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Oppenheimer, Zoe Saldana, The WGA and SAG Strike

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley
The Truth Network Radio
July 16, 2023 3:03 pm

Oppenheimer, Zoe Saldana, The WGA and SAG Strike

CBS Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley

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July 16, 2023 3:03 pm

Guest host: Lee Cowan. In our cover story, David Martin looks at how J. Robert Oppenheimer changed the world with the first detonation of an atomic bomb. Plus: Tracy Smith examines the writers' and actors' strikes that have shut down Hollywood; Jim Axelrod interviews Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about his social criticism being posted on Substack; Ben Mankiewicz delves into the history of the Hollywood blockbuster; Seth Doane profiles actress Zoe Saldaña, star of the new Paramount+ series, "Special Ops: Lioness"; and Elaine Quijano goes backstage at a new Broadway dance-pop musical about Imelda Marcos, "Here Lies Love."

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That's what I like. Good morning. Jane Pauley is off this weekend. I'm Lee Cowan, and this is Sunday Morning. It happened in the deserts of New Mexico 78 years ago this very day. The first successful test of the most powerful weapon the world had ever known. J. Robert Oppenheimer was the mild-mannered physicist behind what was called the Manhattan Project, a team of scientists racing against time and the Nazis to develop the atomic bomb.

A new movie chronicling the man and the event opens this week. Reason enough to ask our David Martin to take us back to the dawn of the atomic age. He's been called the father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

His dramatic and, in the end, tragic life just made into a movie by director Christopher Nolan. Where would you rank Oppenheimer in history? I view Oppenheimer as the most important person who ever lived. But splitting the atom was only half the story.

He shortly afterwards plunged into deep depression. Coming up on Sunday morning, the spectacular rise and fall of Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer is just one of the blockbuster movies of this summer, which got us to thinking about the Hollywood blockbuster.

Where does that tradition come from? Ben Mankiewicz offers us a crash course on movies going big. It's one of the Ten Commandments for studio executives.

Thou shall spend more to make more. There was this ongoing struggle to get people into movie theaters in the summer up until the invention of the blockbuster, which then starts to be associated with thinking of movies in a whole different way. From Spielberg's Nightmare to Barbie's Dreamhouse. The surprising history and risky business of blockbuster movies, later on Sunday morning. Could you name the actor who starred in the three biggest box office movies of all time? Harrison Ford? Tom Cruise?

Nope. Zoe Saldana. This morning, she's in conversation with our Seth Doan. One life ends.

We see her made up in blue or green, and often in another world. As a little girl, when you grow up in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Queens with five other family members, you have books, you have movies. You go to so many places.

Well, I wanted to go to space. Acting took her there, but lately she's been navigating more earthly roles. Zoe Saldana. Ahead this Sunday morning. We'll have those stories, plus Jim Axelrod with a slam dunk of an interview with basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Elaine Quijano takes in the new musical about the life of Imelda Marcos, now on Broadway. Tracey Smith explains what is really at stake in the strike by Hollywood's writers and actors. We have opinion from the author of the book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, and more. It's Sunday morning, July 16th, 2023, and we'll be right back. It's been said J. Robert Oppenheimer helped save the world by giving us the power to destroy it. David Martin reports on the Manhattan Project and the complex-driven man in charge. The world's first atomic explosion, July 16th, 1945, in the final weeks of World War II in the high desert of New Mexico.

We're at ground zero right now. Alan Carr is the historian at the Los Alamos National Laboratory where the bomb was designed and built. The sand melted in the fireball and rained back down to the ground where it re-solidified in the form of the mineral that we now call trinitite. Trinitite after the name of the site, Trinity. Is that trinitite?

Yes, this is a piece of trinitite. A few people laughed. A few people cried. Recalling the moment 20 years later, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man history calls the father of the atomic bomb, said it brought to mind a line of Hindu scripture. Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. I view Oppenheimer as the most important person who ever lived. Oppenheimer's story is one of the biggest stories imaginable. Christopher Nolan has spent the last three years living in Oppenheimer's world, writing and directing the movie Oppenheimer, opening this week. I don't know if we can be trusted with such a weapon, but we have no choice.

By unleashing atomic power, he gave us the power to destroy ourselves that we never had before, and that changes the human equation. Nolan filmed it all using an IMAX camera. The only IMAX film would really be worthy of the Trinity project. This is what an IMAX film print looks like, so it's a giant frame there. That's your regular, that's a 35mm. This is the actual film?

