I meet Lynda Obst at Starbucks on Pico and Robertson Blvds on Aug. 4, 2008.
Luke: "What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in your position?"
Lynda: "The advantages are that we're naturally nurturing and we're naturally multi-tasking. We naturally oversee many things at the same time. Women are taught to cook and watch over their children and look out for their husband at the same time. Women can change tasks quickly. They can get out of a defensive posture quickly. They can take care of a whole crew.
"The disadvantages are less now than they used to be (more market-based than corporate think). The disadvantages are more for female studio heads. Female producers are appreciated. You can make your own time. You don't have to make five meetings a day like a studio head does. You can fight for a picture. Women like to fight for things other than themselves. It's not quite as corporate. Being a producer is more natural than being a female studio head.
"You can make the pictures you want to make, which you can't do as a studio head.
"As a studio head, there's always a fear that the woman is going to be softer in her choices than a man, that she'll choose with her heart rather than her head. As a female producer, you're allowed to make choices from your heart. You're allowed to make passion pictures. You can say, ‘I love that actor!' You can make a passion argument.
"The disadvantages? Women don't play team sports, right? So they get knocked, they get hurt. They take it personally. They get sore. They don't know how to come back after getting knocked off their feet.
"These are things men learn from being in the fray, from playing team sports like rugby, football... Women have to learn how to get up and smile. That wasn't an enemy, it was another player on the field. It's attrition that kills women. That's not a feminine feel. Then you have to do that and look good on a date."
Luke: "Is life harder on women?"
Lynda: "I think so. Yes."
Lynda: "It's hard if you want it all, if you want a career, and a husband, and a family. It's hard to find a husband who will share every aspect of parenthood with you. Women carry a great burden over motherhood.
"If you don't marry young, the good guys tend to be gone. The pickings are thin afterwards, but not for men. The world really celebrates the successful man, the unmarried man, but it doesn't celebrate successful women who are not married.
"Men are acculturated both for marriage and for success. So there are no hard choices for men to make, I mean there are hard choices, but there are no Sophie choices for men.
"The life of a woman carrying the man's burdens without a man is not impossible, it can be done, but it's a hard one. They have no reinforcement for it, from their families, from the culture. But there are rewards for it. It is rewarding for the culture to tell you what they find interesting. That meeting was fun. A lot of men don't get that back."
Luke: "Were you able to have it all?"
Lynda: "Not without great sacrifice."
Luke: "What have you sacrificed?"
Lynda: "A great portion of my love life."
Luke: "Have you had to sacrifice work to be a good mother?"
Lynda: "Yes, of course, but people understand. You know exactly when that is and there's no hesitation. I'll tell my assistant, ‘I'm leaving right now and I'm going home and I'll be back and you can tell everybody this is when you can expect me.'"
Luke: "Were their repercussions?"
Lynda: "Only in the beginning of my career before all these great mothers and great fathers [in the movie industry]. I was a young mother. When I went to PTA meetings at the Center for Early Education, I'd sneak out of my office to go there. I could've gotten in trouble then with my office. They didn't approve of it at all, whereas now you can take a whole day off. It's nothing. You can take your kids to the office. None of that existed when I was first raising Oly. I had to sneak around. I had no reinforcement. The moms at school were not nice to me because all the dads at school were friends of mine from work. That's something I'd like to do a television show about."
Luke: "Did Oly pay a price for your work?"
Lynda: "The proof is in the pudding in that Oly and I are best friends, but clearly the marriage suffered and that had consequences on Oly. He would tell you that I wasn't there for his T-ball games. We've had many debates about this because he does not remember 850 zillion things that I did with him every single Saturday and Sunday. There were certainly things that a full-time mother could do that I couldn't do. That's what I mean, you have to sacrifice.
"I didn't go out. I gave up a good portion of my social life in my thirties so I could be home during the week with Oly for dinner. I didn't introduce him to any of my boyfriends. I got engaged once. That was the only person he met.
"I did the best I could. You figure it out as you go."
