When Producers Attack
Producer John Langley is a man's man. He doesn't seem to mind much what people think of him. He's a refreshing change from many of the prissy image-conscious producers I've interviewed.
Langley owns a huge production facility on Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica. His parking lot is filled with about 40 vehicles.
I believe I was here once before - about eight years ago. In my days as a struggling actor, I participated in a talkshow pilot but the producers pulled me off the show because I was over the top obnoxious.
As I walk down the hallway to John's office, a blonde woman (who turns out to be his wife of 30 years, Maggie) warns me, 'If you're not a smoker, throw your arms up in the air and say you can't do the interview here. And he'll take you upstairs.'
I walk into the office, which turns out to be a largely empty stage. I look around and crane my head to the left where I find John, a tall strapping man almost 60 years of age, smoking a smelly cigar.
He asks me if I mind the cigar and I say I don't, but sure it would be nice to do the interview upstairs, after he takes me on a tour of the facilities.
We walk into an editing bay and it looks like the guy is cutting homosexual porn, but it's just the TV show Cops, Langley's most famous production. It debuted in 1989 on Fox, and is about to air its 500th episode.
John and I settle down on adjacent couches in an empty upstairs office. We put our feet up on the table and whinge about lawyers.
Luke: "My sister is a barrister in Australia."
John: "Well, a barrister is not like a US lawyer."
Luke: "Barristers have to wear a wig."
John: "It's more noble."
Luke: "There are so many more lawyers here. Yanks are so litigious."
John: "I was never in a lawsuit in my life until I got into this business, where it is almost inevitable."
Luke: "People will sue each other and then do business the next day."
Luke: "I would never sue anyone unless it was just over the top. It's not honorable."
John: "I wish we had the English [legal] system where loser pays. As long as you don't have that system, you are going to have a lot of litigious people suing just so they can get an insurance settlement."
Luke: "Where did you grow up?"
John: "West Los Angeles and Manhattan Beach. My father worked in the aircraft industry. My mother was a housewife. I have two older brothers and a younger sister. None of them are in entertainment.
"I was born June 1, 1944. At one time, I wanted to be an academic. I've always been a slow learner. At age 18, in 1961, I joined the Army. I didn't want to go to college right away. I figured this was a great way to see the world and get laid.
"I went into so-called Army Intelligence. I spent two years, nine months, 29 days, 13 hours, 22 minutes and 14 seconds."
Luke: "Did you being in Army Intelligence help you get laid?"
John: "Oh sure. I was in Panama for two years. Then I returned home, went back to school, piddled around, worked multiple jobs, and returned to school. I got my BA (English) and MA (Literature/Composition) from Cal State Dominguez and I did PhD work at UC Irvine in the philosophy of aesthetics. It was a movement at the time. I taught at those two schools and I thought I wanted to be a professor.
"In 1971, I finally said enough of this nonsense. I quit because I couldn't conceive of teaching the same courses year in and year out. I'm a Gemini. I need more stimulation. I loved academia and I loved literature but I burned out on Ivory Tower capitalism.
"I got married and worked for an airline for three years in public relations. It was a great gig but I made no money. I traveled the world. I've always been a writer. I published in Film News International. Someone (Steve Friedman) read a screenplay I'd written and asked me to help produce a movie (The Crowley Testament) for Warner Brothers. So I quit my job in 1977. It was a theatrical fictional documentary about a mad scientist named Lucius Crowley.
"Then the guy who bought the project for Warners was fired and the new guy who came in, Robert Shapiro, threw out all the old projects.
"Then I worked for the marketing firm, Producers Creative Services (PCS) , of my future partner Malcom Barber. In 1980, we sold PCs and started a production company. We starved for a couple of years and then we did a documentary about drug addiction called Cocaine Blues."
Luke: "Was this based on personal experience?"
John: "Oh, there's been a bit of that. Maybe it was my karmic debt. We had a film deal with somebody and they said, 'Do something small first just to show that you can do what you say you can do.' So we did Cocaine Blues, which had been developed for somebody else. In my naivete, I realized that making a film was one thing but selling it was another.
"We entered it in all the film festivals and won some awards. And that's how I got into television [and conceived the show Cops].
"I wrote a screenplay that sold years later. Then in 1987, I made the Dolph Lundgren: Maximum Potential exercise video. I hired Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary as PAs. Quentin and Roger worked at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, where I live. They were kids, 18-19 years old. We used to discuss film and BS. I loaned him my script for the  film Behind Enemy Lines. He showed me scripts he'd written.
"As a PA, Quentin was always bashing into nightstands and babbling everybody. He's quite a talker and loves to get into debates about film. My partner would say, 'Fire that kid. He doesn't know what the hell he's doing.'
"Roger came to me once and asked, 'I want to be a director. I don't want to be a PA. How do I do that?' I said, 'Roger, if you want to be a director, direct. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a producer, produce.' He thought about it and said ok. The next day he came in and said, 'I quit.' I said, 'That's cool. What are you going to do?' He said, 'I'm going to be a writer and a director.'"
According to Imdb.com: Roger Avary "met Quentin Tarantino at a video store they both worked at in the 1980's. Though Quentin Tarantino received credit, it was actually Avary who conceived the Top-Gun gay reference speech that Tarantino used in Sleep with Me (1994). Avary's writing contributions to Pulp Fiction (1994) include: 1) A boxer who refuses to throw a fight. 2) A pair of hitmen who accidentally shoot a hostage in the head in the back of a car. (Actually a deleted script idea from True Romance (1993). 3) A boxer who tells his wife they are in danger, and must leave the country."
Roger says about Quentin: "I've realised that I can't hang out with him. I talk with him, and he just sucks stuff from me."
John: "Quentin finished out as PA on that project, picking up dog turds on Venice Beach and that kind of work. That was their intro to the film biz.
"I produced about eight two-hour Geraldo Rivera primetime television specials. One, called American Vice, featured a live drug bust. One lady sued Gerald because during the live broadcast he said, 'A lady and her pimp are being...' She claimed she just happened to be at that guy's house.