It's 11 miles long, and it weighs 600 pounds. Did you have qualms about what Hollywood would do to all your research? Of course I did, yes. Kai Bird is co-author of a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Oppenheimer on which the film is based. It's complicated to take on a historic icon like Robert Oppenheimer and deal with the history faithfully, and yet turn it into a cinematic experience.

For high stakes human drama, it's hard to improve on the historical facts. I know of no other story as dramatic as Oppenheimer and his involvement with the Manhattan Project. All America's industrial-minded scientific innovation connected here. Secret laboratory.

Keep everyone there until it's dark. The Manhattan Project was the code name for the race to build the bomb. Played by Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer was teaching graduate physics when he was recruited by a gruff Army general named Leslie Groves. I don't take anything untruth.

Played by Matt Damon. How would you proceed? You're talking about turning theory into a practical weapon system faster than the Nazis. Who have a 12-month head start.

18. Oppie was then 38 years old, never managed anything more than his graduate students, and yet Groves selected him. What did other people think of Groves' pick?

They thought it was outlandish. Besides his lack of experience, Oppenheimer had communist connections. It took him a long time to get a security clearance.

His own wife, Kitty, had been a member of the party for a long time. What did Groves think of that? He thought that Oppie was the one to lead this project, and it was a brilliant choice.

He could see in Oppie the smarts and the charisma to bring all these scientists together in this secret city and make it happen. Initially, it was believed that it would only take about 130 people to get the job done here at Los Alamos. That number grew to 1,700. Thrown together in what was then the Nowhereville of Los Alamos, the average age of the scientists was 29. Boys and girls together, were there romances? There were, and that became somewhat of a security problem here because before the project, essentially no one was born in this area.

All of a sudden you've got 8, 10, 12 children being born every month. How do you hide that? Are there traces of the person he was around here? I mean, there are a lot of martini glasses over there.

The martini glasses, you'll see ashtrays. After shooting scenes in Oppenheimer's New Mexico home, Nolan donated the furnishings he had brought in to the Los Alamos Historical Society. But without the bugs placed by security officers suspicious of Oppenheimer's politics. Was he under surveillance in his own house? He was being watched for much of his employment in different ways.

For instance, his phone was tapped at various times, and when he would talk to Kitty, they would occasionally make reference to the fact that they were probably being listened in on. By the time Oppenheimer was ready to test what he called the gadget, Germany had already surrendered, but Japan fought on. This was literally life and death because of every day that was going on in the war. Thousands and thousands of more people were being killed.

The gadget was hoisted to the top of a 100-foot tower, and the countdown began. Did he have any famous last words before the test? Oppenheimer supposedly said, Lord, these affairs are difficult on the heart. Oppenheimer was in a bunker 10,000 yards from ground zero. There is a tremendous burst of light. You would have been watching it unfold in silence for dozens and dozens of seconds before the shockwave arrived.

Imagine someone firing a pistol very close to you and somebody putting a leaf blower on high right in your face. Three weeks after the test, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, then a second one on Nagasaki. We have split the atom. We have changed the world. The war was over, and Oppenheimer was the most famous scientist in the world. But that is only half the story.

He shortly afterwards plunged into deep depression. I think having read some of the news accounts of what had happened, actually, on the ground at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oppenheimer had built the weapon that ended the war, but he had also created a monster, which he warned would one day cause the world to curse the names Los Alamos and Hiroshima.

If there is another world war, this civilization may go under. The national security establishment is appalled that the father of the atomic bomb is coming out in public giving speeches against these weapons. Louis Straws, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, played by Robert Downey Jr., was bent on building more and bigger bombs than the Russians, and Oppenheimer was in his way. The Russians have a bomb.

We're supposed to be years ahead of them, but what were you guys doing in Los Alamos? Wasn't security tight? Straws managed to draw up an indictment that made it appear that Oppie's advice was politically motivated, that maybe he was a subversive, that maybe he was a secret communist, that maybe he was a spy. Meeting behind closed doors, an Atomic Energy Commission security panel heard evidence some of it gathered from illegal wiretaps of Oppenheimer's communist past.

