Magazine article Variety

Greenlighting Movies: A High-Risk Game

Magazine article Variety

Greenlighting Movies: A High-Risk Game

Article excerpt

David Picker's memoir recalls era of Bond, Beatles and the Britpack

Studio executives are very talented at running for cover. Hence when a movie tanks it's often impossible to determine who gave it the greenlight. Who really said yes to "The Lone Ranger?"

Picking movies is a perilous job, as I was reminded in reading a candid new memoir, "Musts, Maybes and Nevers," by David Picker, a savvy executive who presided over the slates of United Artists, Warner Bros, and Columbia Pictures during his studio years.

Picker's smart decisions helped trigger such memorable films as "Midnight Cowboy," "A Hard Day's Night," "Tom Jones" and the James Bond sequels. But he also owns up to those projects he let get away - "The Graduate," "Bonnie & Clyde" and "American Graffiti" among them.

"If I had made all the projects I turned down and turned down all the projects I had made, I probably would have had the same number of hits and flops," Picker concludes facetiously.

In his book, as in person, Picker exudes a modesty rare in his profession. He lucked into a dream job at UA in the mid '60s - a moment when an array of brilliant young filmmakers (mostly English) burst on the scene - Tony Richardson, Richard Lester, John Schlesinger et al. Though suspicious of Hollywood, the young filmmakers liked Picker, and loved UA's newly proffered deal: The studio offered to put up the financing with no creative constraints, giving directors final cut provided budgets were adhered to. Income was split 50-50.

UA feasted off its English connection, and Picker was charmed by Europe's auteurs. Even the wary Ingmar Bergman was eager for a meeting, and signed a four-picture deal.

Picker's appetite for more commercial fare met with both success and frustration. He was avid in his pursuit of the Beatles, and thrilled to learn that they were eager to make a movie. The match with director Richard Lester (who was an expat American) was perfect until Picker discovered that UA's legal department had clumsily given away its rights to re-release the film (Harvey Weinstein was the ultimate beneficiary).

Picker was equally persistent in his pursuit of the James Bond books. Ian Fleming, Picker learned, simply didn't like movies. …

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