Producer Richard Hull
Producer Richard Hull grew up in Texas, graduating from Vanderbilt in May, 1992, with a degree in English.
"I went on an archaeological expedition to Alaska," Richard told me by phone March 6, 2002. "In the summer time, Alaska is 24-hour daylight. As soon as I felt the first snowflake, I got in my car and zigzagged the country. I met some guys in the middle of Yellowstone National Park who were also from Texas. Us Texans tend to stick together. They were doing a theater show. They gave me a place to live in exchange for me being their gopher - loading their props, making their coffee, etc...
"I had no intentions of getting into the entertainment business. About three weeks in, one of the lead actors hurt his back, about 20 minutes before curtain. They said, 'Dude, if you don't play his part, the show doesn't go on.' And I loved it.
"I moved to Texas and worked my way up to a VP at a company that bought and sold the radio stations. Then I moved to Los Angeles and slept on a friend's couch for $200 a month. I got an internship with manager-producer Hilly Elkins, who represented James Coburn, Lou Gossett, Robert Guillaime, Barry Corbin. I had to go on three interviews to get this unpaid internship. After three months, I was put on the payroll, and over the next nine months, I learned the business side of the business.
"Then I decided to go out on my own as a producer. I went to Ikea and bought a desk and put it in the bedroom in my little apartment. I went to all the film schools and I put up signs and I met people and I started getting scripts. I'd also met people at some music labels and at some advertising agencies. I went to the film schools and I said, 'I can help you get your first little commercial, your first little music video. If you have a good experience, then send me your scripts.' It was a good way for a young writer-directors to build up their directing reel and that became my pipeline for scripts.
"I found this short-film script called The Spartans, that I totally sparked to. I decided we could make it. I went back to Texas to raise money. Then I came back here and begged, borrowed and stole to make the movie. And it was my film school. I showed up the first day on the set and this big burly grip came up and said, 'Where's the craft service?' Craft service? That would be what?
"Cut to me on the corner at the pay phone calling my girlfriend. 'Get out of bed. You've got to get me bags of Doritos and Diet Coke up here now.' I learned my hard lessons that way.
"The film got into the 1996 Sundance and that opened a bunch of doors for me. Suddenly, people who would never return my phone calls are now going, 'Rich, hey, let's schedule lunch.'
"I went back to Texas and raised more money and we started making these little independent films. I moved my desk from my bedroom to my living room. I brought on an assistant. I started raising these $1-2 million dollar budgets for these independent films. We made them with the people who were directing and making the little music videos and commercials for us. It was win-win for everyone. I got my films made and they got their stuff made and it was cool. We launched a bunch of cool people's careers - Ken DuPuis, Bill Johnson, David Portlock.
"We would sell the domestic side to a Showtime or HBO. We'd sell the video. And on the foreign side, we'd hold on to the rights and have a sales agent go around and sell the territories. All the people who'd invested in those had a good experience. They'd started out as a country club investment, to see their names in lights and to tell their friends about. Then suddenly they were making money. And they wanted to get into bigger movies.
"I wasn't comfortable getting into bigger budgets because without controlling the US distribution, like a studio would, I would be getting outside the business model I knew. My friend Andrew Panay put together a deal for She's All That with Miramax. It was Miramax's biggest grossing movie of 1999 and that movie got us into studio movies. We found a niche doing teen movies like Get Over It and On the Line.
"My fellow Texan Mathew McConaughey and I were looking for something to do together. So we decided to make a documentary on the University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal, who won three national championships. It's the definitive story of this guy's life. Darrell Royal is a hero in Texas. When I was growing up, I was taught there's your mom, God and Darrell Royal, not necessarily in that order."
Willie Nelson, Earl Campbell, George W. Bush, Coach Mack Brown, Keith Jackson appear in the video narrated by Matthew McConaughey.
"We grew our commercials company Avalanche. We made 20-25 national spots a year and worked with directors on the features side that we'd groomed on the commercials side. In late 2000, we decided to shut down the commercial side. Because I'm in the teen movie world, I got to know Lance and the guys from NSync, through Wendy Thorlakson at Tom Hanks' company. Five of us ultimately decided to partner up, and the company then became known as A Happy Place. So we moved down to offices overlooking the Venice Beach and we throw cool barbecues on the beach. We sold our next movie to Miramax, On the Line. We put Lance [James Lance Bass] and Joey [Fatone] from NSync in it.
