Last weekend, Lawrence Kasdan flew into Philadelphia from Paris, where he'd attended the French opening of "Grand Canyon." Immediately before that, he was in Berlin, where his ensemble drama about angst and anxiety among a disparate group of Los Angelenos won the Berlin International Film Festival's top prize, the Golden Bear.
"I have no idea where I am," joked Mr. Kasdan, the guest of honor at the sixth annual Philadelphia Weekend Film Festival.
The festival included a retrospective of the writer-director's work, including "The Big Chill," "Silverado" and "The Accidental Tourist." Mr. Kasdan would later preside over two lengthy Q&A sessions with the group, fielding queries about Kevin Costner's excised scenes in "The Big Chill," about Mr. Kasdan's writing assignments for George Lucas ("The Empire Strikes Back") and Steven Spielberg ("Raiders of the Lost Ark") and about "Grand Canyon," "probably as openly philosophical a film as I'm ever going to make."
In his hotel suite, Mr. Kasdan, a bearded, barrel-shaped man with a nasal voice and a keen manner, talked about the Oscar nomination that he and his wife and writing partner, Meg, have been accorded for "Grand Canyon's" screenplay.
"I felt bad because so many people on "Grand Canyon" -- not just the actors, but the cameraman, the editors -- so many people that did great work for me were ignored.
"But it's really like talking about the weather, the Oscars, because there's not much you can say that hasn't already been said. And there's no sense to it. . . . This is my fourth nomination, DTC so I can't even say that going is particularly pleasurable. But a lot of my friends have now won, and when you go to their homes they have this Oscar and that's very cool," he said, smiling.
"I think that's the only way to interact with the Oscars: to win one."
Because of his successes (the 1990 black comedy "I Love You to Death" is his only out-and-out flop), Mr. Kasdan, 43, is in an enviable position: He can pretty much make the movies he wants to make, with high-caliber actors willing to take a pay cut to work with him. Steve Martin, Danny Glover and Kevin Kline all worked for well under their standard fees in exchange for a percentage of "Grand Canyon's" profits.
Such independence is rare in an industry where filmmakers are often beholden to the studios -- studios intent mostly on recycling hits.
"The people that run Hollywood, that are actually making these decisions about what films to make, just don't have a clue," Mr. Kasdan said.
"They tend to be agents and lawyers and businessmen who are asked to evaluate screenplays, and they have no basis for evaluation other than, does it remind them of something that worked? And anything that doesn't is frightening to
them. . . . It's the same when they evaluate people's work -- directors, actors: Their only concern is, did this person make money last time? Money is essentially the only criteria.
"Now that doesn't mean that there's not good work being done. And I think [that directors can have] enormous freedom. . . . There are all these individual fiefdoms trying to get the advantage, so you can play that very well. And someone who passionately wants to make a film will generally get it made.
"The problem is that filmmakers very often aren't passionate about their work. They, too, want the biggest hit. . . . Because you don't want those businessmen to be running your life, and the way to avoid that is to have success," he said.