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April is Autism Awareness Month

A Hollywood filmmaker talks about making movies (and sometimes throwing chairs)

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. My guest today, Ed Zwick, would probably be the best dinner guest you've ever had if you could get him. He's been making television and movies in Hollywood for decades, and he has countless stories about how movies get made, from getting studio backing to casting scouting locations, staying on schedule, keeping the studio happy and especially dealing with actors, including some of the biggest stars in the business - Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Anne Hathaway, Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio, to name a few. And since we can't all have him to dinner, Zwick has compiled some of his best stories in a book. There are stories of actors showing their brilliance and dedication and sometimes being extraordinarily difficult to deal with.

Zwick is a writer, director and producer who's made dozens of films, including "About Last Night," "Glory," "Shakespeare In Love," "The Last Samurai" and "Blood Diamond" and TV series including "Thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life." His book also shares plenty of tips he's learned and insights into moviemaking, like why crying scenes pose such a challenge to shoot and why actors, directors and crew all dread sex scenes. His book is "Hits, Flops, And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood."

Ed Zwick, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

ED ZWICK: Thanks for having me.

DAVIES: I thought we'd begin with a reading. And this is when you have been working with Brad Pitt on the film "Legends Of The Fall." Do you want to just set this up for us and read it?

ZWICK: Yeah. Well, I mean, look. He - making movies is something that takes place between very passionate people in very intense circumstances. You're away from home, a lot rides on it. And among people like that, things often get very intense. And we had a - at times, contentious and at times, very passionate relationship. But it was always for the good. Nonetheless, it sometimes got a little bit out of hand, and this, I think, describes a moment after such a thing has taken place.

DAVIES: Were chairs actually thrown here?

ZWICK: Oh, I think they did. And I'm afraid I might have been the first to throw it, but I hasten to say they were not at each other. They were thrown away from each other.

DAVIES: All right, so read from the book.

ZWICK: (Reading) After each blow up, we'd make up and mean it. It was never personal. Brad is a forthright, straightforward person, fun to be with and capable of joy. He was never anything less than fully committed to doing his best. I, on the other hand, am a movie director masquerading as a rational human being. I present myself as a mensch, a thoughtful, collegial guy who wants everybody's opinion, while, in fact, I am Ahab in a baseball cap. I want it done exactly as I asked, and I want it now. Now meaning before we lose the light or the storm hits or another plane passes over or the studio shuts us down for getting into overtime. Because I'm only going to get to shoot this movie once. Because this shot will likely be in the movie, and I'm going to have to look at it a thousand times in the cutting room and in the previews and in the premiere and live with it for the rest of my life, because in the insanity of this moment, it feels like my entire career depends on it, that I will have another flop and might never work again unless I get this take right.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Ed Zwick, reading from his new book "Hits, Flops, And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood." It really captures the pressure that you feel, and of course the actor feels it. And so much of this book is about you dealing with actors, trying to get the performance that you want. Has your approach changed over the career? Is it more direction, less direction, any direction?

ZWICK: It has changed radically. I think that in the beginning of my career, I was so anxious and therefore trying to overdetermine things. And I think the legacy of that was sometimes to only get back what I was putting in rather than allowing these really gifted people to express what they had inside that surprised me, that, in fact, I could never have anticipated and that only made me better. But that came with some experience and some hard times.

DAVIES: You grew up in Chicago, went to Harvard, and you were always a theater kid - writing, directing plays - since you were 12, you say. And then in Europe after college, you scored a job as a production assistant in Paris for Woody Allen, of all people. He was shooting "Love And Death." Tell us a little about that experience and its impact on you.

ZWICK: Well, you know, these things happen in ways that you don't expect. And I was lucky enough to be one of the few people there who actually spoke English. I was hired because I spoke some French, but I was given this privileged view of an artist who, in fact, was a writer, and he was able to surround himself with extraordinary people to help interpret that vision. And I had always been intimidated by the idea of filmmaking because I hadn't been that kid who could thread a Bolex and carry that around with me, the Hi8 camera when I was too busy working in the theater. And yet the penny dropped when I realized that there was somebody who was a storyteller and was undaunted, in fact, willing to allow that collaboration, which you realize, of course, is the most essential part of moviemaking, to actually tell that story. And he was so generous. I think of the ridiculous, the temerity and the presumptuousness of a 21 kid asking these questions, and he suffered them and was exceedingly gracious in answering my stupid questions.

