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Even better than an Oscar

Hollywood celebrates its role in aiding Gore's environmental crusade.

October 13, 2007|Tina Daunt and John Horn | Times Staff Writers

A great movie can get you a fabulous table in Cannes and maybe even an Academy Award, but it usually doesn't get you a spot at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo.

So when news came Friday that Hollywood's favorite environmentalist, former Vice President Al Gore, had won the world's most prestigious prize, members of the entertainment industry not only felt that the honor had been bestowed on one of their own, they also shared in celebrating his victory.

"Does it feel better than an Academy Award?" said Scott Burns, a producer on the Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," a film version of Gore's multimedia presentation about the catastrophic effects of climate change. "It's interesting. I don't think it's a question that's ever been asked before." But the ultimate answer is that yes, it does.

It's a reaction that not only demonstrates how much of a home Gore has found in Hollywood, but reinforces the symbiotic relationship that has developed between his crusade against climate change and Hollywood's moviemaking and marketing machine.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
'An Inconvenient Truth': An article in Saturday's Section A about Al Gore's shared Nobel Peace Prize included inaccurate domestic box-office grosses for two documentaries. "An Inconvenient Truth" grossed $24.1 million, not more than $25 million, and Michael Moore's "Sicko" grossed $24.5 million, not $24 million.

It's also a testament to the political and cultural clout a movie can wield, with "An Inconvenient Truth" helping turn a complex environmental issue into an understandable talking point that has had a major influence in the debate about global warming.

Hollywood has been credited for playing a major role in the efforts that led to Gore's award Friday.

"Anyone who says a film can't make a difference hasn't met Al Gore or seen 'An Inconvenient Truth,' " said Michael Feldman, a longtime Gore advisor.

"It's really a validation to everyone who has worked on this issue," said Laurie David, who spearheaded the effort to get Gore on film. "And it's a wake-up call to everyone who isn't."

The honor marks yet another high point in Hollywood's 2 1/2 -year journey with the former vice president, who shares his Nobel with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

David saw Gore's slide show on global warming at a private Los Angeles presentation in 2004. She immediately asked "Pulp Fiction" producer Lawrence Bender to get involved. They approached Burns and director Davis Guggenheim, then set up a pitch session with Gore at a hotel in San Francisco in spring 2005.

Their message was succinct: Make a movie. The slide show doesn't have enough reach.

Gore agreed. He later joked: "They had me at hello."

Participant Productions -- founded by EBay pioneer Jeff Skoll -- came onboard with financing, and Guggenheim immediately went to work. In many ways, what Guggenheim caught on film was troubling: He captured Gore's message but also showed that the former vice president was alone on his mission.

He lost his Secret Service detail six months after losing the 2000 presidential race. He took off his shoes and fumbled through his pockets at airport security checkpoints, and pulled his bag carrying his slide show behind him.

"When we were making the film, it felt like the political landscape was hopeless and there was no traction on the issue for people like Al Gore, who spoke their minds and fought for what was right," Guggenheim said.

Several studios passed on the film, which debuted at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

John Lesher, the newly installed head of Paramount Pictures' specialty film division, made the documentary one of his first purchases.

In addition to holding screenings across the country to generate buzz, Lesher's Paramount Vantage courted theater owners, an often overlooked constituency that proved critical in "An Inconvenient Truth's" staying power. Although many movies come and go in a matter of weeks, the global warming movie, which was released in May 2006, was still selling tickets that October.

Although the film's ultimate box-office receipts amounted to pocket lint for Paramount owner Viacom Inc. -- a domestic gross of more than $25 million and about the same overseas -- it was a remarkable performance for a nonfiction film. Michael Moore's latest documentary, the healthcare indictment "Sicko," grossed $24 million.

As important as its ticket sales, "An Inconvenient Truth" became required viewing in Hollywood among awards organizations.

Before it took the documentary-feature Oscar in February, the film won countless prizes from critics groups.

(The movie also won an Oscar for Melissa Etheridge's original song.)

"We feel the movie was the spark that ignited this intergalactic flame," said Participant Productions President Ricky Strauss.

Lesher said he was moved to tears when he received the news early Friday that Gore shared the Nobel.

"This issue was not at the forefront the way it is now," Lesher said. "It's a great example of how a film can start a conversation and lead to change. And it showed how in the darkest point in someone's life -- losing a presidential election -- you can reassess what really matters. And that's what he did."

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