Luke: "What have been your high points and low points as a producer?"
Lynda: "The high point that I always refer to is the Venice Film Festival for Fisher King. We won the People's Choice Awards. It was one of my happiest moments. We were all in love with the film. We walked all together. It was the way the movie got a standing ovation and we were all so happy to be there. It was the culmination of an incredibly happy movie experience. It was the prototype of what I was trying to explain, the thing I had always hoped to do, to make a great movie within the studio system while protecting the director and the writer so they got every word they wanted, every shot they wanted, the performances they wanted. It felt like the apex of the point of the philosophy of our production company. Debra [Hill] and I were so happy together. We were holding on to each other. We bought each other rings. It was just glorious.
"I felt like I understood the direction of my future career."
"The low point? I hit a low point every month. That's the movie business. I could give you five low points, but..."
Luke: "More high points."
Lynda laughs. "Going to the Golden Globes with Nora for Sleepless In Seattle because she was my best friend. Location scouting and and discovering local restaurants with her."
"Every movie high point is the first day of production. I love shooting. I'm not about the deal. I'm about rolling. I love laying out my clothes the night before the first day of production. I love the first shot. I love he first time you go out on scout and you imagine the scene and you imagine the locations for the movie you're creating. The first time Sandy [Bullock] and I went out on Hope Floats and found a town that laid out exactly the way the script was written on Hope Floats. The hospital was around the corner from the cul de sac. Sandy and I got out and went, ‘Ohmigod, the rehabilitation center is right around the corner from the elementary school.'
"When little movie magic moments like that happen... On Fisher King, when we had a magic moment shooting the dumpling scene when the grips were able to jerry-rig the dolly on bungee cords. It was the last day and we'd had rain and we couldn't go any place else and suddenly there was a way of shooting the scene & It was the most magical shot I'd ever seen.
"For me, it's not the jangly moments of opening a movie like How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days for $26.5 million... I love the exhilarating movie-making moments. When something is laid out the way you wrote it and you can shoot the whole movie in one town and you never have to move.
"Or you're shooting The Fisher King, and you're shooting a series of lights and you think it is going to be a disaster but it turns out better than you could've imagined. There were so many magical moments on The Fisher King. When Terry [Gilliam] looked down on the scene at the wall and said, ‘What if all these people started dancing at once?' It had been a singing scene. And then all of a sudden we realized, we can't afford it but we have to afford it. And Debra figured it out.
"Power highs, the high of $30 million openings, can't compete with that. Those highs come with schadenfreude, unless you're Chuck Roven this week. Those highs come with this weird twist. They leave you incredibly jingly. Laura Ziskin and I were talking about this after she got the Spiderman record. After you come to the top of the mountain, there's going to be a bigger mountain.
"It's not calm happiness. It's a jangly high. Everybody is being nice to you, even though you know they don't like you. Just what I wrote in my book, don't get addicted to the high numbers, don't get addicted to the low numbers. Just move on.
Luke: "What's your typical role on a movie?"
Lynda: "I do everything (sometimes). I make up the idea, often. I get the script to a director. I package it. I make the actor deals with the legal department. I get a feel for what the budget allows. I help the director crew-up. I help find the locations. I produce the movie on set and then go all the way through to marketing. I'm worst at post-production because of the calendar and computers..."
Luke: "Which of your movies were passion projects?"
Lynda: "They were all passion projects. They all take a long time to get made. I made up a whole bunch of them such as One Fine Day when I started thinking I'll never meet a man unless I crash into one on my way to dropping Oly at school. I guess Bad Girls was just an assignment from a studio. Certainly Fisher King and Contact were the most profound passion projects. I loved This Is My Life, Nora's directing debut. Adventures in Babysitting I adored. I loved How To Lose A Guy and Hope Floats. The Siege was my father's favorite movie. I loved making a movie my father liked and presaged 9/11 and the whole Orthodox community could relate to. I pulled that out of the New York Times after the first Trade Center bombing in 1993 when we saw there were terror cells in Brooklyn.