"My partners are Lance Bass, music attorney Joe Anderson who heads up our in-house soundtrack label, Wendy Thorlakson, and Johnny Wright, a music mega-manager who represents Britney Spears, NSync and others. We're making studio movies in the $10-20 million range."
Luke: "What do your friends back in Texas think of you now?"
Richard: "They're all married and live in homes with white picket fences. And they're having children. They love having a single guy out in LA and does the movie business so they can hear all the stories. They're all bankers and lawyers and investment bankers."
Luke: "And your family?"
Richard: "My family discouraged me from coming out here initially because I was leaving a good job. Then the first time The Spartans had an article about it appearing in the Dallas paper, suddenly my parents were like, 'Oh yeah. I taught him everything he knows. That's my boy.' The tide quickly turned."
Luke: "How did you get into your romantic-comedy teen movies?"
Richard: "Those are the movies I grew up watching - 16 Candles, Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful. I loved all those John Hughes movies. I had a friend from Texas, Lee Fleming, who wrote She's All That.
"There will always be teenagers out there but their tastes change. You can't keep making the same movies. The good thing is that teen movies are cheap to make ($10-20 million) and you can almost always make your money back."
Luke: "What's your favorite part of your job?"
Richard: "I get to meet a lot of really interesting people and that's pretty cool."
Luke: "Which people do you find interesting?"
Richard: "I never thought I'd see myself tooling around with pop stars. I never thought that I'd meet some of the movie stars I have, and some of the sports stars. I get less star struck with movie stars than I do with sports stars. When you lose that, it is time to get out of the business because there are easier ways to make a buck. If you're not enjoying what you're doing and if you're not in awe of the people you meet, and you're not having a great time, then, I've always said that I'd go back to Texas and sell stocks."
Luke: "How does critical reception affect you?"
Richard: "Everybody likes to say that it doesn't, but it does. The bigger the box office is on a movie, the more you are going to hang your hat on it. And the reviews won't matter so much. But when you're getting bad reviews over and over and it affects the box office, that's when you get down on yourself.
"There have been tons of excellent movies that have not been marketed well, and they've disappeared into oblivion, despite good reviews."
Director John Quinn
Most of Playboy TV is located on the eighth floor of 5055 Wilshire Blvd. The building is home to a variety of trade magazines including Billboard, Ad Week and The Hollywood Reporter.
About 30 full-time staff and about 60 freelancers work on Playboy's floor. The place is largely cubicles with Playboy posters and art work all over the walls. A few beautiful women were hanging out for a casting session.
While I wandered the corridors 2/19/02, I ran into Gary Gray aka Helmetcam Man. I last spoke to him about a year ago and he was quitting Playboy. They'd just canceled his Helmetcam Man show. It was replaced by Alisha Klass's Inside Adult.
A few weeks ago, Gary was chatting by phone with his friend Juli Ashton, co-host of Night Calls. Then he got a beep from his call waiting, and it was Playboy wanting him to come back to work for them producing Night Calls.
Playboy has fired numerous executives over the past few months, including the party boy who were ploughing through millions of dollars. Jim English has reasserted his control of Playboy TV.
I interview Playboy director John Quinn whose credits include:
Sex Court: The Movie (2002)
John: "I went to high school in Santa Barbara. I started at San Jose State thinking I'd be a business major. My high school girlfriend, who was a drama major, asked me to try out for the Edward Albee play "The Zoo Story." I enjoyed the experience and I decided to minor in theater. Then I transferred to UCLA and studied film, graduating in 1971.
"I'm not cut out to be an actor. I started at UCLA with an acting major but I didn't feel at home. Most actors are so into themselves, that I didn't have many friends in the theater arts department. I had more friends in business, or painting, sculpture, still photography departments. So one day I went to the Royce Hall student film screening and determined to study film.
"After graduating from UCLA, I was admitted as a fellow to the American Film Institute. I worked as a line producer on this student project with David Lynch as the art director and Caleb Deschenel was the Director of Photography. Caleb likes to instill fear within the crew members while David is totally relaxed.
"I got sick of being in school. I dropped out of AFI and traveled around Europe for a year. When I came back, it was all about getting a job - crew member, grip, gaffer... I worked in film distribution for ten years. I had the rights to David Lynch's Eraserhead but lost them in a legal battle. It had been on the circuits and nobody wanted it.
