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Waiting to Exhale

The Previews Tanked. Now Your $80-Million Epic Is About to Debut at Multiplexes Across the Land. Here's How Veterans Cope.

March 22, 1998|JUDITH I BRENNAN | Judith I. Brennan writes for Entertainment Weekly

Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films: I used to call my Bubbie on the morning of opening night. I called her every movie until she passed away four years ago. She'd always say, "You have to step out with your right foot." So I'd hang up the phone and I'd take a step with my right foot, and it was always lucky for me. It's a Jewish thing.

[Director] Quentin [Tarantino] is the worst on opening night. He likes to watch--at midnight. I like to go early, but no, he's gotta do midnight. With "Jackie Brown"? Magic Johnson Theater. "Pulp Fiction"? One of those Manns in Westwood--who can remember? Not 8 p.m. Not 10 p.m. Midnight. Always with the midnight.

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David Zucker, producer and director: We usually smear ourselves with hot oil. Just kidding! Truth? We do like everybody else. We rent a van, pack in the cast, drive around and check out the theaters. But only when the movie is great, of course. When we did "Airplane" we went around to a bunch of theaters, sat in and watched with the audience. People would see Bob Hays [Robert Hays, one of the movie's principals] and do a double take. They'd go up to him and say, "You look like that guy in the movie." OK, so he was being discovered.

Opening night of "Top Secret"--remember that? I was sitting in the audience, and I'm behind these two girls; I think they're enjoying it. Then about halfway through the movie, one leans over to the other and says, "This sucks." I just kinda sank down in the chair. Lower and lower and lower.

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Sherry Lansing, chairwoman, Paramount Motion Picture Group: I go to theaters. As many as I can, usually in Westwood, Century City or in the Valley. Always have. I go to watch the lines and the audience reaction. It tells you what you need to know.

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Cameron Crowe, director and screenwriter: The "Fast Times" ["Fast Times at Ridgemont High," Crowe's first movie] memories are vivid. The early test screenings were like going to a funeral. The studio didn't want to put the movie out. They finally decided to release it in the dregs, the end of summer. No fraternity car ride around to theaters. In fact, everybody with the movie had something better to do. On opening night Irving Azoff [one of the producers] calls and says, "Hey, don't worry. A coupla people showed up."

The next day, I'm going to a wedding in Tucson, and we're about halfway there and I say, "What the hell, let's go by a theater." We see "Fast Times" on the marquee in some town just outside Tucson and the line's wrapped around the theater. So we all get out and go in. And a whole bunch of people were hanging in the lobby, talking about Jeff Spicoli [Sean Penn's stoned surfer character], and I'm thinkin' this is some kind of miracle. We go to another theater and it's packed, and there's this guy standing in the lobby in the same checkerboard tennis shoes as Spicoli's, and he's saying, "I know that dude." So, basically, I left L.A. thinking I am a total loser with no future, and by the time I get to the wedding, I'm telling everybody, "Yeah, that's me. I'm a screenwriter. A BIGGGG screenwriter!" But 24 hours earlier . . . man, I was locked in a coffin, no air inside, no mercy, just dread.

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Jerry Bruckheimer, producer: I rent a van. I take everybody who wants to come. The director. The writer. The stars. Everybody. We usually start at one of the big theaters. Multiplexes are good. Pick one and go inside, wait 20 minutes, make sure audience responses are hitting the marks. If they aren't, well . . . . Then we pile back in the van and go to Mr. Chow's. Always Mr. Chow's. We all have a martini--Kettle One, straight up, coupla olives. Dinner is made up special. Then, back in the van, on to the theaters, one side of town to the other, checking the crowds, checking the responses.

The opening night of "Beverly Hills Cop," we were in New York. Security was everywhere; it was crazy. But Don [Simpson, Bruckheimer's former partner, who died in 1996] had this superstition: He had to have a hot dog from every concession stand. And he did. That was a lot of hot dogs.

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Alan Ladd Jr., producer, former head of MGM and 20th Century Fox: On "Star Wars" there were no previews. No word of mouth from critics. No test screenings, except one. It was 10 a.m.; I'll never forget it. When that spaceship came up on the screen and it kept going and going, the audience got up and cheered. They'd never seen anything like it. I'd never seen an audience respond like that. I started crying. George [Lucas] started crying. "Star Wars" was one giant emotional risk. But even with that response, George and I headed for Hawaii on opening weekend and there we stayed.

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