DAVIES: So you got into the director's program at the American Film Institute. Two-year program. They only take you if - in the second year if you're doing well, and you did. You got there. And there you met your lifetime collaborator, Marshall Herskovitz - it's amazing how long you guys have been together, always helping each other with your projects - got into television, did something on a show called "Family," and then you had this idea for a script based on something you had in a dream. It became a show called "Special Bulletin." I actually remember this. Tell us about it.

ZWICK: Well, it was a story told as if it was happening on the news as you watched. It wasn't done with characters and scenes, but rather, it was everything that was done, whether at the news desk or remote or done with package feeds, and the idea was that the drama could take place and partake of that feeling that we all have when something is happening and someone says, quick, turn on the news, and we are glued there. And it's a different kind of narrative, but nonetheless, it was becoming very important in the culture now with breaking news. And it was also, we felt, an opportunity to comment, and even satirize at times, the role of the news and the media and participating in the events themselves and how they come to even color them.

DAVIES: Right. Well, and the plot was pretty dramatic. What? It was some terrorists get a hold of a nuclear weapon, park it at a tugboat in Charleston Harbor, and it unfolds from there.

ZWICK: Yeah, and you have to remember this was a time in which there was great, great anxiety about nuclear proliferation.

DAVIES: Right. And you finished production. And then the studio, NBC, gets cold feet and said, we can't do this.

ZWICK: Well, to be exact, it was the news division...

DAVIES: Right.

ZWICK: ...Who felt that somehow, we were besmirching their integrity. And what we did was, I guess, just in that notion of that ferocity of trying to protect your baby, we showed the movie ahead of time to several people, to John O'Connor and Tom Shales and Howard Rosenberg, these critics who rose to its defense and essentially shamed the network into showing it.

DAVIES: I want to emphasize how crazy this was. I mean, you, without any permission, showed the film to journalists, right? And then they wrote about it. And this whole movement swept through the trade publications. And everybody wanted to see the movie that NBC was afraid to show.

ZWICK: You know, I have a story that I actually recalled after I wrote the book, but it's one of the most important stories in my life, and I'll tell it to you and see if you're interested. But it's - after the show, I was put on news programs, and I was asked to go on a local news program with Orson Welles. And you have to understand that Orson Welles was, of course, the spiritual father to this with his "War Of The Worlds." And I was in the green room with Welles, and he was in his wheelchair and not very communicative and actually rather cold. And I thought, oh, here's this opportunity to be with my idol. And he was not really forthcoming, and I just accepted it.

And we went on with the show. And on the air, this news person begins to attack me and saying, well, how dare you do something like this and confuse people with actors acting as if they're news people? And Welles rises from his chair and says, you're an actor. You're just reading the news. How dare you attack this young man. And it was just one of those, you know, wonderful moments when things come full circle.

DAVIES: Wow, like history rising in front of you, yeah.

ZWICK: Yeah, exactly.

DAVIES: We - just for listeners who may not know the story, I mean, "War Of The Worlds" was a broadcast that came over the radio in 1938, in which it sounded like a news bulletin warning people that Martians were invading the earth. And, you know, there was mayhem everywhere. And a lot of people actually believed...

ZWICK: Yeah. I mean, I was able to then talk to Welles afterwards. And what he said to me is the reason that I did that program is because Father Coughlin was a demagogue on radio, and people were believing everything that he said. And he said it was his obligation to do something on radio that wasn't true.

DAVIES: We're going to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Ed Zwick. He's a veteran writer, director and producer in Hollywood. His new book is "Hits, Flops, And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEWART LEVIN AND W.G. SNUFFY WALDEN'S "MAIN TITLE (EXTENDED VERSION)")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Ed Zwick. He's a veteran writer, director and producer in Hollywood. He has a new memoir about his experiences. It's called "Hits, Flops, And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood."

You made the film "Glory," and this was quite an epic story about the first - one of the first Black regiments in the Union Army in the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts. And this is quite a tale. You know, there's a lot involved in making a big thing like this - extras and locations and battle scenes and all this. And the studio had settled for the lead who would be the commander of the regiment, who was Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. They had settled on Matthew Broderick, who was quite young but had become a star because he'd done the "Ferris Bueller" film. And you write that the studio had apparently already told Matthew that they were only making the film because of him, which you said is a terrible thing to do to a young actor. Why? And how did this work out?