"I was trying to sell Cops at the time. I went to Tribune with it. Back on Cocaine Blues, I accompanied cops on a drug bust. I said, 'Wow, this is interesting.' I thought it would be great to do a show with no narrator and no script, from a cop's point of view. Because it is interesting work. Nobody would buy it.
"Tribune said, 'We'll do something with you if you do it with Geraldo.' I said no, I wanted to do Cops. They said, 'Well, it's Geraldo or nothing.' So I thought about it and said, OK, we'll meet.' And then we put together a two-hour special, American Vice, about the drug war."
Luke: "Did you do the one where he opened Al Capone's vault?"
John: "No, that was the first one he did. And I think he was chagrined by it because it was a big bust. There was nothing there. Our promise to him was, 'We'll guarantee you that your vault won't be empty. We'll have all this action and all this investigative look at drugs. We'll put you undercover and get all this clandestine tape of drug deals. We'll do live drug busts.'
"The guy at Tribune said, 'Are you sure we can do that live?' I said, 'Of course we can.' I didn't have the slightest idea how to do it. We researched it and found technicians who told us how we could do it. We used microwave technology and bounced signals up to helicopters who'd bounce it back down to trucks who'd bounce it up to satellites."
Luke: "What are people telling you while you try to shop Cops?"
John: "We'll never do this kind of show. It will be a nightmare legally. You can't do a show without a host and narrator. You can't do a show without actors and a script. I had blinders on and I refused to listen to all the rejections. All the networks rejected it. The irony is that once it was picked up by Fox and succeeded, every network wanted to do the same show. All the networks called me back to see if I would do a cop show with them."
Luke: "How did you finally get Cops on the air?"
John: "Timing. I met with Steve Chao at Fox. His mandate was to do alternative interesting programming. I kept pitching him shows and he rejected all the shows. Finally, I said, 'You wouldn't know a good show if it slapped you in the face. Fuck off. I don't want to talk to you anymore.' And that excited him. 'No, no, no. One last pitch. Pick one idea that you really like.'
"We'd pitched four ideas: 1- 911, which became Rescue 911. 2 - Most Wanted. 3. Funny home videos. 4. Cops.
"Then he said, 'Which one of those do you want to do the most?' And I said Cops. He said fine. We met with Barry Diller. Fox initially ordered 45 episodes a year. We cut back to 36 so that we could have a life. We're in our 15th season now."
Luke: "Did that Supreme Court media tag along ruling affect you?"
John: "No. There's a big misunderstanding about it. The Supreme Court ruled that if somebody accompanies the police on to private property, they are subject to being sued by whoever owns the private company. The case came about because CBS News had accompanied the police on a raid.
"It's an interesting constitutional issue pitting the Fourth Amendment (against unreasonable search and seizure) and the First Amendment (free speech).
"The ruling got misinterpreted in the media as no more ride-alongs, which is nonsense. For Cops, we always get permission from everybody anyway so it doesn't matter. We have far more strictures than the news. They can show everything they want."
Luke: "Why do people sign releases to be on your show?"
Luke: "If you were arrested, would you sign a release?"
John: "Of course I would. I've told my children the same. Cops has become part of the pop culture. People who will yell, 'Get that news camera away from me.' But when they hear that it is cops, they go, 'Oh, that's cool.' And they sign releases. You tell me why. I don't know why. Maybe it's because it is part of the landscape now. It's cool to be on Cops."
Luke: "You had that producer who was arrested for drunk driving."
John: "Yes. He was cashiered from his position because of that. He's no longer allowed to go into the field. He's in a purely editorial capacity now."
Luke: "Your wife works with you."
John: "Now that the kids are raised, she's become more active. We've produced a couple of films together.
"A few years ago, I started a website Crime.com with the sole purpose of reverse convergence. Right in the middle of the dot com madness, as bubbles are bursting all over, I started an internet company called Crime.com. It was everything you ever wanted to know about crime - information, news, entertainment... I wanted to turn it into a channel. I ended up selling it to USA Networks and being a cofounder of the cable channel, which has yet to launch. And also being responsible for all the original programming."
Luke: "What's your reaction to reality programming like Survivor?"
John: "I see it as reality-based gameshows. It's a distinct genre, apart from reality programming.
"The media need labels. They need categorical imperatives."
Luke: "What shows have you been working on?"
John: "Not much. I'm picky. I doubt that in television I will ever succeed the impact of Cops. It's the best idea I've had for television entertainment."
Luke: "Have you had to tone down the violence on Cops?"
John: "No. The interesting thing about television is that you can show all the blood and guts you want. You just have to avoid sex and language. I've had some interesting discussions with Standards and Practices [internal network censorship units] over the years. For instance, you can't say 'Jesus Christ' or 'God damn it' on television. Yet I can show homicide. To me, a murder is far more obscene than language. I always try to push the envelope as far as possible. Not to exploit, but to be as real and as raw as possible because that's the programming mandate for the show. I wanted to show you reality as you have never seen it. You what to show what a homicide scene is and what a high speed chase is. My purpose is not to show blood and guts. I just want to show reality as unvarnished as possible. Cops is an existential variety show. It is unpredictable and immediate and as real as you can get without being there.
"Often there's a confusion between the message and the messenger. I am not a cop and I have never had ambitions to be a cop. I'm a child of the '60s. If you would've told me that I was going to do a show about cops, I would've said, 'What am I going to call it? Pigs?' I just happened to get in an arena that was dramatic and started doing documentary films about it that became so-called reality television. And in doing it, I developed respect for people doing it, like cops, paramedics, firemen. Most of these people are in it for pro-social purposes. By and large, these guys are the good guys.
"When something like 9/11 happens, there's a great urge for order."
Luke: "What did you think of the Bush administration's overtures to Hollywood to play a part in the war on terrorism?"
John: "Deplorable. I am not big on propaganda. The best form of propaganda is an informed populace."
Luke: "Why have you chosen to specialize in crime?"
John: "Why do I do Cops and not Accountants? Certain professions lend themselves to drama. That's why there are so many medical, legal and crime dramas."
