<b>The Back Lot:</b> Much talk, not enough action

When I was a young executive at Paramount, I once called a staff meeting and no one showed. My assistant reminded me of the reason: “Everyone is either in rehab — or should be,” she said.

A higher discipline exists in today’s Corporate Hollywood. Indeed, sometimes it seems as though everyone is permanently locked in meetings.

The reason is that meetings have become part of an avoidance syndrome. You don’t have to make decisions if you’re busy having meetings.

“It’s even worse in television than in movies,” one friend told me recently. He’s dipping his toe into TV after many years as a film producer, and he’s in culture shock. “I had a meeting last week whose sole purpose was to evaluate previous meetings,” he reports.

Clearly meetings are justified when cosmic issues are at stake and there is a limited period of time to resolve them. Such meetings are unique in that they have to culminate in the “d” word — a decision.

Alas, I haven’t been invited to urgent sessions like these lately, but it’s amusing to speculate about what might have taken place.

I would like to have been at that meeting at Disney when top studio executives viewed first-day dailies on the initial “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Since Johnny Depp had never confided to anyone that he planned to play his character as seriously swishy, the Disney suits must have been understandably surprised. With some $400 million at stake, they had envisioned buccaneer bravado, not serious swish. “Somebody talk to Johnny,” an exec must have admonished, while colleagues stared at the wall.

I would like to have been present when Zack Snyder told Warner Bros. that his epic action picture “300,” about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., would be shot in an empty warehouse with no props and no sets but, not to worry, his star would be the Scottish actor, Gerard Butler. No major action star? No exotic locations? It would have been interesting to hear the studio’s six degrees of apprehension.

Again, I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall when Quentin Tarantino announced to Harvey and Bob Weinstein that the American release of “Grindhouse” would be 3 hours and 12 minutes — that’s one movie. Even as the brothers pictured their movie dissolving into dust, what did they say? “Have you considered letting old ‘Scissorhands’ have a whack at this?” would have been an appropriate question, but I don’t think that remark was made.

It also would have been illuminating to be in the sanctum sanctorum at CAA when word leaked out that Tom Cruise had been “fired” by Sumner Redstone. What were the instant reactions among the agency toppers? “Let’s reason with them.” “No, let’s nuke them.” Executives simply don’t “fire” CAA stars, someone surely pointed out. And no one, sure as hell, fires Tom Cruise, who might even turn around and go into business in competition with you. Now, that’s an idea someone might have proposed.

I’d like to have been around ABC’s executive offices when the suits learned that “The Path to 9/11,” an expensive and marginally incendiary six-hour miniseries, would best be broadcast as a five-hour epic devoid of advertising. Did someone like Bob Iger say, “That’s great — now we have the double benefit of losing money and getting clobbered by the press at the same time.”

Or did someone respond, “I’m going right into rehab, just like the execs used to do in the good old days.”

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One further note regarding “The Lives of Others,” a film referred to in a previous column: While the film was rejected by Euro festivals, it was screened and appreciated in Toronto, Telluride and St. Louis prior to its Oscar triumph.

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