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Eyes Wide Open : Some Hollywood players offer their off-the-cuff takes on the highs and lows of the season.

May 02, 1999|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN | Patrick Goldstein is a Times staff writer

From now until the end of August, it's Summer Movie Season in Hollywood, a noisy festival of fireworks, fantasy and raunchy fun that has become perhaps the most boisterous communal ritual in American pop culture. Exuberant young moviegoers squeeze into lines that snake around the block, dads buy tubs of gooey buttered popcorn for the family, and filmmakers--well, they start paying close attention to headache-remedy ads.

With every weekend crowded with hotly touted new films, summer is high-anxiety time in Hollywood. "I handle the pressure by making everyone around me miserable," says director Jon Turteltaub, whose 1996 film "Phenomenon" hit theaters the same day as "Independence Day."

"It's a time of year when I have bowel trouble and a sudden desire to make increased visits to my therapist--and I wish I were kidding. Summer movies are the definitive example of capitalism. There's more supply and demand than at any other time of year, and you just hope your movie is the one in demand."

To make some sense of this seasonal madness, Calendar convened its first Summer Movie Cabinet. After gorging themselves on popcorn, five prominent filmmakers revealed their guilty summer pleasures, made shoot-from-the-hip box-office predictions and reminisced about their summer film experiences, both as filmmakers and as young movie fans.

This year's panelists: Turteltaub, whose new film, "Instinct," is due June 4; Mace Neufeld, producer of "The General's Daughter," starring John Travolta, which arrives June 11; New Line Cinema president of production Michael De Luca, whose big summer film is "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," also due June 11; writer-director Kevin Williamson, creator of the "Scream" series, who makes his directorial debut July 30 with "Killing Mrs. Tingle"; and producer Brian Grazer, whose "Bowfinger," starring Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, is due July 23.

Before our photo shoot, Turteltaub and Williamson badgered Neufeld for details about "The Omen," a 1976 summer thriller he produced.

"The first time I saw it on the [now-defunct] Z Channel, I was too scared to get through it," Turteltaub tells Neufeld. "So I called a friend and made him stay on the phone while we both watched it on TV."

Williamson asks if it was a hit right away.

"By 9:30 p.m. the Friday night it opened, we were very drunk because it did so well that we'd already made our net profit," Neufeld says. "And that meant something, because in our deal Fox had to pay out on net profit."

"Wow," says Turteltaub. "So the devil really was involved in that movie."

One of Williamson's favorite scenes shows Gregory Peck being attacked by a pack of wild dogs in a graveyard. "We had great German shepherds, but we couldn't use them because of a quarantine, so we got Rottweilers instead," Neufeld recalls. "They were so fierce that even the stunt guys were afraid of them. On the first take, the dog clamped his jaws so tight on our stuntman's arm that he just passed out. After that, the crew called them our devil dogs."

Near the end of the photo session, De Luca squints into the hot lights, wiping his forehead. "I can feel the oil blotting on my head already," he says. Turteltaub takes a napkin and dabs De Luca's brow. "Let me help," he says. "I'm a director--I've seen this done before." Before anyone else starts sweating, it's time to begin the summer movie summit.

Q: There's no getting around it--the big story of this summer is "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace." Judging from the people you're talking to, how big is the anticipation level?

Kevin Williamson: Every time I go to the gym, all my trainer talks about is that movie. I'm probably the only person in America who's been so busy that I haven't even seen the trailer yet.

Michael De Luca: You know the fanaticism is really high if people are already camping out, spending the night outside the theater. I've been on the Web site all year long. The trailer on the Net has such great resolution that I downloaded it onto my computer and show it to people when they come to my office for meetings.

Brian Grazer: It's bigger than the millennium. A couple of years ago, George Lucas and his kids went out with me and my kids at DisneyWorld and my kids were pretty low-key about the whole thing. But now that the movie's coming out, they're saying, "Hey, we went out with George Lucas!" They know as much about George as they know about me.

Q: Prediction time. What's the movie's opening five-day weekend gross going to be?

Jon Turteltaub: $125 million.

Mace Neufeld: $85 million.

De Luca: $125 million.

Grazer: $120 million.

Williamson: $125 million.

Q: The other movie everybody is anticipating, but no one has seen, is "Eyes Wide Shut." Does it matter that Tom Cruise has been away from the screen for two years?

Grazer: No way. It'll take about one second for people to re-familiarize themselves with him.

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