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Hollywood & Vine
Hosted by Sharon Waxman
Post Style Correspondent

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2002; 2 p.m. EST

Washington Post Style correspondent Sharon Waxman brings Hollywood & Vine Live Online for a discussion about the inner workings of the movie industry. There is a whole political universe behind how the movies happen, the tug and pull of egos, financial imperatives, a pecking order for privileges as well as genuine creative impulses.

Waxman will be online Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 2 p.m. EST, to answer your questions and field your comments on the industry personalities she has met; the movies that are causing a stir and why; and trends in the industry and the culture of moviemaking in general.

Below is a transcript.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Sharon Waxman: Welcome to Hollywood & Vine, a discussion destined to distract you from the too-too pressing realities of Enron and Afghanistan and kidnapping of journalists and the like.
No, here we will probe the intricacies of the studios' overspending, again, to secure Oscar nominations. And the imminent departure of Scott Sassa from NBC. And the box office success of 'Black Hawk Down.' And Winona Ryder's felony indictments.

To that end, here we go...

North Carolina: I am amazed that Winona Ryder was actually charged with "four" felonies. Would she be able to plea bargain those down to community service and a fine? What's the scoop -- is somebody sending other celebs a message about the bounds of acceptable behavior? Or is this an ongoing problem for WR? I find the whole thing sad and fascinating at the same time.

Sharon Waxman: I'll agree with your latter point. I don't know, and no one else seems to, why the D.A. has pretty much thrown the book at Winona. One could surmise from it that this is not the first time she has gotten caught with her hand in the cookie jar, it may also be why Saks was so insistent on prosecuting her. They usually let these embarrassing incidents get resolved more quietly.

I don't think that anyone believes she'll do jail time, though. Rest easy.

Indianapolis, Ind.: How aggressive do you think New Line is going to be with their spending if LOTR (as expected) garners the most nominations next week. It seems that all the Oscar campaign press has revolved around the annual Miramax-DreamWorks nonsense.

Sharon Waxman: All the studios are being extremely aggressive in their spending on Oscar campaigns already, that's one of the hallmarks of this year, with the race being as wide open as it is. But some are being more aggressive than others with Miramax, as always, being the most aggressive. It's spending hundreds of thousands on ads for 'In the Bedroom', a film for which I believe it paid $1.5 million. New Line is not spending as aggressively as Miramax or DreamWorks, and they may pay the price when it comes to nominations.

And by the way, the flap has been mainly between Miramax and Universal, not DreamWorks.

Boston, Mass.: Why is it even remotely sad that Winona Ryder is facing some prison time. If you or I had committed (allegedly) the same crime, we would have the book thrown at us.

Sharon Waxman: Okey dokey. (Still: poor, sweet Winona in jail with all those hardened criminals? Plucks the heart strings.)

Washington, D.C.: Hi Sharon -- I have a question about, I guess you could say, the politics of award nominations. I saw 'A Beautiful Mind' this weekend and thought Jennifer Connelly was wonderful -- definitely deserving of her GG win for Supporting Actress. But, if say, Susan Sarandon, or Meryl Streep, or some other above-the-title actress played the role, do you think she would have been nominated as Lead Actress instead of in the supporting category? I think her role was substantial enough to be considered for the lead category. What are your thoughts?

Sharon Waxman: That's an interesting question. It's a judgement call often on whether to shoot for supporting or lead in the acting categories. Last year Gary Oldman was insistent that he be nominated as a lead for the Joan Allen movie, "The Contender."

In this case, it doesn't really seem that the two leads were equally weighted; Crowe seems to be the only lead character in this film. I don't know that the choice would be terribly different if a bigger-name actress were cast.

Washington, D.C.: If Winona committed a crime, then she certainly deserves to be punished. It just seems that the charges and punishments are a little on the harsh side, that’s all. Particularly since she’s a first-time offender.

Sharon Waxman: Right. On the other hand, the whole experience could really give her valuable material for her acting/producing career.