They voted against him. It's a terrible tragedy because here America's foremost scientist, a great public intellectual, is put on trial and stripped of his security clearance and then humiliated. He retreated into academic exile at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, home of Albert Einstein, who had tried to talk Oppenheimer out of fighting a battle he couldn't win. Oppenheimer walks away from Einstein, and Albert Einstein turns to his secretary and says, there goes a gnar, the Yiddish for fool.

Has it ever been rectified? This past year, December 2022, the Department of Energy formally vacated the entire clearance hearing. The message there is that this shouldn't have happened. By then, Oppenheimer had long since passed away. So he remains, as the title of his biography says, an American Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and was tortured ever after. But it's not a myth. And they won't understand it.

Until they've used it. Oppenheimer was at the center of a set of events that changed the world forever. Whether we like it or not, we still live in his world and we always will. It's an unlikely musical about a corrupt dictator and his world-famous wife, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos of the Philippines.

Elaine Quijano is on Broadway with the cast and creators of the new show, Here Lies Love. I swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill the duties of President of the Philippines. In 1965, when Filipinos elected Imelda Marcos' husband, Ferdinand, president, many embraced the young couple as a hopeful new start. President and Mrs. Johnson give a warm welcome to the Philippine leader and his wife. For years, the Marcos' power was firmly rooted in American foreign policy. The democratic system of government is patterned largely after that of the United States. A former U.S. colony staunchly supported as a democratic bulwark against communism in Asia.

But nearly two decades later, amid violence against political opponents. And the famous shoes. And corruption, symbolized by an infamous shoe collection. Nearly 3,000 pairs of them. I will not make this with shoes. Filipinos took to the streets.

In 1986, the people power revolution ousted the Marcos' forcing them into exile in the U.S. Please don't. Don't let them look down on us. Please don't. And that's the story being told in a new musical.

When I am called by God above. A disco pop musical of all things, created by, of all people, singer-songwriter David Byrne. Just say, here lies love. Here lies love. I read that Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, loved going to discos. She had a mirror ball installed in her New York townhouse.

So I thought, maybe this is a story that can be told in that way. It's taken Byrne more than 30 years, but he's finally brought it to Broadway, called Here Lies Love. This is what she said she would like on her tombstone. She said repeatedly that everything she's done, she did for love. 11 diamonds on the ring that he gave. I haven't seen him in 11 days.

In this production, Ariel Jacobs plays Imelda. Here we are. So this is the extent of your shoe wardrobe right here? That's it. That's it. Just three pairs.

Spoiler alert, there are no shoe showstoppers here. We can give our people a break. Come on, let's give our people a break.

You sing! Rather, it's an attempt to understand what drove Imelda Marcos and what brought her down. It's been a challenge. The dichotomy of a character that wants so much to heal the planet and share so much love with her country and put her country on the map and have good intentions in the beginning and then eventually get controlled by having too much power.

King and the queen of hearts could be a perfect test. Her co-star, Joselana, didn't have to look far to research his role as Ferdinand Marcos. Lana was born in the Philippines during the nine-year period of violent military rule ordered by Marcos.

His parents, who'd been activists in college, fled to America with their family. What did they say when you told them that you were going to be playing Ferdinand Marcos? It was not a comfortable conversation, to say the least. But, you know, to tell the whole story, someone has to play it.

And they wanted to make sure it was going to be telling the truth about what happened and why we left. As his body goes by, half the country is here. Lea Salonga plays the grieving mother of assassinated opposition leader Benigno Ninoy Aquino. She's also a producer.

She draws on her own memories as a teenager in the Philippines, the day the people power revolution ignited. And I was having a birthday party. And we were getting the phone calls from the parents of some of the kids that were at the party. You have to go home.

It's time for you to go home because tanks are rolling out. I still, I still believe. Salonga won a Tony 32 years ago for her performance in Miss Saigon in this same theater. And when you won that Tony, I went straight to my parents and said, look, Lea did it.

I can go to New York now, too. You know, it's like Lea's breaking down that door for all of us. Here Lies Love breaks down more doors. This is the first time Salonga has played a Filipina on stage. In fact, it's the first all Filipino company on Broadway. I could not in 1991 would not have predicted that at this theater. What does that mean to you?

It means the world. It's not just what audiences see on stage that's different. It's the actual stage itself. You are now standing in Club Millennium.

