In his nearly half-century of working in the film business, David Picker has worn many hats, including running three movie studios (United Artists, Paramount and Columbia) and bringing to the bigscreen writing talent such as Woody Allen, Steve Martin and Francois Truffaut. But the 72-year-old Picker, whose grandfather ran a nickelodeon in the Bronx, father was a Loew’s cinema exec and daughter now works for Miramax, has never picked up a pen himself.
After the producer read “Motherland,” a memoir by Fern Schumer Chapman about visiting the German town her mother fled during World War II, Picker says he thought, “You know, I can go hire a writer, but it’s not a very expensive book to option at this point. I get into the office very early, so I’m going to see if I can just write it.”
Picker now is trying to produce the resulting script as a TV movie for Hallmark Entertainment, where he is president of worldwide production, or as a modestly budgeted feature film.
Seeking financing, Picker happened to show it to Bingham Ray, president of MGM’s United Artists. Ray passed, but they talked about other projects, and Picker pitched the comedy “BarbeeQ.”
Picker proposed a deal: He and a writing partner Sharon Jetton (who happens to be his sister-in-law) would write the script for scale. Ray accepted.
“Although ‘Motherland’ hasn’t gotten financed yet, it opened the door for me,” Picker says. “It’s just been a hoot.”
So, in addition to a full slate of projects Picker is producing, he’s now become a writer, working on a book about his life in the film biz titled, “I Ran Screaming From the Projection Room.”
“I’m a busy person, but I’m not as busy as I once was because I’m not running a giant movie company,” he says.
He is, however, producing a full plate of projects, including
- “Winter’s Tale,” an adaptation of Mark Helprin’s New York novel, with an eye for Ben Stiller to direct;
- “Undaunted Courage,” based on Stephen Ambrose’s biography of Lewis and Clark, for National Geographic Films;
- “Squeeze Play,” based on a novel by Sandy Koufax biographer Jane Leavy;
- “Final Rounds,” a TV pic by James Dodson based on his book about golfing with his father;
- three two-hour telepics films for music cabler VH1 and a miniseries for cabler FX;
- “Opening Eyes,” a TV doc about a program at the Kennedy Center in which fourth- to eighth-graders staged a production of legit tuner “Into the Woods.”
Picker the scribe says it is writing that makes him most excited these days.
“The fact is, I’m doing this because I have chosen to do it, not because I have to do it,” he says, “and the fact that it’s happened at this point in my career makes me kind of laugh. Who’d have guessed it?”