Inset, left to right: Robert De Niro, Barry
Levinson and writer Art Linson confer on
the set of What Just Happened.
CC: You once said, “It gets harder
and harder to make movies about
human beings … they’re like an
endangered species.” How tough
is it today?
BL: Almost impossible. Hollywood’s completely different. Some people make their
careers now on sequels. We”re talking about a
startling change. It”s a new time, but you can”t
just stand there and howl at the moon.
What Just Happened
CC: Many ofyour pictures focus
everyday drama. Is everyone”s life
a story waiting to be told?
BL: To a certain degree. “Kitchen dramas” can
be drab and dreary. But that”s not to say that
you couldn”t do a piece that people can relate
to. [People who watch] What Just Happened
say it”s interesting to see that De Niro is living
in a different world, but struggling with the
By Scott Steinberg
WITH ALL DUE RESPECT to TNT,
nobody really knows drama quite like
Academy Award–winning director Barry
Levinson. Writing, producing and helming
dozens of hit films and TV shows, including Rain Man, Diner and Good Morning,
Vietnam, he’s touched millions of hearts
throughout a storied four-decade career.
His background uniquely suits his latest
picture, What Just Happened. Based on Art
Linson’s bestselling memoir (subtitled
Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line),
the film presents an uproarious account of
behind-the-scenes life in show biz. Robert
De Niro stars as embattled producer Ben,
who is forced to reconcile his personal and
professional lives over two weeks of cringe-inducing moviemaking mishaps.
Here, Levinson discusses with The Costco
Connection the future of cinema, viewers’
enduring love for the human condition and why, in
Tinseltown, truth really
is stranger than fiction.
What Just Happened
is available on
CC: As a sendup of the Hollywood
machine, how close to home does
What Just Happened hit?
BL: I wouldn’t call it a sendup: It’s the way
things work. You can never satirize Hollywood,
because it’s as crazy as any story you could
make up. Take our scene where the 30 most
powerful producers are having their picture
taken. They’re complaining about where
they’re standing. We originally thought we’d
get real producers in there. Then we’d get
calls like “I’d love to be in it—who will I be
standing next to?”
CC: How has the industry changed
over the last four decades?
BL: It lacks executives willing to take risks.
In the past, L.B. Mayer or Darryl Zanuck didn’t
go to their marketing people first. They
made the movie and told the marketing
people to find a way to sell it. That sensibility has died. [Now] you have to go through
layers of bureaucracy.
CC: What about the overall
quality of cinema itself?
BL: What you’re seeing is the nature of
selling—anything you can sell in 30
seconds will be popular; anything that
you can’t won’t. Nothing disappears.
But only when marketing finds new
ways to sell will we see more variety
CC: What’s the secret to your
longevity then—finding the right
tales to tell?
BL: [Laughs] I don’t have a clue. I’ve only
dealt with my own instincts and personal
interests. Sometimes, you’re connected to
what interests people not only in your area or
country, but internationally too.
CC: Are there any actors left you
haven’t worked with, with whom
you’d like to partner still?
BL: Robert Downey Jr.—he’s very talented
and has a huge range. And Johnny Depp: He’s
one of those great character actors that’s also
a leading man.
CC: You’ve done quite a bit of TV
work. What kind of opportunities
do you see there going forward?
BL: You’re seeing some very strong outlets
that are doing alternate programming. AMC
has Mad Men. FX is doing interesting work.
Showtime has really come into its own, and
you also have HBO. The more daring stuff is
happening on cable, and the more old-fashioned kind of stuff is happening on networks.
CC: The one true-life lesson we
might learn from What Just
Happened would be?
BL: We live in a mad world, for real. The question is how best to navigate through it. C
Get Rich Playing Games author and TV/
radio host Scott Steinberg covers entertainment
and technology at