"I work on my movies for an average of ten years. I don't write any of them off."
Luke: "Which of your movies were you there for the origin of the idea?"
Lynda: "I worked on the ideas for The Sixties, The Siege, Hope Floats, Contact, One Fine Day, This is My Life, Flashdance, Interstellar (I wrote the story), How To Lose It All. Fisher King, I found the book. Someone Like You, I found the book. This is my Life, I got the book. Contact, I developed the novel with Carl Sagan and his wife, and then I developed the script."
Luke: "Would you like to direct?"
Lynda: "I would but first I'd have to get myself out of all the material I'm in right now. I don't have an auteur's burning desire to direct."
Luke: "Do producers get typecast too? Do you get tagged as the chick flick girl?"
Lynda: "A lot of people forget The Siege and Contact and the other movies I've made. There's a market for romantic comedies and those movies can be made for a reasonable amount of money ($30 million) and there are two quadrants that like to go to them (young women and old women) and I make them uncynically while a lot of people churn them out, stick Mark Ruffalo in them, and say, ‘Oh look, the last three worked. Why not do it?'
"Mine take a long time. I don't condescend to the genre. When the genre's done right, the actors will come.
"If you can get three quadrants, you can have a hit. If you just think formula, nobody wants to see them and nobody wants to be in them. To me that's something in the zeitgeist. I remain a journalist in that way."
Luke: "Which of your movies would you call a creative success?"
Lynda: "How to Lose a Guy, The Siege, Hope Floats, Contact, One Fine Day, Sleepless in Seattle, Fisher King, Adventures in Babysitting, Flashdance. The Sixties, but that was TV."
Luke: "What does it take for you to fall in love with a script?"
Lynda: "To be moved by it, to laugh or cry. I'm not dark. I'm not consumed by dark things. I would not have recognized The Usual Suspects or True Romance. I love Batman but I'm not going to make dark movies. I'm not a vampire girl. I'm not going to make horror movies. I could recognize a good thriller. I'm not going to recognize The Matrix. I have to recognize something in my wheelhouse. It has to be hilarious. It has to have pathos. It has to be something I know I can cast. It has to be fresh. I have to be riveted, galvanized, moved. I have to be taken by the gut. I so rarely find that, so that's why I find ideas in the culture and hire great writers to write that, or find books. I remember reading The Fisher King and bursting into tears at the staircase scene. I have the most spectacular script about autism right now. I'm going to try to get it made."
Luke: "Good luck."
Lynda: "Exactly. It's like Rainman. It's a buddy comedy. That's what I said about The Fisher King. Don't worry. It's a buddy comedy."
Luke: "You have so much energy right now. How much are you like this?"
Lynda: "Until I pass out. That's probably why I get migraines too."
I talk to Lynda Obst by phone Dec. 1, 2008.
The future Lynda Obst was born to the Rosen family on April 14, 1950 in New York.
She received the name Linda.
A fifth-grade teacher in the Westchester suburb of Harrison, N.Y., suggested the Rosen girl should spell her first name with a Y. She became Lynda.
Lynda's mother, school teacher Claire Rosen, told the 7/6/97 Dallas Morning News that her eldest child and only daughter was "busy, always busy. She talked at 10 months and hasn't stopped since."
Lynda's younger brothers, Rick and Michael, were "good little citizens, " their mother says. "Lynda was a rebel" in ripped jeans and midriff-baring tops."
Rick Rosen became a founding partner of the Endeavor Talent Agency in Los Angeles. Michael Rosen became a bureau chief for ABC News.
Lynda's father Bob was a garment-industry executive.
Lynda attended Pomona College, in Claremont, California. Then she became a doctoral candidate in Philosophy at Columbia University. She met literary agent David Obst who represented Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They had an affair and later married.
David got Jann Wenner to allow Lynda to put together an anthology called The Sixties for Rolling Stone Press. David next got the New York Times Magazine's editor Ed Klein to meet her and hire her.
