A Magnolia Pictures Release

Robert De Niro


A Barry Levinson Film

110 minutes, Rated R

Distributor Contact: / Press ContactNY/Nat’l: / Press Contact LA/Nat’l:
Jeff Reichert / Tom Piechura / Irina Vaysman
Matt Cowal / 42 West / 42 West
Magnolia Pictures / 220 West 42nd Street / 11400 W. Olympic Blvd.
49 W. 27th St., 7th Floor / 12 Floor / Suite 100
New York, NY 10001 / New York, NY10036 / Los Angeles, CA90064
(212) 924-6701 phone / (212) 277-7555 / (646) 649-9495
(212) 924-6742 fax / (212) 277-7550 /


What Just Happened is a winningly sharp comedy about two nail-biting, back-stabbing, roller-coaster weeks in the world of a middle-aged Hollywood producer -- as he tries to juggle an actual life with an outrageous series of crises in his day job.

Academy Award® winning director Barry Levinson reunites with Academy Award® winning actor Robert De Niro and leading producer Art Linson, who wrote the screenplay based on his bestselling memoir. They all join with an all-star cast in this rollicking, shrewd tale of a man besieged by people who want him to be all sorts of things -- a money maker, an ego buster, a bad news breaker, an artistic champion, a loyal husband, an all-knowing father, not to mention sexy, youthful and tuned-in – everything except for the one thing he and all the preposterously behaved people he’s surrounded by really are: bumbling human beings just trying to survive by any means necessary.

Ben (DE NIRO) is already in over his head trying to balance the tug-of-war of having two ex-wives and two different families with his latest business venture – the boldly “visionary” movie Fiercely starring Sean Penn (SEAN PENN) – when everything that can go wrong goes completely screwy.

Fiercely looks like an audience-offending flop which draws the ire of iron-gloved studio chief Lou (CATHERINE KEENER), who forces him into tangling with the film’s rebellious and drug-addled director Jeremy (MICHAEL WINCOTT). Meanwhile, he’s confused and bewitched by his ex Kelly (ROBIN WRIGHT PENN) who can’t make up her mind about him; shocked by his daughter Zoe (KRISTEN STEWART), who seems to have grown up overnight; infuriated by his screenwriter friend Scott (STANLEY TUCCI) who’s trying to make a deal with him while making moves on his former wife; horrified by a hirsute Bruce Willis (BRUCE WILLIS) and flummoxed by Willis’ nebbishy agent Dick (JOHN TURTURRO), who’s scared to death of his own clients.

Somehow amidst all the madness, treachery, deceit, runaway egos, rampant commercialism, personal politics and atrocious behavior of America’s dream-making machinery, Ben has to find a way not just to make it to Cannes with a finished film, but to cope . . .

What Just Happened is based on the acclaimed, bestselling memoir by veteran Hollywood producer Art Linson, who wrote the screenplay and produced the film with Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. The executive producers are Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban.

The behind-the-scenes team includes cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (Talk To Me, The Beat My Heart Skipped), editor Hank Corwin (The New World), production designer Stefania Cella (Man of the Year) and composer Marcelo Zarvos (The Good Shepherd). The film is set to a soundtrack that mixes the classic cinematic sounds of Ennio Morricone with the songs of Nick Drake, Citizen Cope, Dire Straits, Bebel Gilberto and Nina Simone, among others.


“Let’s face it, time was running out. In fact, the sand

in the hourglass was hemorrhaging. For me, producing movies had become an increasingly farfetched affair. And in this town where “new” is best,

I could feel that black hole of Hollywood purgatory waiting for me.”

-- Art Linson, What Just Happened: Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line

Part outrageous comedy, part compelling portrait of a man trapped in a middle-aged muddle of his own making and part uncensored exposé of Hollywood’s high rollers and deal makers, What Just Happenedbegan with real life – the real life of the film’s producer Art Linson. Linson has produced some of the most memorable films in recent Hollywood history -- ranging from The Untouchables and Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Fight Club and last year’s acclaimed Into The Wild. Then in 2002, he published a bestselling memoir, What Just Happened: Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line – a vividly honest, razor-sharp and often hilarious retelling of some of the wildest power plays, worst ego trips and most excruciating moments he experienced in the back rooms of the movie business.

A few years later, Linson adapted the memoir into a completely fictionalized screenplay featuring a lead character who was, on the one hand, a prototypical product of today’s Hollywood, and on the other, not all that different from a lot of Americans – a man desperately trying to juggle his fractured family with his crazy career without creating a total disaster. While firmly in the tradition of stories that have peeked into the power-and-paranoia-fueled inner sanctum of Hollywood, ranging from The Bad and The Beautiful to The Player to HBO’s popular Entourage, Linson’s screenplay was also a contemporary comedy of manners – appallingly bad manners, that is.

