The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Michael Mann on Marc Shmuger: 'I do return his phone calls. He's a terrific guy.'

October 5, 2009 |  5:06 pm

It's always pretty easy to tell when some studio bigwig has finally had enough and decided to stop taking calls from Nikki Finke, since that usually signals that the studio, in terms of play in her Deadline Hollywood blog, is about to go from the penthouse to the outhouse awfully fast. Just as 20th Century Fox is in the penthouse right now, getting all sorts of favorable mentions in Finke's blog in return for some nice little news scoops, Universal has gone in the other direction -- or to use the title of the studio's recent horror flicks -- straight to hell.

Michaelmann Universal's top execs used to play ball with Finke. But that cozy relationship ended some time ago, with the studio freezing her out, which is why as the news surfaced this morning that studio chairman Marc Shmuger was getting the ax, Finke erupted with an incredibly nasty post -- even by her standards -- about Shmuger. She called him, among other things, a "polarizing [jerk...though she uses stronger language that I can't print here]" and a "thin-skinned cry baby," adding "I hate Shmuger, really detest the putz."

To bolster her case that he was a loser, she claims that a wide variety of top filmmakers couldn't stand him either, citing Michael Mann ("supposedly won't return his calls"), Spike Lee ("reportedly will never talk to him again") and Clint Eastwood ("openly hates him"). It sounds like very damning stuff, but is it actually true? I don't have Clint's home phone number, so I couldn't ask him for verification, but guess what? I did talk to Michael Mann today after Shmuger was fired, so he had no need to suck up to the guy anymore. And Mann said that Finke's account was totally erroneous.

"That stuff about me not returning his calls -- that's just not true," Mann told me. "He's a terrific guy, and Marc and I have a terrific relationship. He was incredibly supportive during the making of 'Public Enemies,' and I think he's going to have a lot of good will wherever he goes. I don't dislike him at all. In fact, I like him a lot. He always had a lot of good ideas and was a stand-up guy. From a filmmaker's point of view, working with him, and Donna Langley and Adam Fogelson, it was a really great experience."

Mann laughed. "You really have to stretch to say I had problems at Universal. I even got along with the business affairs guys, who are the ones you're supposed to have a tough time with." 

Photo of Michael Mann by Daniel Deme/EPA