Marian Rees Eats Luke For Breakfast
So I drove 40 minutes to Studio City Friday morning, July 26, 2002, for breakfast at Al's Deli (a big showbiz hangout) at 12224 Ventura Blvd.
I walked up at 8:10AM. I saw a familiar face in a Mercedes coup. It was Jeffrey Katzenberg talking on the phone. He's got an essentially shaved head. He moves quickly. He seems fit and busy and as driven as ever.
I get a table for two at Al's. Jeffrey takes the table next to me. After five minutes, a waitress tells him he's got a call. He walks over to the restaurant phone and talks for a few minutes.
My appointment is for 8:30AM. At 8:38AM, I see a woman who might be Marian Rees chatting amiably with two female waitresses. I introduce myself. We shake hands. Marian says she'll be with me in a minute.
She's wearing peach-colored pantsuit. She has short hair and glasses.
I get the feeling she hates me from the moment she set eyes on me. Is it that I haven't shaved in two days? My jazzy dark blue shirt is out of fashion? My hair needs cutting? My bad breath?
Marian sits down. She quickly moves past the pleasantries and gets to the point. For the next 40 minutes, I felt like a bulldog had jumped on me, sunk in its teeth, and wouldn't let go.
Marian: "What's your motive for writing this book? What is the personal profit to you? What's point? Your last book was obviously exploitive. I didn't read it. Just from the title [A History of X: 100 Years of Sex in Film]. I don't understand why you are writing this one."
I immediately feel on the defensive. Marian's aggressively hostile. I haven't encountered this before from a producer. Almost all of the ones I've spoken to are friendly. Marian is grilling me. Many producers have asked me why I am writing the book and what my longterm goals are but there's an entirely new edge to Marian's inquiry.
My stomach knots up and doesn't relax until hours later. This is one tough chick I'm dealing with.
As I start to answer her questions, she cuts me off, telling me why my answers are inadequate, inaccurate, untruthful, unnecessary and ill formed.
She apologizes for coming across hostile.
Luke: "I suppose my journey to this book began eight years ago when I came to Los Angeles and pursued acting. I eventually abandoned that because I found it too collaborative."
Marian: "Stop right there. What do you mean 'too collaborative?' Working with other people is the essence of this business. I can tell we are not going to get along. I'm not going to give you an interview."
Luke: "I guess I prefer to work alone on projects I can control."
Marian eats a bowl of oatmeal with fruit. I eat two hardboiled eggs with fruit. The check comes. I take it.
Marian: "You better give me that."
I hand it over to her.
Marian: "I'm not going to give you an interview so I might as well pay for breakfast."
Marian wants to know what I think of producers. She's on the board of the Producers Guild. Like many established and hard working producers, she's concerned about the proliferation of credits. Now 12 people may get credit as some type of a producer on a movie. This has rendered the producer credit less meaningful for true producers.
Luke: "I found fewer cowboys than I expected. I thought I'd encounter more sleazy types. People who'd trash their peers and would just be in the business to chase girls. Instead, every producer I've interviewed has been intelligent, well mannered, professional and willing to submerge his ego for the sake of the production."
Marian seems gratified by my sentiments. She's working with the Guild to diminish the public's view of producers as sleazy.
We talk about critics. I say there are no critics I make a point to read. None of them mean anything much to me. There are no writers on showbusiness I feel compelled to read.
Marian reads Howard Rosenberg, the LA Times TV critic, regularly because he's such a good writer.
JMT writes: "This would have been a better story if Katzenberg had leaned over as you were finishing your eggs and said, "I'm not going to give you an interview either. Stop calling.""
Marian says she's shy and rarely talks to reporters. She thoroughly checks them out first before she does. She's wary of being misquoted though she's never yet been burned in the press.
She relates an in-depth three-hours-a-day three days in a row interview she did with a black male journalist for Emmy magazine. She admitted she wasn't happy with her work. She found it shallow. She wanted to be a sociologist. The journalist told her that her work had great meaning and because she tackled serious issues like racism, she was a sociologist. That made her feel good and gave her renewed pride in her work.
Marian evinces no sense of humor. She came to the breakfast this morning to convict me. She's marshaled the evidence and I am found guilty.
Friday afternoon she sends me this fax: "Luke Ford - As uneasy as I was before the meeting with you, I left more uneasy. I'm sure you will realize your expectations (whatever they may be) for your book. However, I am not comfortable participating in the research, and ask you to withdraw my name. Marian Rees."