"I wanted to get back to the creative end. I made these 'Golden Bear' kids movies: Saga of the Golden Bear (1986), Search for the Golden Bear (1988) and finally The Magic of the Golden Bear (1994).
"One night a couple of buddies and I sat around drinking beers and talking about doing a horror movie. I said, 'Chicks, mountains, being killed.' Bloody Pompons was the original title for Cheerleader Camp but the American distributor didn't have the guts to use that title.
"It was the easiest movie I've ever financed. I went to the American Film Market in Santa Monica and walked the halls and said, 'I've got a horror movie. It's called Bloody Pompons.' It's like what Roger Corman used to do. You'd have the poster and the concept. After you sold it, you wrote the script.
"Barry Collier of Prism Entertainment dug the idea. He financed the American rights. Then I sold the Japanese rights and the rest of the foreign rights to Manson International. It blew me away how much of the money went in legal fees.
"We went up to Camp Nelson in the Sequoia National Forest where I'd shot the Golden Bear movies. I took four weeks to shoot. Now the features I make for Playboy take ten days. It was a good pace for a first-time director. It was good being on location because everybody was right there. They weren't stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway.
"There are always the emotional things going on. Who's schtupping who? Who's falling in love with who? Since it was up there in the forest, that happened a lot. Unfortunately, I had to go in each night and do my shot list. So there wasn't much [nookie] for the director. I was single at the time. There were a lot of lovelies in the film. My line producer was a female. She told me, 'Don't make the big mistake that all directors do when they start screwing their leading lady.' I said ok. I was really concerned about making a mistake. I look back on it and realize that I missed out on Teri Weigel, Betsy Russell... Teri Weigel was looking for a relationship.
"When I'd see Teri, she'd flash me. This was 17 years ago. Nudity was less prevalent. And she did it so fast, nobody would catch her but me. But I thought I was doing the right thing in staying home and doing my shot list. The producers, the ADs, and crew had a great time.
"There was only one bar nearby. After you got off work, you'd go there and have a drink. The only time I've had similar was when I shot a video for Playboy last year called 'Girls of the Hardrock Casino.' After we finished shooting at the Hardrock, we partied on.
"I love that Cheerleader Camp plays on late night cable like USA. It's one of their highest rated films.
"After Cheerleader Camp, producer Jeff Prettyman and I wanted to do higher budget films. We both had a ball doing Cheerleader Camp. But it's very hard to move up. We developed some good scripts and got close to a movie with Miramax. Countless times we came close to having a $20 million movie. But we couldn't make enough money to sustain a company together. Looking back, we should've stuck with the low budget erotic thrillers. And now, 12 years later, I'm doing erotic thrillers.
"Total Exposure  was my next movie. That wasn't a fun shoot. The executive in charge of production Steve Beswick and I didn't see eye to eye."
Lynn Dahlgren and John wrote the script and future Hollywood producer Dean Devlin played an adult bookstore manager.
When the ambitious photographer Andi returns from a modeling session in Mexico, she finds a kilogram cocaine in her bag. In panic - and thinking of her prior convictions - she immediately dumps it in the sink. She suspects her star model Cathy and calls her to account for it, but she denies everything. When Cathy's found dead shortly after, Andi is under suspect. She employs ex-cop Dave Murphy to help her out and to protect her from the psychopathic dealer, who wants back his cocaine from her.
John: "We did The Magic of the Golden Bear kids movie in 1994 with Cheech Marin and Mr. T.. I wore too many hats in that film. I directed, co-wrote, co-produced and acted in it. You can do that when you're really experienced, like Woody Allen or Clint Eastwood. But since it was only my third feature, you're still grasping.
"The reason that I acted in it... When you're producing a low budget movie, you're taking on credit cards, you're borrowing money from your mother, you're taking from your grandmother's bank account, you're stealing money from wherever you can... We couldn't pay for another person to be on location. I took one of the minor character parts. While I'm making sandwiches, I'd jump in and do the part. Jeff and I split up and I went for seven months without anything to do.
"Our Hispanic neighbors had a friend who was a limo driver. He came across the street to me and said, 'I'm driving these really rich Philippino people and they're looking for directors.' I look at my wife, who's psychic. She says, 'I think Victor is going to change your life.' I said, 'You're kidding? Phillipino people who have money and run a blood screening lab?'
"The Philippinos, the last name was Jaren, had an office in Van Nuys in a funky building. I sat in front in my car and wondered if I should get out and see them. One of the things in this business is that you never know.