Arlington, Va.: Hi Sharon -

It seems to me that the Winona Ryder shoplifting matter is not a case of "look at what the celebrity can get away with." Rather, given her previous bouts with depression, it seems like it should be interpreted as a cry for help.

On the TV side, any news about Kim Delaney's arrest for DUI?

"Six Feet Under" starts again in March, I believe. I was thrilled to see them win at the Globes.

Sharon Waxman: Weeeeell, as cries for help go, it certainly falls in the criminal category. I'd be more inclined to regard drug offenders as 'cries for help,' and we throw them in jail all the time.

D.C.: Well, I wasn't going to go there, but since we're talking about something as trifling as Winona, I have a question:

Sarah Jessica Parker was all over her costar John Corbett at the Golden Globes. And she didn't thank her husband Matthew Broderick in her acceptance speech. Why do I care? I do not know. But have you heard anything?

Sharon Waxman: Ok, you know I don't traffic in gossip, but yes, I did happen to hear that the rumor mill was in full swing over her affection for John Corbett (not that I can blame her) at the Globes, particularly combined with the fact that she neglected to acknowledge her husband in her acceptance speech.

And that's all we're going to say about that.

Re: First time offender: We were talking about the shoplifting of jewelry that cost over five figures, no? This isn't like stealing a Mars bar from the drugstore.

Sharon Waxman: Good point; let's not forget those 'three strikes' cases, like that guy who got eight years (or something like that) for stealing a slice of pizza.

Winona: Would Alien Resurrection and Lost Souls count as prosecution evidence. Those movies definitely stole some money from moviegoers.

Sharon Waxman: Touche.

Washington, D.C.: When you see news of screenplay rights being bought by film producers for amounts like "high sixes against sevens," what is meant exactly?

Sharon Waxman: It means whoever is buying the property is paying somewhere near the million-dollar category. And "against" in industry parlance means that if the movie gets made, more money is anted up. The down-payment, if you like, is merely to buy the property and develop it.

9-11: Now that the "sensitive" Hollywood is behind us, how long will Jerry Bruckheimer or James Cameron get a 911 movie rolling.

Sharon Waxman: On that very topic, see the paper tomorrow. I have a story running about all the patriotic movies being put into the pipeline.

I wouldn't look to the movies, though, for 9-11 rip-offs. That usually happens in television. Movies generally don't revisit those tragedies until they qualify as History.

Sharon Waxman: Interrupting myself to fill in a bit of behind the scenes info. I had been curious if Tina Brown had known about the decision to close Talk magazine before her glitzy Golden Globes party a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that she had been informed about two hours before, but put on a brave face and went in with bells on. Perhaps she thought she could still turn the decision around.

Also learned that the decision not to put out the March issue of Talk, which was completely finished and had Courtney Love on the cover, was Brown's financial call. It was either give her employees severance pay, or put out the last issue. She chose severance.

Arlington, Va.: I saw Melissa Gilbert on TV talking about the Screen Actor Guild Awards. Is she actually the SAG president? I thought they were throwing out the results of the election. In the big scheme of things, it all seems pretty silly. However, it's dreadfully cold here today and I need fluff to amuse me.

Sharon Waxman: Sorry it's so cold. It's sunny over here, as usual.

Yes, Melissa Gilbert is the current president of SAG, though you're right the election is being contested. Right now there is a lot of haggling over whether there actually will be a revote or not - at this point I think one is scheduled, though it's hard to follow all the dips and turns of this soap opera - but in the meantime Gilbert serves. In the big scheme of things.... oh never mind, there is no big scheme of things in a story like this.

NYC: The three strikes pizza guy didn't get 8 years, he got life without parole.

However, that was just wrong. So it doesn't provide a useful analogy.

I think the prosecutor is throwing the book at Winona R, and it seems rather too harsh, but they do have value of stolen goods requirements.

Anyway, I think Connelly was just a supporting actress. It wasn't about her. Crappy movie, anyway. I wonder whether the Academy will also snub Kidman, a sort of backlash after all the Nicole love.

Sharon Waxman: Wow, aren't you full of authoritative opinions. We like those kind of participants at H&V.

