Could You Please Tone Down?
Producer X writes: Luke: Your transcript is quite accurate but I would appreciate it if you could turn down my invective re: XXX. I'm still trying to sell to VVV and this "shit head" stuff wouldn't be helpful. Also, my views about casting of FFF would harm me with my colleagues and the actors I respect in the film. Could you just delete the references to DDD, etc.? And, finally, I don't think I have the right to presume what's going on with SSS's sleeping habits. It sounds very snotty of me to make the reference I did in the interview. If you could temper, or cut it entirely. I would be most grateful. Many thanks.
Could You Please Please Tone Up?
Khunrum writes: Luke....Any chance you could please tone up your column a bit? I think I speak for all when I say that since your XXXX days your output has been zzzzzzzzzzz! Just how much longer will you insist on putting us to sleep????????
Steven Jon Wolfe entered the entertainment industry in 1981, working as an intern at the American Film Institute while studying film at Cal State Northridge.
"All I've wanted to do since I was a child was to make movies," Wolfe told me at his Sneak Preview Entertainment office February 14, 2002. "I made my first Super 8 movie when I was ten years old. By the time I was in [Taft] High School [in Woodland Hills], I'd graduated up to Super 8 Sound. I made a 25 minute epic kung-fu James Bond spoof.
"None of my family was in the industry. I really really wasn't sure how to get started. So I started interning on projects at the American Film Institute. Then at AFI, I worked on the high profile film Miss Lonelyhearts , based on the Nathaniel West novel. It starred Eric Roberts. It was a big prestigious feature secretly being made through the AFI system, but nobody was telling AFI. It was billed as a second-year director's project so they could get everything for free.
"My first professional feature was Octavia with writer-director David Beaird. I've gone on to make several features with David.
"Then I worked as an assistant to producer Marilyn Jacobs Tenser on My Tutor."
Luke: "That was one of the seminal films of my adolescence. I came of age to that film. I loved it. It was my favorite of the teenage sex comedies."
Steven: "That was the biggest grossing independent film of 1983. It grossed $23 million domestic box office and it cost less than a million.
"I spent eight years working at Crown International Pictures, the company that produced My Tutor. I worked there when they had their most successful films and were operating full steam. My Tutor was such a huge hit that it fueled the next ten years for the company. I did my second film with David Beaird, My Chauffeur at Crown in 1986, It was a big hit. Number one at the box-office the week it opened. Weekend Pass, Tomboy and Hunk were other Crown hits.
"Crown released their own films. My Chauffeur went out on 1200 screens, which was studio-level releasing. Crown sold their own foreign rights. They did their own in-house marketing, publicity, pay-TV sales, home video sales. But there were only about 30 employees working under one roof. A family environment. So I got a good education at Crown. Those days were "boot camp" for me. Now, when I pick a movie that I want to make, part of the decision is based on my background in distribution. People don't realize how many films don't get released now days, even on video. Video has reached a saturation point. In the 1980s, it didn't matter what you sold to home video, you could make money. Now you have to fight for position.
"I'm glad I fell into making the kinds of films we made at Crown as opposed to the slasher exploitation route. These films were fun, even if they weren't stories I wanted to tell. Fortunately, there's not much I've done in my 20 years in the business that I'm not happy my name is on.
"At Crown, I worked side by side with Lynette Prucha. She ran the Pay TV/Home Video department. She's now my business partner. We wrote a couple of screenplays for Crown International that we hoped would get produced but didn't. So we kicked around the idea of starting our own company. I wanted to work on films that told stories which were meaningful to me.
"The market was changing. Teen sex comedies weren't doing well anymore. The independent film movement was going more towards art-house films. Then David Beaird approached me on to produce his film "Scorchers" and I decided to leave Crown. I was nervous about taking the leap. It turned out to be a fantastic experience. I met Jennifer Tilly on Scorchers and we became friends. We've done five films over the years.
"I produced 1992's Only You while my partner Lynnette and I made plans to launch Sneak Preview Entertainment. Our first office was half the size of my [moderately sized] office today. Four of us worked there. I was in a relationship with somebody at the time who was a chiropractor and it was a spare office that he wasn't using. I got him to let us use it for free.
"Now I only make films that I strongly believe in what they have to say. I'm not interested in just finding money for things and then handing it to someone else and saying, 'Go make it. I could care less.' The money part is a necessity but it is far less interesting to me. I like the whole creative process. Having a vision and putting together the pieces of the puzzle in a way to create that vision. I'm very detail oriented and extremely hands on. It's funny because I never really thought about being a producer. When I started in the business, I was terrified of strangers. And talking on the phone to a stranger was inconceivable to me. Now I have to laugh, because I spend most of my days talking on the phone to strangers!
"I thought I'd be a director. So I pushed for assistant director jobs in the first few years of my career, wanting to spend as much time next to the camera and director as possible. But they really pushed me at Crown towards producing. They moved me up the ladder, from producer's assistant to production manager, then to producing. I remember my first UPM job. All of a sudden I didn't have to be on the set every minute. It felt like I was free from jail. I didn't realize how much of a bigger picture there is out there. And over the years I've realized that I don't have to be directing the actors to be fulfilled creatively. If you have a strong vision as a producer, your mark is on the film everywhere. And picking what you want to make is fulfilling, especially if audiences click with it.
