about that in Bringing Back The Old Hollywood, I also want to highly recommend What Just Happened, an amazing and completely accurate movie about the life a film producer. The film flew way beneath the radar when it was released theatrically in 2008 and is now available on DVD and on cable.
What Just Happened stars the incomparable Robert DeNiro as a film producer navigating the halls of “power” in The New Hollywood. I have never seen a film that so accurately (and painfully) chronicles what it is really like to be a film producer in Hollywood today.
DeNiro’s character Ben is finishing the edit on a film with a flamboyant, alcoholic, ego-mad director who insists on a violent, depressing ending to a film. After a disastrous preview, the studio head (played with cold and hilarious accuracy by Catherine Keener) wants the ending changed. Even though the director does not have “final cut” rights, DeNiro has to go through the hoops of hell to get the director to make the necessary changes. Viewer warning: the ending for which the “artiste” director is fighting includes the shooting of a dog that is really tough to watch so please be forewarned.
At the same time, Ben is about to commence production on a big budget film starring Bruce Willis, who is slated to receive $20 million for his role. Problems arise when Willis insists on keeping a beard that he has grown for the role, When the studio threatens Ben and Willis with lawsuits if the beard is not shaved, Mr. Willis throws one of the great actor/inflated ego/prima donna/meltdown fits ever put on film. Mr. Willis is absolutely hilarious playing himself in the role and deserves huge credit, applause, and karma points for his willingness to portray a spoiled movie star.
Ben is also dealing with two ex-wives, children, and huge alimony payments.
The film is brilliantly directed by veteran Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam, The Natural, etc.). Producer Art Linson (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Untouchables, Heat, etc.) wrote the screenplay (based on his own book) . Only someone like Mr. Linson who has lived the life of a film producer could have so accurately captured that life on screen. I winced, laughed, and shook my head in wonderment and recognition throughout the entire film.
If you have ever wondered what the so-called “glamorous” life of a producer is really like, this is an absolute must-see film.