By the way, something being wrong doesn't make it a useless analogy. It happened, and there are most assuredly other three-strikes travesties, though perhaps not as extreme.

"Movies generally don't revisit those tragedies until they qualify as History. ": And you're suggesting that 9/11 is NOT history?

Sharon Waxman: for the purposes of the point I was making, it's recent history, or rather, it's still the Present.

Washington, D.C.: So is SAG president an office for has-been actors who can’t get real work anyway? Let’s face it —- Melissa Gilbert, Valerie Harper. What have they done lately?

That said, I firmly believe in the existence of SAG. Public attention tends to focus on the big-name stars, but for every one of them there are hundreds of actors just scraping by. SAG helps the rest of the acting community with benefits many of us take for granted, like health insurance and such.

Sharon Waxman: That's a little harsh. But actors who are building their careers and/or busy making back-to-back movies or tv series obviously don't have the time (or interest) to do the job. Those who've been around, who get what SAG is about, who understand the role it plays -- well, come to think of it, do these bickering women really get it? I don't know - anyway, my point is those are the people more likely to be attracted to the job.

She's gotta have it: Know where I can get that "Free Winona" tee shirt?

Sharon Waxman: Anywhere in West Hollywood. Is that convenient to your cummute?

Sharon Waxman: Whoops. Commute.

Washington, D.C.: Loved the Billie Bob Thorton story. So is he fun to be with? Can you (or can you not) see why A. Jolie clicked with him? Is he the most discomfiting Hollywood interview you've had? If not Billie Bob, who?

Sharon Waxman: He was a wonderfully weird, disarmingly candid, refreshing interview. Really. Most movie stars don't want to tell you anything personal; he started right in on his phobias and we went from there. I don't know that I asked him a single question - he just went.

A. Jolie is not the only woman who has clicked intensely with him. Billy Bob is just one unbelievably intense human being; he lives about 10 times more, more... deeply than the average person. You can just see the wheels going all the time, in his head, in his nerve endings. I have no doubt that he has periods of deep depression, and that his good relationship with Jolie is now keeping him in an upbeat, creative mode. Perhaps he was in a down period with his last wife Pietra, who seems pretty crazy herself; the divorce papers are pretty alarming.

Anyway, it was great to talk to someone who was willing to lay it all out there. Also, he promised to wash my car if he got an Oscar this year, and I intend to hold him to it.

Free Winona T-shirts and bumper stickers: They're also available on ebay.

Sharon Waxman: Thanks for sharing.

Free Winona: Actually, the only store selling the shirts is in Los Feliz on Vermont Ave.

Sharon Waxman: Another expert heard from...

London, England: Re: authoritative opinions. A.I. sucked. Russell Crowe is vastly overrated. Penelope Cruz can't act - and she ain't even that good looking after seeing her in Vanilla Sky. Apart from that, everything's great!

Sharon Waxman: Nice to hear from you.

Re: The SAG election: Sharon-

It may sound like fluff, but the heart of the conflict involves some very serious issues for the people whose livelihood depends on the leadership of their union. Gilbert and Harper differ in the approach they intend to take with the studios over a number of issues that affect the union members, most of whom are not the big-name stars, but actors who struggle to make rent payments every month. When the media reports on similar power struggles within other unions (the AFL-CIO or Teamsters, for example) is that fluff?

Sharon Waxman: Sorry, the union may be serious, but these women deserve the fluff moniker big-time. They've been cat-fighting back and forth over minutiae, calling each other names, accusing each other of mutual back-stabbing - it's been comical for some time. In fact SAG has been looking comical for some time, going back to the name calling that went on during the Richard Masur-William Daniels run-off. And now we find out that SAG is going to hold a new election because they botched it in New York? After all that campaign nonsense?

Sounds like something out of a Mary Tyler Moore episode...

Vienna, Va.: I have not seen LOTR or A Beautiful Mind yet but refuse to believe that they will be better than Memento, which in my opinion should at least get a best screenplay nomination. Any thoughts?

