Stephen Simon was born and raised in Hollywood’s elite circles. The biggest stars of the day came to his home for dinner and relaxation. His father and adoptive fathers were moviemakers, and the stars were just an everyday fact of life, like his ever present godfather Frank Sinatra. Simon became a producer and made significant films from Somewhere in Time to the Bill and Ted movies to What Dreams May Come. But a few years ago, he walked away from it all and began a new life. He tackled a question that plagued him, and that was why the Hollywood he knew was disappearing. The result is his book Bringing Back the Old Hollywood; it’s both a memoir and a celebration of the Old Hollywood and a reminder to today’s industry to bring back the magic. I spoke with Simon about what’s eating Hollywood, what technology can’t do for us and why Charlie Sheen matters.
Anne Brodie: You clearly have mixed feelings about Hollywood today. Do you think it’s failed us?
Stephen Simon: If you’re in Act 1 of life (up to age 29), no. If you’re in Acts 2 or 3 of life (over 30), the New Hollywood has absolutely failed us. If you’re looking forward to the next Transformers movie, The New Hollywood is fine. If you’re looking forward to the next King’s Speech or Social Network, you’ll have to wait until October, November, and December, which are the only 3 months of the year that those kinds of films are released nowadays. For the other 9 months, we’re basically on our own. And in some years, even those 3 months are disappointing.
AB: Tell me how you envision bringing the original back and why?
SS: Movies, particularly independent films, are on the brink of extinction. The Old Hollywood made movies for every audience segment at all times of the year. The Old Hollywood respected writers who knew how to create human characters. That’s why we still watch those movies over and over. We love being with those people. The Old Hollywood also knew that story telling is an exquisite art while The New Hollywood has almost completely abandoned the magic of story and replaced it with an obsession with technology and an endless chain of sequels, remakes, and rehashes. We need to make those Old Hollywood kinds of movies again for people in Acts 2 and 3 of life and also completely reinvigorate the theater-going experience. In short, we need to rediscover our humanity before our technology completely buries it and we wake up in a future where the only new movies being made are the ones that 14-year-old boys will go see 7 or 8 times.
AB: You’ve had a big response to your website. What’s the hook?
SS: Those of us in Acts 2 and 3 of life were brought up with movies and television. We baby boomers in particular do not take it too well when Hollywood makes it clear that it doesn’t care about movies for us “older people” anymore. (By the way, if you’re over 30, you’re in that category.) As fans, we love movies and we’re not just going to sit by and see them disappear.
We’re also attracting a lot of creative people who have been put out to pasture by The New Hollywood because they’re over 40 and have supposedly lost touch with what teenagers want to see. Somehow, I guess we’re supposed to still be glued to watching MTV, right? How sad for incredibly talented people to be told that they have to come up with movies with fast food tie-ins, product placement, and built-in sequels. Oh, and you better look young too. It’s no accident of geography that Los Angeles is the plastic surgery capital of the world.