How To Piss Off Steve Martin

In one easy step.

Steve Martin

How to piss off Steve Martin: If you’ve been dying to see Steve Martin reunited with Diane Keaton and you thought your thirst was about to be slaked, think again.

The story about the two starring in a movie called One Big Happy broke a few days ago. Turns out someone made one big boo-boo.

Keaton was interested in doing a project with Martin, and, we’re told, he’s fond of her, too. But he was not so sure about One Big Happy, an idea for a family comedy from Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman, who created Party of Five (and that was a while ago, wasn’t it?).

Apparently Martin remained strictly noncommittal about the idea. But on March 30, Variety trumpeted that Paramount made a high-six-figure deal for the pitch with Keaton and Martin attached to star.

“He was annoyed that his name was put on as attached without his authorization,” says another source with firsthand knowledge of the situation. “He was more than annoyed. He was really pissed off.”

Who was responsible for getting ahead of the game? Our source believes the fault lies with Endeavor, the agency that represents Keaton. Her agent did not return our call. Another source says the idea was to nudge Martin along with the announcement. If so, it didn’t work.

The tale of the Keaton-Martin reunion was widely disseminated, and at first Martin’s “people” were going to demand a retraction. But after Paramount did some fast footwork, everyone concluded that it was only an announcement, after all, and let it go. You know how it is in Hollywood—just one big happy. (link)

April 9, 2008

Cold sweat: Like a bad dream that keeps recurring, the latest tape to leak to the Huffington Post in the Pellicano affairreminds us ever so vividly of what it was like to deal with Michael Ovitz. The recording is an April 2002 talk between Ovitz and the now-imprisoned private detective. It was played in court today, with Ovitz on the stand.

When he placed the call, Ovitz had identified himself as “Michael” to Pellicano’s assistant and said the call was about one of Pellicano’s kids. The detective—obviously shaken—tries to explain his reaction to hearing that the caller is really Ovitz by saying that he actually is having a problem with one of his children. What’s revealing is that Ovitz, who has complained publicly and bitterly and sometimes falsely that journalists were writing inappropriately about his kids, felt perfectly free to use one of Pellicano’s kids for his own obscure purposes. “I knew you’d get on the phone,” Ovitz explains. “Am I right or am I wrong?” To which Pellicano replies, “You should have just said, ‘It’s Michael Ovitz’ and I would have gotten on the phone.” (Duh.)

Ovitz then claims that his real reason for lying was that he wanted to keep his identity from Pellicano’s assistant. As the tape rolled. Oh, the irony.

When Pellicano mentions that one of his children has a “problem,” Ovitz swings into a trademark move: “You can always call me if you need medical help.” That’s a classic Hollywood favor that big donors to hospitals can confer, and it can certainly create lasting gratitude. “Do you need any help at UCLA?” Ovitz continues. The previous year, Ovitz had pledged $25 million to UCLA’s medical school. That offer was to be eclipsed a mere month after this conversation with Pellicano by a $200 million gift from Ovitz foe David Geffen. The announcement came just as Ovitz’s management company, AMG, went kaput. When it comes to vengeance, Geffen is truly an artist.

Having called Pellicano, Ovitz—ever the agent—tries to make it sound like he’s doing Pellicano a favor. He wants to meet, he says, because “I think it would be beneficial to you and probably beneficial to me.” Of course, Pellicano is only too happy to help. And not that Ovitz is self-dramatizing. He simply needs to see Pellicano about “the single most complex situation imaginable.”

Apparently, that is having a couple of journalists writing negative stories about his troubled business. Thank God that doesn’t happen to people every day.

As for the Ovitz testimony today, he expressed gratitude to Pellicano for getting him good information. How that information benefited him, however, remains unclear. (link)

April 8, 2008

Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg

Nein: So, the release of Valkyrie, the Tom Cruise film about the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, has been pushed back—again—from October to February 2009. The studio says that the Presidents’ Day weekend represented an opportunity to cash in. But many see the move as a very bad sign, and, indeed, the buzz on the film is not good.

What’s not in dispute is that filming remains unfinished, which is remarkable for a movie that started shooting in September 2007. One piece not yet shot is a battle sequence that begins the movie. An insider says director Bryan Singer will film a scaled-back version of what was originally conceived as a Saving Private Ryan-type opening. According to this source, the sequence was abandoned at one time as a cost-saving measure—and this movie is racking up the bucks—but when it became clear that the film was too talky, the battle was reinstated. The sequence explains why hero Claus von Stauffenberg wears that eye patch.

A studio source contends that the battle scene was always in. Apparently, it was going to be filmed in Dubai, which tried to lure the production with hopes of a publicity windfall derived from the presence of Tom, Katie, and Suri. Film your nextmovie in Dubai! That deal fell apart, and no location has been selected.

