The veteran Hollywood film executive and Oscar-nominated “A Star is Born” producer Bill Gerber has no illusions about what the first questions on students’ lips likely will be Tuesday when he gives a talk Tuesday at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen on.
“The first question, I’m sure, will be ‘Did Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have a romance or not?’” he said with a laugh.
Did they? Guess you’ll have to go to find out.
“I like to talk about what people want to talk about,” Gerber said of the event, “and I hope it can be informative.”
Gerber has been coming to Aspen since 1986, when the actor Bruce Willis brought him out for a ski trip. In October 2020 as the pandemic kept Los Angeles shuttered, he rented a home in Aspen’s West End and has been here ever since.
“Aspen is my happy place,“ he said.
An avid skier, he’s been visiting religiously and skiing Aspen Mountain for more than 35 years now. He recalled feeling he’d made it when, on one long-ago visit, he walked into Stapleton Sports for a tune and Dave Stapleton looked up from the counter and said, “Welcome home, Bill!”
Putting down some roots in the community during the pandemic, he reached out to CMC Aspen dean Steve Skadron about how he might help film and media students there. The pair settled on starting with a campus talk about his work, open to students and to the general public.
Gerber has taught at UCLA and USC, but this event will be mostly open-ended, he said, allowing participants to ask him whatever they want to know about the film industry.
“I find that people view the entertainment industry as if it’s ‘Game of Thrones’ and there’s a wall around it and there’s no way to get in,” Gerber said. “I like to tell how I got in and I like to disabuse people of the belief that somehow they can’t do it.”
Gerber made his way into film from the music business, starting out as a musician and then working on producing soundtracks and as a music supervisor in the 1980s. Though he had no formal film training, that work led him into Warner Bros. where he quickly rose up the ranks and eventually became president of production.
At Warner, Gerber oversaw classics like Clint Eastwood’s Best Picture-winning “Unforgiven” and zeitgeisty dramas like Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” Michael Mann’s “Heat” and Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential.” From there, he went out on his own as a producer, making films like Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” Antoine Fuqua’s Muhammad Ali documentary “What’s My Name?” and, in 2018, the acclaimed blockbuster remake “A Star is Born.“
His time in the 1990s at Warner seems a bygone era, when studios made a variety of grown-up movies and dramas that have disappeared in recent years as the superhero franchise takeover and the advent of streaming have all but killed mid-budget movies and whole genres like the courtroom drama and romantic comedy.
“It was just a different time,“ Gerber said. ”The barrier to entry was not as expensive. Marketing wasn’t a minimum of $50 million on any movie. And the studios were not really owned by big corporations. … I think there are a lot of talented people still trying to make great movies, but it is harder than ever.“
As for the current crop of awards season fare, Gerber said he loved “The Power of the Dog,” “Don’t Look Up” and “Licorice Pizza” (and he singled out Jimmy Chen’s documentary “The Rescue,” inexplicably ignored by the Oscars, as one of the best films of the year).
Working remotely from Aspen, these days Gerber is largely developing TV projects and digging into several music-related shows including a mini-series about the infamous boy-band record producer Lou Pearlman, another about the tortured Rat Pack singer Dean Martin and a biopic on The Band’s Robbie Robertson.
The larger canvas of television and the post-“A Star is Born” resurgence of music movies has opened up a new world for Gerber.
“I like being able to delve deeper into these kind of topics,” he said. “And fortunately for me, starting out as musician, there is this renaissance of music biopics and documentaries.”