I've done some research on Rees on the web:
This from Museum.tv: In 1972, however, she was told by Tandem [Productions] that she would be happier elsewhere and given two weeks notice. It was a stunning blow but as she told an interviewer in 1986, she used the firing to grow.
In order to fund her first independent productions, Rees initially mortgaged her home and car, facing demands for financial qualification far more extensive than would have been required for a man. She pressed for months to gain network approval for her first production, Miss All American Beauty, but resistance continued and she finally learned that the male executive she had to convince simply didn't want to trust a woman. Finally, with funds running extremely low, approval for the project came from CBS. Rees completed the project under budget and her company found itself on solid footing.
A champion for women's rights in the U.S. television industry throughout her career, Marian Rees served two terms as President of Women in Film. Her service to her profession also includes Board membership at the American Film Institute and the Producer's Guild of America, where she now serves as vice president.
From Benton.org: Marian Rees, Founder and CEO of Marian Rees Associates, Inc., discussed the perspective of the "entrepreneurial independent producer." Ms. Rees said that the producer is an integral part of an industry whose core product is crafted out of ideas: ideas that lie dormant until an impassioned producer breathes life into them. The producer gathers and protects all the resources needed to deliver those ideas for broadcast. Remaining independent gives some producers the freedom to find the right home for their projects.
Ms. Rees said that she fears the concentration of ownership in television will be passed on in the digital era. She asked the Committee to address the value and the needs of the independent production community. She suggested establishment of "some content-neutral regulatory mechanism" that would allow this community access to television's primetime. Independent producers will only flourish in the digital age if 1) they are secured the opportunity to provide more programming, and 2) we assure the creative community we want substantial ideas that help people understand what's happening in their lives and that those ideas will have access to audiences.
Ms. Rees quoted Vice President Gore: "Beyond free enterprise, we must also recognize that broadcasting is not a right, but a privilege -- one that confers great responsibilities." She asked the Committee to "formulate First Amendment-sensitive government policies that will balance the explosion of opportunities for the by a significant commitment to the public interest."
Luke's Reading List
Over the past ten days, I've read Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber took Sony for a ride, High Concept about Don Simpson, Andrew Yule's biography of director Peter Bogdanovich, Dreemz, the diary of Ben Stein when he moved to LA to become a screenwriter in 1976, and False Prophet, a biography of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Khunrum writes: Luke.. You mention the book High Concept and the late Don Simpson. I've skimmed that book and enjoyed the tales of hooker and drug excesses. He was an A list personality with a voracious appetite for self destruction. With all due respect it seems that the 'producers" you have interviewed have been "also rans" or "has beens". Have you interviewed anyone in the Simpson category? You know, the "Top Guns" of the industry?
What a bit of bad publicity will do to jog the memory and checkbook. Luke, perhaps you can make the new site profitable. Turn it into a forum for people who have been stiffed by others and are looking for their $$$. Then take 2O% off the top.
Macdaddy writes: Luke, If you want to read something interesting pertaining to Bogdanovich read the book he wrote about Dorothy Stratten "The Killing of the Unicorn". He talks alot about Hugh Hefner and the more decadent times at the Playboy Mansion, what a scum James Caan is, etc. When that book came out, it gave Hefner a heart attack(literally). Out of the Playboy girls I dealt with (most of whom were very much open to pay for play), all of them told me the same things about that company; that Playboy is very cheap, and the girls are expected to sleep with everyone.
Luke Gets Mail
Lawrence Szenes-Strauss writes: I described many beliefs which are part of classical Kabalah as "anti-Jewish." I'm afraid this may have implied something close to "anti-Semitic," which is certainly not the case. "Non- Jewish" would be a better phrasing. The Kabalists had nothing against mainstream Judaism, and believed that one should not begin to study Kabalah if one did not live the life of a pious Jew. (They also required that a man be 40 years old, married, and extremely knowledgeable of the Bible and classical Jewish texts.)
Your source [website] is a Muslim-run, anti-Jewish propaganda site, replete with conspiracy theories about how Jews run the world and subjugate all other people. Furthermore, it consists entirely of quotations from Israel Shahak's book. One cannot defend the validity of a book using that very book -- one must find other sources. I am more than a little shocked that a journalist does not understand this. Do you always verify your sources this way?
