Dialogue: Jon Peters
Peters discusses his love of telling larger-than-life stories through film and the commitment it requiresHere's a brief glance at Jon Peters' resume: movie extra, hairstylist, producer, studio chief, impromptu pugilist, gopher wrangler, rancher, real estate mogul, do-gooder, horse breeder. It's been a wild 40 years, and Peters is just beginning to plot his second act in Hollywood -- and beyond. From his oceanfront home just north of Santa Barbara, Peters spoke recently with Ann Donahue for The Hollywood Reporter about his comic-book hero hits and the big franchise that got away.
The Hollywood Reporter: What do you think when you look back on the films you've done?
Jon Peters: I look at myself as an eclectic filmmaker. I like lots of different stories. Over the years, we've acquired the rights to 150 projects, and there are many that we have not done yet that we want to do.
THR: Which ones in particular?
Peters: We're now preparing "A Star Is Born" for the second time (Peters produced the 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand). It will be a contemporary movie with, like, an Eminem and a Beyonce. Eminem would be great because (he showed in 2002's) "8 Mile" that he has talent; he can help write the script. It would be amazing. Those people are not set, but they're in my scopes, so if you read this, people, beware, we're coming. You'll be getting a call shortly. (Laughs)
THR: Anything else in the works?
Peters: There's another project that my wife read, that I've had for quite a long time, that Eric Roth wrote. It's called "Africa," the story of Richard Leakey, a fellow who is in Africa and is alive today. His career is about hunting the poachers that have been killing animals. When I was running Columbia Pictures, I ran into Diane Sawyer at a screening of a movie that (her husband) Mike Nichols did. I said, "What are you doing? Where are you going?" And she said, "I'm going to Africa to do a story on a guy who's either the biggest prick or a genius." And I said, "Oooh, that sounds like a movie to me." So, what's the story? It's about this guy who hunts these poachers by airplane and tries to stop the killing, the wiping out of all this life. It's an amazing story. It's an epic.
THR: Sounds incredibly ambitious.
Peters: These kinds of movies -- they're life experiences. One of them is a life experience: Getting them done, getting them made, getting them financed, going over there, making the movie, releasing the movie, doing the whole thing -- (it's) an enormous thing. But I'm attracted to big stories. If you look at my career, I like big stuff. (Now, with producing), we want to do one or two at a time. I never enjoyed -- when I was the chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment -- making so many movies at one time.
THR: Did you feel you couldn't focus as much as you would have liked?
Peters: You really couldn't. You couldn't develop the relationship that you wanted with the filmmaker because you're moving from movie to movie to movie. And with a movie like (2006's) "Superman Returns," Bryan Singer and myself and my wife -- we've become like a family. And through that family, a lot of creative work comes out of it. That's very, very rewarding. And then you get a chance to finish the movie, work on your ranch, do your charitable stuff, do things that mean something, raise your children. When
I had my partner Peter Guber, we made sometimes eight or 10 movies in a year, and as much as I loved Peter and he was so amazingly talented, it's a lot of work.
THR: Do you get frustrated when these big projects go on and on and take years to finish?
Peters: No, because I have a full life, thank God. And I have a partner and a wife and kids and other interests ... everything comes with time. I kind of believe when it's ready, it will happen.
THR: What stage is the next installment of "Superman" in?
Peters: Right now, Bryan Singer is working on the story, and hopefully, that will be a script by the end of the year. And hopefully, we'll be in preproduction by, say, January or February of next year. "Superman Returns" was an amazing effort. You're talking about a story that's been made before; you're talking about the fact that we had to re-explore his youth, his origin. And now, the second movie allows us to go do things that people haven't seen before. Bryan is the best director I've ever worked with. It's very easy to produce or be with someone who's a brilliant, brilliant person. I equate my relationship with Bryan to the relationship I had with Barbra Streisand. Barbra was so gifted that it was easy to be able to adjust a little bit here or there. With Bryan, it's the same thing. He's a great person, and it's amazing cause he's such a sweet guy. He's almost like one of my kids, in a way.
THR: "Superman Returns" must have been a daunting project for a director to take on.
Peters: (Singer) comes up with things that blow my mind. What he did with "Superman" -- and I worked on that, obviously, through various different directors over 12 years -- is that he came up with a take that brought heart to it. It created a love story; it created a dynamic with the little boy -- things he saw that a lot of us didn't see. I saw a lot of the action. I saw the otherworldly stuff. But I didn't see what he saw, which allows you to get to the otherworldly things.
THR: Who are some other filmmakers you admire?
Peters: Steven Spielberg, of course. George Lucas, of course. Marty Scorsese.
THR: How about actors and actresses?
Peters: I love Will Smith. I love Jack Nicholson. I love Barbra Streisand. I love Bill Murray. I love Eddie Murphy. I love, yes, Meryl Streep. Of course. Everyone that everybody else loves.
THR: How about executives in the industry?
Peters: A lady who worked with me for four years -- who was my assistant -- created the "Spider-Man" franchise: (producer) Laura Ziskin. As a matter of fact, when Peter and I took over Columbia, we were sitting there and I said, "Oh, my God, why are we here? We left all the good stuff at Warner Bros.!" And I asked, "What do we have in the library?" We had the shaky rights to "Spider-Man," meaning we had it, but we didn't have it. It was going to go to Fox or wherever, and I said, "Guys, we've got to get that." And I think somebody said, "But it's a spider who bites a guy, and then the guy has all these powers." And I said, "Well, it's not exactly (Warner Bros. Pictures') 'Batman,' but ... it's at least a franchise." (Laughs) And Laura Ziskin got involved and turned it into a major, major, major franchise.
THR: What's your favorite recent movie that you had nothing to do with?
Peters: Probably the movie that my buddy (producer) Mark Canton made, (Warners') "300." It was inventive, creative, ahead of the curve -- and Mark is a fellow who has been with me my whole life. He was there when we made (1980's) "Caddyshack."
THR: What do you think are the three turning points in your career?
Peters: The turning point in my life would have to be when my father died when I was 8 -- because I realized I was on my own, and I realized I had to make something of my life. Then I would have to say, the second one would be Barbra Streisand. And again, I'm not putting my children in here -- my children are a separate thing -- but in my career, I think my third would have to be meeting my wife, who turned me around. I met her when Peter and I were broken up, and that was a devastating blow to me because I loved Peter very much, and we were very close to each other. And quite frankly, I didn't know what I could do without him. So, Mindy came in, and we've been together 14 years. And she's really helped me turn my life around and make some really good movies.
THR: Did you ever have a moment while on the set of a movie when you thought, "Oh, my God, what just happened here? What chaos is unfurling in front of me?"
Peters: We finished "Caddyshack," and the movie didn't cut together. Mark Canton was (vp production at Warner Bros. at the time), and we sat down and talked about it. Harold Ramis, Mark and I -- we went to (Industrial Light + Magic), and we manufactured the whole gopher sequences up in San Francisco. And when the movie came out, it turned out to be a hit -- turned out to be a classic ... because of the gopher!
THR: What do you think is the project that got away?
Peters: (2002's) "Spider-Man" because then I would have done (1989's) "Batman," "Spider-Man" and "Superman (Returns)." And then, if you were talking to me now, I'd be levitating over the table.