"When I meet a director and we're in sync with the way we see the picture, it's great. Because they're making the movie that I wanted to make when I read it. I can add to the mix creatively but I don't have to worry about framing shots.
"I primarily make low budget passion projects. It's a long road. When a director and I work together, we might as well be getting married. So I don't want to be married to someone if we don't agree on our vision for the film. I learned just how difficult making a film can be on [1994's] Tollbooth. It was a near disaster. Three weeks before we were due to start, financing pulled out of it. I had faith that the money was going to come from somewhere so we kept going.
"We shot the movie in the Florida Keyes on a shoestring. I didn't think we could do it for the $600,000 we thought we had. Then all of a sudden we didn't even have the $600,000. Four days into the shooting of the film, we're overextended financially. No one in the cast or crew really knows what is going on. We're shooting with some fairly well known actors.
"I arranged for about ten financiers - distributors to screen dailies at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles. I booked them every 45 minutes separately because I didn't want them in a room together. I sent to LA to be processed ahead of me, then flew to LA on Saturday morning, picked up the film from the lab and drove to the screenings. I didn't really know exactly what I was going to see. We didn't have an AVID [editing equipment] in those days. Or video dailies. I thought, 'God, I hope this works.'
"I flew back to Florida that night where we were having all kinds of incredible problems. Not only did we have no money, but I had to fire my production manager a couple of days into the show. We had computer crashes and weather problems. It was hurricane season. I'd spend an hour on accounting and then I'd go to the set for an hour. I'd spend an hour working on financing and then start all over. I'd keep revolving. I remember being on the phone negotiating over rights for the film and the distributors are asking, 'Oh, how's it going?' And I say, 'Everything's just fine.' As I'm at a pay phone, looking at a storm blowing in, and the lightning is starting to strike. Crew members are scattering in the background and equipment is falling over.
"But everything turned out fine and Tollbooth got rave reviews.
"During Tollbooth, Bulgarian actor Boyan Milushev brought me the script and 50% financing for Bird of Prey ($3.5 million budget). I somehow managed to read it during the Tollbooth disaster and hated it. But I liked the concept - a man spends his life seeking to avenge the death of his father. And he uses the daughter of the man who killed his father to get back at him. But in the course of using her, he falls in love with her.
"Getting that script into shape was a challenge. And we always seemed to be one step behind. I had to figure out how to get it to the starting gate with every obstacle in the way. The script was getting better and better, but I was afraid I'd lose what investment we had if I couldn't get it packaged. One of the problems was that the central character, the lead female was the least interesting character in the script. No one could get a handle on how to fix it. So I asked Jennifer Tilly to come on board the project to play the lead because I knew she would bring an interesting aspect to the character. She's such a good actress I knew she could fill in the blanks and I knew it would help get the rest of the cast packaged. Then on a fluke, in a meeting I had with the investors, and really for lack of anything else to say, I threw out the suggestion of getting Richard Chamberlain to play Jennifer's father. It turns out that Richard Chamberlain is a big star in Bulgaria. The financiers said if we could get him attached to the movie, they'd pay for the whole thing. So that was my next job. I sent Richard the script and he turned it down. And I kept pestering him. I told him we would rewrite it, do whatever he wanted. Finally, he consented to do the film.
"We shot it in Sophia, Bulgaria. When the footage came back, it was an unwatchable mess. We spent nine months editing the film. Finally the assistant editor on the film came up with some good ideas on how to restructure it and we went back and shot some new footage, abandoned 30% of the film and completely restructured it. I'm actually fairly proud of the movie in the end. It has a nice message. It looks good. But people don't realize how many things can go wrong. The distributor on this film mistakenly released the it without putting all the subtitles in the movie. On the day the film opened, I remember getting up at five in the morning and going down to the corner newsstand to pick up the LA Times. Kevin Thomas gave us this great review, which said, 'This could've been a gem of a movie except for the filmmaker's choice to have one-third of it in Bulgarian without any subtitles.' I read this and wondered what he was talking about. Then I realized that this was the only time in my career as a producer that I completely left something to someone else, without watching over it. I figured I had already produced the film. I needed to step back and get out of the way of the distributor, so I didn't go to the press screening. It turned out that the distributor didn't put the subtitles on the film and didn't have anyone check it at the lab or have any representatives show up at the press screening. I realized that my tendency to double check every detail myself wasn't such a bad quality.
"It only took us a few days to dub in the subtitles and replace the prints in theaters. But it was a disaster. Every reviewer had seen the movie that way. It's hard enough as an indy film to get attention. The damage was done. There was no way to build momentum on the film by that time. Then this same distributor made a video deal with a company that did a horrible job on home video and then went into bankruptcy. I've learned that having a good film isn't enough on its own to have a hit. A lot of it is luck. And being in the right place at the right time. Over the years, I've stopped trying to predict whether a film I've made was going to be a big hit. And I certainly no longer think that any particular one of them are going to change my life all that much. Early on in my producing career, I would imagine each one would.
"I burned out with Bird of Prey and it took me a couple of years to get another film out there. I mad two incredibly difficult films, back to back. But you just have to keep getting back on that horse and moving on.
