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David Fincher and Joel Schumacher powwowed in a corner of New York’s Alice Tully Hall Wednesday night. They made for an unlikely couple. Fincher, the director of cerebral movies like “The Social Network” and “Zodiac,” was understated in basic suit and tie. Schumacher, the old-timer behind two Batman movies (the Nineties, campy ones) and “St. Elmo’s Fire,” among others, wore an open collar and two strands of puka shell chokers. His hair was slicked back. It was the premiere of “House of Cards,” the possibly groundbreaking only-on-Netflix political series. Fincher, an executive producer on the show, directed its first two episodes. Schumacher and a handful of other blue-chip thriller directors helmed the rest of the series.
“I thought it was so wicked and delicious,” Schumacher said. “It’s much more than a political thriller.”
In the series, Washington is portrayed as a cesspool of backstabbing operators and morally bankrupt social climbers, a world that was all too familiar for the veteran filmmaker. Schumacher was free to direct after he had “walked out of a movie because of the producers,” he said without elaborating. Around him, the premiere swirled. Intrigued by Netflix’s splashy foray into original programming — it spent $100 million on “House of Cards” — industry heavies turned up to check out the goods. They included Harvey Weinstein, who was deep in conversation with lead Kevin Spacey, Tom Hanks, and in-demand starlets Kate Mara, who costars in the series, and her sister Rooney.
“D.C. is Hollywood without good people,” Schumacher said. Did he mean without good-looking people? “D.C. is Hollywood without good people. But I didn’t make up that quote. It’s a very famous quote.”
But since Schumacher got his start, it is Hollywood that’s become more like Washington. Films are promoted like political campaigns, with endless focus groups and armies of strategists. Schumacher remembered when power used to be clustered around the houses of a few well-connected players.
“I got to Hollywood in Christmas 1971. Sue [Mengers] was already a legend,” he said. “And even though I was making $200 a week, she invited me to everything. I networked a lot at her parties and Joan Didion and John [Gregory] Dunne’s and got a lot of jobs that way.”
He lamented the current state of affairs.
“Much more money is spent promoting people and movies and the directors for the awards. That’s new. It’s become sort of a p.r. machine,” he said.