ZWICK: Well, it was problematic. It's a burden enough for any young actor to play the lead in a film. And once you add to that responsibility, the idea that its success - it depends on you, that's something for which you're unprepared. And I think the problem in this particular case is that Matthew turned to some others to help. It could have been his representatives. In this case, it was his mother. But, you know, when you're that young, you're surrounded by the whisperers and the fluffers and those who presume to be helping.

And I'm sure that people were saying to Matthew, listen. You should probably be working with Mike Nichols. You should be working with Peter Weir, some great experienced director, and you need to be protected. And that caused all sorts of problems when he and some others, in the process of pre-production, presumed to try to help me or help the script. And I was not about to let that happen. And I had to really rise to its defense. And so it became very contentious. But what I do have to say is that once we got into the process, Matthew was terrific, and his performance was amazing.

DAVIES: Shooting the film, you mean.

ZWICK: Shooting the film. And I think a lot of - when there are problems, they often take place before a film is made because there's extraordinary fear and anxiety. And I think that's what was being expressed at that time.

DAVIES: You know, I think that the story of "Shakespeare In Love" is maybe the quintessential Hollywood story about how things can happen and then get undone. You helped develop the script about seeing Shakespeare as this young guy kind of in a world of his own, trying to - with writer's block, trying to make this story and becomes involved with a woman who becomes Juliet. And then you manage to get Tom Stoppard, the terrific playwright, to rework it. And it was great. And then the studio had gotten Julia Roberts, who was just the hottest property around then. How did it go dealing with her?

ZWICK: Well, you know, I think it's conceivable that the thing that I realized that - have in common with your previous story is that she was 24 as well. And she was like on a, you know, a rocket ship toward the top. And I think when things happen that quickly, I think there's a certain reality principle that gets distorted. And as we were getting closer to cast the movie, Julia decided that that lead should be played by Daniel Day-Lewis. We arrived in England. And Julia sent Daniel Day-Lewis a dozen roses, saying, be my Romeo. And despite whatever I tried to do to tell her that that was not going to be possible because I had met Dan, and he was already committed to his friend Jim Sheridan to make a movie. Jim Sheridan was the director of "My Left Foot," and they were best friends. She was convinced that she could make him change his mind. She couldn't.

DAVIES: Right. And we should know that this was - at this point, work was underway on a set. Six million dollars had been spent to recreate the streets of 16th century London and the Globe Theatre. And you had a bunch of terrific English actors lined up to read with her as, you know, trying to find the co-star of the movie, I mean, Ralph Fiennes and Hugh Grant and a whole bunch of them. She was at a hotel, and she said what?

ZWICK: Well, I mean, look. It's - you have to understand how emotional people can be and if you are that disappointed and if your dream has been crushed that she was unable to see the quality of these other actors because they, in fact, were not Daniel Day-Lewis. And I could, you know, belabor the story, except to finally say that she behaved badly and just left. And that was, you know, unforgivable and yet unenforceable because the studio was unwilling to hold her feet to the flame. And the movie went down in flames.

DAVIES: Right. And the project kind of lay fallow for years and years. And then the other fascinating chapter here involves Harvey Weinstein, who had gotten, if I have this right, gotten the rights for Miramax to continue the film.

ZWICK: Well, I mean, it's even worse because I had made a movie called "Legends Of The Fall" that Harvey had seen and told me that he wanted to make anything I wanted to make. And I showed him the script to "Shakespeare In Love" after having had turned down by everyone in town for four years. And he said, yes, I'll do it. And then he tried to buy those rights from Universal, who refused to sell them to him. And then two years passed after that, only for me to hear that Harvey had managed to buy those rights now - rather trade the rights to "King Kong" for these rights, and that he wanted to exclude me from the project.

DAVIES: Right. And you had a - you were the contractual producer, right? So you had a well-known and formidable Hollywood lawyer write him a letter saying, sorry, there are legal obligations here. And he responded how?

ZWICK: He called me often in the middle of the night, threatening to kill my children and...

DAVIES: Literally.

ZWICK: Literally. I mean, just - but, you know, of course, he was a creature of hyperbole. And I - he would, you know, you'll never work again, kid. And you're - I'll make sure that I'll destroy you and all of that. And I somehow had a different idea of how you deal with bullies, and that was to hire a man named Burt Fields and take him to court.

DAVIES: And then there's this fascinating meeting where he meets you and you're - it's OK again.

