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FALL SNEAKS / 'What Just Happened?'

Giving Hollywood the business

September 07, 2008|Susan King

Oscar-WINNING filmmaker Barry Levinson doesn't think his latest project -- the Hollywood satire "What Just Happened?" -- is too "inside baseball" for mass audiences.

"You can say until you're blue in the face it's not 'inside,' but no one will ever believe you," Levinson says. "But over the past five months-plus, we have shown the movie to whom you might call a 'lay' audience that knows nothing about the business. We have always asked if the movie is too inside Hollywood."

And of the 2,000 audience members who have seen the film, says Levinson, not one person said they couldn't understand it. "I don't think there is an 'inside' anything anymore. I think we have a fascination with the inside of everything. Maybe it's just how things continue to evolve."

Based on producer Art Linson's book of the same name, the comedy, set for an Oct. 17 release, stars Robert De Niro as a frazzled Hollywood producer named Ben whose stock in Hollywood is shaky, especially after the preview of his last film starring Sean Penn is received abysmally by test audiences. And to make matters worse, Bruce Willis shows up overweight and sporting a Grizzly Adams beard to start work on a film Ben is producing.

The film reunites Levinson with De Niro, who worked with the director on "Wag the Dog" and "Sleepers." "Bob suggested that Art develop the novel into a film," Levinson says. "When he finally got a draft of it, Bob said, 'It's really good, I think this might be something Barry is interested in.' Bob called me and sent it over and I really enjoyed it. For about a year and a half or so, we had some readings and additional work was done and we finally got it to film."

Shot in just more than 30 days on a $20-million budget, Levinson managed to film one day at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. "It rained," he says. "Rather than waiting for a sunny day, I said, 'This looks kind of nice. Let's shoot like this.' Art Linson was there and we were kind of fantasizing, 'Wouldn't it be great to come next year and show the movie?' "

Exactly a year later, "What Just Happened?" screened at Cannes. "And it rained just liked it did before," Levinson says. "It was like deja vu."

-- Susan King

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