Did he know John Lennon when he cut through the competition to sign him to Geffen Records?
I think they'd met, but they didn't know each other. How smart was that, for David to write to Yoko [Ono] instead of writing to John? That he got it, he understood that she was the one running the business, so he went to her. David wrote her a letter and asked to meet her. He had read that she loved the color white, so he arrived all dressed in white and a little nervous.
There was a quote in the film from Geffen, where he says, "I'd never experienced a failure in business, and it's likely I never will." What about being fired from Warner Bros. Pictures? Does he rewrite history to suit his self-image?
After seeing the film in Toronto, he said to me, "Boy, that was an arrogant thing to say, wasn't it?" David today is almost 70; he's not that kid anymore.
What has he been doing since he left DreamWorks in 2008?
As far as I can see, he's enjoying his life. He's retired. He has a very beautiful boat — I think it's the third-largest privately owned boat in the world. I think he spends a lot of time on the boat, and I think he invites people he really likes and people he'd like to know. He reads voraciously, probably a book a day. He follows the news. He talks to a lot of people everyday, and what kind of influence that's having behind the scenes, I'm not privy to.
A decade or more ago, bios were all the rage on cable TV, but you rarely see them now. Yet "American Masters" has thrived. Is the difference a simple matter of quality control?
People are interested, I think, in stories of people. And so I think when cable started trying to do that — I think Lifetime did it, A&E did it, E! did it — I think their idea was to do pretty simple films that didn't take very much time and didn't cost very much money.
The truth is that's not ever what motivated me. I saw myself as a filmmaker trying to make a library of American cultural history. Those are two very different aims, so our films take a long time to make, they cost a lot of money. I spend half my life trying to figure out how to pay for them, raising money, and it's not economically sensible to do the kinds of films that we do. To do them right, you actually have to license material. You actually have to have the music in them if you're making a film about a musician. It costs too much to do that relative to what they think the value is, and then I think the culture turned toward reality television, which is the cheapest form of television to make there is.