But our insider doubts that the addition of the action sequence will help. He says the problem is a script that read well on the page but played too melodramatically on the set. The studio insider responds that the script got some routine fine-tuning as it was shot but wasn’t a major problem. (The production toyed early with having the actors do accents, but everyone agreed: It wouldn’t do to sound like Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker. Nonetheless, some actors apparently found it hard not to slip into an accent, anyway. Something about that Nazi uniform.)

Just to be clear, our insider is not hating on Tom Cruise. He found the star to be unfailingly courteous. “Everything has to be approved by him, but he doesn’t hang things up,” he says. “He’s a control freak, but professional.” But our source hears that Cruise wants to create some space before this film is released to help himself and the studio he’s supposed to be reviving, United Artists. In that space, he wants to lighten up, perhaps get another project going, possibly something with Ben Stiller. Something like Hardy Men, a project at Fox about the detective brothers all grown up.

What seems clear is that Cruise has begun to appreciate the magnitude of career damage that he has inflicted upon himself, though he may not completely grasp the cause.

Cruise has already taken a step in the lighten-up direction with that cameo so obligingly reported in the New York Times last week. In the upcoming Stiller film Tropic Thunder, Cruise does a turn as a studio mogul, supposedly based on the old man who fired him, Sumner Redstone. By all accounts, the performance, though brief, is funny. By some accounts, the Cruise camp is claiming this will be a game changer for him. That strikes a leading agent, not associated with the film, as “the hype machine” at work. Only in Hollywood would people believe that a brief inside joke in a film (one that is supposedly funny at moments but doesn’t quite gel) could wipe away all the ink that’s been spilled on Cruise.

Certainly, Stiller has a hit coming next May in Night at the Museum 2. We hear there may be another Cruise cameo in that film (imagine—Cruise, part of Stiller’s comic gang!), though Fox denies that. Meanwhile, our Valkyrie source tells us about a bit of humor on the set. It seems some folks displayed posters of old Cruise movies—Cocktail and so on—and decorated the star’s face with eye patches. Apparently that bit of lightening up was not appreciated. (link)

April 2, 2008

Yee-haw: NBC promised year-round fun at its “in-fronts,” held Wednesday afternoon. The network doesn’t have many new hits to tout, so it’s trying to lure advertisers with an ambitious plan: original shows 12 months a year. And instead of waiting until May to present its plans at the upfronts, NBC is tossing a lot at the wall right now.

Here’s a little dish on the fates of what may be your favorite shows:

The Office will be paired with a spinoff, but NBC is not telling anything about it—except that it’s supposed to launch after the Super Bowl. Interest in the original show is such that “all our Office scripts are watermarked,” Ben Silverman, the co-chairman of NBC, said. “We’re only going to bring [the spinoff] to market if it’s ready for market and up to the quality of the original.” He also noted that unlike competitors’ comedies, NBC’s are funny. “I’ve watched the other shows on other networks. I’ve never laughed,” he said.

Chuck will be back on Monday nights. Life will hang in there by a strand on Friday nights. Friday Night Lights will be back in February—though the show struggles in the ratings, it has a passionate following. NBC is keeping it by agreeing to air the series after it runs via DirecTV.

NBC will also schedule series that have previously aired in Canada or on the BBC. Why not? It’s worth a try.

Bionic Woman and Journeyman are dead. E.R. has one season left, with a finale in late February.

As for new shows, Silverman has heavily hyped My Own Worst Enemy, the new Jekyll-and-Hyde show with Christian Slater. We had no idea Slater was this hot, but Silverman repeatedly compared casting him to earlier snarings of Steve Carell for The Office and America Ferrera for Ugly Betty. They chased Slater to London and Spokane! Once the network got him, it skipped the pilot and went straight to series.

Silverman cautioned that the schedule remains fluid, invoking—and mixing—sports metaphors: “We’re constantly playing a three-dimensional chess game. …We obviously are going to need to be able to call audibles.” (link)

March 28, 2008

Order in the court: Your Hollywoodland correspondent decided to take a firsthand look at the Pellicano trial on Thursday, arriving in the midst of seemingly endless testimony about how phone companies work.

Even Pellicano—balding, wearing unfashionable glasses and his prison-issue, olive-drab windbreaker—yawned as he watched the endless cross-examination. Seated along the defendant’s row with Pellicano were accused co-conspirators from the phone company and the police department. The courtroom, with its high vaulted ceiling and rows of recessed lights, felt like a weird converted airplane hangar.