David Korins is the show's scenic designer. Having done over 25 Broadway shows and seen hundreds more, there has literally never been anything like this on Broadway, ever. Transforming the Broadway theater into a nightclub meant leaving seats upstairs, but ripping out premium orchestra seats, making room for audience members who choose to watch and dance from the floor.

You know that those miracles. So we surround the audience and the audience surrounds us. Lots of action happens in and around the audience.

Not everyone is applauding. Critics have concerns that it sanitizes the history of the Marcos regime. Some people think that in 2023 there should not be this kind of show devoted to a figure like Imelda Marcos. Right. What's your response to that?

Oh, goodness gracious. Our offering is it's happened to us, but this is what happened in the end. Basically, it's a story about how a people regain the power for themselves. Our show is a Trojan force that way. You come, get part of the action.

You dance, have a good time. But then you get hit with the reality of what we're really talking about, what happens when democracy crumbles and martial law is proclaimed and rights are taken away. And it's not like I want to glorify her, but I want to start with as much as possible a clean slate. She has a history, she has a story, but I want you to start with a person and kind of try and understand what made her do the things that she did.

There's a catharsis, and a lot of the older Filipinos that I see in the audience are crying because it's giving them a space to feel the things that their families didn't want to talk about. The real life story is still being written. Imelda Marcos is now 94 and back in the Philippines. Last year, her son, known as Bong Bong, was elected president there.

And in May, as the U.S. seeks to counter China, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was warmly welcomed to the White House. Talk about a real life Hollywood drama. The nation's entertainment industry this weekend is beset with labor woes. Tracy Smith now on the issues and the impact.

It's a showstopper all right. Both the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild are on strike. And Hollywood is effectively shut down. The last time this happened was in 1960 when Ronald Reagan was president of the Actors Union, the apartment was Best Picture, and the actors were holding out for more money in the form of residuals for movie shows. 63 years later, with the industry facing severe economic headwinds, rising costs and shrinking movie attendance, the unions are again pushing for better pay. But this time, with streaming and other platforms disrupting the industry, they're also looking for some guarantees that new technologies, like artificial intelligence or AI, won't ruin their careers. For the record, some CBS News staff are SAG-AFTRA members, but they work under a different contract than the actors and are not affected by the strike.

The writers have been out here since May. The actors joined them on the picket lines on Friday. And when the actors announced that they were going to strike, there was, as you might imagine, a whole lot of drama.

We are the victims here. Actors Union President Fran Drescher. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. The group that represents the studios, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, didn't respond to our request to appear on camera, but issued a statement saying in part that, the AMPTP presented a deal that offered historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors' digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members. They also said, the union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry. So now the battle lines are drawn, and it seems neither side is ready to back down. On day one of the strike last week, Union President and former nanny Fran Drescher greeted the troops in front of the Netflix offices. Workers, you pay!

She stopped long enough to tell us just what she thought of the people who run the studios. We are being systematically squeezed out of our livelihoods into studios who say it's unrealistic what you're asking. It's not unrealistic.

It's realistic. What the hell are we doing? Moving furniture around on the Titanic.

We're all going down unless we rescue ourselves right here and now from people that really are doing bad things to good people. The writers union is in much the same boat. They've watched their pay erode in the era of streaming TV.

Well, you cannot turn down $50 for a $6 ride. In years past, a staff of writers for network shows like Seinfeld would typically stay with the show throughout production, which could mean years of steady paychecks. Now they say streaming has cut the number of writers for each show and the length of time they're hired.

In other words, it's harder than ever for them to make a living. Comedian Carol Leifer wrote for Seinfeld and even made an appearance now and again. That's her behind the reception desk. You owe $150. What for? Well, you cancelled on Tuesday and our policy is 24 hours notice for all cancellations. She remembers the old system of pay and residuals, the money they get for reruns, and she says they're fighting to get some of it back. I worked on Seinfeld 30 years ago and I'm still receiving residuals from that.

That's gone now. So it's a very, very different world that way. In today's environment, do you think you could launch the career the way you did back then, if that makes sense? I don't.

No? Because they're not, they don't make enough. The studios say they've offered writers the largest pay increase in decades, but writers say it's still well below what they deserve. Screenwriter John August and TV showrunner Yalin Chang are negotiators for the Writers Guild.