"Mrs. Jaren had less than $100,000 to make this movie [Broken Rose]. I couldn't believe that I was going back to my roots. But they were willing to pay me $10,000 to direct and $5000 to work on the script. I asked who will be the actors? They said, we have stars. We have two girls who just won the Miss Phillipino contest in Los Angeles. They were beautiful girls but they'd never acted a day in their lives. And they wouldn't do nudity.
"I asked, 'How do you plan to do an erotic thriller if the leads won't take their clothes off?' They say, 'No problem John. We will cast pretty girls around them who will take off their clothes.' I said, 'I'm sorry but the guys watching this are still going to be disappointed. If you've been watching a film and you're getting hot and steamy watching this beautiful Asian girl, and then she never takes her clothes off, it can be disappointing.' But that was the way they wanted to make it. They were also setting up a management firm and they wanted to manage these two girls.
"We made the film for under $100,000. I have a couple of shots on my director's reel. It never got a domestic release. We tried to sell it to Playboy and they turned it down. Not enough sex. But Playboy became interested in doing joint ventures. We made Fallen Angel starring Kira Reeds and Samantha Phillips (Penthouse Pet 6/93), who now has a talk show on KLSX.
"I served as executive-producer and show runner for Passion's Cove, a 26-show series that Playboy made for HBO. So many of the erotic genres are done indoors. We broke ground and took a lot of love scenes outside. We rented a house from Fred Segal in Malibu with 200 acres. We had privacy. That's a typical problem you run into when you rent a house. You have neighbors looking in. We found private beaches, which are hard to find. There's a lightness, an airiness to the show. It's not all dark and red velvet.
"My first feature for Playboy was 1998's Sheer Passion. We do these features in ten days for under half a million dollars."
A lingerie model has been strangled inside a wealthy fashion designer's house, and the designer is the obvious suspect. When the police appear to be dragging their feet on the investigation, private detective Cassandra decides to do her own investigation, posing as a model.
John: "Playboy's competition is shooting features in as few as six days. Playboy is shooting 12 features this year, in eight to ten days each. I produced four movies for Playboy last season, directed two movies and wrote one. You'd think that with these smaller budgets, this would be where you could break in your first time directors. It's not. When I did Cheerleader Camp, I had four weeks. But with ten day shoots, you have to your stuff together. It's not a place where we are breaking in first-time directors.
"With the series, we shot the 30-minute episodes in three days each. I got hired last week to produce 13 episodes of this new show, Sexy Urban Legends, which will premiere on the Playboy Channel. We're shooting them in two-and-a-half days each, starting March 11. There will be two segments per show, about 12 minutes each.
"Last year, on a similar show, they had a serious Rod Sterling-like host. "To true to be real? Or real enough to be true?" It's hard to find these real urban legends. We're finding them. We're not making them up. We're going through these comic books. There are books written about urban legends. I could tell you stories that you've heard."
Luke: "Would Penthouse Forum count for urban legends?"
John laughs. "I guess so. They figured they'd lighten up the show this year and make it more filmic. Instead of re-enacting, use more creative film style and editing with younger hosts. Two collegiate guys, more mature than Wayne's World, more like the guys on Friends. 'Hey man, did you hear this? This guy was driving around a country road and he saw this beautiful girl and he picks her up...'"
Luke: "When did you marry?"
John: "My first marriage was in 1979 and I divorced in 1986. I was single for Cheerleader Camp. I needed a mercy fuck. I was single and not knowing how to date. Then I married again in 1990."
Luke: "How does your wife feel about you specializing in erotica?"
John: "She's doing fine. She goes, 'I met you when you were doing kids movies.' We have a strong secure marriage. She's very secure in herself. She was nervous. 'Jesus Christ, all that screwing.' She saw some of the movies. What blew the whole bubble, was when I brought home the dailies and she could see me saying, 'Now more your hand over her breast.' She saw how mechanical and unerotic the process was. It reassured her. She realized it was just a job. She never smelled me with perfume. Maybe I was just lucky?
"I've had this conversation with other directors like Bob Cubellus, C.D. Harding, Valerie Landsburg. We are sure that less boning goes on on erotic sets than on regular sets. On erotic sets, you see sex in front of you and you behave more professionally. When I did childrens films, the crew members seemed to shack up all the time.
