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Peter Biskind interviewed by Simon Tzu

Simon: Thanks. Hi everybody. Just before we start off, has anybody here actually read "Down and Dirty Pictures", [7 or 8 hands go up] if you can put your hands up if you've read it? Okay. And who here's read "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" [About 70% of the audience has read it] Peter's first book? Peter, thank you so much for coming for this event.

Peter: Well thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Simon: Firstly, what is the book about?

Peter: The book is about the 90s generation of independent filmmakers, people who came up in the 90s. I guess you call them ‘the second wave' after the 80s people in the United States like Jim Jarmusch and the Cohen Brothers. Can everybody hear me? And the Cohen Brothers and Spike Lee. This was the generation of Soderberg, Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Alexander Paine, those people. And moreover, the book actually, in addition to the filmmakers, focuses on the distributors oddly enough because distribution in independent film is so much more. There was a revolution in distribution during the 90s, mostly affected by Miramax which had a huge impact on the growth of independent film during that decade, so the book is a lot about Miramax also because the Miramax story has never really been told before beyond a few fawning new techno articles.

Simon: Did it change as you started writing the book? Was that your initial idea for the book and then once you got all these great stories about Miramax, did it shift a bit?

Peter: No, I knew when I started that Miramax was going to be a big part of the book and I also wanted to do Sundance; and in some ways, Miramax and Sundance represent the 2 poles of the independent movement, so I wanted to kind of structure the book as a kind of dialectic in a way between Miramax and Sundance. So I knew that. And then some things did change. I decided to do a lot on a company called October run by Bingham Ray in the mid-90s partly because Bingham Ray is a really interesting personality and ended up as one of the heroes of the book, and partly because October was destroyed by the conflict between the old way of distributing independent films and the new way, the Miramax way, so that became kind of an emblematic conflict. And then lastly, I was going to follow this guy named Amir Malin whom probably nobody's ever heard of here. He started at Cinecom, which was a big company in the 80s, was a principal in October and then went on to run Artisan and I was going to take it up through "The Blair Witch Project," but that whole part of the book got shoved out as Miramax got bigger and bigger.

Simon: It's apparent from the book that Miramax had a huge impact on independent film. What do you think are the main ways that Miramax changed independent film?

Peter: There's 2 or 3 ways. First of all, I mentioned just a second ago the marketing revolution, the key film in that regard was "Sex, Lives and Videotape" that came out in 1989 and played Sundance. Miramax bought it, surprising everybody by paying a fortune for it, and managed to take the film out of the art film ghettos and get it into the multiplexes. They drove the film to a $25 million gross which was, needless to say, rather unusual for an independent film in those days. Only one or two films like "A Room With a View" had grossed those kinds of figures. Essentially what Miramax did was apply studio marketing techniques to independent films. Up to that point, the way you would market independent film in America, was you would put it in one theatre and take a tiny print ad out in someplace like the Village Voice in New York, that was so small you needed a magnifying glass to see, and then you would just leave it in the theatre and depend on word-of-mouth to generate interest in the film.

Of course, the Hollywood way would be to throw money at marketing, gross as much as you can the first weekend, make TV buys which are very expensive, and essentially blow the film out. And Miramax in those days didn't have much money but they did put the film in many, many theatres - not just one theatre in each city - and they did dupes and TV buys and they spent a lot of money on marketing and it was successful. So in they didn't neglect the traditional guerilla marketing techniques of independent films. In certain ways, they got the best of both worlds.

Simon: There's a great quote where you call Harvey risk perverse, or somebody calls Harvey risk perverse.

Peter: Yeah, it's a play on most Hollywood executives who are generally risk averse. Harvey took so many risks that people used to say he was risk perverse.

Simon: Do you think was it just kind of courage or balls that they had which really affected the industry?

Peter: Well yeah, they were just more aggressive; they were temperamentally. Harvey is a very aggressive guy and his personal aggressiveness translated into his business, in the way he ran his business. Both of them ran it like that. I know of many times where they did things that everyone else thought was crazy. Everybody thought they were crazy to spend a million dollars on "Sex, Lies and Videotape," pledge another million in P&A cost without the video rights which was unheard of in those days. People thought they were going to destroy their company and the other independent distributors watched this go down and thought Harvey is an imbecile. There are many points in the Weinstein's career where they did things that other people thought were insane.

Simon: Have you experienced any of that aggression since you wrote the book? Have you heard from Harvey?!

Peter: No. He never called me. I was waiting for the call. I had my tape recorder all set to tape it, but it never came. I was a little disappointed. I haven't run into him since the book came out. I've heard on the grapevine that he wasn't happy about it and I think he's sort of struck back through surrogates. I think he persuaded Ben Affleck to write a really nasty letter to Vanity Fair and Kevin Smith wrote a column in Variety about how great Harvey was. He said Harvey was a better father to him than his own father, or something like that. So there's been a lot of that, and when I went on a press tour in the States, Miramax started calling all the journalists that I was speaking to, and giving their side of the story.

Simon: Harvey's writing a book now.