There was momentary hope that things might perk up when the phone company guy got off the stand and Freddie DeMann, former partner with Madonna in Maverick Records, stepped up. He testified about shelling out $135,000 for Pellicano to snoop on his son-in-law to establish whether he was cheating on DeMann’s daughter. He admitted to listening to revealing taped phone conversations involving that son-in-law. The testimony was awkward but not devastating. One fact seemed worth noting: Others who admitted on the stand that they had listened to tapes that were allegedly made illegally have testified under a grant of immunity. But there was no mention of immunity during DeMann’s testimony, and yet he hasn’t been charged with anything.

Pellicano did not question him. The attorney representing ex-cop Mark Arneson tried to ask DeMann if he didn’t think his daughter was better off after Dad got the dirt on her husband. The relevance of that as a legal defense was obscure; the judge sustained an objection, so DeMann didn’t answer.

More pathetic was former phone company employee Teresa Wright, who wept copiously while she admitted that she conducted “hundreds” of unauthorized searches at the behest of Rayford Turner, an old friend and colleague who was sitting there in court down the row from Pellicano. She acknowledged tearfully that she, too, is awaiting sentencing.

This week’s biggest drama involved an announcement in court on Tuesday that lawyer Bert Fields was planning to take the Fifth if called to testify. (Recall that Fields is the lawyer who hired Pellicano on behalf of many clients over many years, including Brad Grey and Michael Ovitz.)

Fields promptly denied that and said he’d testify if called. The U.S. attorney’s office then issued a statement explaining the confusion this way: Fields’ personal lawyer, John Keker, had advised that Fields would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights but then the counsel for Fields’ law firm said it wasn’t so. And Keker was, mysteriously, out as Fields’ lawyer.

What does it mean? We consulted former prosecutor Laurie Levinson, who’s not following the trial day-to-day but knows how these things work. She says it’s possible that Keker reflexively wanted Fields to take the Fifth, as any criminal-defense attorney might, and then found out that his client disagreed with that plan. Or it’s possible that Fields knew of the plan but didn’t like the reaction after it was made public. Or perhaps his firm didn’t like the reaction. It could be that Keker thought his client should take the Fifth and wasn’t comfortable with hanging around if that didn’t happen.

Keker’s reputation is so good, she says, that most people would give him the benefit of any doubt in any rift with Fields. Of course, Keker can’t talk about what happened because it’s privileged.

As to whether the prosecutors will call Fields, she was doubtful. Fields is not the prosecution’s friend in this matter, she says, and calling him would represent unknown and unnecessary risk. Just another disappointment in what was once supposed to be the trial of all Hollywood trials. (link)

March 21, 2008

Anthony Pellicano

Sordid details: As expected, Paramount chief Brad Grey’s testimony at the Pellicano trial was not too sexy. Garry Shandling may have gotten people’s hopes up with his complaints about Grey’s behavior as his manager, but no one in this case has a stake in pursuing that angle. The question was whether Grey knew of Pellicano’s alleged wrongdoing, and Grey, naturally, said he did not.

So it’s hardly surprising that Shandling—a professional, after all—turned out to be more entertaining than Grey. For those looking for a big takedown of Hollywood power, it’s long been clear that the trial seems unlikely to pay off. But the fact that Pellicano’s big-name clients appear to have skated doesn’t mean that the allegations in this case aren’t sensational. They could hardly be more so.

If the government’s got its facts right (and Pellicano, acting as his own counsel, isn’t mounting a serious defense so far), then the worst is true: Justice in this country can be bought pretty easily, if not cheaply.

The case has elicited testimony that Pellicano convinced cops and phone company employees to snoop through data that should have had vigilant protection. He perverted the system, and not just to benefit rich clients who wanted to shake off unwanted spouses or thwart opponents in business deals. He is accused of having successfully intimidated a number of alleged rape victims to prevent their testifying against a client. Got that? It would mean that he helped an alleged serial rapist get off the hook.

And he got away with it all for years.

For a long time, Pellicano’s tough-guy talk seemed to put him on the verge of self-parody: the hard-boiled gumshoe playing the private-dick role in the manner that people in Hollywood would expect. And in many cases, his alleged victims were hard to pity—like producer Bo Zenga, who had to take the Fifth more than 100 times when he was deposed in a lawsuit that he had initiated. (Zenga has also declared himself an award-winning screenwriter when all he had “won” was a contest that he’d made up himself.)

Then there was Lisa Bonder, who tried to shake down Kirk Kerkorian for $320,000 a month after gaming a DNA test to trick him into supporting a child who wasn’t his. It was hard to feel bad when Pellicano exposed that type of behavior.

But even if all of Pellicano’s victims had put themselves in harm’s way, what he appears to have done goes far beyond their concerns. Every day of testimony sharpens the focus on allegations that should scare everyone—even folks who have never gotten closer to Hollywood than the multiplex. (link)

Correction, March 19, 2008: The item on the Pellicano trial originally included a photo of John Connolly, who’s actually a reporter who investigated Pellicano. The image has been removed.