ZWICK: Well, I mean, you know, his quality of manipulation was rivaled only by his aggression. And he cried crocodile tears. It was the most pathetic performance of contrition you'd ever seen. But what could we all do but believe him? Except that that anticipated yet another betrayal down the road.

DAVIES: You didn't get to direct the film. It was John Madden. But you did get a producer's credit - right? - and an Oscar because it was best picture of the year. He finally did everything he could to minimize your role even then, didn't he?

ZWICK: Yeah. You know, it's funny. I mean, obviously, you can look back on that with great chagrin. On the other hand, it was very important for me to understand that this did not end my life, that I was able to get up the next morning and work on whatever came next, and I did. And what I came to understand is that these things in this business happen, that it's not about if you're going to get knocked down, but when, and what do you do when that happens? And do you dig deep and discover, you know, the resources, the inner resources that you have to then go on? And that's, you know, the flops in the title of the book. It was - there was something that I had read that Preston Sturges had once said, that a hit is the thing you do between flops. And that suggests...

DAVIES: More misses than hits.

ZWICK: Yeah. And if you think of it in terms of baseball, right? If you hit one out of three, you're going to be in the Hall of Fame. But that means that you grounded out, struck out, flied out, sacrificed 2 out of 3 times. And I think that that kind of understanding that it's not a sprint, that it's a distance event, became very, very helpful to me down the road.

DAVIES: We are speaking with Ed Zwick. He's a veteran writer, director and producer. His new memoir is "Hits, Flops, And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood." He'll be back to talk more after a short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX BROWN'S "LAMENTOS")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Dave Davies. We're speaking with veteran Hollywood writer, director and producer Ed Zwick. He has a new memoir describing his experiences with famous actors, both rewarding and frustrating, in some of the many films he's made, which include "About Last Night," "Glory," "Shakespeare In Love," "The Last Samurai" and "Blood Diamond," and TV series including "Thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life." Zwick's book is "Hits, Flops, And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood."

I wanted to ask about casting. In the book, you spend a fair amount of time writing about putting the cast together for a show. Really important who you get once you know what the story is. Maybe take the film "Glory," because that's one that you put a lot of effort into. Talk about getting that cast together.

ZWICK: I mean, I had seen some of Denzel Washington's work before. I'd seen him on Broadway, and I'd seen him play Steven Biko in "Cry Freedom," and even some television that he'd done on "St. Elsewhere." And he was, to me, an obvious choice because I'd seen this extraordinary ability already. Morgan Freeman I had seen do a play at BAM called "The Gospel At Colonus." And those two parts were a little bit obvious to me as to just how good each of them could be in it. But the part of Searles was so important to me, and I hadn't really been able to find the right actor who seemed to possess those qualities of refinement and yet passion and vulnerability.

And our casting director suggested that I go downtown to the Juilliard senior showcase, the graduating showcase. And a young actor went onstage and within minutes it was like he could just burn down the stage. He was so wonderful. And that was Andre Braugher. He'd never been in a movie. I cast him immediately. His first day on set, he didn't know what a mark was. And yet by the end of that day, he was going toe to toe with Morgan Freeman. And I've had that experience several times, when you just see an actor and there is something so electrically fascinating.

And he's not always an actor you can cast. I mean, I remember actually not casting, say, Bradley Cooper in something because he wasn't right for the part. But when Claire Danes sat there at 13 years old, what she clearly knew was something that we could never teach her nor ever would need to be taught, or Evan Rachel Wood or Matt Damon when he was cast to be in "Courage Under Fire." Sometimes something happens when someone walks in a room and you just know that you're in the presence of something very, very special. And you just, you know, thank the movie gods that that one person has walked into your life to be in your movie.

DAVIES: You directed a film called "Courage Under Fire," which is about an army officer who commands a tank in the Desert Storm invasion and in a confused nighttime battle, fires on one of his own tanks, killing the crew, including a close friend of his. It was an American tank he mistook for an Iraqi tank. You met Denzel Washington for lunch. He didn't like the script particularly. And you write that one lesson you had learned was that the most disastrous thing you can do is to try and handle a movie star, because they've got great BS detectors. Tell us what happened with him and the script.

ZWICK: Well, we had gotten to be friends. The experience on "Glory" was very seminal for both of us, and we had remained close. Our families had gotten to know each other. And we were just having lunch when we were talking about this script that we had both been sent. And the script was problematic, but I thought there was in it something very particular that I was interested in and that was something very new that was called PTSD. And as we sat at lunch, Denzel was very clear that he hadn't really liked the script, and I was not trying to convince him to feel otherwise, but I began to talk about what this was. And as I went on and on, I saw him leaning in, and I finished talking. And then he turned to me and said, yeah, I'll do it.

