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The Talk of The Town | The Analysis

She'll Lead a Make-Over or Be Made Over

July 10, 1998|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tina Brown, the celebrity editor who is leaving the New Yorker to go into business with Miramax, is hardly the first journalist to make the perilous jump to Hollywood.

Scores of screenwriters--Paul Attanasio ("Donnie Brasco"), Pete Dexter ("Michael") and William Broyles Jr. ("Apollo 13"), to name just three--used to edit and write for newspapers and magazines, and the same is true of many well-known producers. Lynda Obst ("Contact," "Hope Floats") worked at the New York Times Magazine. David Friendly ("Courage Under Fire," "Dr. Dolittle") covered the movie industry for the Los Angeles Times.

It's called crossing over. And this week, those who have already navigated the path that Brown appears to be heading down predicted that even for someone as forceful and famous as she is, it may not be easy. Hollywood likes to grow its own, several people said, and does not always take kindly to outsiders. And some of the industry's customs are antithetical to those of the Fourth Estate.

"It's a whole different world. The difference between doing daily journalism and trying to get movies made is the difference between checkers and the NBA finals," said Friendly, who left newspapering in 1987 to become a junior development executive at Imagine Entertainment. Brown may have worked on longer deadlines (editing the weekly New Yorker) and may have delved deeply into Hollywood (increasing industry coverage in the New Yorker and editing the star-struck monthly Vanity Fair), but still, he said, "It's going to be a big adjustment for her."

Start with the fact that journalists at least claim to search for the truth, while Hollywood insiders strive to improve upon it--whether by tacking a happier ending on a movie or putting a more positive spin on box-office tallies. Then consider this: In journalism, deadlines ensure that projects end, guaranteeing relatively quick gratification for all involved. In the movie business, things move slowly and sometimes not at all.

"I didn't have the patience," said film critic Pauline Kael, who took a leave from the New Yorker in 1979 to work as a producer at Paramount. She lasted five months. "I'm used to deadlines and getting something over with and getting on to another thing. There [in L.A.], everything seems to be caught in a time warp, and it takes forever to get anything underway. The executives spend so much time worrying that they never get anything done."

Susan Lyne, the founder and former editor of Premiere magazine who joined the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group as a development and acquisitions executive in 1996, sympathized with Kael.

"The time frame of getting a feature film made can be totally frustrating," she said, recalling that in the 1980s, before she started Premiere, she worked for Jane Fonda's production company, IPC Films. "In the three years I was there, none of the two dozen projects I worked on was made."

Earlier this year, Lyne moved over to television, as ABC's executive vice president for movies and miniseries. The change appealed to her in part because it promised a quicker pace.

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The most common reaction to the news of Brown's partnership with Miramax (which will include the creation of a new monthly magazine and a book publishing arm and the production of films and television programs) was the observation--and in some cases, the lament--that the worlds of journalism and Hollywood, instead of remaining essentially distinct, now are merging.

"There's a conflation of universes here. Buckle your seat belts," said Obst. "Is Tina going into the movie business, or is Harvey [Weinstein, Miramax's co-founder] going into the journalism business? Maybe nobody can tell the difference. The distinctions between these media are blurring in terms of the personnel, the stories being covered and in terms of the tabloidization of news. . . . It's not clear who's the tail and who's the dog. But everybody's wagging."

What was not immediately clear was how Brown's new magazine would be connected to the company's entertainment initiatives (Weinstein described it, vaguely, as an inexpensive "gateway" to ideas that could translate into books, movies and TV). If the magazine is perceived as merely a mechanism to steer cheap product into the film production side, that could lead to criticism--as the editors of Los Angeles' now-defunct Buzz magazine found earlier this year when they signed a first-look feature film agreement with Paramount Pictures that gave the studio first crack at optioning motion picture rights to magazine stories.

Peter Biskind, author of the best-selling book "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood," said Brown's venture raises some of the same worries.

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