Obst edited a cover story in the summer of 1977 called "The New Tycoons of Hollywood."
"I had a wonderful run as an editor of the New York Times Magazine," Obst writes.
David Mcclintick would beg to disagree. In his 1981 book "Indecent Exposure," he writes that she was in over her head at the magazine as its error-ridden coverage of the David Begelman check kiting story showed.
Obst avoids all mention of the Begelman debacle in her autobiography.
Obst heard about the Begelman case at a party just after Christmas at the home of literary lawyer Morton Janklow. Lynda overheard a conversation about trouble within the board of directors of Columbia over the Begelman affair. Obst hired eccentric and unreliable freelance Lucian K. Truscott, IV, to do the Begelman story under her supervision.
The article, published February 26, [1978?] entitled "Hollywood's Wall Street Connection," said that Herbert Allen tried to "hush up" the Begelman scandal to stop the market value of Columbia stock from declining. Charles Allen was labeled "The Godfather of the New Hollywood." He was said to have been a "mystery power behind the Hollywood set ever since" the early fifties. Charles was said to have links to criminals such as Meyer Lansky. The article was filled with falsehoods. Herbert Allen threatened to sue the Times.
"Reports quickly began filtering into Herbert's office about Lucian Truscott's past (the drugs and the trouble with the Army) and about the background of the editor of the article, Lynda Obst. Herbert had never met Lynda Obst, but he objected to everything about Truscott: his manner, his assertive personality, his dress and hair style, not to mention his writing and research. Herbert sensed taht he might be the victim of something quite rare in the upper echelon of American journalism: a prominent investigative article which would be widely believed because of the good reputation of the newspaper in which it appeared, but which had been prepared so carelessly that it obviously was an aberration when measured by the standards of The New York Times. The article somehow had slipped through the editing process and into print with its major as well as its minor flaws intact.
"Three months later, after elaborate negotiations between lawyers for the two sides, The New York Times found it necessary to publish perhaps the most elaborate retraction, correction, and apology in the history of major American newspaper up to that time.
"Two clear mistakes were made: First, because of a zealous commitment to speed, mainly by Lynda Obst, normal fact-checking procedures were not observed as carefully as they normally are. Second, the higher editors failed to supervise Obst sufficiently closely to compensate for her relative inexperience with this type of article. In a broader sense, too, some Times people naturally questioned in retrospect whether Lucian Truscott should have been hired in the first place. Truscott was not asked to do any more complext business investigative articles. And the Columbia Pictures article led directly to Lynda Obst's departure from the magazine. Subsequently she became a Hollywood producer." (Indecent Exposure, pg. 402-403)
Lynda Obst tells me Aug. 4, 2008: "I did have the time of my life at The [New York] Times. The only not great story I was ever involved with is the one that you remarked upon [the Feb. 28, 1978 "Hollywood's Wall Street Connection" by unreliable freelancer Lucian K. Truscott IV]. I also won magazine awards. I did a bunch of philosophy of science covers. I did Carl Sagan on the cover. I did Tim Ferris on the cover. Many of the roots of the movies that I did were on the covers of those magazines, the roots of Contact and Interstellar. I did do the first females in Hollywood cover and I did do the first mogul story. I did not put Mike Medavoy on the cover because of [the publicity firm] Rogers & Cowan as is commonly said. The Photo Editor of the New York Times chose Mike Medavoy to be on the cover because the picture came out the best because he was in front of a Rolls Royce. It bled out the best. I had no choice whatsoever in the cover. Magazine editors never have the choice of the cover of an article, that's another myth. I was way too early to pick the cover. That's a decision between the Editor and the Photo Editor.
"That's the kind of nonsense that's trailed me for years, that I would at the New York Times take a call from Warren Cowan. Honestly.
"There were things about that story that were great. There were things about that story by Lucian Truscott that I wish he would've checked out much better. That came from me being green. That was not the story in the Times that I was most proud of, but I was one of 15 cover stories I had in two years. If I had my druthers, I probably would've…but I got pregnant. It turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me. My husband decided I had to move.
