The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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New studio rule: No more movies about soul singers!

November 10, 2008 |  6:01 pm

If you're like me, always hanging around producers, managers and agents, you frequently hear them groaning about the latest nutty studio rule dealing with the movies the studio will never, ever, ever make again. With "Soul Men" having tanked this weekend, it's a good bet that some studio chief somewhere is grumbling, "I don't want to ever see another script about soul singers!" (That dictum probably extends to college football players who get leukemia after the failure of "The Express" last month.)

Studio bosses do tend to make certain blanket pronouncements. Fox's Tom Rothman thinks sci-fi comedies are box-office poison, one key reason why he wouldn't make "Used Guys," a Jay Roach-directed sci-fi comedy that would have starred Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey (and cost a ton of money). Nikki Finke reported last year that after the failure of several female-starring comedies, Warners production chief Jeff Robinov told three different producers that WB was "no longer doing movies with women in the lead"--in fact, he supposedly didn't even want to see a script with a woman in a leading role. Everyone in town was talking about that one for weeks, even though I see that Warners is releasing a Cameron Diaz movie next spring ("The Box"), which didn't start filming till long after the supposed ban on female stars. So maybe Robinov had second thoughts--or never really said it in the first place.

Pascal_2 I was reminded of all this the other day when an agent told me that they'd heard that Disney had put out the word that they didn't want to make any movies with young protagonists, which must mean really young protagonists, since the "High School Musical" series is such a box-office bonanza. So when I was having lunch with Sony chief Amy Pascal on Friday, I asked her--do you guys really say this stuff? Do you have crazy phobias too?

She laughed. "We all probably say things like that, but it's in the heat of the moment--everyone says things they don't really mean. So if there's a really young executive in a meeting and they hear you say something, even though you almost didn't mean it the minute it came out of your mouth, they sometimes take it seriously, when they should probably do what you do, which is forget all about it five minutes later."

But has she, in the heat of the moment, made crazy pronouncements too, like not wanting to make a movie whose title starts with the letter X? "I did say--I hate movies that begin with a bet," Pascal admits. "It's a bad idea, because it usually means that it's a fake story that revolves around a gimmick. But on the other hand, someone made 'My Fair Lady' and it was great. Rules are oversimplifications, which are bad no matter how you look at it. It would be like my saying, 'I'm so sick of Iraq movies, so I don't ever want to see another script about Iraq.' But that's just my reaction in the moment. Someone will make a phenomenal movie about Iraq and everyone's attitude will change."

According to Pascal, people simply overinterpret offhanded remarks. "I really don't think any studio has those kinds of rules. How could they? You have to open to hearing crazy, surprising ideas. One minute you have one of those rules, the next minute you'd want to break it."

Photo of Amy Pascal by Sony Pictures Entertainment