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Al Pacino Will Fight To the Death for 35mm and HBO, With Barry Levinson to Back Him Up — Turn It On Podcast

Pacino and Levinson, who premiere "Paterno" this Saturday, are still finding ways to make character films in the age of blockbusters.

Al Pacino, Barry Levinson Barry Levinson, left, director of the HBO film "You Don't Know Jack," poses with star Al Pacino in Beverly Hills, Calif., . The film looks at the life and work of doctor-assisted suicide advocate Dr. Jack KevorkianYou Don't Know Jack Portraits, Beverly Hills, USA

Barry Levinson and Al Pacino

Chris Pizzello/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Al Pacino and Barry Levinson have become a bit of a dream team for HBO, partnering on past films for the pay cable network including “Phil Spector” and the Jack Kevorkian story “You Don’t Know Jack.”

Now, they’re behind this Saturday’s “Paterno,” with Pacino once again playing a controversial, and much maligned, real-life figure. Pacino and Levinson said they frequently end up at HBO because, in all honestly, the movie studios aren’t making the kind of character films that are their specialty.

“We’re able to do certain kinds of films that you might not be able to do otherwise,” Levinson said. “The theatrical world is much more adventure action type of things, and these are much more personal, more intimate stories.”

Levinson also noted that thanks to the reach of a network like HBO, “you get a real audience. If you were to take the number of people that saw [‘You Don’t Know Jack’] and added $10, you’d end up with a movie that made $140 million, which would have been a gigantic hit. But theatrical doesn’t do that kind of story. It’s as if people suddenly don’t want to have stories about people. Oh, are these human beings? So we’re not interested in human beings.”

Added Pacino: “HBO, the projects they have, if it’s like Kevorkian or Spector or this, they have these subjects that are in some ways not immediate, people aren’t jumping on them. And yet they’re dramatic, they’re interesting.”

The two of them recently sat down with IndieWire’s TURN IT ON to discuss their new HBO movie, but also the difficulty of getting character films made in the era of the blockbuster, Pacino’s passion for 35 mm film, and why he’s excited to be working with Netflix on his next project. Listen below!

Within the course of two weeks, Joe Paterno went from celebrating his achievement scoring the most wins for a football coach in collegiate history, to losing his job at Penn State, and then finding out he had cancer. “Paterno” explores that short period of time, and the scandal that rocked a campus, a state, and the entire nation.

Kathy Baker and Al Pacino, “Paterno”


Paterno was let go in disgrace in November 2011 after a full-blown scandal revealed that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had sexually assaulted countless children over the years. In “Paterno,” Al Pacino plays the coach as he faces his downfall — and it’s not quite clear how complicit he was, or if he understood the nature of the situation.

“It’s the highest high and the lowest low,” Levinson said of focusing on that short timeframe.

Pacino said he appreciated working on projects for HBO and Netflix, where he’s working on Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano and Joe Pesci.

“It reminds me of the good old days, it’s a film,” he said. “You can film for months and months. It’s been years since I’ve been in a film where you could go on shooting. Usually your rehearsal time is limited and your shooting window is limited, because they only make films in five or six weeks. But now you have five or six months to make a movie, which is an actual luxury. It was a good vibe.”

Pacino admitted he’s getting used to the idea of audiences watching his films on a phone. But he’s still a big proponent of seeing movies in 35mm, the way they’re intended.

“That is essential to the life of a film, in a movie house, that you’re seeing it with film,” he said. “The only way you really know this is you show them side-by-side. I was screening a film of mine and wanted to show the kids, and it was on 35 but the sound wasn’t so good… I don’t care if it’s bad sound. It’s better on the 35 by so much. It’s much more alive and present and vibrating that there’s no contest.”

Meanwhile, don’t expect Pacino and Levinson to join in the current reboot and remake mania. Although both are behind some of the most iconic characters and films in pop culture history, neither are eager to revisit them. Quipped Pacino: “They were all some painful experiences!”

“Paterno” premieres Sunday, April 7, at 8 p.m. on HBO. 

Al Pacino and Barry Levinson on the set of “Paterno”


IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.

Be sure to subscribe to “TURN IT ON” on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.

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