The annual American Magazine Media Conference kicked off with a nod to “Happy Days” — literally.
After an introductory video to Ron Howard’s work, which served as a reminder of just how many iconic films he has been behind, New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick and Howard came on stage for a Q&A. “When do you start shooting ‘Arrested Development’ again? Make some news,” Remnick, in his celebrity interviewer mode, urged.
“I’m not allowed to break news,” Howard demurred, before mentioning the difficulty of scheduling with an ensemble cast.
Billed as a discussion about the value of quality content and expert storytelling for an audience of magazine editors and publishers, the conversation centered more on Howard’s career trajectory than advice about compelling content.
“You were the star of the ‘Andy Griffith Show’ when you were five, six and seven,” Remnick said. “It’s inconceivable to me that you’ve had a career for as long as you did.”
Howard credited his longevity in Hollywood, and his successful transition from child star to respected director, to the influence of his parents. His father, he explained, was a character actor, so he wasn’t dazzled by the industry, and he helped him understand the craft of acting and what it meant to be part of a cast.
At that age, Remnick said, “I barely was able to eat my peas.”
Howard explained that he stayed grounded by attending public school during breaks in shooting. When he asked his father how to answer the question of what it was like to be a star, his father suggested he compare his job as an actor to a paper route.
Remnick asked Howard to give examples of movies he had worked on that he considered a creative success and the opposite. “Everyone here is involved with storytelling, and we are all failing all the time. Or at least I feel that was, certainly as a writer,” Remnick said.
Howard cited “Apollo 13” as an example of a movie that he worried could have failed but didn’t. Howard said he had high hopes for “The Dilemma” with Vince Vaughn, which he directed, but they were dashed when test audiences reacted by folding their arms.
“In the movie business, you can’t kill a piece,” Remnick noted.
Toward the second half of the interview, Remnick pointed out that they had been disciplined by not discussing politics, before introducing a clip from “Frost/Nixon,” Howard’s 2008 film about Richard Nixon’s post-Watergate interview with famed with British TV journalist David Frost.
The clip led to a discussion of how to create entertainment that speaks to everyone during such politically partisan times, and Remnick mentioned the speech Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffery made at Tuesday’s ASME awards about the need for both magazines that inform and magazines that delight.
A British audience member asked whether magazines have an opportunity in the world of fake news.
“Now, I’m just being a consumer,” Howard said. “As a consumer, in the same way that I’m wondering about TV programming that acknowledges both sides, it will be interesting to see if news outlets can speak not just to their base but to earn trust from the other side.”