Archives For May 2014

Of Moguls & Delis

May 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

ImageI had lunch at Nate and Al’s yesterday. Everyone calls it that even though all the signage is clearly without the apostrophe “s”. The place has been in operation on Beverly just north of Wilshire since 1945 and doesn’t look like it’s had any major updates since 1965. Not that it’s dirty or rundown – just perfectly preserved, like your grandmother’s house.

It was a typical workday lunch crowd in the Beverly Hills eatery that’s been a staple of showbiz breakfasts and lunches for almost 70 years. The room was filled with insiders, outsiders, old timers and Young Turks. I was there to meet a writer/producer to discuss notes I’d recently been asked to give on a script he’s writing. We both had the potato salad with our sandwiches — it’s the best, creamiest, mustard-based potato salad you’ll ever eat.

If you’re a fan of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, you know that Nate & Al was featured in two great episodes – most notably, the episode in which Jerry picks up food for a take-out dinner with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner at Carl Reiner’s house (Season 2). Seinfeld had the Roast Beef. Reiner had the Tongue Sandwich. Brooks had Chicken in a Pot.

I half expected to see Lee Wasserman sitting at his favorite table (Table 31) when I walked in the door at Nate & Al yesterday. Man, how I would have loved to see Wasserman there. For the last forty years of his epic 65-year run as the last Hollywood Mogul, Lew Wasserman was hardly ever written or spoken about without the attending phrase, “the most powerful man in Hollywood.” He was the consummate star maker, dealmaker and eventually kingmaker. He’s an endless source of interest to me and I never pass up a chance to ask about his legend when I meet people who actually knew and worked with him.

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Lew Wasserman left no written memoirs and barely cooperated with writers profiling him if at all. But there are a few works out there including THE LAST MOGUL by McDougal.

Wasserman’s office was in the “Black Tower” that he built on the Universal studio property at the apex of his power. In a masterful deal in the late 50’s Wasserman’s MCA – then the most powerful talent agency in the world — slowly began to take over Universal. A decade or so later, when the U.S. State Department finally told him he couldn’t be in both the agency business and the studio business he chose the studio. Wasserman knew content was king. And even if the content Universal was churning out at the time was fair to middling, he believed owning content was akin to owning gold or real estate. Get all you can.

Lew Wasserman ate most of his lunches in the studio commissary during the workweek. But on Saturdays and Sundays he ate breakfast at Nate & Al’s. And for the last twenty-five years of Wasserman’s life his regular breakfast companion on Saturday and Sunday was his grandson, Casey Wasserman. According to observers, the elder Wasserman and his only male heir sat together in Lew’s booth practically every Saturday and Sunday at 7:30AM, eating pumpernickel bagels, spread with cream cheese and topped with crispy bacon. Yes, please.

It appears that those breakfasts were the basis of Lew Wasserman’s evolution in Casey Wasserman’s life from doting grandfather to mentor to consigliore. If that booth could talk…

The world in which Wasserman reigned no longer exists. But it appears Casey Wasserman has bridged the gap and made the necessary adjustments to thrive in the new world order. I’m sure his grandfather would have been proud to see Casey Wasserman on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter a few months back with Casey’s (and Lew’s) good friend, Bill Clinton.

Next time I’m here on a Saturday, I think I’ll wander into Nate & Al around 8AM and see who’s sitting in the booth at Table 31.

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By the way, as delis go I’m partial to Jerry’s when I’m in Studio City, Uncle Bernie’s if I’m in the Valley west of the 405 and Canter’s when I’m in Hollywood. But Nate & Al is the gold standard for all delis and the best one in Beverly Hills. I welcome your comments — both affirming and dissenting.

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I’ve been on the road quite a bit this month – mostly in Austin and Los Angeles. Just got back from L.A. This week we’re shooting a sizzle reel for an unscripted series. And next week I’ll be back in L.A. working with our agent on the pitch for that series as well as tending to the three features and two other TV series that are all making their way through development.

I tend to post more of the newsy stuff – including pictures, updates on projects and event announcements – on the Rev. Hollywood Facebook page. There are a few pics from last week’s trip there now. If you want to keep up with the more day-to-day, week-to-week stuff, be sure to “like” the Facebook page. Thanks for your interest and input.

On the plane, when I’m not making script notes, I’ve been reading CREATIVITY, INC. by Ed Catmull. It’s a powerhouse book on the creative process, CreativityIncleading creatives and managing the process. Catmull gives a first person account of the founding of Pixar but more than that; he candidly discloses what they’ve learned about the messiness of creativity and how hard it was to learn it. He generously shares his team’s insights and passions. Pixar is a multi-billion dollar company run by serious people who believe there’s more to life than the bottom line. There’s much to be gleaned from the stories they tell and the Story of Pixar. If you lead or create ANYTHING – do yourself a favor and read, CREATIVITY, INC.