"Relax...It's Just Sex [1998, $500,000 budget] was my next project and it made it into Sundance. It was hard getting the project going. It was risky material. Nobody wanted to touch it. I seem to gravitate towards the things that nobody wants to touch. I just find them more interesting."
From a description on Imdb.com: "A mixed group of individuals - lesbian, gays, and heterosexuals who all frequent a local bar struggle to accept each others lifestyles. However when the two gays (Mitchell Anderson, Eddie Garcia) are attacked and fight back and ultimately rape one of their attackers, the group becomes strongly divided on their actions. Jennifer Tilly is the mother hen of the group who tries to hold everyone together. The lesbian lovers (Serena Scott Thomas, Cynda Williams) break up when one admits to having an affair with a man (Billy Wirth)."
Steven: "I flipped over the material after the writer-director P.J. Castellaneta brought it to me. He then decided to go with someone else because I wanted to make it on a lower budget. It's the only time in my career that I was pissed that I didn't land a project. But we kept talking. And a year after I made him an offer on it, I was up at IFFCon (International Film Financing Convention) in San Francisco. I ran into the people who were raising money for the picture. I told them how much I loved it. They were stalled in raising money and they didn't have the ties to talent that I had. So we decided to partner.
"I called Jennifer Tilly to play the role of Tara Ricotto [the mother hen of the group]. I left her a sheepish message on her home phone number saying, 'I'm embarrassed to call you about this because it is such a low budget movie. But it's a great role and I can't think of anyone else playing it besides you. So I hope you will read it.' She read the script and said it was good. But she turned it down. She'd just done Bound, and thought she'd done her risky movie for the year. And I refused to take no for an answer.
"I got her to meet the director. I agreed to give her certain approvals, like over the Director of Photography. I pleaded with her not to pass. Just to keep thinking about it. Then after a couple of months, she agreed to play the role No one else was attached yet. She called me and said 'Somebody has to be the first one to say yes. I reread this thing on the plane. I laughed out loud and I was crying. It's so rare that that happens to me when I'm reading a script. How could I worry about anything else?'
"We got all of her work scheduled into ten days. I made everyone's missive revolve around Jennifer's schedule. She was a trooper. Her last night of shooting was the big gay bashing rape scene. We didn't start shooting until 7PM, because we had to wait for it to be dark. And she was starting work on a miniseries the next day called Bell Mafia, with a 7AM call! She worked all night on our show and then I drove her to her dressing room down the block and she kept going for a 24 hour day.
"Everyone bonded on that film because they were so behind the material. P.J. Castellaneta wrote a brilliant script. It was funny because a week before we were to shoot, he came to me with a new version of the script. He said, 'I'm really worried about some of the language and some of the situations, so I've toned it down.' I took it home and read it and I hated it.
"The movie largely revolves around this gay bashing incident where Mitchell Anderson's character is so full of rage that he turns around his gay bashing and he rapes his basher in front of all his friends. And P.J. changed it to just a gay bashing. I told him this was probably one of the few times in his life he would get to make just what he originally wrote. He already had the money and his producers loved the script.
"We finished the editing the day before Sundance and I drove the print up there. It had a lot of buzz up there but as much as everyone loved it, they were all scared to death of it. It was the first gay-themed film I had made. It's interesting to see how far we've come in the past several years because that film was tame compared to what you see on television with Queer as Folk now. Everyone was scared to death of the gay sex scenes. A lot of people wanted to pick up the film if we trimmed the gay sex out completely. But if you trimmed these scenes out of the film, then what was it really about? The whole theme of the film is that people are too uptight about sex. Everybody [in the film] has it. And all the different people who are having it in different ways all want the same things out of life. It had a strong moral message. We opted to go with a small distributor that specialized in gay-themed films.
"Relax... always makes the list of the top 20 gay films selling on video. I traveled all over the world with the film. People came up to us everywhere we went and said, 'Thank you for making this movie.' A lot of straight people said to me, 'I never realized until I saw this movie that we're all the same.' The reason I make movies is to hopefully touch and entertain people and try to contribute towards bettering the world in some way. I felt that I accomplished my goal with Relax.
"Twin Falls Idaho [1999, $600,000 budget] was my next film. It also went to Sundance. It was an easier experience. We shot it in 17 days. With today's marketplace, you have to deliver a lot for nothing."
From Imdb.com: "Francis and Blake Falls (Michael Polish, Mark Polish) are Siamese twins who live in a neat little room in a rundown hotel. While sharing some organs, Blake is always fit and Francis is very sickly. Into their world comes a young lady (Michele Hicks), who turns their world upside down. She gets involved with Blake, and convinces the two to attend a Halloween party, where they can pass themselves off as wearing a costume. Eventually Francis becomes really ill, and they have to be separated. They then face the physical and mental strains that come from their proposed separation. Viewers will be inclined to believe that the two are really Siamese twins, but in fact they are simply real-life brothers playing the parts convincingly."
"As exciting as it was to have Relax at Sundance, it was infinitely more nerve-wracking than I ever expected. It was so stressful that when Twin Falls got in [to Sundance], I toyed with not going. Then at the last minute I realized how silly it was to have a film there and not go.
"The first Sundance experience with Relax was so stressful because you didn't realize how many pressures you would have on you, not having had a film there before. Every moment everyone you talk to wants to know if you've sold it yet. The people who are making offers are dancing around trying to find out who else is making offers. I had the whole 35-person cast with me. And every one wanted to know what was going on every minute.
