There's a revealing tale about old Hollywood that sounds apocryphal, but it's true: Billy Wilder had just screened his noir classic Sunset Boulevard—in typical cynical Wilder style, a thinly-veiled expose of the seedy side of the movie business—for industry executives. Though some recognized it for the classic it was destined to become, MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer collared Wilder on his way out and railed at him in front of the crowd, declaring, "You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you. You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood."
All I can say is, it's a good thing Mayer didn't work in today's Hollywood, where insiders make movies like What Just Happened. Writer/producer Art Linson wrote a tell-all novel about his years in the business called What Just Happened: Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line, then fictionalized it for this screenplay, and he knows of what he speaks. His producing credits include such classics as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Untouchables, Dick Tracy, Fight Club, and Into the Wild, and it's clear he knows all about the darker sides of the movie business.
What Just Happened follows Ben (Robert De Niro), a high-flying, smooth-talking producer, through two excruciating weeks in his career. Ben has three children, two ex-wives (one he tolerates and one he pines after) and a lot of stars and creative talent to babysit. One film he produced, slated to be shown at the uber-prestigious Cannes Film Festival the next week, fails miserably with grossed-out audiences in test screenings due to its jarringly violent ending. But the director is a classic "visionary" artiste, loathe to comply with the studio head's iron-fisted mandate for a new cut.