"The saddest thing about the David McClintick book is that it says that [the David Begelman story by Lucian Truscott] that's was why I left the paper. That's not why I left the paper. I took a pregnancy leave. I came back when the [newspaper] strike was over. It was great that my maternity leave coincided with the strike.
"David got a job with Simon & Schuster [in Los Angeles] and I either had to move with him or stay. I had a baby. I moved.
"Peter Guber offered me a job. I ended up developing stories that became Flashdance, Clue, Contact, and taking care of my baby.
"David [McClintick] was lovely. He later wrote a wonderful review of my book. We later became friends."
Luke: "Why did you not mention the [David Begelman] episode in your book?"
Lynda: "It was a Hollywood memoir. It really began when I came out to Hollywood. I wasn't that personal about my private life. I got married, I got divorced. Few details. It was a memoir about surviving in Hollywood with some degree of integrity in tact."
Peter Guber had been a valuable source for Obst while at the NYT. When David and Lynda moved to Los Angeles in 1979, Peter hired her.
No longer with the New York Times, and now just a D-girl (development girl), Lynda lost friends. "I had nothing that I brought to the table. None of my relationships. All Peter Guber had ultimately hired me for was to be the girl in the room. At this point in time you needed a girl creative executive in every mix to take the notes, to look good, to be intellectual, to make interesting literary references, and I was sort of that without any real high expectations that I would become a player." (Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?: The Truth About Female Power in Hollywood, pg. 135)
Obst writes in her book Hello, He Lied: "The first thing you notice about women in Hollywood, besides their low percentage of body fat, is how few are married. And the number of great-looking, successful single women without a social life is staggering." (pg. 175)
Obst told the 4/1/02 People about balancing work with motherhood: "I never had the option of saying, 'I think I'll stop and do carpool and knit'."
An article in the January 1996 Los Angeles Times ("An Unusual Good-bye at a Usual Haunt") about a wake held for producer Don Simpson at Mortons said: "Like most of those in attendance, producer Lynda Obst was dry-eyed but emotional. 'Like Elvis, Don died in the bathroom for our sins,' she said."
In an article entitled 'Can you please hold for producer Satan?', Cathy Seip writes for Salon.com 7/3/97: "My peaceful reveries are interrupted by these Rolodex updating calls at least once a week. Actually, this one I rather enjoyed because of its weird new fillip of
Lynda tells me Aug. 4, 2008: "If any intern did that, he was a crazy person. Nobody in my office talks like that. 'Producer Obst'? That's crazy."
Buzz magazine called Obst one of the ten biggest bullies in Hollywod.
Lynda tells me Aug. 4, 2008: "It made me aware that I must've been tough on a couple of employees and it made me aware not to be tough on any employee. I certainly didn't think it defined me and I was sad I was on the list. But it made me conscious and anything that makes me conscious is ultimately good."
I relate to Lynda a quote I got about her from a fellow producer: "She makes Attilla the Hun look humane. I can't think of a more despised female producer by those who work with her. Mention Lynda's name and you get a chorus of boos at Paramount."
Lynda: "There are reasons why blind quotes are frowned upon in journalism. This thing about Paramount is insane. You can't work at a studio for eight years for five administrations, from my best friend Sherry Lansing and my best friend Donald Devine and have this insane quote… I have a Steven Spielberg Interstellar project there that he's directing.
"It's just the most radical thing I've heard. It's absurd and it discredits most of the page and you're better than that. Few producers stayed as long as I did at Paramount. Every studio I've worked for I've stayed eight years. I left there with great relations with Brad Westin and Brad Grey."
