The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Phone message of the week: Scott Rudin's office, returning

August 4, 2008 |  6:01 pm

Rudin While I was away the New York Times had a great page one story about the instant popularity of Slydial, a new high-tech device that allows callers to dial a mobile phone and leave a message without the call ever being detected. It's a big hit--since being unveiled to the public last week, the Times reports that more than 200,000 people have used the service.

I have to admit that my first reaction to the story was: Come on, Scott Rudin has been doing this for years! As Hollywood insiders will attest, the Oscar-winning, titanic-tempered producer has been famous for being impossible to reach by phone, often returning supplicants' phone calls in the wee hours of the morning or long after closing hours, anything to avoid actually speaking to the intended party. Entire memoirs have been written about playing phone tag with Rudin, who, according to former assistants, was a Slydialer long before this fancy new version of the technology was invented. He simply had two assistants sit next to each other, dialing the same (studio exec/agent/lowly reporter's) cellphone at exactly the same time, ensuring that the calls would come in simultaneously, bumping them both to voice mail.

For my money, Slydial is the ultimate Hollywood holiday gift, since it perfectly suits the prevailing ethos of show business: Always avoid confrontation. In Hollywood, no one ever wants to deliver bad news. After all, who wants to tell the poor schlub screenwriter that he's been taken off the movie after Brett Ratner threw his latest rewrite in the scrap heap? Who wants to tell Tom Cruise that the studio is happier spending a little less money and hiring Keanu Reeves for that new action thriller? Who wants to tell Dick Wolf his latest pilot didn't test well enough to get a series commitment? Who wants to call "X-Files: I Want to Believe's" Chris Carter on Saturday morning and give him the film's lousy second-weekend box-office numbers? I mean, who wanted to be the one to tell Lindsay Lohan that her mom was doing a reality TV show?

Just imagine the possibilities, Now no one in Hollywood ever has to have an awkward conversation, much less a rude confrontation. If you're a star and your career is going badly, Slydial makes it so much easier to call your agent and, without having to do any hemming or hawing, say, "Ari, I'm just thinking of going in a different direction. It's not that CAA made any special promises. They just seem to 'get' what I'm doing. Maybe it'll be good for us both to have a fresh start."

For those of us who cover the industry, it's somehow reassuring to know that an attitude we thought of as specific to Hollywood has become part of the zeitgeist. We're now a nation of non-confrontational duck-and-runners. You could even argue that Hollywood's fabled narcissism has also rubbed off on the hoi polloi. Not only did 26-year-old Alexis Gorman happily acknowledge using the new service to dump her boyfriend, but she eagerly posed for a stylish New York Times photo of her on the phone, eyes glinting with high expectation, presumably lining up a date with a new sucker. I say she's so ready for the new season of "Beauty and the Geek."

Photo of Scott Rudin by Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times