They said that the increase that they offered the Writers Guild is the largest increase that they've offered new writers in 25 years, and that's not enough? Our friend Betsy Thomas, who's our secretary treasurer, she says if someone steals your wallet and then gives you $5 back, you're not $5 richer. They still stole your wallet, and that's sort of what it feels like for the writers.

It's like, yeah, you can give us some of that money back, but that's still not making us whole. And then there's the matter of artificial intelligence programs. Actors don't want their likenesses used without their consent, and writers want to guarantee that AI won't be used to generate scripts for obvious reasons, but also because they say quality will suffer. You'll see very unoriginal kind of mediocre bad stuff because AI has never held a baby, AI has never fallen in love, and so you'll end up with something stolen and pretty bad.

The studios say they're willing to talk about the use of AI, but have not ruled it out. If it's cheaper for Chad GPT to write a show, what's the incentive for studios to even bargain with the writers? Well, that's exactly the core of the issue here.

Professor Robert Reich was labor secretary under President Clinton. What's the incentive of CEOs to negotiate with workers when workers are losing power and workers can be replaced by AI or many other technologies? The answer is we have a country in which we depend on people having enough money to buy all the stuff that all of the companies create. And if they don't have enough money in their pockets to buy everything that is capable of being created, the economy can't function. So at some point, we've got to understand that we are all in this together.

And for most of the picketers we spoke with, money was the main issue. Jeannie Bergens had a number of TV writing jobs, but she's still living hand to mouth. For the first time ever after nine years of being a television writer, I applied for the food stamp program. Have you had people say, oh, maybe it's time to give up on your dream?

I am a writer. That's what I'm supposed to be doing, and it's the career that I have built. So I don't plan on giving up. I'm not going to give up. I've never given up a day in my life, so.

Even before the strike, she says she was finding creative ways, like dog walking, to pay the bills. And there's this idea that, oh, if you don't have money, you're lazy. My colleagues are some of the hardest working people I know, and we shouldn't be. It's okay.

It's okay. I'm not trying to live in a mansion out by Malibu. I just want to be able to pay my rent, pay my bills, and make sure that if I have a health crisis, I can afford to take care of myself. The ANPTP says unions are to blame for shutting Hollywood down.

The unions say they'd like to keep negotiating, but for now they're letting their feet and their signs do the talking. As everybody knows, if it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage, it ain't on the TV, it ain't in movies. So we don't want to be devalued. We want to be valued for the resource that we are. If I have to get a thousand more steps in, I'll do it every day.

And I try with, you know, I always recommend people, have a funny sign. LAUGHTER He's one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but there's a lot more to him than just a sports legend. Jim Axelrod sits down with the lifelong activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. A visit to Pauley Pavilion, where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led his UCLA Bruins to three straight national championships... I'm very proud of what I did here. ...is full of good memories. So you had one loss on this court in three years. Right. That's a crazy record.

Well, it's the best we could do. His pro career... Senator Kareem, slam dunk! ...six championships, 19 times an All-Star, and the all-time leading scorer when he retired in 1989 provides plenty to savour as well. But he'll leave it to others to consider his career. Does any part of you think about your place in the game of basketball? I have thought about it, but it's over.

It's done. At the age of 76, Abdul-Jabbar's got other things to think about, which he's sharing on Substack. You've got a wide range of interests you're writing about on the Substack. Yep, and just as gravitating to things that intrigue me.

Substack, an online platform where writers, critics, journalists post their thoughts for readers who subscribe. With a single, petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, graduated stereotypes about the black community. Take his post on Will Smith after the Oscar slap of Chris Rock.

That's critical. It is, but he took the wrong step. Were you thinking, this is fair, but harsh? Yeah, well, slapping somebody in the face on national TV is harsh. And this is the lane where you want to be as a social critic? There are times when you don't have any choice but to speak the truth. Speaking his truth has always been a guiding principle for Abdul-Jabbar. It feels like the Substack writing is an extension of what started when you were a 15, 16, 17-year-old young man.

Absolutely. Born in New York City, he was still known as Lou Alcindor as he learned the game on these courts in northern Manhattan. By 14, I was 6'10".

I crept up to seven feet in the next year or so. But more than his game developed here, so did his worldview. How did New York shape you? What I learned about black pride and black history would not have happened if I wasn't raised here in New York. I had my roots in Harlem. In the summer of 1964, a young black man named James Powell was shot dead by a police officer and Harlem burned. Those race riots made me aware of the anger in the black community. Abdul-Jabbar chose UCLA mostly for its legendary coach, John Wooden, but the school's history of pioneering black athletes also beckoned. Did you feel you were taking your place in a line of black athletes that had come to UCLA?