Peter: Yeah, Harvey's been writing a book for some time and it's going through many, many writers. There's a story in that, actually. I have a friend who Harvey called in Texas and asked him to fly out to New York and look at the manuscript and consider replacing the writer he already had. Nothing ever came of it, but Harvey never pays plane fare. He never reimbursed him for his plane fare.

Simon: One of the stories which comes up again and again in the book is Harvey's run-ins with filmmakers, he got nicknamed Harvey Scissor Hands, kind of bullied them, pushed them around, sometimes buying films and sitting on them. One of my favorite stories also are about the filmmakers who that didn't happen to like Quentin Tarantino or Billy Bob Thornton, I wonder if you could tell us the story about "Sling Blade" - that was one of my favorites.

Peter: "Sling Blade" was an instance where they set up these screenings for distributors. Billy Bob Thornton was like a nobody playing in B movies, "Zombies" and "Teen Town" and so forth and so on and did a little television, but he was essentially a starving actor. He was a non-person until he made this film. Harvey saw the film in Paris. They set up 2 screenings, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast for distributors so that there was supposed to be a level playing field. All of the distributors would see the film at the same time. But as what would often happen, Harvey would somehow get a leg up and in this case, he was in Paris and because of the time differences, they sent him a tape or a copy of a print. Because of the time difference, Harvey somehow ended up seeing the film first. Before the other distributors had even seen the film, Harvey was on the phone with an agent at William Morris, bidding on the movie and he actually bought the movie for $10 million, which is like a phenomenal amount of money for that film, and they were closing the deal while the screening was going on in L.A. and the distributors are seeing it for the first time. And of course, they were infuriated. This was a typical Miramax kind of move. Miramax got the film and then proceeded to torment Billy Bob Thornton because Harvey wanted to cut it. They had 6 months, a year long battle over cutting the film and Thornton is a very ornery kind of eccentric guy and just outright refused and they would have these long conversations where they would scream at each other on the phone. Thornton once said something like, "I'm going to stick a fork in your neck." They were pretty spirited conversations and ultimately Thornton actually had his way. The film was never really cut which points to a paradox because I think the film should have been cut. I don't know how many of you have seen it. It's probably heresy, I guess, in an audience of filmmakers. But filmmakers often, like writers, you turn in a book which is twice as long as it should be and you think it's perfect, and then the editor comes back and wants to cut it in half; and it's like cutting your fingers off, but it's often true. I've always been of the opinion that when they start bringing out director's cuts of movies on DVD that often the cut that went out into the theatres is a better cut, like a "Apocalypse Now Redux" with that whole French sequence, the French plantation. Anyway, a little bit of a digression but...

Simon: I think it's kind of interesting when Harvey said, "Okay, well then we won't release the film," and then Billy Bob was "Well, I've got my money. I made the film for me. Do what you want."

Peter: Yeah, you have to be willing to sort of go the distance with Harvey - walk out of the room, essentially walk away from your film, because he owns it. He'll behave like he owns it and if you don't like it...Harvey was very, very heavily into testing, just like the Hollywood studios. If the film tested well, previewed well, if there was big chemistry between you and Harvey and if he liked the film, he could do a great job with it. There's no question about it. He drove "In the Bedroom," another tedious and overlong film, in my opinion, to $30 million which was unheard of for a film like that. So Miramax does do its job sometimes. But if he doesn't like the film or you don't do what he says, then he'll say stuff like that, "So and so took my advice." He refers to it as a collaborative relationship. I think from interviewing a lot of filmmakers that in many ways, Harvey is a filmmaker manque, that he uses the real directors as surrogates to direct himself in some sense in post-production.

Simon: Somebody who seems to have quite a good relationship with Harvey as you mentioned earlier is Kevin Smith. I think Kevin Smith's story is of interest to the audience, kind of making a film for $20,000 on credit cards and then having it take off, going to the cinemas. Firstly, do you think that could happen today still and then secondly, what did Kevin Smith do right with Harvey to make that relationship work?

Peter: He made the film for $27,000, "Clerks". I imagine a lot of people here have seen "Clerks". It was a black and white film, very crude. It was really a garage film shot in this convenience store that Kevin worked in. He hired John Pearson as a producer's rep who represented a lot of those films in those days, took it around to all the independent distributors, Sony Classics, October, and so forth. There were no takers. Harvey saw the film once and I think walked out during the first reel; but the film was championed by one of the acquisitions staff at Miramax, a guy named Mark Tusk and Mark Tusk essentially forced Harvey to look at it again at Sundance. They had a strategy to prevent Harvey from leaving which is they would make him sit in the middle of the row and because he's so big, if you have people on either side of him, it's impossible for him to get out and they did that, and they sort of hemmed him in. The film, for those who haven't seen it, is very crude and full of adolescent humor - just the kind of thing that Harvey responds to. So Harvey liked it. Kevin was in the audience and he said something like, "Who the fuck is laughing like that, like Max Cady, like the maniac in 'Cape Fear'," and of course, it was Harvey. At the end of the film, Harvey went out with some other people from Miramax and took Kevin with them and went to a restaurant across the street and they signed a deal. The film was sold for $227,000. Kevin endeared himself to Harvey by saying, "Gee, Harvey. You know while I was watching the film at this time, I saw maybe 10 or 12 minutes I could cut out," which was music to Harvey's ears. Kevin has a crude sense of humor as well and they had an immediate rapport, and it's interesting to speculate what would have happened had Miramax folded in 1992 when it seemed like it might. I've been asking that question to other people and somebody said, "Well, Kevin Smith probably never would have had a career without Harvey," and he's one of the few people that that actually may be true of; but he's directed a bunch of other films for Miramax and now Harvey gave him "Green Hornet" which is an indication of the direction that Harvey seems to want to take his company.

