Hollywood underwent a major transformation in creative control in the '80s, spawning a new generation of powerhouse film producers. In fact, these shrewd, dominating new movie moguls operated with such a strong hand--hiring and firing directors, packaging stars and even creating an aesthetic for their pictures--that perhaps they should be known by a heady new moniker: the Producer as Auteur.
'70s box-office champs Steven Spielberg and George Lucas still exercised considerable influence, especially through Spielberg's Amblin Films, which encouraged a host of young film-making talent. But the real '80's kingpins were a high-profile trio of producer teams: Don Simpson & Jerry Bruckheimer, Lawrence Gordon & Joel Silver and Peter Guber and John Peters. Not to say that these duos were infallible--all presided over plenty of flops. But they created blockbuster hits with remarkable consistency, sculpted the career moves of budding superstars and--for better or worse--helped establish the supremacy of the sequel, giving studios access to a proven box-office commodity.
Talk about building a franchise--Simpson & Bruckheimer preside over the "Beverly Hills Cop" series, Gordon & Silver have "48 HRS." and "Die Hard" sequels in the works (while Silver oversees the "Lethal Weapon" series) and Guber-Peters left Warner Films in possession of a potential bonanza--the "Batman" sequel.
Happily, there have been influential producers who've chosen to work outside the action-movie genre. Having thrived as a writer-producer in the world of sit-com TV, James L. Brooks earned his directing stripes this decade (with "Terms of Endearment" and "Broadcast News"). But he also established his Gracie Films banner as a symbol of classy, creative films, producing such adventuresome fare as "The War of the Roses, "Big" and "Say Anything." Ed Pressman also proved that while independent production is ailing, it's not down for the count. During the decade he's nurtured such daring directors as Alex Cox, Fred Schepisi and the Taviani brothers while presiding over such intrepid works as David Byrne's "True Stories" and Oliver Stone's "Talk Radio."
The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.