Sharon Waxman: They're very different films and quite hard to compare. For me, Memento is without question one of the best films of 2001. Perhaps the best film. (My vote goes to Moulin Rouge, actually, with Memento a close second.) Its problem is that Memento never really found a proper distributor, believe it or not; it was released by its producers, who obviously didn't have very much money. This is still the problem; Memento's producers do not have the money to take out the full-page ads that seem more and more necessary to snag a nomination. If it doesn't get a nom, that will be the reason, in my view.

Billy Bob: Great feature, Sharon. Is he real?

Sharon Waxman: No, I made him up.

NY: Maybe the Supreme Court can decide the election for SAG. They did such a good job with the presidential election.

Sharon Waxman: Great idea.

NYC: Sorry to be so opiniony! A little too much NY and coffee.

So ... how is it that someone finds a certain type-period of furniture disturbing enough for one not to eat around it? Okay, I wouldn't like a lion's head, a bear rug, or a stuffed family pet in my dining room, but, say, Edwardian furniture or Greek Revival furniture or whatever, no problem. You didn't mention Billy Bob's TV. show. Has he disowned that?

Sharon Waxman: How is it that you could summon the energy to find Benjamin Disraeli's hair off-putting? Where does one begin with Billy Bob's idiosyncrasies? Where does one end? And what is the meaning of life?

And what tv show?

Washington: Sharon -

How often in your everyday activities do you see celebrities? I don't mean work related activities, just normal errands. I'm curious because it still sort of startles me around D.C. when I see politicians and TV news media types in Target or the local supermarket. Does that make any sense?

Sharon Waxman: I see celebrities in daily life probably about as often as you see important politicians and government and media figures at the supermarket. Which is to say, every so often. At first it's a thrill, and then it gets to be something you remark on, like the weather, or the great sale that's on at Bloomingdales: "Oh, I just saw Dustin Hoffman on the promenade." (True, we duelled for parking spaces.) Or: "Gary Shandling was in my yoga class this morning." (Also true. But he coasts through a lot of the class.) You note it, then you say: Is it my turn to carpool?

ArtMovieLover, Va.: Since no one else has acknowledged your BRILLIANT portrait of Billy Bob Thornton's career in Sunday's paper, let me be the first to kiss up.

I'll skip the obvious gossipy questions about his strange personal life and limit myself to a film of his that fascinated me: "The Man Who Wasn't There." With all the buzz about "Monster's Ball," is there any chance Billy Bob could be nominated instead for "Man"?

Sharon Waxman: Reader love, can't live without it.

Here's a nugget on the backstage Oscar maneuvering; Billy Bob was pushing Lion's Gate hard not to release "Monster's Ball" in time for this year's Oscars, because he was afraid it would dilute his chances for a nomination by dividing people between Monster's and "The Man Who Wasn't There." Lion's Gate wanted to release it, however, and so did Halle Berry, because she wanted a shot at the Oscars this year. Thornton was right to be worried. Having both performances out there is a problem (kind of like Steven Soderbergh's problem with "Brockovich" and "Traffic"), and may well kill his shot at an Oscar nom. He certainly is doing his best to campaign though; I've been seeing him absolutely everywhere. Sissy Spacek too.

San Antonio Rose: Oooh, can you print your Billy Bob story on this chat line, pretty please? He is the most astoundingly accomplished and versatile actor! I've forgiven him for dumping that nice Laura Dern for Angelina Jolie. Hope he doesn't break her heart too!

Sharon Waxman: Perhaps our whizz-bang producer Rocci Fisch can post a link. Or you can find it online; it ran in last Sunday's Arts section.

Reston, Va.: You carpool? How declasse...

Sharon Waxman: You're so out of it. Car-pooling is the new Black. Everybody I know car-pools. (Could it be because everyone I know is desperately trying to have careers, raise kids, keep a house and stay on the cutting edge, all at the same time?????) "What About Billy Bob?," Post, Feb. 3

Sharon Waxman: Folks, I'm having a ball and you are all so witty and charming today, but I have to go back to writing. Don't forget Oscar nominations are next week, February 12. So we'll have lots to talk about. See you next time.... Ciao.

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