A founding partner in the Creative Artists Agency, Ron Meyer left to become president of Universal Studios 10 years ago, and has weathered five different regimes at the company, now owned by General Electric. At the end of a summer marked by bleak box-office results, Meyer talked with TIME's Jeffrey Ressner about the hits, the misses and the grime on movie-theater floors.
MOVIE BOX OFFICE HAS BEEN DOWN ALMOST 10% THIS SUMMER. WHAT HAPPENED? A variety of things. Audiences once willing to experiment with different films now have more choices about how to spend their leisure time. The DVD business has certainly had an effect on moviegoing. The theater experience has to get better. And, clearly, we need to make better-quality films with more entertainment value. Good films get results.
WHAT ABOUT THE THEATER EXPERIENCE HAS TO GET BETTER? Theaters need to be comfortable and clean. I'd like to see theater owners get the garbage off the floors. There should be better food and snacks available. People have to feel good about going there. I don't think the ads they show before movies help matters, personally.
MOVIE EXECUTIVES GET PRIVATE SCREENINGS. HOW WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT THE THEATERGOING EXPERIENCE? I go to a theater like everybody else. I make it a point to see just about every film that comes out--the good ones and the bad ones. On an average weekend, I'll watch about six movies.
IS HOLLYWOOD RELEASING TOO MANY MOVIES? There are probably too many movies coming out at prime dates in the summer and at Christmas time. But generally, the right films win out. Look, everybody is bemoaning the movie business today, but it's still a healthy and great business.
CINDERELLA MAN WAS ONE OF YOUR DISAPPOINTMENTS THIS YEAR. DID YOU MAKE A MISTAKE RELEASING IT IN THE SUMMER? We thought it was good counterprogramming. In many cases, that strategy proves to be right. In this particular case, clearly the date did not work to our advantage, and probably worked to our disadvantage. If I had it to do over again, the only thing I'd probably do differently is to put it out on a different date. We'll give it a limited theatrical re-release later this year.
THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN GOT AN R RATING, AND IT'S DOING VERY WELL. WHAT'S THE LESSON? ARE RAUNCHIER COMEDIES AHEAD? I don't look at it as raunchy. It's a fun, good-natured comedy that pushes some people's taste levels. As far as the R rating goes, while I think the rating system is totally necessary, it's probably time to revisit it and re-evaluate why things are rated a certain way.
SEVERAL EXPENSIVE SPECIAL-EFFECTS FILMS--STEALTH, THE ISLAND--BOMBED THIS SUMMER. ARE AUDIENCES BECOMING JADED WHEN IT COMES TO COMPUTER-GENERATED IMAGERY? Technology is changing the way films are made and what people can do in telling a story, but it's still the basics: movies made by directors starring actors with the right screenplay will be exactly what we'll be seeing succeed for the next decade. That said, when people see Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong this year, no one will feel jaded. He's delivered a real story with heart.