DAVIES: What was it that turned him around?

ZWICK: I think he saw in it something that he was - that he could play. And that's really important to any actor but it's especially important to Denzel. I think that rather than play a man who was suffering, I think he realized he could play a man who was literally committed not to feel, that he was someone who was able to kind of extraordinary denial and it was costing him internally, that he could play two things at once. And that's what he did.

DAVIES: Do you want to just tell us a bit about his preparation?

ZWICK: Well, you're talking about literally, in my opinion, just the foremost actor of his generation. And what he does is really hard to describe because it's quite magical. But there are certain things. I think that there are certain actors that when you say action, if you were to put, you know, some sort of monitors on their heart and respiratory rate and, like, a lie detector, you would see that the needles go up. And with Denzel, it's as if when you say action, it all goes down. And he goes inward in a very particular way, where he is present. And he is present to the circumstances and to the ions in the air. Everything is alive for him as that moment is alive.

And I can refer back to the moment when - the whipping scene in "Glory" and I could look at moments in the siege later on where a thing happens so clearly for the first time, because it is indeed happening emotionally for him for the first time. His concentration and his ability to be inside something is so intense. But that comes after an enormous amount of preparation, because before we made this movie, he made night maneuvers with the armored cavalry at Fort Irwin. He spent a lot of time with men who had been in the Gulf. And certain things just find their way in.

And the silliest little example, but it's one that I actually love, is that the officers at that time were probably in their late 20s, and the enlisted men were probably in their early 20s, and yet the officers would often refer to the enlisted men as son. And I just heard that happening a couple of times as we were spending time with these guys. And it wasn't in the script. And literally the second day, there's just some moment, as an aside, when I see Denzel. Now, son, this is what you want to do. And all of a sudden, I saw that he had somehow inhabited this not just a character but an attitude. And that just was, you know, replicated in a hundred different ways in the movie.

DAVIES: So when you have an actor like that who just manages to internalize the character so deeply, can you direct them? Are there - have you had moments with him where you weren't getting what you'd hoped for and you could be direct about it?

ZWICK: First of all, the first thing you have to say is with someone like Denzel is that there's never been a single foot of film that I've shot with him that hasn't been totally usable in the movie. It's only about saying, how can we play with this and see what happens? It's like, you know, when you have a high-performance car, you just turn the wheel a little bit and it goes screaming around a corner. Sometimes it's as little as changing a little coordinate. Like, I don't know anything really about rocket science, but telemetry and trajectory changes things, where things go.

And there's another moment in that same movie when he's coming home, and I just happened to have put a little bicycle on the steps as he's walking up the steps toward his home at the end of the movie, and another actor could walk around it. Another actor might say, what is this bicycle doing here? But Denzel sees this bicycle there, puts down his bags, reaches down and lifts up the bicycle and puts it on the walkway and can - carries on into his house, which is the conclusion of the movie. And that's the moment when I begin crying, because he was in that moment, and he, as a father, Denzel, as a father, this character, as a father, was doing what that man might do and became a metaphor for making everything right in his world. And that was just a little just aside. And yet, it became significant in the moment.

DAVIES: Let's take another break here. We are speaking with Ed Zwick. He's a veteran writer, director and producer in Hollywood. His new memoir is "Hits, Flops And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood." We'll continue our conversation after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSHUA REDMAN'S "HIT THE ROAD JACK")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Ed Zwick. He is a veteran writer, director and producer in Hollywood. He's known for such films as "About Last Night," "Glory," "Shakespeare In Love," "The Last Samurai" and "Blood Diamond" and the TV series "Thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life." His new book is "Hits, Flops And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood."

You know, a lot of directors began as actors. I mean, you've really been a writer and director more, but you write that you once gave yourself a small role, and as a therapist, treating a 12-year-old who was played by Evan Rachel Wood. Seemed like a pretty straightforward thing. You're on a couch. You ask a couple questions and you listen. What was the experience like?

ZWICK: It was horrendous. I mean, it just put the lie to every assumption that I had ever made about understanding what it takes to do real work as an actor. And I was lost. I was incapable of remembering the lines that I, myself, had written. I was unable to stand and go to a door and turn a handle and open it in the correct way so as the light would come in, anything technical was far beyond my ability. And I was covered in flop sweat within seconds. It was literally Richard Nixon at the debates. And I was undone by it. And Evan was lovely and right there with me. And I had Marshall come down to the set and sort of talk me through it, when indeed I didn't understand a word he was saying to me because I was in such terror.