Simon: That kind of brings us in the news a lot lately that there being rumors or stories about Harvey possibly leaving Disney or leaving Miramax, and then the whole controversy around "Fahrenheit 911". Do you think that first, was the controversy engineered, and what do you think is going to happen with Harvey?

Peter: Clearly, it was engineered. I gather Michael Moore is going to come here and he can tell you about it himself, although I don't know whether he'll cop to it. I don't know that for a fact but it seemed like, to me, having paid a lot of attention to Disney and Miramax, it seemed like a chess piece in the ongoing chess game between Michael Eisner and Harvey. Harvey stayed in the background and had Michael Moore rather cleverly carry his water in this instance. But I think it was a useful controversy for Harvey, although I sort of feel that Harvey overstepped his bounds in a way because things that Disney has the upper hand here and I think it's impossible really to say what's going to happen that the most talked about current scenario has Bob Weinstein, who heads the Dimension division of Miramax as you probably all know, staying at Disney. He's much more of a Disney-type filmmaker. He's very bottom-line oriented and tends to make a profit, whereas Harvey is kind of a loose cannon. As I said, this scenario has Harvey getting some sort of producer deal at Disney and then distributing his films through Bob's position, which I guess would still be called Miramax. It's a strange idea because Harvey's made no secret of his ambitions to make studio movies, but I don't see where that money is going to come from unless he raises an enormous amount of private equity along the lines of Joe Roth and Revolution. That's possible. There's always obscure billionaires around the world who can't wait to blow all their money on movies and maybe he'll find people to do that.

Simon: You say in the book that Harvey refers to Miramax as the house that Quentin built. What is it about Quentin Tarantino that meant he had such an impact and how does that tie into your story? He's an essential figure in the book.

Peter: There's a couple of ways of answering that question. Quentin has this wonderful personality for exactly what Miramax was good at which was selling - marketing directors and marketing auteurs. It's much easier for somebody like Harvey to distribute it to market an auteur than to market an actor who's surrounded by publicists and is going into his or her next movie, whereas directors don't work as often as actors do. At the level that Harvey kind of grahams onto them, they're usually first or second time directors and they're open. Miramax picked up Quentin. Quentin has an extremely high energy personality. He loves to talk. He'll talk to anyone and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of film. He was just ready-made for Miramax and he became, in fact, the first rock star director of the 90s, plus that his films are really good. I'm always getting asked whether I think the films of the 90s are as good as the films of the 70s, and I think that Quentin is one of the few directors of the 90s who actually can hold his own with any of the directors of the 70s.

Simon: Who are your other favorite directors of the 90s?

Peter: I like David Russell. I think "The Three Kings" is a brilliant movie and I like the new movie he's got coming out, "I Heart Huckabee's". I think Alexander Paine is really talented. You know, the sort of usual suspects, the two Andersons. I think Kim Pierce, "Boys Don't Cry" is fabulous. "Monster" last year was fabulous. I think there are a lot of talented directors. The woman who made "High Art," Lisa Cholodenko, I think is really good even though her last film, "Raw Canyon," I didn't like so much. And then there are younger directors from that generation coming up. The guy who made "George Washington," his name I can never remember. Gordon Green?

Simon: In your other book, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," you tell a lot of stories about filmmakers. The one story which I really love is the one about Paul Schrader and Nastaasja Kinski. Who actually gave you that?

Peter: Which story was that? I can't remember.

Simon: It's the one where Paul Schrader falls madly in love with her and they have an affair during the film, and he's chasing around afterwards, and he comes in on her afterwards and she says, "Paul, I always fuck my directors and with you it was difficult."

Peter: Paul gave me some of that story. I don't think he gave me the line, the kicker. I actually don't remember. That book came out in 1998 and I sort of finished working on it sometime around 1997 so it's like 7 years old and I don't quite remember who said that.

Simon: From a legal point of view, how do you cover yourself? Do you just double check all those quotes? I know it's extensively footnoted - your book.

Peter: The books get vetted, get a legal reading. You can't double and triple check every single quote in the book, otherwise you'd never finish. But the lawyers will flag material they think is potentially libelous and then if you haven't already gotten 2 or 3 sources on that kind of material, you go back and do it or else you cut it off. One or the other. It's not like a rocket science. It's really cut and dry.