"There was constant press. We were on the list as one of the big buzz movies and you expect that ten minutes after you screen your film, it will be sold. And when that doesn't happen, you start to worry. It didn't sell until four months after Sundance.
"I told the cast, aside from the four key stars, that they shouldn't come because we couldn't assure them of getting into all the screenings. They only give you eight tickets. And everyone decides to come anyway and they're all standing there waiting to get in. I remember showing up at a cocktail party with 35 people and having to go in to find a friend to let us all in.
"When we came for Twin Falls, my producing partner Rena Ronson had then taken a job at William Morris. And having William Morris represent us made the process easier. And having been through the process once, I didn't have as much anticipation, so I could just enjoy it. At a certain you learn to accept that you're proud that you got a movie made, and that's enough. So that one sold while we were there to Sony Classics.
"Clean and Narrow  was our next film. It was written and directed by one of our clients, William Katt. We're also in the management business (actors, writers and directors). Bill had written a wonderful script and found an investor. When it became real, we stepped in to help. Unfortunately, I don't think the finished movie lived up to its potential. But I was glad to be involved in it. Especially to help Bill direct his first film. I got my longtime friend Sondra Locke to come out of acting retirement to play a role. Jack Noseworthy and Laura Leighton had a wonderful chemistry together.
"I just finished Fast Sofa , based on a cult novel. I've been working with the director Salome Breziner on it pretty much every day since we finished Tollbooth in 1994 to make it. In 2000, we finally started to make it. We made our first digital film at the same time, "Circuit" with director Dirk Shafer. It's all about the gay circuit party scene and is pretty immense in scope. Doing the two simultaneously was quite a challenge. But for years I wanted to see if I could manage more than one at a time.
"I'm now doing post production on Sex and Violence , a 31-day digital video shoot in Los Angeles, New York and Fresno. Again with writer-director David Beaird. We have a 20-year history working together. We actually started representing David in our management division as a writer-director in 1997. This is my fifth movie with Jennifer Tilly. Patrick Warburton who plays the lead actually played a small supporting role as Jennifer's husband in Scorchers. We put together a terrific cast (Eric Roberts, Carol Kane, Simon Callow, John Glover, Marie Matiko) on a $500,000 budget.
"I made one of those phone calls to Eric Roberts like I made to Jennifer Tilly. While we were doing Fast Sofa with Eric, he said to me, 'I love to do small interesting films. If you ever have a great role, please keep me in mind.' I called him and asked him to read the script of Sex and Violence. It was different for him. 'You're not playing a crazy guy like you always get pigeonholed into playing. It's a nice sympathetic character.' I don't think we see enough of that out of Eric. More times than not, people cast him as a psychotic. Here he plays the best friend. We made his part bigger and bigger as we went along, because things were going so well. David kept writing more for him, handing stuff over to him, combining characters...
"We seemed to develop a formula as a company where we do one film in the $3 million range every couple of years and in between we continually turn out $500,000 movies with theatrical viability. Every two-to-three films is a gay-themed one. We know can do certain numbers with a gay audience. And being a gay film maker I like the idea of contributing what I hope is much more than a lot of them are, movies with just a bunch of guys running around with their shirts off, we're trying to make good movies. But $500,000 is about the limit for what you can spend on that kind of film and be safe about it. I like to try to get my investors paid back so they keep letting us make movies. Indy films really don't usually do more than a million dollars at the box office. So you have to derive your satisfaction out of your work itself. Twin Falls Idaho, as well received as it was, only did one million dollars at the box office. But it got people talking and seemed to touch people."
Movie Reviews From A Torah Perspective
I want to start writing movie reviews from an ultra-Orthodox perspective... Where do you guys go to get that perspective on the web? What are the best Orthodox publications on the web? I want to imitate that style of denunciation of the west, degeneracy, whores and stuff.
I just watched Warren Beatty's movie REDS...what a long pretentious boring piece of crap... I can't believe it got so many good reviews. I also saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Another yawner.
Luke Falls Asleep During Producer Interview
I sat down with producer Shmuel Nerdsky at his office on Sunset Blvd Tuesday morning.
Fifteen minutes in, as Shmuel, a messianic Chabad Jewish producer, talked about the end of the golden age of TV movies, Luke fell asleep on the couch. Luckily, Luke's tape recorder captured every drop of brilliance from Shmuel's mouth.
Luke woke up 45 minute later. Shmuel was still talking blissfully, unaware that Luke had ever been asleep.
As he transcribed the tape Tuesday afternoon, Luke fell asleep again, until he was mercifully rescued by the last two holy days of the Passover holiday.
Khunrum writes: Don't feel guilty....I fell asleep the once or twice I attempted to read them zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!
Hasu Loves Her Uncle Luke
Luke's mom writes: Hi Luke: Thought you might be interested in this article. Maybe you caught the porn wave and are now beached. Speaking in surfing language.
[Luke's nieces] Lilly and Hasu are with me because [Luke's brother] Paul and Mina are in China on a business trip. I look like a Japanese warrior/North American Indian because Lilly and Hasu did my hair in tufts with pegs!! and have painted my face with brown, red and blue make up.
Message from Lilly:
Dear Luke, How come you said to Gill stop singing when you were little. She is still singing and she wants to sing to us.