"Two of my leads on one of my movies. They had never met before. And the love scene I directed got them so turned on that after wrapping, the PA was trying to get the wardrobe out of the guy's trailer. The window was open. She looked in and saw them doing the nasty. Instead of stopping when the PA looked in, the guy, without missing a stroke, reached over and pulled the shade down. They let him go at it for a bit longer but the crew wants to get out. So they got one of the line producers to get the wardrobe.
"I heard about it the next day. It was sweet. They were both single.
"I think my wife would prefer me to go back to making kids films. But the people at Playboy are an excellent group of people to work with. It's a good gig. When I'm not working for Playboy, I'm trying to develop other projects that are not erotic. One is horror script that should do well called Fear Dotcom."
Luke: "I was interviewing producer Moshe Diamant who just made a movie called Fear Dotcom."
Luke: "Moshe said it was coming out this year."
John: "God no!"
Luke: "There's a movie coming out this year called Fear Dotcom."
John: "Oh no! Moshe Diamant? He's pretty big. What's it about?'
Luke: "It's a horror movie about a ghost that travels through the internet."
John: "Oh good, it's a ghost. We were always worried about this idea. Our's is about an intelligent group of college kids who get killed one by one. The onboard computer in the car is taken over by someone with a satellite who can drive people over a cliff. Everybody's killed by those technological means. But if his is about a ghost... Our tagline is, 'The boogie man turned in his hook for a computer.'
"I enjoy what I'm doing and every film is different but it is the same genre. You want to do a different genre. I say that to some of my friends and they go, 'Oh God, you've got the best job in the world. You look at beautiful women all day.' I can't complain. It's funny when you are on a break from films and you get used to looking at ordinary people. One day I was driving along the freeway and this good looking blonde in a convertible... And I almost broke my neck and caused an accident trying to look at this girl. And I started laughing at myself, 'Jerk, what's the matter with you? You used see girls like this constantly, and now you're acting like this panting dog.' You get away from it and you forget. I don't think there's a man out there that gets tired of looking at a beautiful woman.
"Teri Weigel was great in Cheerleader Camp. I liked Teri more when she was fresher. She's a little bit in your face now with the porn thing. Kira Reed is a tremendous actress.
"My favorite films were The Key To Sex, Fast Lane to Vegas and Girl to Girl.
"I have found only one of these actresses to have an attitude. They're eager to do their job and come across as a professional. While in my other films, it takes a long time for me to break down their better-than-thou attitude. The most difficult thing with the bigger budgeted films is dealing with people's egos and getting people to get along.
"In the erotic genre, the main thing is to be very specific with the male and female actors about what they will have to do. What kind of camera angles. Where the guy may touch the girl... You have to do that in the casting. I've never had a problem with Playboy. I've never gotten into an embarrassing situation where the girl said, 'I never knew I had to kiss the guy.'
"I had that happen to me on one of the Phillipino movies I was doing. I had to get angry with the girl. I knew she knew what was happening. But she kept going, 'I didn't know that.' She'd been in a movie with me before. She kept saying, 'I thought this was a lovey scene.' I go, 'Yeah, but you have to move your body. You can't just embrace the person. You're having sex. It's not tantra sex. You've got to show some enthusiasm. You've got to have an orgasm. I've got to hear something. What you're doing is not translating back into the film.'
"We lost 45 minutes until she was ready. I felt like a sleazeball, like a guy trying to take advantage of a date. I talked to her afterwards and said, 'I feel really bad.' And she replied, 'No, no, it's fine.' I think she thought she could push back once she got the part, and wanted to be a prima donna and back out of the part.
"I have been in a situation where somebody came up to me and said, 'We want the girls to be really going at it.' And I reacted, 'No, we didn't cast the girls to be really going at it.' 'Well, if they want to really go at it, let them go ahead.' 'No, no, no. Those weren't the parameters we set up.'"
Luke: "Would you direct hardcore?"
John: "No. I'm just not interested in it because so much of it is not creative. We're still trying to make a film. You can take these movies from Playboy, snip the love scenes down, and they're in Blockbuster. They're still an entertaining movie. Playboy only asks that the love scenes be longer with more genital shots, but they're not hardcore. They're supposed to look like they're really doing it. I've directed hardcore actresses who are trying to make the jump up... I've been surprised at how many are talented. I guess they get into hardcore because the money is so good."
Born October 6, 1973, Mark Archer is best known for producing 1997's feature In the Company of Men for $25,000.