Producer Ladd Vance
Producer Ladd Vance [Rosenberg], named after [actor-producer] Alan Ladd Sr., comes from a showbiz family. His father Kenny was a founding member of the 1960s pop group Jay and the Americans. His mother, after her divorce from Kenny in 1978, became a costume designer in Hollywood. And Ladd's brother Gregg is an actor and real estate salesman.
"My dad was a Jew," Vance tells me at his Raw Entertainment office March 8, 2002. "And in the 1960s, he couldn't go to the South with the last name Rosenberg. So he used the name Vance. Jay and the Americans sang such hits as This Magic Moment and Come a Little Bit Closer. They opened for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
"I grew up with the last name of Rosenberg. Then when I was going to highschool in Queens. And my highschool was a little bit prejudiced towards Jews. So I changed my last name to Vance. But Rosenberg was on my license. And so word got out. The first three movies I got credits on, I went by Rosenberg-Vance so my grandparents could see. They have the name Rosenberg.
"I grew up in Rockway Beach, Queens and in Long Island. My mom was a housewife and my dad was in the music business and would travel a lot. At some point, his infidelity led my mother to divorce him after 15 years. He did music for Animal House and American Hot Wax (life story of disc jockey Alan Freed) in Los Angeles. So my mom come out here and met a lot of people through my dad. She ended up moving to LA and starting her career as a costume designer.
"I went to Boston University and during the summer I'd come out to Los Angeles to work as a production assistant (PA) for such directors as Michael Bay and Brian Gibson, who dated my mom. I met producer Joel Silver on the movie Action Jackson and I became his personal assistant for three years. I did a lot of grunt work for him. I answered his phone. He'd have 30 things in development at a time and I think that's a key to being successful.
"I saw him sell the movie Action Jackson in five phone calls. And there wasn't even a script yet. He was walking around the office saying, 'He's back. He's bad. He's mad. He's black. He's Carl Weathers. He's Action Jackson.'
"Joel had infamous fights while I worked for him with Arnold Schwartzeneger and [producer] Larry Gordon. Fights that have lasted to this day. Once you die in Joel Silver world, you're dead. He has a 'Dead List.' People that just don't exist anymore in his world.
"It was an incredible experience to be around him. He's like P.T. Barnum of the Barnum & Bailey circus.
"After three years with Joel, I thought that I wanted to be an actor. Joel brought in a new production chief at his company, Michael Levy, who wanted to start with a clean slate. Joel brought me in and said: 'We have to clean out the whole development staff. I don't want to let you go. Maybe you can come be my assistant again.' I said, 'I've been studying acting. Why don't you give me a part so I can get my SAG card?'
"I lost my job at Silver Pictures and got my SAG card within a week. And I wound up working as a PA again and as a Second AD (Assistant Director) on some commercials. With my friend Robin Fellows, I produced the [1993 short film] The Waiter, starring David Schwimmer and Sally Kellerman."
Next Vance produced the 1994 film Embrace With a Vampire, which features Who's the Boss TV star Allyssa Milano in numerous nude scenes.
"Charlotte [Milano] is a good girl virgin who is having some very bad dreams about sex. These dreams are courtesy of the vampire. Charlotte begins to change but as long as she remains pure for three days, the vampire will take her and they will live eternally together." (Imdb.com)
I found this report on the internet from the 1995 Daily Star:
Martin [Kemp], star of steamy film Embrace With A Vampire, is back in biting form after nearly dying of a brain tumour. The former Spandau Ballet singer plays an evil monster bent on seducing a virgin. And to make sure he's not biting off more than he can chew, the toothy Casanova gets in a bit of practice with a string of women who fall victim to his hypnotic powers.
"Martin really enjoyed himself," said producer Ladd Vance. "He's a faithful, loving husband and father in real-life, but he admitted he had a good time in the sex scenes!"
Vance said of the film : "It is quite raunchy, but it is tasteful."
Actress Charlotte Lewis plays a photographer who seduces female co-star Alyssa Milano.
It's a far cry from 22-year-old Alyssa's role as a goody two-shoes in TV sitcom Who's The Boss. Vance said: "We had a body double on hand, but she wasn't used. Alyssa had it in her contract that she could refuse to do some naked scenes, but she felt comfortable with it. Her mum had a long meeting with the director to talk the whole thing over."
Ladd: "It was a sexy thriller vampire movie, which has gotten a lot of Internet exposure. She had a body double on set. But for whatever reason, she wanted to do the nude scenes. I think that what was really going on at the time was that she was revengeful towards an ex-boyfriend [actor Scott Wolfe?]. I think she took it out on him through being in this movie. And at the end of the day, I don't think her and her family and her camp were happy that she participated in that way. The film is one of the best selling videos on the Internet
"The film was pirated so much on the Internet that her mom created an organization [to go after people who post such pictures on the Internet].
"I met this director named Ash [Ashley Baron Cohen] who wanted to make the film Bang . He wanted the actor Peter Greene who starred in my short film [The Waiter]. I secured Peter Greene to star in Bang. Then I got them a free camera package and free development of the film. And the next thing you know, I'm a producer of the movie, just because of all the things I've brought to the table."
Here's a plot summary of Bang: "A young woman in LA is having a bad day: she's evicted, an audition ends with a producer furious she won't trade sex for the part, and a policeman nabs her for something she didn't do, demanding fellatio to release her. She snaps, grabs his gun, takes his uniform, and leaves him cuffed to a tree where he's soon having a defenseless chat with a homeless man. She takes off on the cop's motorcycle and, for an afternoon, experiences a cop's life. She talks a young man out of suicide and then is plunged into violence after a friendly encounter with two "vatos." She is torn between self-protection and others' expectations. Is there any resolution for her torrent of feelings?" (Imdb.com)
Ladd: "Bang got a lot of critical acclaim and helped me land a job running the film company Ministry of Film, financed by Alan Mruvka, one of the founders of the E! channel. He'd already made his own money, so he wasn't aggressive. He didn't have anything to prove to anyone. I served as Associate Producer on Digging to China  starring Kevin Bacon."
Luke: "What was your 1996 series Erotic Confessions?"
