HOLLYWOOD studios are said to be in a backslide, grappling with unhappy realities. Well, boy, oh boy, that's not the picture I got of Paramount Pictures when I lunched with Brad Grey who now runs things there.
Brad and I go way back to his days as a Young Turk agent/manager with the (Bernie) Brillstein-Grey Agency. Now, he's a movie tycoon in the creative manner of a starmaker. (Well, maybe not exactly because times have changed so much!) But with Brad, the talent still comes first. He and I sat down for a catch-up at Michael's popular watering spot.
We had fun with me begging him to read Jeanine Basinger's new book The Star Machine, a story of Hollywood history when studios like MGM were regular fame factories, and with Brad giving me chapter and verse about what is and will be happening at Paramount.
He had just been with DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg the night before for Jerry Seinfeld's The Bee Movie, which Paramount will market and distribute. And he'd been in town talking to director Martin Scorsese about the coming filming of Paramount's Shutter Island, a mystery starring Leonardo DiCaprio. While he was at it, Brad clued me in on something else titled Cloverfield, directed by 41-year-old wunderkind J.J. Abrams, which Brad describes as "a classic monster movie." When I asked the names of the stars, Brad laughed: "Nobody you would know!" So we had a chuckle over that and over the recent dicta by Variety that movies everywhere with big star names have been bombing.
We were interrupted by the arrival into the Manhattan restaurant of two Hollywood names, Selma and Army Archerd. (You can read all the doings of LaLaLand by punching up www.ar myarcherd.com, where news comes direct from the most believable columnist ever to write about the movie business.) I also glimpsed 60 Minutes man Steve Kroft, who was lunching with the formidable Howard Rubenstein.
Back to Paramount, here are just a few more goodies in store: the Indiana Jones movie coming next Memorial Day, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, coming in June, Beowulf starring Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Ray Winstone and the giant Anthony Hopkins. Director Robert Zemeckis, who hadn't been at Paramount since quarreling over Forrest Gump, was lured back for this film, which reaches us Nov. 16.
And there is also Sweeney Todd, starring Johnny Depp, coming from DreamWorks this Christmas season. Paramount is very involved in this epic musical-to-the-screen. Brad also talked about Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who we haven't seen much of since Gangs of New York. Day-Lewis will also add to Christmas cheer in a film by director Paul Thomas Anderson, the man who made Magnolia and Boogie Nights. The title is There Will Be Blood, and Brad said, "This is the most powerful performance of this year!"
Paramount also owns a fantastic franchise in Star Trek, so for Christmas 2008, it has dreamed up a kind of Star Wars version of this original TV series, again with Abrams directing, and mostly young, new, space-age actors. But the film will bring back Leonard Nimoy.