If there’s one central message conveyed in Boffo, a slick, agreeable and insightful doc about success, failure and mainstream filmmaking now playing on HBO, it’s contained in the answer to this question:

What’s the one thing that seems to lead to the making of a hit — more than a good script, a perfect cast, the right director, etc.? Or rather, what’s the one voice that a producer or a studio chief needs to listen to above all the others? The answer is, “The one from the gut.”
As producer Richard Zanuck says halfway through Boffo, “Your head can talk you out of a lot of things, but your gut always tells the truth.”
Here’s the first three or four minutes of Boffo. The speakers are (in precisely this order) Danny DeVito, Peter Guber, Peter Bogdanovich, Jodie Foster, producer Brian Grazer, 20th Century Fox chief Tom Rothman, Sydney Pollack, Morgan Freeman, Zanuck and fellow Jaws producer David Brown, and finally George Clooney .
Boffo was directed by Bill Couterie and produced by Variety editor Peter Bart, and is being billed as a celebration of Variety‘s 100th anniversary, but aside from several Variety headlines being shown, the promotional element doesn’t feel all that persistent.
Boffo is very smooth, engaging, and well-produced. However, I have two or three beefs:
(1) Boffo seems more interested in being chummy with its celebrity talking heads and paying tribute to their past successes and being supportive of the industry’s potential for making new successes, and less interested in exploring the whys and wherefores of failure. (There’s a fascinating moment when Morgan Freeman is asked what went wrong with The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Freeman barely answers. His body language and facial expressions, however, speak volumes.)
(2) While it only deals with the monumental failures ( Howard the Duck, et, al.), Boffo doesn’t even mention Last Action Hero…surely one of the most grotesque wipeouts of the last 15 or 20 years. It’s not even a blip on the screen.
(3) Boffo doesn’t deal at all with questions about why and how certain films have failed. It doesn’t get into the word-of-mouth mystique and how various producers and studios have responded to it, or into research screenings and whether or not that’s good or bad or a mixed bag, and it doesn’t mention how bad-buzz spreading through the media has contributed, fairly or unfairly, to the failure of this and that film, and, in line with this avoidance, doesn’t mention how bad buzz on this and that film moves much faster these days via the internet and text-messaging among the under-20-somethings.