Ladd: "HBO wanted to do a sexy show and they thought we were the right producers because of Embrace of the Vampire. We made 70 episodes and it was good experience in how to shoot a massive amount of television in a short amount of time. It's not necessarily the type of career move that I wanted to make at that point in my life. After getting a thumbs up from Roger Ebert [for Bang] and discovering David Schwimmer.
"Alan Mruvka dissolved Ministry of Film in 1997 and started Filmtown, a foreign sales company. Alan had some legal issues with my partner in Ministry, who happened to be my mother. They're now in a lawsuit. I worked for Alan for a year after the suit launched, and that was difficult.
"Filmtown financed David Mamet's film State and Main . I felt like I had a higher profile in town. We were attaching talent to projects. People were coming to me for financing. But it only lasted a few years and Filmtown dissolved. Joey Nittolo became partners with Alan Mruvka before launching out on his own with this company Raw Entertainment, where I'm Vice President of Production. We're a commercial, video and film production company.
"My mom's still working as a costume designer and she has projects that she's running around trying to produce. My dad's singing du-op in Las Vegas. I saw him in Las Vegas a month ago. He opened at the MGM for Jay Leno. And my brother's an actor, director, producer and real estate agent. And he just had a baby."
Gregg Vance appeared in several of his brother's productions including The Waiter, Embrace of the Vampire, Erotic Confessions and Red Letters.
Evangelical Christian Director-Producer Robert Marcarelli - The Omega Code
I talk by phone to producer-director Robert Marcarelli April 16, 2002.
Robert: "I graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 1972 with a degree in theater arts. I got married. I went up to the San Francisco Bay Area and worked in several theater companies. I had small roles in various TV shows such as The Streets of San Francisco. I came back to Los Angeles, got an agent, and tried to get a starring role in something. I got close... I moved into directing and producing commercials, industrials and eventually feature films.
"We raised the money independently for my first two features - 1992's Original Intent and I Don't Buy Kisses Anymore. The distribution on Kisses didn't work out because the movie became competition for the studio. When you make an independent movie, and you let a studio back it, and you're doing better business than their pictures, and they have $50 million tied up in a movie, and they have no money tied up in yours... Our per-screen averages were higher than the movies they left in the theaters because they were studio-made movies.
"It's the old consignment game. If you have a storefront and you've put thousands of dollars into a particular product developed in the back room, you'd be more inclined to want to push that as opposed to getting a commission on something you had nothing to do with it. On Monday morning, theater distributors are clamoring over theater space, and unless you're a breakaway hit, they're not going to keep you there because you're an obstacle to studio product.
"Kisses got good reviews but it was only out three weeks. My 1999 movie The Omega Code (produced by the Trinity Broadcasting Network) was in the theaters for 14 weeks and was the highest grossing film of 1999 among films that played in fewer than 600 theaters. Nobody expected it to hit but there was a big grassroots mechanism working for it and it platformed across the United States and did over $13 million at the box office.
"We could've done a tremendous amount of more business if we were prepared to open the picture wide after it hit. We opened in October. We didn't have enough prints. Then we were getting into the Christmas season, which meant competing in the Northeast corridor against all the big Christmas movies. We shipped a million videos."
Here's a review: "Another Christian film with Hollywood production values has been released nationally and once again, it has been pretty much ignored by the media and critics. The Omega Code deals with an apocalyptic theme, using the controversial "Bible Codes" as a major plot device. Despite the lack of a large scale marketing effort and an almost complete snub from both print and online critics—who were not invited to pre-release screenings—the film did well enough to place in the top ten grossing films its opening weekend. This is likely due to support given the film by Christian broadcasting networks and grass roots efforts from churches and other religious groups, who bought tickets in bulk. Obviously the film does not deserve to be ignored, but neither does it merit good reviews.
"Why isn't this a better film? A large part of the answer lies with the script by Hollis Barton and Stephan Blinn, who between them have no other screen credits. Instead of developing fresh and interesting people we can root for, they have relied upon superficial and clichéd stock characters which stretch the limits of credibility. Director Robert Marcarelli is a similarly generic presence, and brings nothing in the way of personality to the movie."
Luke: "There was a groundswell of interest in the Bible Codes at that time. Are you an evangelical Christian?"
Robert: "I am. I like to do stories that are uplifting, or have a good character arc, some transformation of character. I would never do an exploitation movie where people are getting shot just for the heck of it or people are having sex just for the heck of it. Life affirming films are more enjoyable than exploitation films."
Luke: "Have you found your religion a creative straitjacket?"
Robert: "Not at all. I would say that 97% of scripts I get are things I would not want to do. I've turned down work of things that I felt were more part of the problem than part of the solution for mankind. That has nothing to do with religion. It's amoral. I just hate doing things where people do weird things and get away with it and we find ourselves sitting in the theater cheering for them.
"I have to point out that most of the top grossing films are PG or G rated movies. Half as many PG rated movies are made as R-rated movies, yet they do twice as much gross on average.
"I've seen some R-rated films that I would've been thrilled to direct like Glory. There are a lot of hard edged movies that have a redemptive quality to them. I would not reject because it might get rated R. I look at the script to see what it is saying. If I find there's something offensive in there that doesn't have to be there to get the point across, then I'd usually lobby to soften it up."
Luke: "Do you believe in Bible Codes that foretell the future?"
Robert: "Neither Left Behind or The Omega Code were my agenda. I look at Scripture as a template for my behavior and belief system. Scripture says that no one knows the future. I find it is fun to look at the future. There's tremendous latitude when you're dealing a story on End Times than when you're doing a historical movie on Joshua, David or Jesus, etc. Then you've got to do the research and try to honor the history that we have."
Luke: "What's the difference between a fundamentalist Christian and an evangelical Christian?"
Robert: "Evangelical means that you believe in your Faith, that it is true, and that other people should hear about it. But a fundamentalist would tend to be more judgemental on specifics. They would be less tolerant. They would be more like the Pharisees or really fundamentalist Jews. When I was shooting in Israel, I remember the Shabbat elevators and other ways that people could get around using electricity. But they're still using it. But because they didn't touch the button... A lot of those things to me are low [in importance]. Yet they'll be very judgemental about people's lifestyles and behaviors, whether they have earrings or not. I think God's much bigger than that.