From MarkArcherEntertainmnt.com: In the early Spring of 1996, a playwright, a cinematographer, a would-be line producer and a commercial/industrial video producer/director all convened for a meeting at the Acme Bar & Grill in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a meeting that would set into motion a series of events that would rock the world of independent films. The renegade crew set out to make a little-known play into a feature film with a grand total budget of $25 thousand dollars. The film’s title: In the Company of Men.
In the ensuing months the crew assembled what would be a stellar cast of unknown actors, made a schedule, and eventually shot the entire film in 11 days. In January of 1997, the film became the biggest hit of the Sundance Film Festival, as it won the Filmmakers Trophy, and was purchased by Alliance Independent Films and Sony Pictures Classics. The film was released in the United States in August of 1997 to wide critical acclaim, and went on to become one of the most talked about and controversial films of not only the year, but of the decade.
Yahoo.com writes: In writer-director Neil LaBute's debut feature film, a pair of thirtysomething white-collar businessmen, embittered by their shallow lives and bad experiences with women, target and romance a beautiful deaf secretary (Stacy Edwards) solely for the purpose of dumping her and thus gaining revenge on her sex. While one of the junior execs, Chad (Aaron Eckhart), is relentlessly cold-blooded and cruel, his partner, Howard (Matt Malloy), proves to be a spineless tagalong. When their manipulative game ends, one of them is in for a shocking surprise.
Touted as "the most controversial film of the year" upon its release in 1997, this articulate black comedy sparked a roiling storm of praise and loathing from critics and audiences alike. Eckhart, a college friend of LaBute's, became the primary lightning rod for these passionate, widely varying responses, winning an Independent Spirit Award for his performance while also fending off occasional verbal abuse from angry women mistaking him for the reptilian character he plays. The film unapologetically depicts appalling behavior but never condones Chad and Howard's actions, making it one of the most intriguing and memorable movies of the late 1990s.
From the official Sony website, an interview with director Neil LaBlute: IN THE COMPANY OF MEN has been praised for its novel treatment of the classic love triangle. What were the origins of the screenplay?
Neil: "Let's hurt somebody." That line of dialogue was the first idea in my mind. I was attracted to the notion of premeditated agony conflicted on someone. I believe that you can kill characters only once, but you can hurt them every day. My model for the screenplay was restoration comedy. The script has a five-act structure and is centered around wealthy, blasé characters who do unspeakable things just because they feel like it. It's a simple story: boys meet girl, boys crush girl, boys giggle.
Q: It's difficult to classify IN THE COMPANY OF MEN into a traditional genre. How do you feel about referring to the film as a black comedy?
Neil: The film does have a lot of laughs. Then the situation turns vicious. I love the idea of pulling people in and then turning on them. For instance, seducing them into thinking that the character of Chad is amusing and even charming, only to leave them shocked when they discover later just how much of a viper he really is.
Luke: I spoke by phone with producer Mark Archer March 1, 2002. He speaks slowly in a Midwest drawl.
Luke: "At what point in your life, did you figure out you wanted to devote yourself to entertainment?"
Mark: "Well, I was first exposed to it in church. I've spent most of my life where I am now - Fort Wayne, Indiana. I went to a small private school all my life. And that school happens to be affiliated with a large Baptist church that has a television studio. They broadcast their services. My family attended that church. When I was 14, I was interested in learning about broadcasting. I knew the church studio had a lot of cool gear that I wanted to learn how to play with. Part of my impetus for becoming part of the [broadcasting] crew was that I didn't want to go to Sunday school. I discovered quickly that I enjoyed it and people started telling me that I had a knack for it. I did it all through high school. By age 17, I'd decided I wanted to do it as a career.
"I'd been accepted into Purdue's engineering school. My family was proud. And then I decided one day that I didn't want to be an engineer. I wanted to make movies. Living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is about as far from Hollywood as you can get. And it was difficult to get people to understand. My family has always been supportive of me but mostly because they had no clue what it [making movies] was and how to help me with it.
"I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class. I went to Indiana University for two years and dropped out. I began freelancing as a camera operator. I decided that I want to start my own production company and I started one when I was 19. I sold my school books so I could buy supplies.
"The turning point for me came after attending a two day crash course seminar in Chicago called The Hollywood Film Institute [Hollywoodu.com] taught by a guy named Dov Simns. It was all that I needed. I had a background in production but there were all these things about the movie industry that were black magic to me."