Simon: Another thing I think which is of great interest to all of us here, in "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," you're talking about the young directors and the new film equipment and there's a quote from Coppola where he says, "We had the naive notion that it was the equipment which would give us the means of production. Of course we learned later it wasn't the equipment. It was the money." The big revolution going on now in digital film, most of us are working digitally and especially in terms of none in the editing and do you think that's still true or do you think that's changing?

Peter: I don't think it was even quite true in those days. Coppola set up his own company in San Francisco with George Lucas called American Zoetrope and eventually it folded and it's true that somebody in "Down and Dirty Pictures," James Shamus actually who heads up Focus Features, said that no matter who owns the means of production, if the people who own the means of exhibition and distribution who control the system, the product - so contradicting Karl Marx, it doesn't make any difference really whether the filmmakers own the means of production or not. But on the other hand, I do think that the enormous DV revolution bringing down the cost of movies, of making a first film, to a couple hundred dollars if you can get your actors to defer their salaries, is going to have a huge impact because it does mean it's going to be a lot easier to make the first movie, and that means you have something to show. If you have something to show, you can get your foot in the door. It is to a large extent true that people in the system -- independents, Hollywood, whatever - will respond to good material.

There's a kind of debate about whether talented people always arise to the top regardless. There are a lot of people who fall in by the wayside in independent filmmaking, and they complain that the system is weighted against them and it's only people with connections or trust fund babies who actually make it - the rare person like Quentin Tarantino who makes an exceptional first movie - but everybody else kind of falls by the wayside. There are a lot of people in the independent film scene who say that if you make a good film, it will get recognized and you'll sort of have a career, but those are usually people who have made it themselves. And the other side of the coin is that it's so competitive and there's so many people making movies, and it's weighted toward the star system that if your first film doesn't make it...

And then there are a lot of people who make a first film who are talented, who's first film just doesn't work for one reason or another. It doesn't mean they're not good filmmakers or can't become good filmmakers, but yet there's so much pressure that if your first film doesn't make it, doesn't get chosen by Sundance or some comparable festival, you're over. It's a slight exaggeration; but it's very hard to get your second film made. And if your second film doesn't make it...

There's no apprentice system. In the 70s there was Roger Korman and all those directors like Scorcese and Coppola and Jack Nicholson, actors, and even the next generation - Jonathan Demy - worked for Korman making these quickie, low budget movies, and they got great experience that way. That doesn't exist anymore. The closest thing to it is either Sundance, which is just like a lab that lasts for 3 weeks, or TV. Because of people like Quentin Tarantino striking it rich and becoming instant celebrities, it's brought the wrong kind of people into the independent film world: people essentially who either just want to make a lot of money, or people who want to jump into the studio system. It used to be, it would take 10 years for somebody like Soderberg to go from "Sex, Lies and Videotape" to a studio film, assuming that they wanted to go to a studio film. Now it takes 2 films. Somebody like the guy who made, "Memento," goes from practically "Momento" to "Batman 5" in one year. Everything is kind of revved up and partly as a result of Miramax.

Simon: I think the thing with a lot of Shooting People members is most of us are financing our own films. We take a day job and we're lucky we can make them cheaply these days and kind of learn that way. The point you make about it taking 10 years is interesting because how long do you think it does take for a filmmaker to mature and find their voice and discover -- you've been watching filmmakers for a long time - apart from say the Tarantinos...?

Peter: It takes a while. I think you have to live. One of the things I did at the end of this "Down and Dirty Pictures" was I compiled a list of independent filmmakers whose first film is their best film. It's a depressing fact actually because sometimes your first film is the .....

Simon: Can you give us an example?

Peter: You could certainly say that Kevin Smith's first film, "Clerks," is his best film. Allison Andrews', "Gas Food and Lodging," I think is her second film, but that's her best film. It's a long list. Lisa Cholodenko I think has only made 2 films but "High Art" was certainly better than "Laurel Canyon". I can't think of anymore but there's something like 20 examples.

Simon: Why is that?

Peter: I think there are a lot of reasons. I think a first film is often a culmination of your life up till then, and you have a lot to say. First of all people get involved in the grind of making the film and distribution, and then they're exhausted and burned out. And then the contrary scenario is sometimes people get picked up by studios or independent divisions of studios and get showered with money, and get themselves involved in projects they don't really care about, just because somebody offers them the money. There are a lot of reasons why I think that's true. So I think it's very important to go slowly, to actually do some living and have some life experience to put into the films and not get sucked into this insane - what's that thing called a hamster runs around...

Simon: A treadmill?

Peter: I think it's very damaging. I think the whole Sundance phenomenon can really put enormous amounts of pressure on people. Shamus said that he thought that if Coppola had to get his first film into Sundance, he never would have made any of those films. The pressure to succeed in your first film is enormous.

Simon: That is part of the book also. Sundance. I think it's a smaller part than Miramax. Do you feel that's fair?

Peter: Yeah, it's definitely a smaller part.

Simon: I think the dialectic is set up talking about Sundance. The impact that Sundance is still having, do you feel it's as important as ever?

