Review: ‘Storymakers’

Striking a gentler, more confessional tone than that of its predecessor, AMC's "Storymakers" reunites "Shootout" hosts Peter Bart and Peter Guber for what is being billed as a series of specials.

Striking a gentler, more confessional tone than that of its predecessor, AMC’s “Storymakers” reunites “Shootout” hosts Peter Bart and Peter Guber for what is being billed as a series of specials. A hosted gathering of industry figures in guided mutual conversation, new show is at once more casually intimate and less confrontational than “Shootout.” Smart visual accents (explanatory pop-ups) and A-list guest rosters will help boost appeal, but the degree to which the show coheres will vary with the specific mix of talent involved.

“Storymakers” affords the viewer a rare opportunity to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with top Hollywood talent and to eavesdrop on a semiprivate conversation.

Premiere episode, themed around the Oscars, is split into two parts. In the first, Mandalay Pictures’ Guber and Variety‘s Bart sit on couches alongside nominees Penelope Cruz, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella and Amy Adams. Guests reflect on the significance of the Oscars, their working relationships with their respective directors, and the extent to which each considers acting a transformative experience.

Initial episode recalls Newsweek’s annual Oscar roundtable event — with cozier furniture and better lighting. (Langella also partook in that event this year.)

No matter how many interviews these actors have given separately — and by this point in awards season they’re nearly talked out — it’s fascinating to listen to the actors compare their different approaches to their craft.

Cruz, for instance, needs ample prep time to be able to research and absorb a role, whereas in Adams’ approach, less is more: “It’s easier not to think about it too much,” she says of her process. “You have to almost cellularly take on the character.” The elder of the pack, Langella offers Yoda-like morsels of sage advice (“Do the work; the magic will come”), while a Leo anecdote about an actor’s recycled red-carpet suit reveals the superficial side of awards season. (More Leo throughout would have been a plus.)

In the second portion, the hosts interview Danny Boyle and elicit the helmer’s ruminations on “Slumdog Millionaire’s” improbable success story. With candid insights culled from their decades in and around the business, Bart and Guber probe Boyle on the pros and cons of independent filmmaking and specialized distribution.

The hosts spark best off one another when they disagree, as when Guber reproaches Warner Independent for selling off “Slumdog’s” domestic distribution rights to Fox Searchlight. “That’s a little unfair,” Bart insists, reminding him that Warner Independent had already been shut down. “There was a corporate rationale for it.”

As much as the actors’ roundtable discussion might have been part of AMC’s own corporate rationale to woo viewers, the show’s second half feels the liveliest, offers the juiciest revelations — and seems best suited to its hosts. Here’s hoping that future “Storymakers” will assemble panels of scribes, helmers, even creative producers. After all, how many different ways can Langella describe what it was like to play Richard Nixon?


AMC, Sun. Feb. 22, 5 a.m.


Produced by cq Executive producers, Robert Friedman, Jon Kamen, Frank Scherma, Justin Wilkes, Peter Bart, Peter Guber; producer, Andrew Fried; line producer, Alexandra Lisee; director, Thomas Kail.


Camera, Mark Doering-Powell; production designer, Beauchamp Fontaine; editor, Michael John Warren; music, Bill Sherman. Running time: 60 MIN.


With: Danny Boyle, Penelope Cruz, Amy Adams, Frank Langella, Melissa Leo
Hosts: Peter Bart, Peter Guber.
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