"We believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We shout Him from the house tops. We tell people God is real, alive and sharper than a two-edged sword. That's an evangelical."
Luke: "What is it like to work in an atmosphere that is antithetical to what you stand for?"
Robert: "I would think that that would be the case in any job one takes. I don't see it as any different than if you're working for a university or a computer company. I think it makes a great mix. It gives one an opportunity to talk about spiritual things, especially if the project has some level of spirituality to it. It makes for great commissary conversation.
"I've just finished a western, The Long Ride Home. Talk about an eclectic career, from Millenium thriller to romantic comedy to western."
Luke: "Do you prefer working on Christian themed films?"
Robert: "I prefer working on something that has a redemptive piece to it. I like to see a character come through the other side with hope. To enlighten and entertain. I'm not interested in preaching.
"You should want in a movie a sleek look, tense drama, exotic location, pulsating music and full-blooded characters."
Luke: "Do your religious leaders ever suggest that you should leave such a godless environment?"
Robert: "No. In fact, they encourage me to be involved. Television and film is where most people get their information. It's important to have some hope in there. That's where people gather on Sunday, more than they do in churches."
Luzdedos1: I have a lot more respect for the ethics of evangelical Christians now that I am no longer one. I tend to idealize and undervalue people on alternate weeks, depending on my hormonal level.
Luke Celebrates The Beginning Of Our Redemption
Ten months ago, I had my tefillin (phylacteries) taken away for misbehavior. Unable to afford a new pair, I went at night to a graveyard and dug some up. But out of fear of my religious community, I prayed alone, communing with fellow Jews and Righteous Gentiles on the internet via my davencam.
Wednesday morning I came out of the closet, and celebrated Israel Independence Day at my new shul.
Khunrum writes: What are you wearing Luke, Elvis' Las Vegas jumpsuit?....and what's with the leather fag mask...Always looking for attention aren't you...
"The whole world is falling apart," says one executive about Hollywood's financial doldrums. Miramax is having financial problems. Intermedia and Myriad are in trouble. Many companies are getting hit by the dramatic decline in stock market valuations over the past two years. These companies are making movies. You never know what trouble means.
Did That Naughty Boy Yaakov Ben Frankel Sneak Into Kiddish On Shabbos?
Yaakov Ben Frankel, two years short of his Bar Mitzva and already banned from four Orthodox shuls in his neighborhood for kissing girls when he should've been studying his Torah portion, is in hot water again at his new Modern Orthodox shul that is, Baruch HaShem, girl friendly.
A member of the congregation claims that Yaakov snuck into kiddish on shabbos. The rabbi has placed naughty Yaakov on probation so that he can only attend the shul to daven (pray). He is strictly enjoined from going to kiddish and chasing girls.
Yaakov tells the rabbi that it was a vicious rumor about him sneaking into kiddish.
Fred writes: Y-You should agree that during Kiddush, you will have your hands tied behind your back and a ball gag in your mouth. That way, you'll be completely safe. Frankly, I think you should also have someone photograph you in that get-up and post the pictures on a new web site. You can charge $10/month for access.
Khunrum writes: To prove to rabbi xxx that you are not a threat to the world anymore, why not read him some bland excerpts from your producer interviews...?
The NJG: Luke, your friend married an ugly asian chick
Chaim Amalek writes: Luke, this is just the sort of thing you need more of to resurrect your moribund website. For what it's worth, most women look like shit after 40 no matter their race. Black women seem to age better than others, as their skin is more resistant to the effects of the sun; blondes go right into the crapper (e.g., Brigot Bardot). Please forward a photo of your friend's miscegenistic sins so that I can feel better about my status in life.
Women are very poor judges (to go by their public utterances) of other women's beauty. That is why you still find so many women extolling the beauty of say, a Hepburn (either one), and dissing your typical Juggs model.
Fred writes: NJG is wrong. Asian women age well. I'll take an Asian over a honky any time insofar as aging well is concerned.
Khunrumr writes: I concur with The Barrister on this one Luke..."Not So" Nice Jewish Girl reeks of jealousy and contempt. Why? Because many Nice Eligible Boys of all strips are discovering the Joys of the Orient. Mysterious, Feminine, Caring....
ABC TV's The Bachelor
Dennis Prager says the new ABC TV show Bachelor (ABC.com) is worse than sleazy. The LA Times asked DP to watch it.
The Bachelor takes a man, a Harvard graduate... So women know that he can make a lot of money and that he has a brain. In his late 20s, living in San Francisco, he works as a management consultant. Then they had 20 women vie for his attention and love. And these women are really falling in love with him. This is not a farce like the Fox show Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire. [But is produced by the same man - Mike Weiss.] This is compelling. Pathetic. With other women clamoring for him, the bachelor becomes desirable.
There is something wrong with people opening their homes to TV cameras like this.
Caller: Women are competitive and this man becomes more desirable because so many women are clamoring for him.
DP: These women from good decent families are still desperate. The original impetus may have been to get on TV but now these women are giving themselves in a deeper way than sexual. They are more bare than if they were nude.
The Bachelor executive producer Mike Fleiss calls in.
DP: Don't you think it is humiliating for this women to see this man hugging and kissing other women?
Mike: All the women have told me that they would like to do it again.
Mike sounded like a typical brash fast talking Sammy Glick Hollywood Jew intent on creating a spectacle and oblivious to moral concerns.
Luke Ford is a Sissy Girl
Martin Brimmer writes: Last Friday over at lukeford.net, the previous occupant of this site wrote - in a piece titled "Crying at the Movies" - the following heart-tugging confessional:
"I remember bawling my eyes out through the last half of 1994's "Legends of the Fall." I guess it was from the death of the young mother that I could not stop sobbing, obviously it touched too close to my own experience. Or was it because my date wouldn't sleep with me, so I sobbed out my frustrations? I also cried through the movie 'Love Story'. And 'Terms of Endearment' closely mirrored my family's story and brought my sister to tears. 'What Women Want' (the 1996 version) was also a tearjerker."