The wry but enticing tone of the script drew the attention of two men who had previously teamed with Linson: Robert De Niro whose distinguished body of work includes winning two Oscars® for his unforgettable performances in The Godfather Part II and Raging Bull, as well as four additional nominations for Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Awakenings and Cape Fear; and director Barry Levinson, who won the Best Director Oscar® for Rain Man, received a nomination and numerous other awards for Bugsy and garnered three nominations as a screenwriter for And Justice for All, Diner and Avalon. De Niro and Levinson last worked together on the acclaimed political satire Wag the Dog, and De Niro suspected that What Just Happened would appeal to the director’s sensibilities, which have always veered towards sly, humor-filled explorations of human behavior.

“Bob had always encouraged Art to write a screenplay based on his memoirs, and then when Art did, Bob encouraged him to send it to me,” recalls Levinson. “I responded to it because I thought it was very funny but also very real. You read a lot of stories about Hollywood that are just straight-ahead spoofs, but as outrageous as this story was, it also reflected very much what the business is actually like. It felt very credible and honest.”

Levinson was especially drawn to the sharply etched character of Ben, who finds himself traversing a kind of Dante’s Inferno of raging egos, unbridled humiliation and familial confusion in just 14 manic days – and both the comedy and the humanity of how he tries to find his way to the other side any which way he can.

“I’m always fascinated by people under extreme pressure and I liked that this story is, at heart, about a man just trying to survive two weeks in hell,” says Levinson. “What really makes Ben so interesting to me, though, is that he’s not just the witness to all this – he’s at least as flawed as everyone around him. He’s no better and no worse than all the people driving him crazy and I didn’t want to make any apologies for his behavior. He is what he is and what we set out to capture is how Ben is just literally intent on finding ways to keep going no matter what happens.”

And yet, as much as Ben might be caught up in Hollywood’s machinations of power, wealth and fame, Levinson also saw him as a very relatable, not to mention achingly human, character of our times. “You hope that by creating a character with such great specificity that it will have universal appeal,” he explains. “And I think Ben is someone who is trying to do things that a lot of people are trying to do: hold his family together while navigating a battlefield.”

He continues: “The nature of film has always been to take audiences into another place, perhaps a place where you might see issues that reflect your own, but it’s still another place outside your reality. There’s a long-standing cinematic sub-genre of looking at Hollywood that way, from Singing in the Rain to Sunset Boulevvard, which have long fascinated audiences. Sure, Ben might be among the rich and famous, but he struggles as much as anyone else, which is what makes him so interesting.”

From the beginning, Levinson also knew that the comedy and the complexity of Ben would be brought to life by Robert De Niro, who not only knew Art Linson very well but had his own wickedly astute take on the character: as a man with a deliciously dark streak of tragedy running through his world of absurdities. “Bob absorbed all the things about Art that he felt might apply – the style of dress, the slight beard, those sorts of visual cues – and then he defined the character himself,” says Levinson.

Adds Linson of De Niro’s performance: “Bob instinctively knew that a man hanging over a ledge in Hollywood is desperately funny and true. He ferociously inhaled that idea and the rest of us followed."

With Linson, De Niro and Levinson all on board, What Just Happened was able to attract a star-studded cast that includes many surprises: Sean Penn playing himself as the self-satisfied star of Ben’s artsy movie Fiercely; Bruce Willis in a bold turn as a bearded, blown-up, brazenly arrogant version of himself as the star who could sink or save Ben’s next movie with a razor; Catherine Keener as the quietly bullying studio exec determined to cut her losses; John Turturro as an agent lacking intestinal fortitude in more ways than one; Michael Wincott, sporting a British accent and rock star attitude, as the supposedly visionary director whose violent film goes way beyond the pale; Robin Wright Penn as the indecisive ex-wife with whom Ben is trying in vain to get back together; Kristen Stewart as the 17 year-old daughter whose own Hollywood connections go much deeper than Ben would like to know; and Stanley Tucci as the argyle sock-wearing screenwriter who nearly drives him mad with jealousy.

Levinson says he worked largely intuitively with this highly accomplished ensemble of actors to allow so many comic moments - from Michael Wincott on a pill-popping binge to John Turturro dry heaving all over town to Bruce Willis throwing the mother of all tantrums -- to unfold organically. “There's just a little bit of sleight of hand involved, what I call a 'controlled freedom,' which ensures that no one feels inhibited to try to experiment; yet, at the same there is a strong respect for the structure and characters of the screenplay,” says Levinson.

The performances were so strong that, in several cases, Levinson was inspired to keep the camera rolling in unusually long single takes. This was particularly true for the scene in which Robert De Niro and Robin Wright Penn as Ben and Kelly visit the psychiatrist whose primary goal is to keep the couple happily apart ever after. “Their performance together was so strong that it didn’t need any coverage. It worked as a single shot,” says Levinson.

Similarly, when Ben races back to his office trying to find Bruce Willis while simultaneously taking dueling form his irate ex-wife and his off-the-rails director Jeremy – a scene that goes down the hallway, through the office, and back down the hallway -- the camera stays with him and his frenzied turmoil the whole way. Explains Levinson: “Bob was so on his game and his motor was so tuned to the movie that he drove the whole sequence without any need to build or cut.”