Peter: The festival for all you can criticize it, and I do criticize it in the book for being more of a market than a festival, it's still the foremost showplace for independent films in the world and the guy who runs it, Jeff Gilmore, who programs it, is I think very good at his job and is doing a good job. It has become a zoo or a circus. I don't know how many of you have been to Sundance but the whole place, everything, every fire hydrant, tree and lamppost, is sponsored by Piper Heitzig or an automobile company. Mercedes Benz used to be the official automobile sponsor. All of the Sundance staff used to drive Mercedes 4 by 4s. So that's not good - but Sundance is still very important.

By saying I wanted the book to be a kind of dialectic between Sundance and Miramax, what I meant was that Sundance represented the sort of pure idea of independents, the old 80s idea, which is probably - I'm just guessing - where a lot of the people in this audience are coming from, as opposed to the sort of Miramax idea of avoiding independent film is.

For example, when "Reservoir Dogs" went to Sundance in 1992, it created a scandal not only because it was really violent, but also because it was a genre film. Sundance was so pure that genre was associated with Hollywood. Sundance films that got into the Sundance Festival are films that went to the lab or films that Sundance supported. There were never science fiction films or horror movies or thrillers or detective stories coming out of Sundance. Nobody ever died in a Sundance film except of old age or boredom. "Reservoir Dogs" changed all that. What happened in my view in the course of that decade was that Tarantino was so important and made such an impact that Sundance sort of opened itself up, to its credit, to genre films and to a much wider range of filmmakers and filmmaking to much darker, less wholesome kind of films. They were wedded to a sort of politically-correct upbeat kind of film, socially-useful kind of film throughout the 80s and I think that changed with "Reservoir Dogs" to Sundance's benefit. So I think Sundance sort of moved towards Miramax's direction and then Miramax in a way moved in Sundance's direction when they abandoned those sort of edgy tough films that they started with for the "Shakespeare's In Love" of the world.

Simon: The studios nowadays are almost making some independent films, I guess you can say a film like "Lost in Translation," for example. Do you think that's been a result of the kind of success of Miramax, for example?

Peter: Yeah, I think what "Pulp Fiction" did when it made $100 million was it kind of raised the ante. I call it the "Star Wars" of independent films. It did to the independent film movement what "Star Wars" did to the 70s, which is essentially a more or less destroy it. Allison Anders who is a good friend of Quentin's said when "Pulp Fiction" did so well, she and her friends, other filmmakers, thought this is great for Quentin and good for all of us. But she realized later that it wasn't so good for "all of us" because what sort of naturally happens is that the financial entities, the people who finance independent films, once they see how much a film like "Pulp Fiction" can make, they lose interest in the smaller films. They're not interested in a film that grosses $2 million or $5 million or $10 million anymore, just the way after "Star Wars" the studios lost interest in the "Mean Streets" of the world. Nevertheless, the example "Pulp Fiction" set which was a reasonably low budget movie with Hollywood stars who were trying to recreate, gentrify themselves. John Travolta, whose career was basically over, and Bruce Willis, whose career was basically over, that film recreated their careers and it made independent films attractive for Hollywood stars to act in.

Simon: Is that the key for us? Do we need to go and find some down-and-out ex-stars?

Peter: Yeah, you might pick up Schwarzenegger after he leaves the Governor's Mansion. Unfortunately, it's really the way you have to go unless you have a really extraordinary script. Having a good script used to be enough but it's no longer enough. You really have to have a good script and a fairly bankable star attached, just like Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt". That's a little bit of an exaggeration. The sort of paradigmatic story, I think, is the way Matt Damon and Ben Affleck went about getting financing for "Good Will Hunting" which as they looked at the landscape and they knew the story of Quentin Tarantino attracting Harvey Keitel for "Reservoir Dogs" and Harvey Keitel being the key factor getting Live Entertainment, which was essentially a video company, to finance the film for $2 million or whatever it was, $1-_ million. So they wrote what became the Robin Williams part and they used it in "Good Will Hunting" and used to refer it as the "Harvey Keitel part".

That's what they did. They wrote a very self-contained part that a major actor could do in a week so it wouldn't interfere with his or her schedule, and they gave - I think Robin Williams got 30% of the gross for doing that tiny part. They got their deal based on the script and when Miramax got hold of it, they started to do what they often do which is the film went nowhere. But when Robin Williams committed to that role, it got made in a minute.

Unfortunately, I did some interviewing with Ethan Hawke who's quite the purist, in a good way. He's really about the work and he probably could have become a star; he's a better actor than Ben Affleck and he could have made a lot of money and played in a lot of those movies. He didn't; he said no. He wanted to do work that really was significant for him. He said that even after the film he made where he won an Oscar where he played opposite Denzel Washington..."Training Day," he said even after that, he just got offered more cop films. He had a whole array of independent films, a lot of them with Rick Linklater that he wanted to make. He wanted to make, what's it called "Before Sunset"? After Sunset, During Sunset, While the Sun is Setting! He wanted to make that film but they couldn't get that financed either until Linklater made "School of Rock". So attaching a star somehow by hook or by crook is really important in writing scripts. Unfortunately, it's important to bear that in mind.

Simon: Have you ever written scripts or had any desire to?

Peter: You kind of think about "could you do it?" . I didn't want to option something myself but I don't have enough imagination to write an original script - probably.