From: Lilly and Gill
Dear Uncle Luke: I have been playing Throwing the Worm. The worm is a very big long balloon and sometimes the balloon goes bang. We had 8 balloons. Now we have only two left.
We have been in the pool. I can do butterflies and somersaults and some back stroke. I am 4 on Monday. I have played Monopoly. I love you, Hasu
Sex is finally losing its appeal on the net according to researchers in America. Interest in sex and entertainment had been replaced by more serious surfing, a study of 200,000 users conducted by Penn State University's School of Information Technology has found.
JRob writes: Sir, I'm from Penn State University's School of Information Technolog. I have a question for you in a public poll. Sorry to stop you on the street as you walk with your girlfriend or wife, but "are you more interested in sex and entertainment on the internet or more serious surfing?" Um . . . . . . . . more serious surfing, of course. I never look at that sex stuff.
Producer Mathew Rhodes - and why Luke is depressed
I want you to know that I am depressed about interviewing people many years younger than I am who are more successful than I am.
I've interviewed about 66 movie and TV producers and not one, so far, has admitted that his primary motivation for making entertainment was to achieve sex with beautiful women. These are men so far beyond my ken that I am depressed.
Amalek18: Luke, I know why you are depressed. For the very reason you set forth in your site today - you spend all that time talking to people so much more successful than you.
Born May 28, 1971, Mathew Rhodes grew up in Shaker Heights, Cleveland in the state of Ohio. "Movies is all I've ever wanted to do," Rhodes told me at his Persistent Entertainment office March 13, 2002. "I've been running around with a camera since I was a little kid. My face was always two inches from the TV.
"My dad is a dentist and my mom is a corporate designer. I was in the popular crowd in highschool. My school was like the movie Heathers. I grew up with the good guys/jocks. We were into sports but we weren't psychotic about it. We did sports, had fun and did well in our classes. I've grown up with a group of ten guys since second grade. We went to junior high, highschool, college and moved out to California together. I majored in Film & Television at Ohio University and I graduated in 1994.
"College was the greatest four years of my life. I went around with a camera on my back and partied for four years. I shot movies and TV shows and wrote. I was a pot-smoking long haired hippie filmmaker into German Expressionism and French New Wave and Italian Realism. I was obsessed with European filmmaking.
"In my freshman year, a teacher told me that I should go out to LA and check it out for a summer. I didn't know anybody out here. I told my parents I was going to LA. My mom said, 'Fuck no. You're going to stay here and work for the summer and save some money for when you graduate.' Two days later, I hopped on a Greyhound bus with a guitar and a suitcase and $800. I got dropped off downtown by Greyhound and I took a cab to Hollywood. I stayed at the Holliday Inn on Hollywood and Highland.
"I snuck on lots and soundstages. On my eleventh day in LA, I snuck into Paramount for the third time in a day and got escorted off. The security guy said, 'Look, if you do this again, you're going to be arrested.' He took me out the Bronson exit, instead of the front entrance to Paramount, and pointed across the street and said, 'Why don't you try that studio?' It was Raleigh Studios.
"I walked in the lot and waved at the guard and he didn't say a thing. It's the easiest studio to walk into, and it probably still is, even after 9/11. I walked around. Soundstage 11 was the only one flashing its lights. This old lady was walking back and forth off the set. I told her that I'd never seen a movie made before. About an hour later, she said, 'I can take you on now.'
"As soon as she turned her back, I ran up to the production manager and I begged him for a job. He hired me on the spot. And it was Single White Female. I spent my whole summer as an intern/PA.
"Then I came back every summer and winter break and worked on huge studio movies or for directors of TV series. After I graduated, I moved out here and worked various jobs in the industry. I worked for a director named Arthur Allen Siedelman who was my first mentor, then an agent named Suzanna Camejo and then worked for Producer Marvin Worth, who recently passed away, on the Warner Bros. movie DIABOLIQUE, and NORMA/MARILYNN for HBO.
"I worked for producer Scott Rudin at Paramount for just under two years. He's the most brilliant man. Then I left to become a producer out of my own bedroom. I starved. I ate Ramen noodles. I went under couches after a party looking for quarters. I made my first money as a producer setting up the movie Plan B, starring Diane Keaton, at New Regency. I sold a couple of other scripts to studios.
"A short, Conversations in Limbo, was my first production. Then we raised $92,000 and called in every favor in the book to make a high concept comedy - Shafted. It was the greatest experience I've had to date. The bigger your movie gets, the further you are away from every moment of every process of the movie. On Shafted, I was there every minute. I slept on the set in sleeping bags. I was begging, borrowing and stealing shots and equipment.
"It was the best and worst film I've ever made. It didn't turn out the way we hoped it would. We had 68 actors and 35 locations and sets that we built. All for no money.
"I then went into partnership with Dan Stone. We shared an office. Eventually, after Star Fucker, we formed Persistent Entertainment. I bought him out last year.
"In 1997, I was partnering with Dan Stone as he was producing a movie called The Alarmist  , starring David Arquette, Stanely Tucci, Mary McCormick, and Kate Capshaw. Then we produced and financed Star F * cker [released in 1998 as Starstruck] starring and Jamie Kennedy, Loren Dean, Carmen Electra , Amy Smart and Bridgette Wilson. The initial name Star F * cker was a marketing tool."
