Peter Bart, Journalist and Hollywood Executive

In this episode, Kevin Goetz is joined by Hollywood legend Peter Bart. Over an influential career spanning over 50 years, Peter Bart has played a key role in shaping modern Hollywood. He began as a journalist at The New York Times before becoming a studio executive at Paramount in the late 1960s and 70s, overseeing movies like The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, and Chinatown. He later served as Editor-in-Chief of Variety for nearly 30 years. Now in his 90s, Bart continues to be a prominent voice through his writing for Deadline. With his vast experience and perspective, Bart remains a living legend in the world of movies.

Early career in journalism

Peter shares how he got his start in journalism. The New York Times sent Bart to Hollywood to cover the rise of TV, and what they saw as the decline of cinema. By covering Hollywood, Peter became fascinated with the economics of the movie business.

Getting Into the Movie Business

Bart became friends with Bob Evans, who brought him to Paramount as head of production despite no film experience. They reinvented the studio by making artistic, character-driven films based on novels vs big-budget spectacles.

On taking risks at Paramount:

Most of the pictures that Evans and I made in that epoch we made secretly. Like Paper Moon, we intended to shoot it in black and white. You don’t tell the chairman of the board that you’re making a picture like that.

Reinventing Hollywood

Bart bought rights to novels and quality scripts like The Godfather. He shares how he wanted to make it an art film, but its popularity pushed the studio to make it more commercial. Bart shares how he and Evans often made movies without studio oversight in order to take creative risks on movies like Rosemary’s Baby, Paper Moon, and Harold and Maude.

On The Godfather:

We decided we would make an art picture, not a gangster movie. A friend of mine named Francis Coppola, a beat-up old actor who had gotten cold named Brando. We set out to make a $6 million, not a $60 million art movie called The Godfather.

Drama with Frank Sinatra

Peter shares a behind-the-scenes story from Rosemary’s Baby. Director Roman Polanski’s demanding style angered then-husband Sinatra. Sinatra sent a threat to limit Polanski’s takes, but Bart dismissed it.

Returning to Journalism with Variety

Bart shares that after 18 years making films, he wanted to tell the story of Hollywood’s shifts – filmmaker power transitioning to dealmakers/businessmen running studios.

On returning to journalism:

By the eighties, when the Variety thing came up, the power had shifted from the filmmakers to the deal makers, and there was a whole new story about the fact that suddenly the studios were being owned by people who themselves had never seen a movie. They were in it because they saw the profitability in the new film business.

The Future of Theatrical Films

Kevin and Peter discuss the value of the theatrical experience. As the way people watch movies is changing, Bart believes audience energy hugely enhances films. He shares how the new generation is losing out by only streaming at home.

On seeing a movie with an audience:

I think that kids today just see it alone. They don’t understand how enriching it can be to enjoy the reactions, and to sometimes be appalled at the reactions of other people in the audience. That, to me, so reduces the experience of moviegoing that I feel sorry for that next generation.

Tune in to hear Peter Bart share invaluable insights from his legendary career spanning studio executive leadership and entertainment. He provides a unique window into the reinvention of Hollywood in the 1960s and 70s, greenlighting seminal films like The Godfather. Peter makes an impassioned case for retaining the irreplaceable theatrical experience. With unmatched experience across epochs of the film industry, Peter’s perspectives are a must-listen for any cinema fan.

Don’t Kill the Messenger, hosted by movie and entertainment research expert Kevin Goetz, brings his book Audienceology to life. This bi-monthly podcast takes a peek behind the filmmaking curtain as Kevin talks with famous filmmakers, studio executives, stars, and other creatives about movies, filmmaking, audience test screenings, and much more.

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