“What difference does that make if it’s true?”: An Oral History of ‘Wag the Dog’

Twenty-five years after its release on Christmas Day 1997, the political comedy Wag the Dog—focuses on a mock war staged to distract from a presidential scandal—cannot help but resonate in a world where changing realities play out daily in the media landscape . “There’s always been a relationship between Hollywood and politics and we wanted to have fun with it,” said Jane Rosenthal, who produced the movie with the star Robert De Niro. “But I’m so proud of the movie, but I’m sad that you can’t even understand some of the bad things going on right now.”

With the participation of De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and a bunch of stars and future stars, Wag the Dog earned $64 million at the worldwide box office (in a time when audiences would literally leave their homes to see such things), earned two Oscar nominations, and seemed prophetic about cases of crime. scandal of the Clinton administration so much so that news vans were parked outside the director. Barry Levinsonhouse of. But it’s also a true Hollywood story of behind-the-scenes negotiations, hastily contested celebrity cameos, and ultimately, who deserves the credit.

Wag the Dog begins with the core of a literary concept, then develops through adaptation and evolves into what many argue is an entirely new interpretation from the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Mamet, only to be discovered and improvised with abandon on set. Production was squeezed into a tight 30-day window, creating a frenzied scramble to find and deploy all the right pieces for what would become one of the longest-running political satires. long and still painful that Hollywood used to produce.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more prophetic film than that,” says Hoffman, who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an eccentric Hollywood producer. “Is crazy.”

Below, in their own words, the cast and crew members discuss the experience—and legacy—of Wag the Dog, 25 years passed.

first. “WHAT WE WILL DO?”

Larry Beinhart (Author, American Hero): I was watching Gulf War on television and I was basically joking, “This is a TV series.” And I didn’t get the laughs I expected. So I feel I need to extend it. I don’t think it was manufactured, but I think the Gulf War and all its elements were presented in a very conscious way as World War II: Video. Everyone is cast in certain roles. I sat down, and I said, “If I wanted to do a satirical, exaggerated version of it, I’d have a dummy director like me. George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. What would that be like?” And that’s what the book is.

Jane Rosenthal (Producer): There were a few things in the book that we were drawn to, but I just loved the idea that Hollywood would make a war. Bob and I have always been politically inclined. So I sold the book to De Luca at the New Line.

Michael De Luca (Former President of Production, New Line Cinema): I think the book is a clever satire. I laughed a lot, although it can get quite dark at times.

Robert De Niro (Producer/“Conrad Brean”): I didn’t really read the novel. I know I should say I did, but I didn’t.

Beinhart: By the time it crosses the yard and is sold, [Bill] clinton is the president. with [Wag the Dog] script, they created a Clintonian version of it. Instead of going out and actually waging a war attracting the American people to solve domestic political problems, they created the illusion of a war. It was a very appropriate update.

Rosenthal: We hired Hilary Henkin to write the script. She wrote a script for me and Bob called stolen flowers and I was always looking for something else to do with her. Her draft is a faithful adaptation of the book.

hilary henkin (Writer): The core of the book was certainly the inspiration, but we left most of it out very early on. Jane was the ideal producer for this documentary, because she saw the far-reaching meaning of the work. I remember I had a little postcard with a wonderful line from Citizen Kane: “If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough.” I think that’s really quintessential. I’ve been to many photo producers, military personnel, and administrations of all kinds, and I’ve been told very clearly that in order to control perception of a war, images that reach the public must be disseminated appropriately. careful. But where is the intersection between filming a real fight and using it to your advantage, and simply creating those scenes yourself? I remember sitting across from people who said, “Where do you want your war? We will place your war wherever you want.” So that’s where my post takes me.


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