Imdb.com comments: "There's nothing more refreshing than a blatantly sexual film depicting overweight bakers in a race against time, trying to prevent death by popcorn drowning. What's more, the ending, a satirical look at today's current events, is more satisfying than that of the likes of the Shawshank Redemption, or the Deer Hunter. I give this movie a ten out of ten, for not only good acting, but a horribly unbelievable plot which actually seems plausible."
Luke: "Do you have any good stories from on the set?"
Mathew: "Maybe there were a couple of days where everything went right. And that's it. I believe there's a Film God. She's a super amazingly hot chick who oversees the movie making process and makes sure that everything ends right. There's a mystical thing that no matter how bad it gets, somehow you figure out how to get something done.
"I work closely with the director, discussing the scene and the motivations of the actors. I'm constantly pushing. I want to make sure that we're sharing the same vision."
Luke: "What are the common elements in the films you produce?"
Mathew: "The business part. At 27 years old, the head of a studio is not going to let me be the head producer of a $30 million movie. So our business plan was to take a name writer, make him a first-time director, let the material attract a great cast, finance it 100% out of foreign sales, and then take it to film festivals like Sundance, Cannes and the Hamptons. And we've been fortunate to have six of our seven movies bought [by studios] and released in the theaters. And we've usually received good reviews."
Luke: "How did you get that 100% foreign financing?"
Mathew: "The package of the film has a value. Mostly, that package is dependent on the cast. Actors have a value overseas, especially on the smaller independent films. This value throughout the entire international marketplace adds up in each territory and if that number is high enough to finance the films entire budget - you can make your movie."
Luke: "How were you able to sell it in a few months when a huge producer worked on it for years?"
Mathew: "Everybody has their own way of operating. Often, big producers send their material to the heads of studios. The ultimate joke is that someone who has won so many Academy Awards will probably send a script to a studio head, who will send it to coverage. Some 22-year old kid doing coverage on it is not going to get an older drama and probably pass, which is what this person did. So the big producer, being the proud amazing producer he is, is not going to call the head of the studio about it. He's going to wait for the studio head to call him back. That's the way the business used to work.
"Now you need a swell of people at a studio behind a project. I went through the acquisition side. I found an executive who loved it. Then I found another and another executive who loved it. I built a support team around me that was excited about the project. By the time it went to the studio chief , he had a swell of people [within his own company] wanting to make this movie. Knowing you have the support of all your executives is important to the head of a studio."
I spot a silver idol on a chain around Mathew's neck and ask him about it.
Mathew: "It's a Buddhist symbol for masculinity, strength and energy."
Director Rick Rosenthal
Born in New York, Rick Rosenthal majored in Economics and Government at Harvard. Rosenthal had a "religious" experience watching shipbuilders, and he later became a metal sculptor. He turned in his Senior thesis on reel to reel videotape.
After graduating, Rosenthal made documentaries for New Hampshire public television. He attended the American Film Institute, where he made a film called MOONFACE, a black comedy which no one seemed to understand. Following that, he made a 30 minute psycho-killer movie called THE TOYER, which landed on the desk of John Carpenter's agent. This led to directing Halloween II.
Rosenthal's style is said to come from the German expressionist movement. In Halloween II, it expresses itself with long, contorted hallway shots and strange lighting.
Rick is married to Halloween II actress Nancy Stephens, whom he cast in his 1984 film American Dreamer and his 1987 film Russkies.
We spoke at his office March 12, 2002.
Luke: "I've learned that in television it's the producer's vision."
Rick: "Because the producer provides the continuity. During one 22-episode season, a show might have 11 different directors.
"The first movie I ever did [Halloween 2] was a sequel, but it was supposed to be a direct continuation. It started one minute after the first movie ended. You have to try hard to maintain the style of the first movie. I wanted it to feel like a two-parter. You have the responsibility and the restraints of the style that's been set. It was the same crew. My philosophy was to do more of a thriller than a slasher movie.
"I've just shot Halloween 8. The cyber age is upon us and that opened up the rules of the game.
"I subconsciously developed my own theory of point of view but never codified it as a spoken philosophy until I started teaching at AFI, when students asked me, 'Why do you do what you do?'
"It boils down to this question: Who's point of view are you telling the story from? And once you make that decision, say Sean Penn's point of view in Bad Boys, you begin to film in a certain way that allows the audience to identify with that particular character. The audience is alerted whom to root for. And that was something I did purely by instinct.
"It's a rudimentary philosophy. It means that when the character moves, the camera moves with him, in front of and behind him. When people come toward that character, the camera stays within the circle of the character and people get bigger and smaller. It's a strong identifying tool.
"You typically need a reference shot to tell the audience who's point of view they'll be watching the scene from, and then the point of view shots are filmed from within the space of that character. We reference the character and then show what the character is looking at.
"On Halloween 8 [which debuts July 19, 2002], when all these kids go into the [internet broadcasting] house, they're wearing these small digital cameras behind their ears. You get a pure point of view. It's what they're seeing through the digital camera. It gives a documentary feeling. And as the story progresses, and there are fewer characters, you increasingly root for Sara Moyer (Bianca Kajlich) and you sense what is at stake for her. Suddenly we have at our beck and call these six points of view [from the six major characters]. And it just creates a pace and energy that I've never seen before. And people just get caught up in it and they don't know why.
