Chairman Emeritus of the Producers’ Guild of America East, David V. Picker, spoke to the USC School of Cinematic Arts about his experiences in the film industry on Tuesday evening at the Ray Stark Family Theatre.
Picker is the former president and CEO of several film production studios, including United Artists, Paramount and Columbia Pictures. Throughout his career, he has been part of making such films as Last Tango in Paris, The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, The Jerk and the James Bond franchise.
During the talk, Picker shared the stories behind the biggest films he produced during his career and his experiences of working with talents such as Ingmar Bergman, The Beatles and Steve Martin.
He began by telling the audience how he identified the potential of James Bond as a movie franchise and won the rights to the Ian Fleming novels for adaptation by United Artists. He faced competition from Columbia Pictures, but said he won the deal because of his determination and willingness to put the necessary time and effort into the projects he oversaw.
Picker also encouraged students to persevere, even in the face of failure. When asked about his biggest regrets, Picker said Greatest Story Ever Told was the biggest flop he greenlit during his time at United Artists. He said he mistakenly believed the movie would be a success and there was no way he could have predicted the trouble, but he was able to use his other successes to save the failing company.
His unwillingness to give up formed a common theme throughout the talk, even when he was advising students about their future careers.
“I’m always asked, ‘What do I have to do to get in the movie business?’” Picker said. “And, the answer is: Take advantage, when you’re done with your education, of any opportunity you can get. People who produce movies look at their crew and they instantaneously respond to those who want more responsibility.”
Students were interested in knowing how Picker managed to balance having a family with having a career.
“You’ve got to make a decision,” he said. “I didn’t have a home life. I chose to do what I did because I loved it more than my home life. I ended up sacrificing something I shouldn’t have sacrificed.”
Claudia Esquivel, a freshman majoring in business and cinematic arts, identified the sacrifice as the most important lesson she took from Picker’s talk.
“I like what he said about balance and that he regrets not having had that family life,” she said. “I’m definitely going to see whether I can maintain that balance or not.”
Austin Kolodney, a senior majoring in film and television production, was more interested in how Picker came to be responsible for the most successful films of his career.
“I was really interested in his interest in storytelling and recognizing talent,” he said. “He was always business-minded and savvy, but what really drove him to take the projects he took was because it was the kind of stories that he wanted to see on the screen. I think that’s really admirable.”
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