I hated to miss this year’s just concluded Little Rock Film Festival. In a way I feel like Category One (the company I co-founded ten years ago this month) and the Little Rock Film Festival have grown up together. My directorial debut (WHERE’S MY CLOSE-UP, MR. THORNTON?) won the inaugural ‘Made in Arkansas’ Award at the first LRFF in 2007. Three years later our documentary, LOOKING FOR lrff_logo-backgroundLURCH, won the Audience Award. It’s been my joy to be a presenting filmmaker, sponsor, panelist and participant in all the years of the Festival’s existence. This is the first one I’ve missed – and I hope it’s the only one I miss. Congrats to all the staff and filmmakers of the 2014 LRFF!

Happy Mother's Day
Star Wars 7 Cast

New and familiar faces in London this week: Writers, Director, Producers and Cast of STAR WARS EPISODE 7

In the summer of 1977 I saw STAR WARS (Episode IV) in the Cricket wireless store at the corner of Markham and Barrow Road in Little Rock, AR. Except in those days it was not a cell phone store – it was the ABC Twin Cinema.

That summer my oldest brother and his family were in the middle of a cross-country move and were staying in Little Rock with my parents. I was living there as well because that’s what most 11-year-olds do. In those days Johnny, my brother, was the arbiter of pop culture in my life. He knew what was current and cool in movies, music and TV and he had a pretty good sense of what was in the pipeline. His knowledge was impressive – especially when you consider that there was no Internet and our phones were so dumb we had to keep them tethered to the walls in our houses.

I guess you could say in the summer ‘77 Johnny was my Yoda – even though it would be another three years before we knew who Yoda was. Johnny would probably prefer I told you he was my Obi Wan. Anyway, if it had not been for Old Johnny Kenobi, I shudder to think how long Star Wars might have stayed off my radar.

I distinctly remember hanging out in the den of our house on Echo Valley Drive one late June afternoon. The national network news was on TV. My Dad was watching from his recliner where he also read the afternoon newspaper. You see, kids — in those days there was a morning paper (The Arkansas Gazette) and an afternoon paper (The Arkansas Democrat). And we subscribed to both. Ok… You see, kids – in the old days they used to write stories about what happened the day before and print them on big sheets of paper. Then they would roll those papers up and drop them off on our porches every day. If you listen closely you can still hear it happening in the pre-dawn hours on some streets in your city. It happens at my house every day and I hope it always will. But back to what was on the evening news that day…

The news anchor — I’d bet a few dollars it was NBC’s John Chancellor – was talking about an entertainment phenomenon that was starting to sweep the country. He said it was an old-fashioned adventure movie set in outer space and it was breaking box office records everywhere it played. My brother’s ears perked up and I clearly remember him saying something like, “I’ve heard a lot of great things about this movie and we’re going to go see it this week.”

The evening news story featured b-roll of long lines standing outside Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood and it showed a couple of tiny snippets from the movie. I remember seeing a great aerial dogfight – except the fighters were spaceships and the guns they were firing were lasers. A bunch of smaller spaceships were attacking a larger one. There was a youngish looking guy in a laser gun turret that fired on and destroyed an attacking fighter. He shouted, “I got him!” Then the camera cut to an older, cooler looking guy in another turret. He shouted, “Great, Kid! Don’t get cocky!” I had no idea what was going on but I was hooked. I had to see this.

Former ABC Twin

In 1977 this was Little Rock’s ABC Twin Cinema — where I saw STAR WARS for the first time.

By the summer of ’77 I’d gone to see a dozen or so movies in my brief life but I’d never before had to stand in line for an hour – hoping to get in. But there we were in a queue that twisted and turned down the sidewalk and parking lot of the ABC Twin. (Three years later THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK would open on the most prestigious screen in Little Rock. The Cinema 150 was a true movie palace that is sadly no more. We stood in line at the 150 several times to see EMPIRE.)

We did get into the theater that day. We took our seats and then a few blue words on a dark screen told us we were about to see a very old story. We wondered how anything that took place in space could have happened a long time ago. John Williams’s score exploded and a written prologue told us we were already in the middle of a very troubling story. A rebel blockade runner darted past us and we were delighted. Then an Imperial Cruiser giving chase filled the screen and just kept coming. That’s when we knew for sure this was going to be a ride unlike anything we’d ever been on before. STAR WARS was a game changer for the art of movie storytelling and the commerce of the movie business. If JAWS was the first summer blockbuster then STAR WARS was the one that cemented the summer as the coveted release window for an event movie. None of that mattered to me when I was eleven. That day I felt like what I imagine audiences must have felt like in 1939 watching THE WIZARD OF OZ for the first time: We’re not on Tatooine anymore. Or something like that.

This past week director J.J. Abrams and the producers of STAR WARS Episode 7 announced the cast of the new film (due in 2015). A hopeful fan base began to cautiously celebrate with our inner 11-year-olds as we spotted Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker among the freshly assembled cast. It doesn’t hurt that screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan is sitting next to J.J. Abrams as Abrams chats with Harrison Ford. That’s a strong veteran bench.

Today is Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you.”). That coupled with the cast announcement this week got me thinking about that June day a long time ago in a city close, close by. It got me thinking about the house I grew up in, the family I love and the moments we’ve shared. It got me thinking about how movies were the lingua franca of my youth. Now that I think about it, not much has changed. Happy Star Wars Day.

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Tom Hanks shares his Summer of ’77 Star Wars story at the AFI Tribute to George Lucas: