By Amy Lennard Goehner / Hudson, N.Y.
And the winner of The Insider’s Second Annual Oscar Competition is . . . Paul Fishbein of, where else? Los Angeles! Paul correctly picked eight of ten award winners, missing only original screenplay, Belfast, and film editing, Dune. (He chose Licorice Pizza and The Power of the Dog, respectively). Those eight correct picks plus a tie-breaking answer predicting the length of the Best Picture acceptance speech, won him a $100 Amazon gift card.
Paul, a native Philadelphian, is a producer of TV and film documentaries, most recently the docs Time Warp, about the greatest cult films of all time, and Skin, a history of nudity in the movies, currently on Hulu. He’s also the co-founder of Adult Video News (AVN), the trade publication for the adult home video industry, and the AVN Awards.
“I’m a film buff, first and foremost,” said Paul. And during the pandemic, he says he watched more films than at any time in his life. “Everything that was normally offered to me to go see in a theater was available online, things like the New York Film Festival, Tribeca, even Sundance. Plus being home, you watch more movies. I really ramped it up,” he says.
Paul attended Temple University in Philadelphia. As a journalism student, he started an independent college magazine called In Print. At the time, he started working at nearby Movies Unlimited, back then the biggest video store in the country. It was there that he and his friend and future business partner, Irv Slifkin, got the idea for AVN. (Coincidentally, Irv, also a subscriber to The Insider, hold's the title of our First Annual Oscar Competition Winner!)
As for the Oscars, Paul applauded CODA nabbing Best Picture, but admits he was also rooting for the Netflix movie, The Power of the Dog. “I want Netflix to stay engaged because they're making really great movies that I don't think any other studio would make,” says Paul. “They take risks and do big stuff, like The Irishman from Martin Scorsese and Marriage Story from Noah Baumbach a couple of years ago.” Paul was surprised his favorite film from last year and its director wasn’t even nominated: Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers. And Paul’s favorite all-time film? Too tough to narrow down. Top five? No hesitation: The Producers (the original), Annie Hall, Singin’ in the Rain, Cinema Paradiso and Casablanca.
As for picking winners, Paul’s shared his strategy: “You just get a sense as to what people are looking at,” he says. “You see CODA won the Screen Actors Guild and you know that a lot of those people are also Academy voters. And plus, it's a feel good film and Power of the Dog is a little more difficult. You draw from what you read and what people are going for -- and you guess!”
Having produced awards shows in the past, Paul calls himself “an awards show guy,” who particularly savors those “great moments that are either flubs or mistakes or just spontaneous things.” A favorite of his was the 2017 Oscars show when La La Land was incorrectly announced for Best Picture -----instead of Moonlight. How about this year’s “spontaneous thing” when Will Smith clocked Chris Rock after he made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith? “The Academy's ratings are in the toilet. And they've got all kinds of issues and all kinds of problems,” says Paul. “But at least people are talking about the show. That's not what the Academy wants to talk about, but at least they’re in the conversation.”
Looking ahead to films in the making that Paul is anxious to see, topping the list is Killers of the Flower Moon, directed by Scorsese, whom Paul considers the greatest living American filmmaker. But the film that Paul is most excited about is Video Nation: the first feature film screenplay that he’s written. The script is complete, it only awaits funding and production. Paul shares a sneak preview:
“It’s an autobiographical coming-of-age comedy about a couple of people out of college who want to go to Hollywood and work in the mainstream film industry and they get waylaid into the newly emerging adult video industry. It takes place in the early ‘80s, when home video was just becoming a thing, VCRs and all that. But it's more a workplace comedy than a story about the porn industry. The adult industry, with its outsized cast of characters, provides the backdrop.” Paul describes the main character, er, himself at 22, as totally lacking self-esteem, a complete nerd who loved movies and worked at a video store. “But he learns about life and love as he grows this unique business,” he says.
In reflecting on this trajectory his career took, Paul says, “I have a weird past, being a co-creator of the adult equivalent of Variety and then doing an awards show. Then I transitioned now to making more mainstream documentaries. So I guess I have an unusual kind of background.”
And how does Paul feel about adding the accomplishment The Insider’s Second Annual Oscar Winner to his resume? “I’ve never won anything so I’m very excited!” says Paul enthusiastically.
I’m a third-generation Brooklynite (when Brooklyn was a place to come from, not go to) but grew up in Newton, Mass. I spent most of my career at Time Inc. as deputy chief of reporters at Sports Illustrated, senior editor at Sports Illustrated Kids, and senior arts reporter at Time. I wrote a lot about autism for Time, as my oldest son has autism. I currently freelance for AARP's Livable Communities. I’m in my element ghostwriting online dating profiles or shooting pool and drinking a vodka martini — while listening to Ella, Dinah or Sarah.