And it was really helpful to come to understand the vulnerability and the fragility of being an actor in that moment of production with the cyclops eye of the camera only feet away and 50 people staring at you and you were intended to, in fact, be internally experiencing an emotion or moment. And I was only trying to get lines out. And I then reflect back on something like Denzel and the moment of the whipping. Or you look at Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of "Blood Diamond," and you see what these actors are able to do. And it's this remarkable duality because it's experiencing something real in the midst of an utterly technical circumstance. And it's a kind of magic.

DAVIES: You worked with Leonardo DiCaprio in "Blood Diamond," and you write in the book about how terrific he was at being prepared and learning Rhodesian dialect, which was really, really difficult and being committed to the process. When it was done, you say Alan Horn, a Warner Brothers executive, said that he was really proud of the film 'cause it dealt with this really important issue of, you know, the exploitation of Africa for its natural resources and how that has led to such trauma and bloodshed and carnage there. And this executive said he was proud of it, but he said it's the last of its kind we'll ever make. What did he mean?

ZWICK: Well, I mean, these film companies have been taken over, by and large, by multinational corporations who place on them the need to make profit and loss projections every quarter. And they have to contrive ways to do that. And the purpose of that is to be able to move the needle on the stock price.

DAVIES: So what does that mean - superhero films?

ZWICK: It means that they have to come up with films that appeal broadly. Well, inevitably, it's going to have to be a very popularized, a very homogenized and easily digestible and simpler, less complex fare. It's not going to be a movie about child soldiers and the exploitation of Africa because that obliges you to have a more sophisticated and more grown-up audience. And a grown-up audience is the least predictable, the most demanding and the hardest to get for movies. And so therefore, that's not what you're going to make at that scale. You'll make smaller movies that might try to get that audience, but something that has a canvas, something that has a set of ideas that are challenging - that's not going to be the work of film studios.

DAVIES: There's just all kinds of consolidation going on in the industry and in the streaming world. I'm wondering how you see your future, you know, as a producer and director.

ZWICK: Well, apparently now I'm an author. So maybe that'll add to the mix. But, no, I've - obviously I still have that fire in my belly about doing work. And we are working on several things even as we speak. I mean, I do look at the business and understanding that the role of movies in the culture is different. When I was growing up, movies were ephemeral. You only thought you could see them once. And they took - they dug so deeply into you. You talked about them all night, and they stayed with you. You never thought you'd ever be able to see them again. And now that they can be stopped and paused to check your cellphone and you can see them at home again and again, they've taken on a different intensity. And I can feel that. And I can feel that in some of the choices that I'm trying to make and how difficult it is even more to make that happen. On the other hand, I'm not about to try to concede that space, that experience of what I think movies can be in life as they've been in mine.

DAVIES: So how would - how does it affect what you do? You have more cliffhangers to keep them engaged or...

ZWICK: Yeah. Well, I mean, look. There's - there are certain things that I see in streaming that do bother me. And I will say that that sort of - the decision that, say, a streaming show has to lead toward a cliffhanger every week so as to make you want to gorge and stand by for the next - look. That happened in "The Perils Of Pauline" and the - you know, the serials of the 1920s. But I think that that is a commercial decision rather than an artistic decision. I think it limits, at times, what the effects of storytelling can be because instead of having some of the classical unities of conclusion and catharsis and denouement, instead you have this thing that makes you anxious at the end.

And that is a different effect and a different ambition than something that I've often had and I've accomplished in some of my movies, which is a very emotional engagement and a very personal kind of catharsis, where that's what you walk away with. It has moved you. It has taken you someplace you've never been before, and it's reached a place that you never thought you might reach inside. And I think some of that is diminished. It's not only diminished at times by being at home, where there are distractions as opposed to being in an audience, but it's also diminished by its very nature, by its structure.

DAVIES: Ed Zwick, thank you so much for speaking with us.

ZWICK: It's been my pleasure.

DAVIES: Ed Zwick is a veteran writer, director and producer. His new memoir is "Hits, Flops, And Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years In Hollywood." Coming up, John Powers reviews the new thriller "Love Lies Bleeding," starring Kristen Stewart. This is FRESH AIR.

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Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.