Former United Artists exec David V. Picker had his hands on some of your movie favorites. Credit: Getty Images
Film exec David V. Picker doesn't have the flamboyance of a Robert Evans. But his track record is arguably even more staggering. As a producer, including a stint as president of United Artists in the '60s and '70s, he helped bring James Bond to the movies, as well as the Beatles and Woody Allen. His new book “Musts, Maybes and Nevers: A Book About the Movies” details his successes and occasional disasters over a lengthy career.
This is a largely positive book, though you do call Robert Altman an unprintable word. Some of the people I dealt with I had enormous respect for and liked. Some of the people I had respect for and didn’t like. Some of the people I dealt with I neither respected nor liked. It’s the nature of the beast, but in the world of the arts, it’s probably even more — how should I say? — more colorful.
Artists don’t always have a strong business sense. But many do. Even if they don’t have good business sense, they understand that in order to get support for what they do, they have to deal with the financial reality. Some of them are very good and extremely caring, others — on both sides of the table — couldn’t care less.
The cliche of the '60s and '70s was there was a greater creativity than there is now. I’m not sure that’s true. There was certainly great freedom, but I just saw two movies in the last few days that are fantastic, and they couldn’t be further apart in economic content. You go see “Gravity” and you go see “Nebraska,” and you see two fabulous movies that couldn’t be further apart in the economic risks involved and the potential gain involved. And yet both got made and both are absolutely fabulous films.
You mention not only great, beloved films you were involved with, but also disasters. But some, like “The Fugitive King” and “Electra Glide in Blue,” have come around to some retroactive acclaim. Even “Ishtar” has a cult following now. Well, that doesn’t make it good. I don’t think “Ishtar” is a very good movie. “The Fugitive Kind” is a terrible picture. It just doesn’t work. That’s my opinion. Other people may think it’s a classic of some kind. They’re entitled to think that. It’s the one thing about the arts is everybody comes away with their own opinions. Some people look at modern art and say it’s just junk. Other people look at it and think it’s fabulous and interesting.
You stress how hard it is to predict success in the movie business. Even James Bond — a British series starring a then-unknown — was risky. Every movie’s a risk. I think making “Dr. No” for a million dollars wasn’t a giant risk. The difficulty there was getting the rights. Initially Ian Fleming wasn’t going to sell them. Then he sold them to somebody who couldn’t get it made. Then it wound up coming to us. One of the partners had a deal with Columbia, but Columbia didn’t want to do it them. It’s hard to look back today and say, “What do you mean they didn’t want to do the first James Bond movie?” But they passed and I got it. There’s no accounting for how those decisions are made, and at the end of the day, it’s water under the bridge.