Simon: The one thing which was clear with Miramax is they were the kings of marketing. They did it so well. I think we're all learning how to make films and we're starting to get to grips of that. But often I think what happens with Shooters is sometimes we make a film and it's like, okay, now what? What do we do with it? What were some of the lessons that Miramax taught people about how to get it out there? Is it to take risks? What is it?

Peter: I don't have any magic bullets here. The things that I would say are obvious and I'm sure you all know them better than I do. It's important to get into a Festival. It's important to get the film seen. I think it's true that if it's any good or if it has good stuff in it, even if it doesn't totally work, usually people will notice it unless it just gets lost in the crush. Now there's cable. There's other methods of distribution and exhibition that are sprouting up in the wake of the digital revolution. To some degree, you can make DVDs and send them to people. You have to be creative and aggressive.

Simon: It's kind of interesting. Some films now you're seeing that start on HBO and then they go into the cinemas. It's no longer as clear cut the routes that a film travel.

Peter: There are more routes. That's true. There are more Festivals. As I said, there are other kinds of exhibitions. You have to be extremely inventive and aggressive. The heart of the film business, the independent business, is New York and to some degree in L.A. If necessary, you've got to go there with the film under your arm and just make phone calls and hit the pavement. You just do what you need to do by every means possible, as they used to say in the 60s.

Questions from the floor...These were not captured by our recording so we have given approximations

Ques: [About Fahrenheit 911, & Miramax's relationship with Disney]

Peter: As I said, I think Michael Moore was fighting Harvey's battles for him. Beyond that, is there anything specific? I think Harvey used 911 as a chess piece in his ongoing game with Eisner. I think it's true that Disney didn't want to distribute the movie.

Simon: Did you like "911"?

Peter: I loved it. I think it's a great movie. I don't have the kinds of problems with the charge against Moore of being manipulative or fudging the footage so to speak that has been made, I guess because one of the things that Moore did was put himself in the movie and make the point of view very clear. Prior to Michael Moore, as I'm sure you all know, the major tradition of documentary was a sort of boring narrator, this illusion of objectivity. Moore just scrapped that and because the point of view is so clear and it's such a personal movie and he puts himself in them, I sort of feel like it's almost a different aesthetic.

Ques: [What was your motivation for writing this book?]

Peter: It's a peculiar question. The assumption of the question is that deviating from the way Hollywood is usually treated needs a motive. In other words, why should people always gloss Hollywood? In other words, I'm a journalist so for me, when I approach a story, I want to tell the story of the subject that I'm writing about. That's my motivation; and the glossy Hollywood is not what Hollywood is like. That's the kind of part of Hollywood which is fed to people endlessly through magazines and the press and entertainment shows on television like "Entertainment Tonight". That's not what Hollywood is like and you never get to see what its really like and as a journalist, I see that as my job. You're sort of like saying, "Why do you portray the war in Iraq as a war where a lot of Iraqis get killed when we see on Fox Network that it's only pictures of bombs falling from planes at a distance?"

Ques: [Why Film then?]

Peter: Why movies? That's my field of interest.

Simon: The wonderful thing I thought about the books is by telling the real stories, you give a lot of insight into why the films were made and the stories behind the films. Was that something which you were interested in; like why did these guys make these?

Peter: The reason I got into people's personal lives in "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" was because it was an era of personal cinema. That was the era of the Auteur, the filmmaker. The studios were going bankrupt and they seated power to this movie brat generation - people like Dennis Hopper and Scorcese and Paul Schrader and all the rest of them. A lot of them made films out of their lives. "Mean Streets" is a very autobiographical movie. It's hard to understand "Mean Streets" without knowing how Scorcese grew up in Little Italy. It's hard to understand some of Schrader's films without knowing about his Calvinist background. It's totally impossible to understand what happened to those people through years without knowing about the drug culture of the 70s and how much those people got into the drug scene, and how many of them destroyed themselves. One of the reasons I did that was because I think it's important to understanding the movies.

The other reason is that I wanted to bring people alive. The subject of that book was not so much the movies. The movies were the premise. The people were the reason I wanted to write the book. When I described the book to people I said I wanted to bring to life the generation of the 70s, what life was like in Hollywood for those people. To do that, you need to go into an enormous amount of detail about their lives - what they ate for breakfast, what kinds of clothes they wore, who they slept with, what kind of cars they drove, what kind of houses they lived in. All of those thing combine to develop vivid characters and that's why I did it. In "Down and Dirty Pictures," I felt that people personal lives, especially since I was dealing with the business side a lot, were not that relevant. You can understand the marketing plan for "Sex, Lives and Videotape" without understanding anything about Harvey's personal life, so I didn't get into it as much or at all really.