Definitely. Jackie Robinson, baseball. Kenny Washington, football. Arthur Ashe.

Tennis integrated sports in America. At 20, he joined America's best-known black athletes to support Muhammad Ali's refusal to serve in Vietnam to protest racial injustice at home. Do you feel like a kid then? I felt like I was going to have to become a man in those moments. He'd meet the moment the next year during the 1968 Olympics, while others made statements on the medal stand in Mexico City.

Abdul-Jabbar made his by staying home. You chose not to play. Yes, I did. Why? I did not want to be part of filling the world of false image of America, and it was a very easy choice to make.

Easy choice? Was there a price to pay? I didn't have any money at the time.

There was nothing they could take from me. Certain things are worth more than anything that you can put a monetary value on. You feel like if you go and play basketball for the USA in 1968, it's almost like you become a front man, representing a country that was not fulfilling its promise to all of its citizens at home. Right. Representing a country that Jim Crow was still alive and well in.

That bothered me, so I did what I could do. Doing what he can do now is a natural extension of how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has always lived his life. Critical race theory, presidential politics, toxic masculinity.

He's taking it all on, often with uncommon candor. LeBron said we don't have a relationship, and he's right. And for that, I blame myself. Not for anything I did, but perhaps for not making more of an effort to reach out to him.

Take his post on his relationship with LeBron James, who broke his scoring record this past season. So this mission statement you have, call it like I see it, applies to you as well. Has to. I can't give myself an out. I expect everybody else to toe the line. So many other people do.

Well, I'm not them. But the man sports writers labeled sullen wants to keep it light when possible. You're Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

After all, this is the guy who made that cameo in Airplane. Listen, I'm out there busting my buns every night. I'm out there busting my buns every night. Now I'm out there busting my buns on Substack. Humor's important to you. We can't be so serious that we can't smile about our shortcomings. His, ours, the culture's. A Hall of Famer in one arena is trying to make his mark in another.

Does it come with any dissonance? Why do I want to do this? Or this is exactly what I want to do.

Well, I think I'm at this point in my life and this is exactly what I have to do. Call it like you see it. I have to call it like I see it. Speaking the truth.

Got to do that. If it's summer, it's also blockbuster season. Ben Mankiewicz is our man in Hollywood. They may be the most famous two notes in Hollywood history. Directed by Steven Spielberg, just 26 years old, Jaws surfaced in the summer of 1975. John Williams' theme and those teeth scared families out of the water and into movie theaters, becoming the blueprint for the modern blockbuster. The way that shot is framed now, it's so clear now what it's for, like. Even expecting it is such a shock.

Dana Stevens is a film critic for Slate. I was a kid when Jaws came out, but I remember that in primetime every night, there'd be these scary trailers for Jaws on TV. And so by the time it opened in the summer of 75, people were hyped.

You're going to need a bigger boat. It was a blockbuster about summer, set in summer, about things that we totally associate with summer. That was a big part of it, too, right? 34 years after Jaws, Avatar redefined the blockbuster. So far, it's earned $3 billion at the box office. The blockbuster has been good to Stephen Lang.

Yes, it has. I'm very fortunate. A prolific character actor, Stephen Lang played the villain, Miles Quaritch.

I need to know how to force their cooperation or hammer them hard if they won't. In Avatar, Hollywood's biggest moneymaker ever. It widened the array of choices that I had looked. One time they asked Robert Mitchum, they said, Well, how do you choose your roles?

And he said, Well, I read what's offered and accept the least embarrassing. The formula established by Jaws, then exceeded by Avatar, is in theaters this summer. There's Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones, Oppenheimer.

I don't know if we can be trusted. They all fit the definition of a big-budget, mass-marketed movie designed to make big money at the box office and beyond. The truth is the blockbuster is a concept, an idea, a strategy that Hollywood had been using for quite a few decades before 1975 when Jaws was released. Charles Ackland chronicles this cinematic business model in his book, American Blockbuster.