Brimmer remarks: "Legends of the Fall" sucks, Luke! Read the novella by Jim Harrison that the pathetic movie was based on for deeper insight. On the other hand, Harrison is a rugged naturalist-type writer cut in the mold of Hemingway so there might be just a tad too much testosterone for you to deal with. You would probably prefer something by one of the Bronte Sisters. Here's a better idea: Go rent "Bambi"! But watch out for the scene where Bambi's mom bites the big one in the forest fire.
Born May 28, 1931, Gerald Leider grew up in Camden, New Jersey. He attended public schools and Syracuse University. Awarded a Fullbright Scholarship, he studied drama at Bristol University in England, where he finished his Master's thesis. For several years, Leider worked as a producer/director on Broadway and in London. His Broadway shows included Sir John Gielgud's one-man show The Ages of Man, The Visit, starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, and the musical Shinbone Alley, which starred Eartha Kitt and Eddie Bracken.
A spry, friendly elf-like man, Leider hosted me at his office in Brentwood, April 1, 2002.
Jerry: "My mother had a flamboyant style but neither of my parents were in the entertainment industry. They were shopkeepers. My [three] sisters and I are first-generation Americans. My mother was born in Russia and my father was born in the Austria-Hungary [area]. They came to Philadelphia about the same year in the early 1900s and moved in across the street from each other. They got married and moved across the river to Camden.
"My parents were Jewish. I was raised religiously but I didn't take to it. We kept a kosher house though we had to keep our stores open on Saturdays. We lived on top of our store in a mixed neighborhood - Italian, Jewish, German, Dutch."
Luke: "Did you know Philip Roth?"
Jerry: "No, but I've got all his books. Nick Meyer just did a script on The Human Stain. Bob Benton will direct. Miramax is casting it now.
"The theater was my end-all and be-all. I headed the Drama Society at Syracuse. I married Helena [a non-Jew] in Britain. It last a couple of years.
"When I returned to the US, I went to work at MCA [run by Lew Wasserman and Jules Stein]."
Jerry gets up and walks to the wall and points out a framed copy of his first paycheck stub ($108 for two weeks of work in 1955).
"Six years ago, Lew Wasserman had a couple of committee meetings at his house. I brought this over to show him. He said, 'Jerry, you're overpaid now and you were overpaid then.'
"It was in the middle of the winter, 1955-56. Peter Falk and I lived on a five story walkup on Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue. I was a secretary. My first bosses were Freddy Fields and Dave Begelman. They both left New York two weeks after I got there, and came out to California.
"There was a terrible blizzard on Friday. MCA had a secretary on each floor on the Saturday from 9AM - 1PM. This was my Saturday. The subways and buses were closed. I walked for two hours to 58th and Madison through the snow. I got to the building at 9:05AM. I walked in and got the snow off me and walked into the elevator. Just before the elevator closed, Lew came in. He was staying at St. Regents around the corner.
"I said, 'Good morning, Mr. Wasserman.' And he looked at me and said, 'You're late.'
"On one of my last gigs as head of specials at CBS, I went out with Bernie Brillstein, a young agent at William Morris, to the Miss Teenage America pageant. Did we have a good weekend. Forget the teenage contestants, it was their hostesses."
Luke: "Did you read Bernie's book?"
Jerry: "I read about half. James Aubrey, a gifted but strange guy, was my boss at CBS. He knew what he was doing for many years and then lost it. I bumped into him one day and asked him if he'd read the new book on Bill Paley. He said, 'No, I've given up reading fiction for a year.'
"After working for MCA for a year, I produced theater. In 1960, I began a three-year stretch at CBS. I was the Director of Special Programs.
"CBS chairman William Paley was remarkable. We had meetings every other week of department heads. I was the youngest one there. Bill had an uncanny ability, which I have not seen in anybody since then, to burrow in to the one thing you are most unsure of. Let's say you're giving a ten item report. And the one item that you were not quite sure of, he would spot and start probing. In every area - news, operations, engineering...
"Jim Aubrey was tough, hard working guy. You'd come in on a Saturday afternoon and he'd be there. He was twisted. A lot of people thought Jim was a bad bad man. His peccadillos got the better of him. He made some good programming moves. He brought NFL football to CBS.
"Smiling Cobra is the name of a good book about Jim. That's what he was. I befriended him after his fall. Brandon Tartikoff nicely gave him a consultancy but he had a bad last ten years of his life. He lived in a small apartment on Santa Monica Blvd and Overland. He suffered from depression. He died in the emergency room and he lay unclaimed for three days. Like David Susskind dying in a hotel room. Why are we talking so morbid?"
Luke: "Did you guys think of yourselves as the Tiffany network?"
Jerry: "Jim did. Mike Dann [key CBS executive] did. He's now a fulltime consultant for the BBC's Discovery Channel and for IBM. He's sharp as a tack and 81 years old. He had an 80th birthday party in New York September 11.
"There was an aura of invincibility.
"In 1963 there was a management change at CBS. Hubble Robinson came in and got rid of a bunch of us. Then I joined Ted Ashley at the Ashley Famous Agency. In 1965, the government broke up MCA [Lew Wasserman's dominant talent agency] and Ted hired many of the MCA agents and expanded rapidly.
"Steve Ross bought the agency in 1968 and then it was sold to Marvin Josephson in 1969. Steve Ross bought Warner Brothers and I moved to Los Angeles to run Warner Brothers Television.
"I married my present wife Susan Trustman in 1968. We have two boys, Matt and Ken. Susan was an actress on the TV soap Another World. And she appeared in the 1965 Elvis Presley movie, Stay Away, Joe.
"In the summer of 1966, I met Susan in the middle of the West Hampton. Around noon, I pulled up my dinghy motorboat next to what I thought was the home of writer Peter Maas and his wife Audrey. It was a hot day. All the houses look alike. I had a date that weekend who never showed up. She told me later that she'd met a rich millionaire. 'Is there any other kind?' I asked. That was the end of that relationship.
"I walked up the gangway and I saw this beautiful girl sunning herself. She was blonde and holy shit. I thought, 'Holy shit, I'm at the wrong house.' So I started slowly working my way back. Then I hear the slam of a kitchen door and Audrey comes out with a vodka and says, 'Jerry, what are you doing here?'