Ques: [Question about Sony Classics - independent division of Sony]

Peter: I think the relationship between the studios and their independent divisions differs from studio to studio, all of which is a way of saying that in certain ways, Sony was headed by John Calley, who came out of the 70s and was schooled to respect filmmakers. Sony Classics has always been a very filmmaker-friendly company and they've always enjoyed an enormous degree of autonomy. They can buy what they want. They don't have to clear it with the heads, with Amy Pascal or the heads of Sony. That's always been the case. Sony Classics was Orion Classics and before that they were UA Classics. They started with United Artists which historically, was a filmmaker-friendly company run by Arthur Crimm and a couple of other people, Mike Medavoy. Sony Classics was a division that had the tradition.

Miramax has a lot of autonomy as well. Also it's a question of what kinds of films the division is acquiring and producing. Sony Classics is not producing a "Priest". I think one might say that their taste was a little less edgy than Miramax's. They were not about to get into the kind of trouble that Miramax was constantly getting itself into. They didn't make a specialty out of controversy the way Miramax did. October sort of got caught in the middle. They did have that kind of Miramax taste and they got in a lot of trouble over "Happiness"when Universal, owned at that time by Seagram's, refused to distribute it.

Ques: [How do you get a "resting" Star when their agents protect them so much]

Peter: Again, I don't know if that's all together true. I think that certainly used to be true. One of the legacies of the 90s is there are now agents, and sometimes several agents, a group of agents at almost every big agency that specialize in handling independent filmmakers and sometimes even packaging independent films. I don't know whether people realize for example that "Pulp Fiction" was packaged by William Morris. Almost every actor in the movie was a William Morris client. It's sort of heresy to think of an independent film as being packaged, and packaging has really bad odor and bad connotations. It was much more common than I think people realize.

In certain there are agents at very agency, ICM, TAA and William Morris, Endeavor, devote themselves to these kinds of films and these kinds of filmmakers I think is good and they'll facilitate - I know I sound like a Pollyanna - but ever since "Pulp Fiction," independent films have often been seen as important places for certain actors to appear. A lot of actors are filled with self-disgust because all they do is act in "Spiderman II" good as that movie is. A lot of actors who want to act and want to practice their profession when they see a good script, whether it's made by an independent or it's made by a studio, they'll commit to it. A lot of agents feel that that's good for their clients and the facts that there are agents who specialize in independent filmmakers means that it's possible really for the first time for independent filmmakers to have a career without selling out to the studios, and make a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and 5th film and maybe have a 15 or 20-year career like a normal director, or mainstream director I should say.

Ques: [ Question about Quentin Tarantino and being ruthless dealing with your collaborators and with your friends. Do you need to have that kind of personality to be sacrificing?}

Peter: He sacrificed other people. It's not like he sacrificed anything. I'm a big fan of and admirer of Quentin Tarantino actually. But in "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" towards the end of the book after profiling 6 or 7 or 8 of these directors, I said somewhere that to be successful in those days, you had to be a sociopath practically. I think that's true. There's a lot of truth in it. It happened in the 70s. I think it happens in every era. It's the plot of that - is it "The Bold and the Beautiful"? - I don't know. There's a bunch of films about the film business and all the films are somehow about the trait that seems endemic ruthlessness. They seem endemic to the profession. I don't think in the particular instance with Quentin Tarantino and his collaborator, Roger Avery, Quentin would have been Quentin even if he had shared screenwriter credit on "Pulp Fiction".

Simon: Did you see Roger's follow-up film?

Peter: Yeah, I did see it. Yeah.

But it is a profession that rewards ruthlessness and bad behavior. "Thank God," is all I can say! It is an industry that rewards bad behavior and it is an industry where ruthlessness often pays off. I think it's an ugly truth about the film business. It's a bit of a generalization. There certainly are decent, nice people. Not every distributor is Miramax. In fact, there's only one Miramax and all the other distributors to one degree or another often define themselves quite consciously as the anti-Miramax, the nice Miramax, the filmmaker-friendly Miramax. So there are plenty of decent people in the film business but it doesn't hurt to have a ruthless gene I guess.

Ques: [Question if "Fahrenheit 911" could have the same impact on documentaries that "Pulp Fiction" had with the indies]

Simon: Could "911" ruin things as the impact of "Pulp Fiction," could it have the same impact, effect?

Peter: You know, I never thought of that. It's an interesting question. I liked "911" and I thought, great, like everybody else and not everybody else but some people applauded it. Whether it actually can damage other documentaries, it's an interesting idea.

Ques: [Will this lead to a boom-time for documentaries?]

Peter: Hmm, well. I don't know. It's a little bit complicated by the fact that a lot of the documentaries now starting to come out are motivated by people who want to make political points, so there's other motivations besides just making money. Plus, there are other distribution opportunities for documentaries besides theatrical which seem to be working very well. These 2 documentaries that Robert Greenwald made, one of them is about the Fox Network called "Outfoxed" and the other one is about the war in Iraq, which I can't remember the name of, but they've been put on DVD and people are buying the DVDs and having little house parties in their communities, and then networking through the internet which is an interesting way of distributing these films and totally at odds with the traditional distribution mechanisms. I think in some ways "911" is an anomaly and whether they're going to start looking for documentaries which have such sexy subjects that they're going to make $100 million, it just seems hard to imagine. I'm sure that's going to be in the mind of any company that finances a documentary, they're going to want to make money on it. I just don't see other "911s". It does seem like a one-off to me.