* * *

What Just Happened was shot indie-style in just 33 days, a schedule, which although challenging, only helped to add to the film’s rapid-fire energy and liveliness. To forge the film’s freeway-paced, sun-drenched, L.A.-style look on a shoestring, Barry Levinson brought in a cinematographer with whom he’s never collaborated before: Stéphane Fontaine, whose intense, mood-setting work on the award-winning French crime drama The Beat My Heart Skipped had impressed him.

For What Just HappenedLevinson wanted a similarly immediate and lo-fi approach. “I wanted a look that didn’t feel too manicured, that was very direct and organic, and not studied,” explains Levinson. “Stéphane is not only highly adept in terms of working with light, he also serves as his own camera operator and is very, very good at moving with the actors.”

The visuals of the film turn more playful – imbued with a fast-forwarding sensation – in the many freeway sequences where Ben remains ever attached to his Bluetooth phone, lost in time yet unable to escape the constant motion of the city. For Levinson, these scenes help to set the ineffable tone of life in Los Angeles. “In Los Angeles, whether you’re a producer or anybody else, so much of your life is spent in the car that it becomes an important place,” he notes. “The scenes on the freeway are about the non-stop adrenaline and hypertension of Ben’s life, the idea that he can never really just stop and settle down.”

The frenzy of Ben’s life, however, never spilled over into the focused atmosphere of the production. The shoot certainly offered plenty of potential landmines – especially since it was comically portraying characters in the very same positions as the people making the movie. But Barry Levinson says, in the end, this sharp-edged excavation of his own world went down surprisingly smooth and easy, with blessedly little in the way of the characters’ unabashedly overheated behavior showing up on the set.

He sums up: “We were lucky because everyone involved got very much into the spirit of what we were trying to go and they really went with it and actually . . . .it was a very, very pleasant experience.”


ROBERT DE NIRO (Ben; Producer) launched his prolific motion picture career in Brian De Palma’s The Wedding Party in 1969. By 1973 De Niro had twice won the New York Film Critics’ Award for Best Supporting Actor in recognition of his critically acclaimed performances in Bang the Drum Slowly and Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.

In 1974 De Niro received the Academy Award© for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II. In 1980 he won his second Oscar, as Best Actor, for his extraordinary portrayal of Jake La Motta in Scorsese’s Raging Bull.

De Niro has earned Academy Award© nominations in four additional films: as Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s acclaimed Taxi Driver; as a Vietnam vet in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter; as a catatonic patient brought to life in Penny Marshall’s Awakenings; and in 1992 as Max Cady, an ex-con looking for revenge, in Scorsese’s remake of the 1962 classic Cape Fear.

In addition to What Just Happened, De Niro’s upcoming projects include the crime-drama Righteous Kill, in which he co-stars with Al Pacino and Curtis 50 Cent Jackson.

De Niro’s distinguished body of work also includes performances in Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon; Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900; Ulu Grosbard’s True Confessions and

Falling in Love; Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America; Scorsese’s King of Comedy; New York, New York; Goodfellas; and Casino; Terry Gilliam’s Brazil; Roland Joffe’s The Mission; Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables; Alan Parker’s Angel Heart; Martin Brest’s Midnight Run; David Jones’ Jacknife; Martin Ritt’s Stanley and Iris; Neil Jordan’s We’re No Angels; Ron Howard’s Backdraft; Michael Caton-Jones’ This Boy’s Life; John McNaughton’s Mad Dog and Glory; his directorial debut A Bronx Tale; Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Michael Mann’s Heat; Barry Levinson’s Sleepers and Wag the Dog; Jerry Zaks’ Marvin’s Room; Tony Scott’s The Fan; James Mangold’s Copland; Alfonso Cuarón’s Great Expectations; Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown; John Frankenheimer’s Ronin; Harold Ramis’ Analyze This and Analyze That; Joel Schumacher’s Flawless; Des McNuff’s Rocky and Bullwinkle; Jay Roach’s, Meet The Parents; George Tillman’s Men of Honor; John Herzfeld’s Fifteen Minutes; Frank Oz’s The Score; Tom Dey’s Showtime; Michael Caton-Jones’ City By The Sea; and Nick Hamm’s Godsend. His most recent works are John Polson’s Hide and Seek; Mary McGuckian’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey; DreamWorks’s Shark Tale and Roach’s Meet the Fockers.

De Niro takes pride in the development of his production company, Tribeca Productions, the TribecaFilmCenter, which he founded with Jane Rosenthal in 1988, and the Tribeca Film Festival which he founded with Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in 2002 as a response to the attacks on the WorldTradeCenter. Conceived to foster the economic and cultural revitalization of Lower Manhattan through an annual celebration of film, music, and culture, the festival’s mission is to promote New York City as a major filmmaking center and help filmmakers reach the broadest possible audience.