In 2010, I stood outside the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival, holding the door open for a gentleman who exiting the building. Film critic Roger Ebert looked at me and said “I don’t remember your name. But, I do remember that you are an asshole.” I smiled and said that I had read that he had been ill, and hoped for his rapid and complete recovery.
Of course, there is a backstory. In 1987, I conducted a seminar at the Hawaiian Internatonal Film Festival in Honolulu. The topic was “What Producers Need to Know About Distrribution and the Marketplace.” It went very well. During the last half hour, Mr Ebert and his entourage came into the small theater, sat in the back and started having a party–a very loud and disruptive party.
I told him that we would soon be finished, and I would conduct the Q&A session outside so that he could begin his lecture on time. In return, I politely asked him to keep it down until we were finished. He would have no part of it. He said that business had no place at a film festival.
I contended that 70% of producers that had produced a film were never able to produce a second one, largely because they mishandled the business side on their first one. I was trying to make sure this did not happen. Mr Ebert was unmoved, and spoke to me like an idiot as he repeated that film festivals are no place for business.
Now, I was pissed. I told him that business is always secondary. Just like it was when you dumped public television for more money with Tribune Broadcasting, and then dumped Tribune for Disney.
“My personal finances are none of your business!” he roared. I responded that not every failed screenwriter has a career in film criticism to fall back on. He stormed out and, I found out later, went directly to the festival office and demanded that I have my credential taken from me. Otherwise, he would leave that night.
When chased down by the organizers, I made a deal with them. Other than the Governor’s party the next night, I would attend no official events. As for Mr Ebert, I never spoke with him again until that brief encounter at Cannes. He died in 2013. I’d be a liar if I said I miss him.