Ques: [Question about Miramax not giving filmmakers their fair share of the net profits]

Simon: Is there such a thing as backend?

Peter: Of course, Miramax denies everything. They'll go case by case. By virtue of the fact that they often pick up first-time filmmakers, they drive very hard bargains and first-time filmmakers are not in the position to get other than a net deal, if that. As we all know, net points in the words of Eddie Murphy are "monkey points". It's rare that net points pay off. A lot of filmmakers and producers have tried and some have succeeded in hemming Miramax in various ways. When they sold "Sex, Lives" and "Pulp Fiction," they got that million dollars and they put it in escrow. Ultimately, it's an interesting question. If you have a shrewd lawyer, you can write a shrewd contract and whether you can enforce the contract is something else.

People have told me that Miramax are often in the position of just saying, "You want to sue me? Sue me. I'm part of the Walt Disney Company. We have a thousand lawyers on retainer and they have nothing to do except litigate so if you want to spend the money, be my guest." I think that attitude discourages a lot of people from suing them. A couple people said in the book it's easier to just go onto the next project. There's a saying in Hollywood, "You always get your payday in the next project," and sometimes that's true. So no, I don't really have, unfortunately, any advice on that.

Ques: [Question about the Indie film industry today]

Peter: To some degree, we're in the post-Miramax era, I think. What that actually means, I think whatever happens to Miramax vis-à-vis Disney, I think Miramax is more or less out of the independent business. Whether they're going to make Hollywood movies or they're going to make fewer movies, or Bob is going to dominate the company making his "Scream" cycle and his "Spy Kids" and all that sort of stuff. I do think that that's not a bad thing - in other words, being in the post-Miramax period is good in a way because that intense competitive pressure that Miramax injected into the independent film world, the frantic acquisitions hysteria that existed in the mid-90s that gave rise to situations where something like "Sling Blade" went for $10 million, that's over, and I think that's a good thing. It means there is room for other companies to thrive because Miramax more or less exerted tremendous pressure on other companies. There's somebody in the book who is in distribution for Miramax, placing movies in theatres. Miramax was releasing like 40 films a year, like almost a film a week, for a number of years and what that meant was, they could dominate the screens and prevent the movies of competitors from getting screen time. They pretty much monopolized exhibition for a long time - not entirely - anyway, that's all over with. I think that creates some breathing room for other companies which creates a diversity of distribution outlets which I think is all to the good.

Secondly, the 90s bequeath this I think sort of an infrastructure, an infrastructure of agents of these companies and created models for these people to get their films made and distributed and have careers. So I think essentially we're now standing on the shoulders of the 90s and with the added factor of the whole DV phenomenon so I think we're in a good place now. I could be wrong but I think there's a window of about 3 or 4 years for a lot of diversity before Murdoch buys everything up and we're back to where we started at the beginning of the 90s.

Ques: [Question about getting people to tell intimate stories and the later repercussions when the book was published.]

Peter: Are we talking about "Easy Riders"? It wasn't that hard to get those stories because first of all, you're dealing with events that happened 30 years ago and for a lot of those people who pretty much their careers were over, these were the best years of their lives. So they love to talk about them.

This is the period where _______ was King of the Universe, Master of the Universe. He enjoyed talking about and even telling stories on themselves. All the drug rehab programs that those people went through, all emphasized this kind of confessional mode, "I'm Paul Schrader and yada yada yada," so they were used to that and they were all big, larger than life personalities. They had great stories they've been dining out on for years. Paul Schrader wasn't averse to talking about playing Russian Roulette by the side of the swimming pool. Oddly enough, it wasn't as difficult as it may seem like it on the page.

The repercussions - a lot of people got pissed off. There's no question about it. People reacted differently. Some people were fine. One of the reactions I liked best was Friedkin's. I knew Oliver Stone in those days fairly well and he told me he bumped into Billy Friedkin in the men's room standing at the urinal in some hotel. Oliver likes to needle people and he said to Billy Friedkin, "I see you were a real mother fucker in the 70s," and Friedkin just shrugged and said, "Ah, it's just a book." That was his response.

I got caught on a cruise ship with Francis Coppola somewhat unexpectedly and I had to take a lot of abuse from him. "You talk to Marcia Lucas. How dare you? How could you have done that? She always hated me? She always blamed me for breaking up the marriage," etc., etc. So it just varied a lot in terms of particular people. Some people were fine about it and some people felt, like Scorcese was kind of philosophical that goes with territory - if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Scorcese said to me, "I don't care if you write about me running down Mulholland Drive without any clothes on, but don't identify the woman I was chasing." [Laughter]

It was a serious point that I try to avoid collateral damage to people who are just bystanders and there was no use naming people who really weren't principals and that would just get hurt.

Simon: What is your next project?

Peter: I'm doing a biography of Warren Beatty in the next project.

Simon: So he was okay with "Easy Riders"?

Peter: He was fine with "Easy Riders". He came off very well, as a matter of fact.

Simon: Thank you.

Peter: Well, thank you. Thank you all for inviting me.