"Halloween 8 mixes humor with horror, but doesn't poke fun at the genre like Scream. There's one scene that gets spontaneous ovations, and it's not because it is horrific. It's just because it is funny. And I've never seen that in a horror film before.
"Once Miramax decides they like a movie, they're smart at marketing."
Luke: "Reading about the film on the internet, I read that you were fired at one point."
Rick: "There's always talk. I can't make a movie like this without rumors that [original director] John Carpenter is coming back. That [producer] Moustapha [Akkad] is unhappy. Moustapha is never happy until the movie makes a lot of money.
"We reshot an ending because Busta Rhymes emerged as a star. And that wasn't the way the script took it. After the first cut, it was clear that we were foolish if we didn't take advantage of this starring presence. And the moment you go into additional shooting, the rumors start flying. The film was never in trouble. The initial ending didn't make sense. We didn't have a visceral confrontation between the heroine and the killer. It was never cathartic.
"After we shot and edited that second version, and screened it for test audiences, the film went up. And the approval rating of Bianca Kajlich jumped 20 points. I have a conference call at noon to discuss what we're going to do with the last minute of the film."
Luke: "You turned in a video as your Senior thesis?"
Rick: "I was in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. It was trying to merge Visual Studies with the Environment, a mixture of urbanology and design. But Harvard doesn't believe that the subconscious exists. I was able to do a thesis on half-inch reel-to-reel video."
Luke: "Tell me about Halloween 2's hot tub scene."
Rick: "Pam Shoop is pretty. At the first preview I was at in Las Vegas, when she drops her towel, there's a collective sigh, followed by a collective 'Ow!' The sigh was from all the guys in the audience followed by the elbow from their mates.
"I'd been studying acting with Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and I brought many people from the Playhouse into Halloween 2, such as Leo Rossi. He played Budd, the ambulance driver, who ends up in the jacuzzi with Pam Shoop. Gloria Gifford who plays the black head nurse and Ana Alicia who played one of the candy-stripers."
According to this unofficial Halloween 2 website: "Acress Pamela Susan Shoop is in reality a rather shy person when it comes to exposing her body so she was uncomfortable when shooting the nude scene. Director Rick Rosenthal offered to have the crew take off their clothes to make her feel more comfortable but they flatly refused, which meant that it was back to Shoop and Leo Rossi being two naked people surrounded by clothed people. (NOTE: This officially makes Rosenthal a wimp because he suggested the whole 'have the crew get naked' thing but did not have the guts to take the initiative and remove his own clothes.)
"While fooling around in a hydrotherapy pool with Budd, she shows her perky breasts several times. As she gets out of the water there are some side views of her fully nude body. Than as she is killed, those perfect breasts are shown a few more times."
Rick: "I might not have taken my clothes off, but, believe me, I was naked through a lot of the film!"
In this internet interview, Pam Shoop discussed her dunking scene in Halloween 2: "Now that was hard! The water was freezing cold, and poor Leo Rossi and I could barely keep our teeth from chattering! The water was also pretty dirty and I ended up with an ear infection. But the stuntman who played Michael Myers, Dick Warlock, was just terrific. He was very gentle...or I should say, as gentle as could be! It took us two days to shoot the scene. They would dunk me and then the make-up people would put latex on my face and inject Vaseline into it to create the blistered effect. We'd dunk, then add more Vaseline. We had to do it over and over until it looked as if my face was "boiled." Yikes! But it was not difficult in the sense that I was afraid being under water at all. Just cold!
"Most of the work I did was under the direction of Rick Rosenthal. John [Carpenter] only came in at the end and added some extra scenes which I shot. Both guys were wonderful. They had different visions of the film. Rick put a great deal of emphasis on character study, while John was a genius at suspense."
Pam Shoop wrote a book with her husband, a former Jesuit priest. I found this description on a website: "WHAT GOD HATH JOINED is the real-life love story of Terrance A. Sweeney and Pamela Shoop Sweeney. Terry was a Jesuit priest in the Roman Catholic Church for 24 years. He and Pamela, an actress (Pamela Susan Shoop), were the first priest and woman to marry publicly in the United States. The book is written in alternating chapters so that the reader can "hear" what takes place in the heart of a priest who falls in love, and in the heart of a woman who lives the despair of realizing that she is in love with a man she can never have. It explores their crises of conscience; how they dealt with the guilt in the eyes of the church for their love; the realization that their love was from God and that it was, indeed, a blessing, not a sin; the difficulties for the two families involved; the decision to make their love public and dedicate their lives to changing the laws of the church to allow priests the option to marry; and it traces their love from the first meeting to their wedding night. It is raw and extremely personal. The book was published by Ballantine, Hardcover. If anyone is interested in buying an autographed copy directly from the authors, they can send a cashiers check for $20.00 plus $3.50 shipping & handling to Pamela S. Sweeney, 13601 Ventura Blvd., Suite 100, Sherman Oaks, CA. 91423. The authors like to describe their book as "The Thornbirds" with a happy ending!"