"She invited me back up for lunch. The girl was Susan Trustman. And we never left each other's side. But if Audrey had never left the house, I would never have met my wife 35 years ago."
Jerry: "I got tired of the television packaging business so I took an opportunity to move to Rome to run Warner's foreign theatrical releases. I thought it was a good stepping stone to get into the feature side of Warner Brothers, so I packed up my wife and my little baby.
"After two years, I came back to Los Angeles with a two-year deal to produce movies for Warner Brothers."
Leider's first three productions were TV movies - And I Alone Survived (1978), Willa (1979) and The Hostage Tower (1980) followed by two features, The Jazz Singer (1980) and Trenchcoat (1983).
An anonymous person in Santa Cruz writes on Imdb.com about Survived: "I have remembered this television movie for 20 years. The story is told mainly through the eyes of a young woman who was the only survivor of a small-plane crash high in the peaks of the Sierras, on a trip from California to Nevada. Although she is injured, she scrambles painfully down the mountain for days, trying to reach help. Her parents, meanwhile, are trying desperately to find out where the plane is, and if anyone is alive. The ending is especially moving, with a surprising twist that has the ring of truth."
Palisa66 writes on Imdb.com about Willa: "Willa (Deborah Raffin) is a hash joint waitress who's always dreamed of being a trucker. When she finds out that local produce distributor Virgil (John Amos) offers truck driving lessons in exchange for labor, she persuades him to take her on, convincing him that she can work just as hard as the men, and that she's serious about driving a truck."
RazorWolf writes on Imdb.com about Hostage: "Though the book was better, Hostage Tower is not a bad movie. It has an orignal plot, interesting characters, and lots of plot twists. The effects were not bad, for an 80's movie."
Ted Kula writes on Imdb.com about Jazz Singer: "Neil Diamond stars as Yussel in this tale of a young Jewish cantor who strives to make a career in music. Against the wishes of his rigid father and his loving wife, Yussel travels to California to play his music. Swept up by the excitement, he meets a woman who shares his dream. He grows apart from his family, and becomes confused about what he should ultimately do with his life."
Jerry: "A wonderful friend of mine was at the William Morris Agency, Tony Fantozzi. If you talk to any producer over 30 years of age, you will get raves from them about Tony. He was a unique character who retired around 1998. When I returned from Rome, he was one of the first guys I looked up to have lunch with.
"We were chatting at [the restaurant] LuCere. He'd just picked up the representation of Neil Diamond. He says, 'Every once in a while, a great American singer comes along who carves a unique place for himself. Like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Al Jolsen...'
"I said, 'Jolsen? Maybe we should do The Jazz Singer?' Tony said, 'Boy, would Neil like that.' It took a year to get the rights and a year to get it made."
Luke: "Do you see much of yourself in the story?"
Jerry: "A bit. Neil [a Jew] felt passionately about the story, and about the relationship between his father and his mom. As his mom and dad would say, 'We have two sons. We love them both. One is Neil Diamond and one sells swimming pools in the Valley.' Yeah. I bet you we know where they spend their first seder night.
"While Trenchcoat was in production, I was offered the CEO position of ITC Entertainment Group (owned by Robert Holmes-a-Court), a worldwide film and television production and distribution company."
During his tenure, ITC premiered nine features including the Academy Award winner Sophie's Choice, The Dark Crystal, the critically acclaimed thriller The Stepfather, and Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael. Additionally, ITC produced more than 30 television and cable movies including the highly-rated Malice in Wonderland, The Ann Jillian Story, and the critically acclaimed David and Unnatural Causes as well as such network miniseries as The Billionaire Boys Club, Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story, and Sidney Sheldon's Windmill of the Gods.
Jerry: "When I got to ITC, Sophie's Choice was in post-production. I saw the rough cut and I told the director Alan Pakula that I thought it was too long. So he trimmed it by about 40 seconds (final running time is 150 minutes). We had several fights over the length. I thought it was 15-minutes too long. I gave him a lot of suggestions.
"The Billionaire Boys Club was my most interesting adventure into destroying the myth of how you get a mini-series on TV. The subject matter was so hot. ABC was also trying to do it. Two producers came to me, each claiming to have the rights to the project. So I put them together - the late Donald March with Annabell Weston and Marci Gross. That was not a marriage made in heaven.
"Because of the urgency, and that the trial was going on, NBC committed to make the mini-series on the strength of the outline. We didn't get a first-draft of the script until four days before we started shooting. Yet the show was successful financially and critically. Director Marvin Chomsky did a wonderful job organizing that show. And it came in under budget.
"The best movie we made at ITC was Unnatural Causes starring John Ritter as a Vietnam Veteran dying from his exposure to Agent Orange."
"In 1989, Alan Bond took over ITC. Then he got into financial trouble. We were able to get a bank in England to back a management buyout. In 1992, I was asked to leave. Then I started my own company. We've cranked out two features - My Favorite Martian (1999) and Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (1995) - and several TV movies - Cadet Kelly (2002), Trucks (1997), Home Song (1996), Family Blessings (1996), Morning Glory (1993) - and one miniseries - Sidney Sheldon's The Sands of Time (1992) - and one TV series - Payne (1999).
"I'm working on the movie Coast to Coast to be directed by Paul Marzursky for Showtime and we have Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, starring Hillary Duff, for New Line. And I have a series going on PBS next week called Myth Quest."
Luke: "Everyone's telling me that the TV movie business is in decline."
Jerry: "They're all stroking you. ESPN, A&E, SciFi, USA, Lifetime, TBS, Showtime, HBO, Hallmark, are all doing TV movies. Don't tell anyone. I'm busier than I've ever been. I'm calling on everybody. It's a myth. What has disappeared is the network TV movie that you can own."
Luke: "I've heard such pain and suffering."
Jerry: "They're lazy. They're all my buddies. They're just too old. They're 40, 50 years old. They want to retire. They're full of it. Tell them to go into the shoe business. Let them eat cake."
