Barry Levinson On Why He Can't Get His Final Baltimore Movie Made [Exclusive]

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This year marks the 40th Anniversary of writer/director Barry Levinson's debut film "Diner," which opened on March 2, 1982. Starring Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Daly, the sleeper hit movie was an autobiographical look at Levinson's lively group of friends in 1959 Baltimore. Still celebrated to this day, "Diner" spawned three more personal films in what became known as his Baltimore Movies, the next being 1987's "Tin Men" about the aluminum siding salesmen who also hung out at the same diner, followed by 1990's "Avalon" about Levinson's immigrant family history in America, and finally 1999's "Liberty Heights," which explored race relations in the 1950s. 

What many may not know is that Levinson crafted a fifth and final part of this Baltimore cycle titled "Sixty-Six," which featured an autobiographical character named Bobby Shine who represents the filmmaker just before he left his hometown to try his hand in Hollywood. It was published as a novel in 2003, and Levinson also penned it as a screenplay with the intent to direct as far back as 2009, though it has yet to be produced. 

Here is a partial synopsis of "Sixty-Six":

As society's shifts begin to take hold, the people at the heart of "Sixty-Six" know they have something to hold on to: each other . . . Bobby Shine, an intern at the local television station; the soulful and rebellious Neil; Ben Kallin, the "King of the Teenagers"; Turko and Eggy, comic philosophers extraordinaire. They spend their time together hanging out at the Hilltop Diner, wisecracking, coping, falling in and out of love, planning for a glorious future.

'We really like it, but ...'

During the press day for HBO Max's Holocaust drama "The Survivor," we talked to Barry Levinson about "Sixty-Six" and if there has been any movement on it, either as a theatrical feature or even for streaming.

"Yeah, there was interest and then it was like, 'Well, I don't know ...' You know, that kind of thing," Levinson said. "'We really like it, but does it fit with what we're doing now?'" He continued:

"That's always a good question. Does it fit? It's like, what is it that we're doing that it has to fit into? What they're basically saying is those large blockbuster movies are the ones they are chasing. These more personal filmmaking things are, let's say, not extinct but very few can get through.

I'm very fond of 'Liberty Heights.' It marks the end, for the most part, of studios doing any of those films like that. It so happened that Terry Semel was running Warner Bros. with Bob Daley at that time. When I finished the film, they ultimately left and someone new took over. Then it was like, 'Well, it's a nice movie, but I don't think we'll bother to really sell it.' It was never really sold, and basically I have not been able to do another Baltimore film since. It's like, 'No stories and relationships or whatever. The audience doesn't care. Too hard to sell, so let's not bother.' There are a few that have been made since then, obviously, but by and large to do those kinds of movies have become, for me, an almost impossible task."

It's sad that an Oscar-winning filmmaker of Levinson's caliber can't find a studio willing to let him complete such a beloved series of films. This being the 40th anniversary of "Diner," we also asked Levinson about whether we will get to see a restored release of his 1983 "Diner" TV pilot starring James Spader, Michael Madsen, and featuring Paul Reiser's return as the character Modell.

"Oh, gee, it's a good question. I don't know. It's funny that you mentioned that because it's been a long time. In the end there were several things going against it from the studio. One, I did it as a half-hour show without a laugh track, and they didn't like that idea that there's no laugh track. So that was a big negative at that time. Then the storytelling of the way it moved, just like the film, was too outside of the box at that point in time."

Director Barry Levinson's "The Survivor" is now playing on HBO Max, and be on the lookout for our full interview with the filmmaker as well as star Ben Foster.