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The business of Hollywood is to make hits that make money, but there is something special about some movies and TV shows that also can shed light on common problems or show people new paths to a more tolerant world. That special quality was at work in the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain, Ron Meyer, president and COO of Universal Studios, said Monday in Los Angeles.
“There’s no question when we did Brokeback Mountain, people said, ‘Why make a movie about two men and their relationship in such a serious way?’ ” Meyer said during a USC symposium on innovation and society. “We believed it was the right story at the right time.”
He said that when you do those kinds of movies, “It’s great when it works. Some don’t. We all care about doing things that make a social impact of some kind.”
Meyer cited United 93 as another one of those special movies because “it was about heroism and what people can do in the worst of circumstances. But we can’t always do that because we have to make hits.”
Meyer was part of a panel at the recently formed USC Schwarzenegger Institute called The Power of Innovation: Perspectives of Media and Hollywood Leaders.
Joining him on the panel were Lionsgate Motion Picture Group chairman Rob Friedman, Imagine Entertainment chairman Brian Grazer, Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Producer-director James Cameron, who was scheduled, canceled at the last minute because he had gotten into working on the script for Avatar 2 and could not break away, a spokesperson said.
Grazer said he tries to incorporate real-life themes into his movie and TV shows. He cited the NBC series Parenthood, in which a character has Asperger syndrome, just as his son has in real life.
Grazer recalled that his son ran for president of his high school and thought it was a crazy idea until he won, and it changed his life. That became the basis of a story for the series he said.
“We can de-stigmatize a disability and at the same time be entertaining,” Grazer added.
Iovine said he believes there are fewer cultural and racial barriers to success today, and part of it is the way music has influenced society. “Dr. Dre, Jay-Z brought together kids of all cultures in a way that was so unifying,” he said. “It wasn’t just music, it was an attitude.”
Still, Friedman said it’s wrong to claim Hollywood is trying to change the values of the country, even if it does make movies and TV shows that can promote tolerance by increasing understanding.
“There are plenty of movies that are conservative and have wholesome values and show the whole perspective of what we want from our society,” he said.
Meyer cited the recent hit kids movie Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, based on a book that had been around for 40 years but no one wanted to take on until Christopher Meledandri did it and Universal distributed it.
Meyer said Meledandri “inspired the making of that book into a movie. He was very into the environment, but he also wanted it to be commercial. When my wife saw it, she said, ‘This is a movie that can educate children about the environment and make them pay attention to what is going on in the global universe.’ ”
Added Schwarzenegger: “The power of films and TV is enormous. I think its much more powerful than politicians can ever be in terms of promoting ideas.”
Schwarzenegger recalled when he was working to increase fitness among American youth. Then along came the movie Saturday Night Fever, and discos sprang up, and those same kids were burning off a lot more calories dancing.
The actor and erstwhile politician said it is wrong to say that Hollywood makes movies from “the left.” He said: “Hollywood movies talk about tolerance. If somebody is gay, they aren’t saying, ‘Be gay.’ They are saying, ‘Be open-minded.’ I think Hollywood has contributed a lot.”
Schwarzenegger said he never would have won the race for governor of California if he had not been a movie star. “You need the recognition,” he said. “You also need to be likable. … It was the movie industry that helped me run for governor, to have the name recognition, to have the likability. And I won.”
During the Q&A session at the end, Meyer was asked point blank if it was true he was going to retire. He smiled and said it was not true, that he loves what he does and doesn’t know what he would do if he didn’t have his job. He said he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
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