"I was never Celia Brady [the non deplume of a notorious Hollywood gossip columnist for Spy magazine]. On my granddaughter's life. I know a lot of people thought that. I had no reason to be. I started writing at that time under my own name. I would never have had time to write under my own name and then for some arbitrary reason start revealing friends of mine doing naughty things. I never wrote under an assumed name. Whenever I write, I wrote under my name. That's how I developed this way of writing to not indict people I liked while describing practices I despised. There was nobody I disliked enough in this town to reveal as Celia Brady. I was working too hard to learn my job at that time to have this sideline while I was raising a four year old. I don't have that kind of angst. I don't have that kind of edge. I never did. I don't believe it was a Hollywood person. I believe it was a journalist.
"When I do journalism, I do journalism. I write for HuffPo. I've written for Harpers. I had a column in New York magazine. I wrote a book. I have a book contract with Simon & Schuster. I had no reason to do that kind of alt-journalism. I came from the New York Times. The first thing I did here was to write for Harold Hayes and New West magazine. He taught me how to write. He taught me how to be a journalist. Why I would go from that to be Celia Brady and diss my friends? That kind of schadenfreude that I inspired when I came to town as a person who was learning her job and a former journalist and a kind of sociologist. A sociologist is not a secret gossip. I've never been a secret gossip. When I gossip, it's with a small group of friends. I really care about the people I care about."
"So every single aspect of what was written up to this point [of an earlier version of this profile] was written with so much unbelievable contempt that it shocked me."
"The kind of behavior you describe isn't tolerated. The town is too small. The work is too hard, the job is too hard, there are too many people to collaborate with. There are too many personalities. So if what you describe were true, I couldn't have survived this long. I couldn't have been at Paramount that long [eight years]. I couldn't have been at Fox for six years. I couldn't have made movies with so many different personalities. My job is to blend those personalities and come up with a compromise that works for the filmmakers and the studios."
In my initial profile of Lynda, I wrote that she was a doctoral candidate in Psychology.
Lynda: "It was Philosophy. I know absolutely nothing about psychology, particularly male psychology. I know a lot about female psychology, which is why I've done so many chick flicks, but I'm really lousy with male psychology except when I'm helping my girlfriends but I'm terrible with my own.
"I studied the Philosophy of Science at Columbia and that's the streak that you see in the science pictures I do."
I ask Lynda if she's ever fallen in love with one of her directors. She says no.
Lynda writes in her 1997 memoir, Hello, He Lied: "Buzz was a few years late with its scoop about my temper. Since I had a major insight on location five years ago, I've prided myself on my newfound ability to find my "Zen" center, which keeps me grounded in the face of daily horror....[W]hen I began to release the illusion of my ability to control anything in my life, I have had no true reason to lose my temper. (Usually. People screwing up royally and lying about it still gets to me, big time.) Reaction and resistance are inevitable. I learned that anger is the reaction to a thwarted expectation of control - and I know there isn't any control, really." (Hello, pg. 134)
From www.nobody-knows-anything.com: "Larry Wright told the funniest story about dealing with Lynda Obst. They were late to a meeting with Warners, so Obst drives like a madwoman down the freeway, smoking a joint and talking on the phone, and she says, "Tell me the story." Wright, taken aback, starts pitching it to her. In the middle of his pitch, her phone in her purse in the backseat rings; Obst opens her door, reaches around behind her to the backseat, gets the phone, and starts talking on that. Meanwhile, Wright is pitching this whole while, and Obst keeps saying, No, no, that's not working. So Wright starts rearranging the pitch in the car, and the one he came up while trying to get and keep Obst's attention is the one he pitched and sold at the studio at the meeting."
From NYmag.com: "Before he was married in 1995, [Stanley] Crouch was something of a ladies' man, linked to a long list of women including producer Lynda Obst."
From the 3/13/92 Hollywood Reporter:
Statesman.com: Lynda Rosen Obst, who is widely known in the entertainment industry for promoting Austin as a cinematic hot spot, spent nearly six hours in the Travis County Jail on Sunday before posting $1,500 bail on a charge of marijuana possession. The charge is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Airport spokeswoman Jackie Mayo said Obst, 53, was going through a security checkpoint and had been chosen for a random search. The marijuana -- less than an ounce -- was discovered by security screeners, who called airport police, Mayo said.