Show Stopper is filmmaker Barry Avrich’s newest installment in a revealing series of films on powerful entertainment moguls, (Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project, The Last Mogul: The Lew Wasserman Story), and chronicles the spectacular rise and fall of Garth Drabinsky’s dream fueled by a hunger for success, excess and adulation. Entertainment mogul Garth Drabinsky incredible story is the most dramatic and unprecedented rise to and descent from power in Canadian show biz history. Featuring interviews with artists who loved him, industry players who battled with him and the media who spilled gallons of ink chronicling his prodigious career, Show Stopper is punctuated with the voice and words of Garth himself, drawn from numerous interviews and press conferences over the last thirty years.
This month rootshed.com had the opportunity to interview director Barry Avrich at the New York premiere of the documentary, which was held at the Director’s Guild of America Theater. Additional guests included Tovah Feldshuh, Judith Gayle, Todd Graff, Emma Snowdon Jones, Elizabeth Kurpis, Brian Stokes, Mitchell, Rob Reiner, Chita Rivera, Phyllis Somerville, Rory Tahari, Adrienne Warren, Savannah Wise and Robert Wuhl. Following the screening there was a dinner at Porter House.
Q: How did you come to direct a film on Garth Drabinsky?
Barry Avrich: Well I was his ad agency for ten years, so I produced all of his radio and television commercials and had a direct report to him and it was one of the most nurturing, nourishing creative times in my life because we did crazy things. James Earl Jones was the voice of Showboat. Jack Palance was the voice of Ragtime. Malcolm McDowell was the voice of Sunset Boulevard. We did a lot of creative things. It didn’t matter how big the idea was, as long as it was a good idea. So you know I saw the good, the bad, the tough, the crazy, but it was creatively fulfilling. And I felt that I had to make this film and tell the story of this man. Because often when people go to prison, they are seen in one dimension.
Q: So what was the process like for you to make this film?
Barry Avrich: I had known so much from working there for so many years that to me the research was easy. It was a very passionate film for me. I went to the sentencing and so when he was sentenced I knew that that’s when I was going to make the film and it took about a year.
Q: What was the biggest challenge of making the film?
Barry Avrich: Staying balanced I think. Ultimately, you heard so many tough stories from people that really hated him for what he had done and the others that truly loved him. And I think the challenge for me was to make sure the audience left with their own opinion…Somebody not in the industry walked up to me and said “You know what, I don’t even know him, but I walked away loving him”. Wow. So I mean others will go he is the quintessential crook.
Q: It’s easy to see how one can have mixed feelings.
Barry Avrich: You can go back and say, “Gee nothing made any money. Nothing did well.” And so was the whole business based on fraud or not? It didn’t start out that way…He did want great art and became desperate to get it done and that’s what the downfall was. I mean it’s Shakespeare. It’s really Shakespeare.
Q: And you also wrangle a lot of interesting talent for the film. Who was your favorite interview or highlight?
Barry Avrich: Well Elaine Stritch. I mean she says it like it is. She’s a mixture of Betty Davis, Marlene Dietrich, and Norma Desmond. I mean it’s all there in one character. And she is okay with it “Hey, he did a lot of bad stuff, but man it was a good show.” So she was great. Diahann Carroll was like filming a legend. Amazing. They were all fun.
Q: What’s next for the film?
Barry Avrich: Well the film will open in New York and Los Angeles in limited release and then onto the wonderful world of Netflix, hopefully.
Q: What’s your next project?
Barry Avrich: Watch for the next one, it’s going to be fun. Bob Guccione. But that’s another great mogul who lost everything and a misunderstood man. I wanted to bring out the other dimension. Everything thinks Guccione, “The King of Porn,” but he’s way more than that.
Q: How did you get your start as a documentary filmmaker?
Barry Avrich: Storytelling. I love telling stories and I think that ultimately I wanted to meet these people. And it was the ultimate way to meet somebody. One of my first documentaries was on Dominick Dunne. I loved reading about him in Vanity Fair and I called him and said “I want to make a film about you” and he said “Okay.” So I met him. And onwards I met everybody from Kings to Queens to Mick Jagger on and on. It’s fun.