In broad daylight, mighty squadrons roar across the North Sea. The term's origin story is no Hollywood tale. It came from the American military, the name of a devastating World War II bomb. The blockbuster was initially the highest capacity explosive that had ever been used in warfare. And here is the 1943 U.S. model blockbuster.

There was very, very high public awareness of what this was. Movie studios repurposed the word in the late 1940s and 50s, first as a way to sell films to theaters, later to lure audiences back from TV by promoting grand epics, often on a biblical scale. In 1959, the New York Times used the word blockbuster in its review of Ben Hur.

Of course, not all these epics succeed. There's 1963's Cleopatra. Who directed Cleopatra escapes me.

Spoiler alert, it was my great uncle, Joe Mankiewicz. Twelve years later, Jaws rewrote the rules. For every big budget blockbuster, there are nearly as many big budget bombs. John Carter, The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Pluto and Ash, and famously, Ishtar.

This is a great affection for Ishtar now, in part because of how poorly received it was at the time and how quickly it became just this joke. Meanwhile, far less expensive sleepers hit the jackpot. Nobody could put dirty dancing in a corner.

Released in the summer of 1987, it cost roughly $6 million to produce and returned more than $200 million. I'm really into that niche about the women's movie, a movie that focuses on a female character and her world that isn't sci-fi adventure, doesn't have any violence in it, and has massive, massive appeal. Premiering next week, Barbie. And my heels are on the ground.

Flat feet! Barbie was directed by Greta Gerwig, similarly focused on a female character. Author Charles Ackland believes the movie will sell much more than tickets.

What we are talking about here are these really gigantic investment opportunities. In the case of Mattel, reintroducing Barbie as a particular item of relevance to many different audiences. For Stephen Lang, the key to turning a big-budget film into a blockbuster comes down to a single word, story.

I think as a rule, it's good to have a very simple narrative. Take E.T. I would characterize E.T. as a blockbuster, although it doesn't have the huge, huge scale. But what it does have, it's got the cutest alien ever created, and the storyline is pretty simple.

I'm here, I'm stuck, and I want to go home. The fact is, what matters to movie lovers isn't the take at the box office, but what we take away from the film. You just don't want to leech the art out of Hollywood. Think of the films that have come out of there, you know?

They've been extraordinary, and they can't be just replaced by, you know, comic book characters and just huge stunt films, you know, from end to end. Somebody who goes to the movies wants to either laugh or cry, to experience intense emotions. People want to see something move, and they want to be moved. Right, moved in both senses.

Moving on screen and moving something inside you. No! What the hell? I know who you are, Peter Quill, and I am not some starry-eyed waif here to succumb to your, your pelvic sorcery! That's actor Zoe Saldana. She's thrilled us in some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters ever made. Now she's branching out, and in conversation with Seth Doan. She stretches our imagination, portraying characters from other worlds, in Guardians of the Galaxy... And how do you expect... ...Star Trek... ...when we're surrounded by Klingons, Captain?

Alert, medical. ...and those multi-billion dollar franchises... ...Avengers... ...and Avatar. Zoe Saldana has acted in so many sci-fi blockbusters that she's broken an earthly record.

The only actor to star in the top three grossing movies of all time. It's interesting, maybe because of the types of parts that you've played, and being green or blue... You are very hard on them. ...the name recognition for you isn't as high as some actors. Yeah.

Playing these characters has given me a life. I can take my kids to a coffee shop, and I'll be recognized, of course, sometimes. And sometimes I won't. It's given you some anonymity.

Yes. A New Yorker of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, Saldana says she was drawn to science fiction since she was a kid... ...but worried it might restrict her career. There was always that fear, like if I say yes, will I not be considered for other parts with other directors? If you took these sci-fi roles, you were worried it would have a negative... Yeah, and I was already being told of a limiting career, being a woman of color, being a woman. It's still a wobbly genre, you know, within... What do you mean by that? Well, you know, you do those superhero movies. But those superhero movies have been a boon.

I blinked, and I was a part of the biggest franchises worldwide, and they've given me so much. But I still wanted to explore more. That's it. Which is what brought her to Morocco, and the set of Special Ops Lioness. How much of this was a concerted effort to do something different?

I think it was the primary reason. Now you have a purpose, and it is noble. In this spy thriller, out next week on Paramount Plus, a division of our parent company... Neutralize a target. Saldana plays a CIA station chief. I just dropped a missile on it. It's one more item I get to check off my bucket list.

