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Hollywood Insider


You're Only As Good As Your Next One:
100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 for Which I Should Be Shot
by Mike Medavoy, Josh Young
published Atria, 2002
reviewed by Kenneth Lyen

Hollywood is a place where children refuse to grow up.

At least this is how I perceive it. A place populated by Peter Pans giving vent to their naked ambitions, greed, and petty jealousies. Behaviors that might well be ignored were it not for the fact that some of these characters are obscenely powerful and wealthy. They are the movie moguls, directors, and stars. More famous than presidents, wealthier than royalty, they strut around their make-believe fairy tale movie kingdoms like proud peacocks. Extravagance unlimited. The budget for a single film can exceed the gross national product a small country.

Thus books written by insiders about how the film industry is run, offer intense fascination for outsiders.

Mike Medavoy’s memoirs of his 40 years in Hollywood, "You’re Only As Good As Your Next One" is one such book. He is an insider, and therefore ideally placed to write an authoritative account about the studios and the 300 or so films that he was involved with.

It bypasses the boring bits quickly. We are not interested that Mike was born in Shanghai of Russian parentage, that he spent his childhood in Chile, and that he attended the University of California at Los Angeles. Nor are we terribly interested that he started life at the bottom of the rung, in the mail room of Universal Studios. So these are compressed into a few pages. He started in the film industry proper by being an assistant in an agency that represented actors, scriptwriters, and directors.

Mike apparently had little talent. He could not act, was unable to write screenplays, was unable to direct films, and could not even read the fine print of a contract so that he was often caught off guard by an unfavorable clause. He said, "If I had a talent for anything, it was a talent for knowing who was talented."

This ability led him to promote a remarkable galaxy of stars and directors, often before they became stellar. These include, Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Denzel Washington, Warren Beatty, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Mallick, Jonathan Demme, and others.

"I had two requirements for my clients, that they be talented and that they be passionate about their work," he said.

As an agent he helped package The Sting, Young Frankenstein, and Jaws. He then changed from agent to producer, working in United Artists, Orion Pictures, Sony Tristar, and finally in Phoenix Pictures. During his tenure in these studios, he was instrumental in championing many films, especially those rejected by other studios. His nose for good films earned seven Oscars for Best Picture.

As studio producer, he was involved in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Annie Hall, Apocalypse Now, Amadeus, Platoon, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Dances With Wolves, The Silence of the Lambs, Bugsy, Hook, Philadelphia, and many other films.

Mike has a philosophy that he does not interfere with his directors. He gives them total autonomy. He does not even stop them from overspending, often drawing the ire of his financiers. Nevertheless, the directors and actors all respect him for his artistic integrity.

Whenever the stakes are sky-high, and people can make or lose millions of dollars, you create the perfect breeding ground for corporate blaming, backstabbing, and obsequious behavior. People can be humble and charming when unknown, but the moment fame and fortune touch them, they can transform into grotesque prima donnas. To survive four decades in such an environment calls for Mike's considerable people’s skills and charms.

It is of note that although Mike makes aspersive remarks about former Sony Columbia Picture boss Peter Guber, the latter makes no mention of Mike in his book about the film industry, "Shoot Out: Surviving Game and (Mis)Fortune in Hollywood."

Mike was involved in some star-studded flops, including The Missouri Breaks which starred Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, and Hudson Hawk which starred Bruce Willis. He said that "no star can save a bad picture." He is also honest about the films that he passed on, including The China Syndrome, Good Morning Vietnam, All the President’s Men, and Pulp Fiction.

Mike would agree with screenwriter and author William Goldman who said that "in Hollywood nobody knows anything." Why is one film an Oscar winner, a blockbuster, and why is another a box office failure? Nobody knows.

Looking back over his 40 years, he derides the "movies-by-committee" method of making films. He dislikes the overwhelming dominance of commercialism over the film making process, which has not only caused an escalation in the cost of film production, but has also led to choosing films that are "safe bets," and which tend to pander to the lowest common denominator.

Outside the film world, Mike was involved in Gary Hart’s, and in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

For film buffs, this book is compulsive reading. It gives you an insight into how films are made in Hollywood. I found this book as riveting as reading a bestselling action-packed novel. I highly recommend it.