On Monday, AMC’s entertainment roundtable show “Shootout” came to the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills to grab time with some Academy Award nominees after their annual luncheon, for the “Shootout Oscar Special,” to air at 10:30 p.m. ET Feb. 15.
In what is also the show’s 150th episode, hosts Peter Guber and Peter Bart sat down with actors George Clooney (“Michael Clayton”), Laura Linney (“The Savages”), Hal Holbrook (“Into the Wild”) and Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”), writer Brad Bird (“Ratatouille”), and director Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), who showed up in his pajamas.
Sitting down after the taping, Guber, a film producer and executive, and Bart, a former film producer and current Variety editor-in-chief, talked about some of the challenges facing the Feb. 24 Academy Awards telecast on ABC, and the industry in general.
Dominating everyone’s thoughts is the Writers Guild of America strike, which began last November. While a settlement may be on the horizon, even if the strike is wrapped up in time for the Oscars to go forward without fear of picketers, there would still be lingering after-effects.
Asked about the odds for a picket-free Oscars, both Bart and Guber used the words “very strong.”
But, as Guber pointed out, “There may be no picketing, but there will be complaining, and it will be part of the language if there is an Academy Awards. If they go on without the admonition and prevention of the picketers, a lot of people will say things.
“You’ll see a lot of - I don’t want to call it politicking - but, examination, at the podium.”
As to what the folks at home may think of this, Guber said, “They won’t have a clue what it means, not a clue.”
“No,” Bart said. “They want to be, one word, entertained.”
Even if the telecast goes forward smoothly, Oscar faces the hurdle that, of the five films nominated for best picture - “Atonement,” “Juno,” “Michael Clayton,” “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” - none is a runaway box-office hit.
Turns out the reasons behind this may be more fiscal than artistic.
“That’s a long-term trend in the Oscars,” said Bart, “that it is the specialty divisions of the studios that really make many of these pictures. If you look at who has the biggest campaign, it’s often these films, and if they win an Oscar, they have a big upside financially.
“Whereas, you can spend a lot of money to get an Oscar for `Pirates of the Caribbean,’ but it’s about played out.”
So, there’s a larger return on investment if a studio pushes a smaller film for an Academy Award, potentially boosting its profile and thereby its box-office (and DVD) appeal.
“Yeah,” Guber said, “that’s right.”
Of course, what may be good for the studios may not be good for the telecast itself.
“The conundrum is,” Guber said, “you do not have the `Titanic’ or `Lord of the Rings’ or these films in here, or lots of big stars, to generate an audience pull. At the end of the day, the awards shows themselves are under some ratings siege for a number of years, and this does make a difference, it does.”
“It’s certainly easier if you have a `Titanic,’ let’s put it that way,” Bart said. “They certainly don’t come along that often.”
Returning to the strike, it has had a devastating impact on TV and movie production.
“I’m in the very thick of it,” Guber said. “It’s shut my company completely down, movie and television.”
However the strike ends, the new-media issues that drove it are not going away, and are only emblematic of a larger sea change in the entertainment industry.
“We’re in the midst of a revolution,” Guber said, “and you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch. You may not understand what the revolution means, but when you get a little distance from it, you see the impact of it.
“The revolution isn’t the Writers Guild Strike. The revolution is the pervasive change in media and how it’s mediated, whether it’s print or electronic or television or movies. All of it is changing three-dimensionally.
“I think the strike is symptomatic and symbolic at the same time of that. So my view is, be prepared for more of the same, more turmoil.”
On the other hand, as Bart pointed out, “There are a lot of opportunities opening up. It’s a new world out there. For my paper, there are many opportunities opening up, new business opportunities. It’s an exciting time, really.”
“The answers not in the rear-view mirror, that’s for sure,” Guber said. “You’ve got to have two eyes in the front and your foot on the gas pedal. If you go the other way, you are going to be consumed by the change, not an agent of it.”
Asked what he’s learned over doing 150 episodes of “Shootout,” Guber said, “A lot. I know everything about (Bart).”
Scratching his temple, he said of the gesture, “I know what this means. No one in the world knows what that means. He’s getting ready to attack.”