Luke: "You've been making TV movies during a time of dramatic change in the business."
Jerry: "Yeah. I remember when Barry Diller came to us at Warner Brothers [around 1969] and said, 'I'd like you to make these 90-minute picture [TV movies] for $575,000 each.' And we said, 'That will never work.'
"But I don't like to talk about the past. I'm only interested in the future. I have a big career ahead of me. I'm sure you find that with all the guys my age who are still working."
Luke: "Find what?"
Jerry: "That they're only interested in the future."
Luke: "You guys are like conductors."
Jerry stares: "The guys on the trains? For a writer, you're really reaching. Waiting for another one to come by?"
Luke: "No, like the classical music conductor, still going strong at 75 years of age.
"I was at Fred Silverman's home a couple of weeks ago, perhaps the biggest estate in Mandeville Canyon. He and his wife Cathy have two homes. He was the most brilliant TV programmer ever. He was my student at Syracuse.
"Fred told me that he'd just got this consultancy gig with Disney. Michael [Eisner] and Bob [Iger] needed some help. "I like this idea better than producing. I never really liked producing.' I said, 'Freddy, you're sitting in this $20 million home. You were born in Brooklyn. And you're not sure that you like producing? You should be ashamed of yourself.' He laughed."
Luke: "You did the TV series Payne, based on what I think is the funniest TV series ever, Fawlty Towers."
Jerry: "We did a terrible job. I don't think the writers that the network wanted us to use were good enough. Perhaps John Larroquette was wrong for the part. Who knows? As Samuel Goldwyn said, 'If the people won't come, nothing will stop them.'"
Luke: "Which of your movies has the most meaning to you?"
Jerry: "The Jazz Singer. I had to get rid of the first director, Sidney Furie, and replace him with Richard Fleischer. I still meet people who love the movie. It was a big seminal event in their lives. I know every frame. I edited a lot of it. I wrote a few scenes."
Luke: "Cadet Kelly was the Disney Channel's highest rated show ever."
Jerry: "We went in there to pitch a show. They didn't want it. They told us about the type of shows that they did. So I was sitting at home. I said to Susan, 'We should do a show at a junior high school setting that doesn't depend on that stupid opening shot of the kids coming down the hallways, with the lockers on both sides. How do you find a different junior high school scene?'
"I went to my computer and I found that there are seven military schools in the United States that are coeducational from seventh grade on. And I came back to the dining room and said, 'Susan, Private Benjamin in military school.' I called my partner Robert Shapiro, former president of Warner Brothers features, and told him my idea. Private Benjamin was one of the movies he worked on.
"Gail Parent was one of our writers on Payne. We resumed our friendship. I told her my idea and she loved it. [Gail co-wrote Cadet Kelly.]
"We screwed up My Favorite Martian in casting. We should've focused at nine, ten, eleven year olds. It should've been Brendan Fraser time. We were talked out of it by a couple of executives at Disney who thought we should be making a Men in Black show rather than George of the Jungle or Inspector Gadget."
Luke: "What happened to your movie Fall From the Sky?"
Jerry: "That's a dreadful story. We were two weeks away from shooting when CBS pulled the plug. We were supposed to start shooting October 4th . They said the subject matter would not be acceptable for our audience. The story takes place in the future, in the era of big jumbo jets that can seat 700 people. During normal takeoff, one of the planes crashes. We find out later that it is pilot error. This is the story of a NTSB investigative team trying to find out why the plane went down. And they're pressured to say it was pilot error. They find out later it wasn't pilot error but a conspiracy between a couple of congressmen and the owner of the airline and the manufacturer to make it look like pilot error to hide a built-in flaw in the electrical system. It had nothing to do with terrorism."
Luke: "Post September 11, people don't want to make projects casting a negative light on government."
Jerry: "Unfortunately for us, CBS decided that they had no liability for the bills we ran up. So we're going to have to sue them."
Luke: "How did you come up with Mythquest?"
Jerry: "David Braun came to me with an idea. I gave him one wrinkle on it, which sold the show. Thirteen hours are on the air and we're getting financing now for the next 13.
"I'm a consultant to the Miss America organization. We're working on a series of one-hour shows 'Behind the Icon.' It looks like Hallmark wants to buy 13 hours. We're taking each of the Miss Americas, and doing a before, the year [of her reign], and afterwards. There are some fabulous stories. A lot of pain, a lot of heartache, warts and all."
Luke: "Wouldn't the Miss America organization want to put forward a certain sanitized image?"
Jerry: "They're fine with this. It's promotion. It gets more people interested in the pageant.
"The Miss America organization is a non-profit agency founded in the 1930s primarily to keep tourists in Atlantic City for the week after Labor Day. Now it gives out millions of dollars worth of scholarships a year."
Luke: "What causes you to want to make something?"
Jerry: "I pass on a lot of things that I don't think I can sell. That I sign on to a project does not mean that I am personally passionate about it. I have to be passionate about the opportunity. If I spot an opportunity, I get going.
"If I call an agent at CAA, he'll three or four days to return the call. If I call Michael [Eisner, Disney CEO] at 10AM, by noon, no matter where he is, I'll get a call back from him. The heads of companies are always like that."
Luke: "How do you feel about Warner Brothers, turning into this behemoth with AOL?"
Jerry: "I have no feelings about it. It doesn't put a dime in my pocket. My job is still the same - to convince the guy sitting on the other side of the desk that my idea is a good idea. These big companies don't have exclusivity on ideas. If you sit down and say, 'Private Benjamin at a military school,' that's an idea. Ed Scherick said it best. 'The independent producer guy gets up in the morning, he shaves, he looks at himself in the mirror, and he says, 'I think I have a good idea today.' That's the power.'"
Luke: "What's your favorite part of the job?"
Jerry: "Not being interviewed.
"Watching it happen. Seeing the pieces of the project come together. In the filmmaking process, my favorite part is post-production. I loathe casting sessions. They drive me up the wall. I can't stand seeing an actress come in, reading, and being dismissed. It's heart breaking. I like the script process. I like the beginning and end of a project, the stuff in between..."
Luke: "The stuff at the beginning and end you have more control."