Luke: "When did you take this seminar?"
Mark: "Let me look. I've got the diploma on my office wall. November, 1994.
"In September of 1995, I shot a PSA against domestic violence for the group Stop the Madness. And the group I'd been tossed into working with were working on a no-budget film In the Company of Men. I took everything I'd learned from this $6500 PSA and applied it to a $20,000 film. We spent from January 1996 to June in sold pre-production. We had plans for every contingency. I'd learned that if you don't have any money, the best way to defend yourself is to have a plan for everything.
"So, for $20,000, we shot In the Company of Men on 35mm in eleven days in June.
"I remember doing a live call-in to an NPR station in Philadelphia. They had this group of completely non-qualified people sitting around discussing our film. A lawyer that I used in Philadelphia heard it. He called in and said, 'My client is the producer of this film. Would you like to have him on?' And the question that was put to me was, 'What inspired you to take this film on? Did you believe in the story?'
"And I said then, and I'll say it now: 'It had so little to do with believing in the script.' I thought it was an ok script. I'd never been into art films. My favorite films are Terminator and Star Wars. It was the challenge of producing this film for $20,000. That's all I had into it. 'I'm going to prove that I can do this and hold the production together. And if it gets seen, maybe I can get another film out of it.'
"We edited the film in July, August and September. We had no money to complete it so we did a video rough-cut and sent it off to Sundance. We didn't hear anything for five weeks. All of us had gone back to our day jobs. The week of Thanksgiving, I was completely broke from doing the film. I had incurred debt to finish the film. I was on the brink of bankruptcy. I was holding all of the debt load for the film.
"We had a little money left over. I called the director, Neil LaBlute. 'I have huge bills. I need to get some of this paid for.' He said, 'Well, OK, we can take care of some of your bills. But I need to take some of the money and buy some snow boots.' I remember wanting to reach through the phone line and strangle him. I thought, 'Do you have any idea that I am dodging phone calls from creditors right now because I am about to go broke?' I said to him, 'Why is that?' And he said, 'Because we're going to Sundance.' I will never forget that feeling because at that point, the universe turned upside down.
"At Sundance, we sold international rights to Alliance, and within two months, we sold the North American release to Sony Classics. Sony released the film in August of 1997."
Luke: "Why haven't you worked with Neil since?"
Mark: "Neil and I were just going in different directions. I had read his script for what became Your Friends and Neighbors, and I didn't want to do it. It was too much like In the Company of Men.
"In the Spring of 1997, I was introduced by a financier friend of men to some producers who had a script called American Reel, with David Carradine and Ally Sheedy attached. And I wanted to be a director. And I was typecast as a producer. I directed the film in November of 1997 and it is only now coming out on DVD. Ally Sheedy flaked on us and we replaced her with Mariel Hemingway. I have mixed feelings about the film. We didn't have time to properly pre-produce the film. The money ($400,000) was given to us on the condition that we shoot it by a specific date. We had a lot of problems with David Carradine. It was too much too fast.
"When you're known as a first-time director, everybody treats you as though you don't know your ass from a hole in the ground.
"American Reel was a film that did not fit. It was an independent film with a mainstream story. It was too mainstream for festivals and not mainstream enough for most distributors.
"We're now working on a sitcom series that we're doing on spec. If we don't get a network deal, we can get a syndication deal if we already have product."
Luke: "How come you've never moved to LA?"
Mark: "I've decided several times to move to LA. I spent two-and-a-half years trying to produce this script In the Pursuit of Happiness. I'd made a promise to the writer after we'd finished American Reel that I would not do another feature until we'd made Happiness. Even if it killed me. And it almost did. As poorly as American Reel did, I had six offers to direct other movies but I turned them down because of my promise. Happiness fell apart unexpectedly and I decided to stay in Fort Wayne, and create my own studio.
"Here the talent is hungry. Why should I try to fix something that's not broken? Fort Wayne's worked for all these other projects. They could not have happened in LA, NY or Chicago. The reason In the Company of Men looked so good was that we didn't have to pay for anything. I got a 23-story office building, an airport and a jet from USA Air for nothing. Where else can you do that?
"Do I want to move to LA and try to be a director for hire? Try to live that rock star lifestyle in a place that costs you ten times as much to be poor. Or do you really want to make films. Think like a business person, not like a celebrity wannabe. It got to the point where I didn't care about celebrity anymore."