Some of the biggest egos in Hollywood could soon be regretting that they were beguiled by British reserve into speaking to a camera crew from the BBC.
The result, a six-part series called “Naked Hollywood,” which starts in the U.K. this week, is a less than flattering portrait of the Hollywood community.
Or rather, self-portrait, since no host, no voiceover commentary and no Limey accents get in the way of the largely unwitting demolition job that the Hollywood honchos do to themselves.
A portentous studio chief delivers self-evident and trivial truths as insights. An agent stroking his client works up a storm of sincerity so bogus that it left a London preview audience weak with laughter. A star manipulates fawning scribes. A screenwriter describes the humiliations of the development process.
And if the behavior itself isn’t embarrassing enough, high-powered meetings between execs are intercut with wildlife footage showing animals engaged in combat and in loveplay.
When agent Jeremy Zimmer describes the feeding frenzy to sign new clients, his remarks are followed by shots of rampaging gorillas.
Inquests at Mortons, the Polo Lounge, Spago and other favored L.A. eateries loom once series airs on the Arts & Entertainment Network in the summer.
Appearing on camera are such luminaries as Tom Pollock, Barry Diller, Mike Medavoy, Sydney Pollack, Ivan Reitman, Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer, Peter Dekom, Ned Tanen, Larry Gordon, Oliver Stone, James L. Brooks, Joe Dante, Penny Marshall, Sam Cohn and Richard Zanuck.
No ‘hatchet job’ here
According to producer Nic Kent, the series was not planned as a hatchet job.
“We were very conscious of the anti-Hollywood sentiment that is widespread in Europe, especially in Britain,” he said. “We deliberately set out to avoid that, which is why we decided not to use a presenter and not to have a commentary. What we wanted was to let Hollywood speak for itself.”
Kent observes that Hollywood is a company town which operates in a way that’s “a lot more complex and a lot more sophisticated than many people believe it to be. It has strong associations in people’s minds: either a semi-paradise or Sodom-by-the-sea. The series sets out to debunk both myths.”
Kent justifies the use of animal footage by saying the series has an “anthropological aspect, like a wildlife documentary. It’s a study of a tribe in its native habitat.”
Kent said it took two years of “not taking no for an answer” to persuade this stellar cast to appear on camera. The only naysayer was, predictably, CAA chief Mike Ovitz. But he is photographed at a Lakers game, where he was relaxing with Kevin Costner, Barry Levinson and Michael Eisner.
Guy McElwaine, Marty Bauer, Peter Benedek and Freddie Fields talk openly about poaching other agents’ clients. Fields describes how he won Steve McQueen, portraying himself as both a humble toady and a crafty manipulator playing on the actor’s fractious personality.
Lengthy sequence at the racetrack shows Bauer and Benedek feigning naivete while wooing Brit director Michael Caton-Jones, who comes across as manipulative as his hosts.
An Arnold Schwarzenegger press junket shows the megastar in arrogant and cynical manipulation of adoring scribes. He redeems himself by letting the cameras record rehearsals of “Kindergarten Cop,” which demonstrate that Arnold, who makes no claims to be a great actor, is not being unduly modest.
Agent Ed Limato is seen in an intimate lunch conversation caressing the ego of a young actor, James Wilder, he is grooming for stardom. Two of ICM’s young turks, David Lonner and Barry Mendel, discuss the trials and tribulations becoming agents like Moonies explaining their creed.
Program on studio chiefs, called “Eighteen Months To Live” (reference is to the average job tenure of production toppers), concentrates on Joe Roth at Fox as the studio tries to rebuild itself. Acerbic comments from Dawn Steel and others leave the viewer in no doubt that, as she says, Roth’s is a job “you don’t leave, you escape from.”
The real star of the series, however, is the telephone. The instrument is brandished, smooched, barked at, kissed and, like a dictatorial infant, picked up whenever it cries. Memorable slo-mo sequence has agent Zimmer absentmindedly spinning the lengthy cord of his phone like the blades of a helicoptor rotor, his conversation drowned by overlaid music reminiscent of the title sequence of “Apocalypse Now.”
Whither femme tradesters?
Shortcoming of the series is the lack of female contributors. Kent says this reflects the male dominance of Hollywood, a feature he admits is not dealt with adequately in any of the programs. Unequal pay between male and female stars is one of the things he wished he had looked at more closely.
Kent, who has written a book based on his research, anticipates a backlash from industryites alarmed to see private affairs aired in public. This is not, he admits, the image that Hollywood likes to project of itself.
But he notes that what will really upset people is the portrait of the town as a “self-contained, self-referential community that often seems to be out of touch with what is going on in the rest of the world.”
He is the first to admit, however, that Hollywood is very good at what it does, which is make movies.
Kent and his team, including line producer Andy Paterson and directors Margy Kinmonth and Alan Lewens, taped more than 200 hours of interviews over a seven-month period. Result is a connoisseur’s delight, and industryites not appearing on camera and not mentioned by name will probably lap it up.