According to the Imdb.com: "A veteran character actress with a prolific career, Pamela Susan Shoop began acting while in her teens and established herself as a television regular in the early seventies. Since that time, she has appeared in several guest spots on a variety of television programs while occasionally working in theatrical films. As recurring player for Glen A. Larson, Pamela has made many appearances in at least nine different shows associated with the famed TV writer, director, and producer. While she has worked primarily in supporting and guest roles, Pamela did hold the regular part of Allison MacKenzie in the television soap opera 'Return to Peyton Place' from 1972 to 1973."
Luke: "Tell me about 1983's Bad Boys."
Rick: "I was offered Bad Boys on the strength of my 30-minute short The Toyer. Mick O'Brien was a strong character and his moral dilemma at the end was powerful. I reached the point where I said, 'If he kills Esai Morales, I'm not interested because I think it gives the wrong message.'
"We screened that film for a mixed audience in Philadelphia, filled with gangbangers. And there's a moment where this ice pick comes down and you think he's killed him. And the audience is silent. Then it shows he's still alive. And half the audience is silent and the other half calls him a pussy. I have a 19-year old son and all his friends know the movie.
"I then made a romantic comedy [American Dreamer, 1984] in Europe. I'm constantly approached by people who say, 'American Dreamer is my mother's favorite movie.' It was the highest testing movie at Warner Brothers in eight years but they couldn't figure out how to market it. They didn't have marque names starring. They didn't have a great poster. The poster they ended up with looks like a tax shelter movie from the 1970s.
"There was a great review in Cosmo that said if there was an Oscar given for a weepy loony performance, JoBeth Williams [lead] would be a shoo-in. She plays a housewife who wins a writing contest and goes to Paris where she gets hit by a car and suffers from amnesia. When she comes to, she thinks she's the heroine of the writing contest. So we see her as a browbeaten housewife whose husband doesn't tolerate any flights of fancy and then we see her as this fantastical heroine. She breaks your heart as this housewife and she's fun as the heroine.
"People discover this film all the time. There but for the grace of God goes a career that would've blossomed into making some more of those kind of movies, like Working Girl and some of the Goldie Hawn movies that came out. My two favorite movies I've directed are Bad Boys and American Dreamer."
Luke: "You keep switching back and forth between features and television. What are the differences?"
Rick: "You don't get as much time for rehearsals in television. You almost never have an hour for rehearsals in TV. If it's an incredibly complicated scene, maybe you get half an hour. Most of the time you get five minutes of rehearsal.
"I feel that I work under the radar. I don't feel my profile is as high as if I'd just concentrated on television over features or vice versa. I love to work. My colleague at AFI Martin Brest works every three or four years. I'd go nuts. I'd miss not working. Similar to the way I miss not playing ice hockey. If I don't play hockey for three weeks, I get out of sorts.
"Directing is an infinitely interesting job because you're dealing with people. We were doing [a TV show]. On the last day, we went to lunch. I had five set-ups left. That's two hours of work. It was a Friday and everybody was going, 'We'll be out of here by 4PM.' I wasn't so sure. Something always changes.
"We come back from lunch and we're doing the second shot. And suddenly we hear the two actors get into an argument. 'I don't treat people the way you do.' 'Well, thank God you don't.' Next thing we know, they're [both women] in this all-out screaming match. They storm off the set and go to their trailers. Make-up comes in and says, 'This will be a big repair job. And they're not coming to make-up because they don't want to be in the same trailer. One of the actresses is really puffy because she's been crying. You're not going to get her back today.' So we finished around 6PM and came back another day to finish the shot.
"Was I upset? No, I was philosophical. What could I do? Do I control the resources? Writer-producer Michael Braverman told me on the set of Life Goes On, 'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make a duck wear a saddle.' And that's true. That's the lunacy of the entertainment business. I've learned to rail against that less. I've gone from being one of the more volatile elements on a set to one of the more enabling elements. My goal is to the Zen master. But I've run into shows where no matter what I did, I couldn't be the Zen master.
"Television is visually more simple than features. You take fewer chances.
"I believe in playing my role and leaving the cinematography to the cinematographer and the editing to the editor. I remember doing this movie where an actress is banging this Mafia guy. And they go to this big wedding. And he goes into the men's room to take a leak. And he hears these sounds coming from a stall. And at first he smiles. Then curiosity gets the better of him and he looks through the crack, and he sees his girl getting banged. He sees the girl leave. Then the guy comes out of the stall, feeling good. And the Mafia guy stabs him to death. And the editor intercut the stabbing with scenes from the stall, of the girl riding up and down on the guy's cock. And that was an editing technique I would not have thought of."
Luke: "Why did you use the name "Alan Smithee" as the directing credit for Birds 2, a remake of the Hitchcock thriller?"
Rick: " I was a last minute replacement for a director that had dropped out about 5 weeks before shooting was to start. I read the script and told Universal and the producers that the film couldn't be made for the budget they were talking about. I also told them that I thought there was a better story to be told than the script had delivered so far.
"I said that that I wasn't interested in doing the script as it was written, but I then told them where I would take the story and said if they were interested in going in that direction, I would sign on. They called me back the next day and said they wanted to go where I wanted to take the story.
"That's the last nice thing I have to say. Two weeks before we started shooting the producers wanted to go back to the old script. We didn't, but they demanded a lot of changes to the script that the Wheat Brothers had written, which I thought was poignant, scary and emotional. It didn't get better from there."