The whip-smart husband-and-wife team of director William Friedkin ("The French Connection") and Sherry Lansing, the producer ("Fatal Attraction") and first woman studio head at Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount, visited the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Czech Republic this month, where I sat down with them. Here’s my talk with Lansing.
Her new life includes being a Regent for the University of California as well as running her Lansing Foundation, which has raised $700 million for cancer research, trains older people for second careers, and supports education initiatives for under-served schools. But she still watches Hollywood–like a hawk.
It’s a strange time in the industry. You have always had the ability to see the overview and to look ahead, stay in touch with zeitgeist. What gives you the most concern in terms of the overall future health of the movie industry and what gives you hope?
Sherry Lansing: I’ve been gone from the movie business for ten years, and I love my new life. I’m not in the movie business. I’m an observer, I am a person who left the movie business but I didn’t leave my love of movies or entertainment. What is happening, the entertainment lines are unbelievably blurred and open now. My viewing habits used to be I’d go on Friday and see everything that was opening. And I still love movies, but I’m more selective now. I am also addicted to television, I love it. I don’t just love the six-hour special, I love serial and long-form TV: "Fargo," "24," "Homeland" and "True Detective" as well as "The Normal Heart" that they’re screening here. That’s what’s changed, they’re getting as much attention as a movie.
I see lots of independent movies: any Friday night there’s ten, I can’t keep up with them! They all end up on my iPad sooner or later. I have six movies to watch on my 12-hour plane ride home. I find it a very satisfying and immersive experience with my headphones on: nothing else exists. What has changed is that the quality of television is now extraordinary, which is good news for directors, actors, and producers. The lines are blurred, they’re happy to work in any media.
But many are being shut out at the studio level.
The studios are making big movies. People are still making independent moves. To me as long as you can get good quality material to the consumer I’m not as concerned that it has to be with the theatrical experience anymore. As many people are talking about "True Detective" and "Homeland" as any movies.
Studio chiefs don’t seem to care where they get their money from or where talent goes. I wonder if we’re not losing the nurturing of filmmaker talent.
They’re doing it on TV, in a brilliant way, and famous actors and directors with hugely established careers will now go do TV. They have no choice? I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m a consumer. I’m just happy I have 12 hours, I can binge-watch "House of Cards" and Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and David Fincher. If I’m a creative artist, as long as I get to express myself, I don’t think it’s less. I don’t think the experience of watching "House of Cards" on Netflix was less. I watched for 12 hours, those people! It’s like real people. It all started with "24" and "Sopranos."
We get invested in these characters.
That 12-hour immersive experience is every bit as good as a two hour movie that’s on a big screen. I also believe that the home screening room experience–which is not the same as the theater with not as many people or demographically– within a decade everyone will have these huge big screens, day-and-date will become more prevalent, you’ll be watching "House of Cards" on that big screen for 12 hours. They ran "True Detective" on the big screen and it looked great.
So I get to watch something that effects my emotions or changes the way I think about something, and if someone does it in 12 hours or 2 hours on the big screen or on my iPad or TV and it has that effect, I as a consumer am OK, and I as an artist, director producer or actor, which I am not, have so many outlets to do it.
But you lose the big-screen experience!
But it was limited to two hours– now I have 12. I’m glad they’re not snobby anymore, it’s the way it used to be in England.
Stars aren’t getting crazy salaries anymore, which is good, it was too inflated.
Yes. It was crazy. The thing that has always bothered me about Hollywood is ageism, not just in the movie business. That’s why we started the Encore Careers chapter. People live to be 85 and 90 healthily and we’re still saying it’s all over at 65!
So many below-the-line craftspeople like production and costume designers get aged out of the industry partly because they’re too expensive. Producers tend to favor the young and up-and-coming?
The zeitgeist wants the new and young rather than the experienced. What concerns me in the world, is that experience isn’t valued over newness. I often feel they would rather hire someone who has never directed or acted or produced a movie but did some little YouTube thing than someone with a history in any one of those areas, maybe their last film didn’t work. There’s a tendency not to value experience, let’s just try someone new. That’s [late producer] Jim Jacks‘ story, he was every bit as talented and valuable at age 62, with gigantic hits ["The Mummy"], and the world saw someone who wasn’t young. He wasn’t old, he wasn’t 80. And Europe doesn’t do that.