What's that item? Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan is also the producer behind the hit series Yellowstone, and its prequels. He was the attraction to this? Yes, and Nicole Kidman. There were a lot of items in this bucket list, and Morgan Freeman, and wanting to challenge myself. And I wanted to see if I had it in me. She plays the lead role, a mom with a demanding job.

It's pretty healthy, these snacks. Do you want a banana? It's a familiar juggle for this 45-year-old who has three children with Italian artist Marco Parego Saldana. The day we met, they were on set along with her in-laws. Can we have a cookie? You've got to ask your mom.

And we'll just keep an eye on you. Oh my God. It was a similar scene when we met later in Paris, where she was filming. Saldana was nine when her father died. Her father, Aselia Nazario, worked sometimes as a hotel housekeeper to raise Zoe and her two sisters. Pray for God to guide them and to make their dreams come true.

And Zoe's dreams were very, very big, so I prayed harder for her. Saldana runs a production company with her sisters, promoting underrepresented storylines. She acknowledges her own missteps when it comes to representation.

After portraying music legend Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic Nina, she faced harsh criticism for wearing a prosthetic nose and makeup to darken her skin. I should have never accepted the part. I am black.

Nobody will ever tell me how to be black. But as a person of Afro-Latino and African heritage, I have to understand just how complex this conversation needs to be in order for me to propel accurate portrayals of women of color. I read through interviews earlier on where you were supporting the decision to portray her.

It seems that your thinking on this really evolved through the controversy. Yes, I was being attacked so aggressively and my instinct was to protect myself. It's very frightening when you're bullied to the extent that I was. Also, I grew up listening to her and I felt that she did sing to me. Because if I don't fit in that world, what other world was I going to fit in?

Definitely not the white world. So it was very isolating and very painful and scary and then growth comes from that. Why do you think it touches you so much all these years later?

Because I love Beena Simone still and I would love to be able to listen to her music. You stopped listening. Why? Because I felt I had hurt her. Saldaña told us she's sensitive to making sure there are opportunities for all, having experienced her own casting rejections. It was always in a very mild form of like, oh, the director really liked you, but he wants to go traditional. What do you think that meant? It just meant that I wasn't American looking.

I wasn't white. But obviously they don't say it like that. They would say, oh, but the director wishes to just keep it traditional. It led her to that genre which captured her attention from the beginning.

What are the genres where I can go around that? Action, science fiction. They call this a gimbal.

For now she's focusing on more terrestrial roles, on camera and off. And it doesn't shake. My husband is usually here also when he's not working. He's here and when I'm not working, I'm there in his studio. We tend to take great pride in living our lives as true artists. I'll go let you make your art. Thank you.

Bye. After another week of anti-government protests in Israel, our commentary comes from noted author Yuval Noah Harari. He explains why he thinks Israel is at a tipping point and why that's a concern for us all. As a proud citizen of Israel, I am deeply concerned that my government is trying to establish a dictatorship. Many dictatorships in history were established not by tanks firing in the streets, but by signing papers behind closed doors.

By the time people understood what was happening, it was too late to resist. To understand what is happening in Israel, you need to ask just one question. What limits the power of the government? In the USA, there is an entire system of checks and balances. In Israel, we have no constitution, no senate, no federal structure, and no other check on the power of the central government except one, the Supreme Court. Now the government is trying to gain control of the Supreme Court.

If it succeeds, there will be no mechanism that limits its power. Coalition members have already proposed numerous laws and regulations that discriminate against Muslims, Christians, women, LGBTQ people, and secular people. They are only waiting to take control of the Supreme Court, and then they could unleash this dictatorial flood. Also, with the Supreme Court neutralized, the government could easily rig the elections, for example, by denying Arab citizens voting rights or by closing down all independent media outlets. Israel will still hold elections, just as Russia holds elections, but it will become a dictatorship. This should be a grave concern, not just to Americans who care about democracy or about the Jewish people. The USA might soon have to deal with a new militaristic dictatorship in the Middle East armed not only with nuclear capabilities, but also with advanced cyber weapons able to strike anywhere in the world. The people of Israel are struggling to save our democracy. Please stand with us. I'm Lee Cameron. Thank you for listening, and please join us again next Sunday morning. Please join us again next Sunday morning.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-16 16:14:30 / 2023-07-16 16:34:08 / 20

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