I am also surprised at your reliance on the Internet. One would think that a person who fancies himself as well-versed in Jewish law as you would have some s'farim (Jewish religious texts) lying around somewhere. If you think that the Internet constitutes a valid research library, then I can prove to you that Bill Clinton is an alien from outer space.
Luke replies: I happened to read Shahak's two books on Judaism in their book form. His book on Jewish History, Jewish Religion, is simply only available online on that website. That the website is just what you said it is does not automatically make all of its contents false.
I don't pretend to be a maven in Jewish Law. But I've had enough years, well, only two, in daf yomi to know there are many things in the Talmud, about goyim and other matters, that would make any morally sensitive person wince. That does not mean they are immoral and not from God, just that they take your breath away.
The internet is inherently no more or less accurate than any other vehicle for transmitting information.
Lawrence Szenes-Strauss writes: Could please explain the Chaim Amalek entity appearing on your web site? Surely you, such a Judaic scholar, are aware that no Jew would ever allow himself to be called by the name "Amalek."
Chaim Amalek replies: You need to inform him that you are NOT Chaim Amalek. Why are some people so hung up on my name, anyway? It is just a name, and what has what some near mythical group of people is said to have done to another mythical group of people thousands of years ago to do with the present? Instead of obsessing over the Family Amalek, shouldn't the Jews of Brandeis be fighting racism, homophobia, sexism, and on behalf of immigrant rights? Strauss needs to check himself. PS Yes, there are Amaleks here in America, and at least some of us are Jewish. You got a problem with that? Tough.
The Rabbenim were right. They knew it would come to this. You are using your "insider's" knowledge of the Talmud to identify and reveal all the naughty parts to the goyim.
I speed read the new issue of Moment Mag at my local muslim run news stand. Bland article on the merits of jews seeking converts from among the goyim. The article states that the jews are loosing ever greater numbers of born jews to other faiths through out-conversion.
The Anna Nicole Smith Show
Everybody at the E! network (owned by Disney) is gearing up for the Anna Nicole Smith show - a reality program on the life of the 6' 200 pound former Playboy Playmate. E! employees with graduate degrees are asking themselves if this is the reason they went to graduate school, to promote such nonsense?
Anna looks terrible. She's 40 pounds over weight. She's regarded by many at E! as a money grubbing ditz. The executive producer of the show was on KROQ radio this week. He didn't dish much dirt about the show. E! staffer have been watching sample footage and they can't believe what their channel has gotten them into. This show is E!'s big push of the moment.
LA TIMES reports 7/12/02 that Anna claims she was stalked: Former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith was in court again Thursday, this time at a preliminary hearing involving an ex-boyfriend who she said called her repeatedly, came to her house uninvited and beat up her neighbor after she broke up with him. "I'm very scared of this man because he's crazy," Smith testified at the hearing for Mark Richmond Hatten in Van Nuys Superior Court.
LA TIMES 7/10/02: E! Entertainment Television--home to programming about dead-celebrity gossip and recycled scandals--has bagged a live one.
She is Anna Nicole Smith, the former Guess? Jeans and Playboy pinup who more recently was seen on TV as a grieving widow testifying for her piece of a Texas oil tycoon's fortune.
Smith, hoping to reinstate her good image and also get out of the house, will now star in "The Anna Nicole Show" for E!, which is hoping that the plus-sized actress?/model?/guinea pig? will do for ratings and press attention what Ozzy Osbourne and clan did in recent months for MTV.
Luke Gets Mail
Lawrence Szenes-Strauss writes: While looking at some articles on the battle in Jenin in April, I came across your site. Your 5/29/02 posting containst the following passage:
"Dennis Prager and Gordon talked repeatedly about the morally low level of those who refuse blood because it comes from the enemy. Yet neither Prager nor Gordon mentioned the extensive injunctions in Jewish Law against Jews receiving the blood of non-Jews, and organ donations from non-Jews, because non-Jews are inferior to Jews, and non-Jewish blood would contaminate Jews."
This is utter nonsense. Pikuach nefesh -- the saving of a life -- is considered to be of utmost importance in Jewish law. There are only three sins over which death is preferable: murder, incest/aldultery and avodah zarah. (Usually mistranslated as "idol worship," avodah zarah is understood to refer to the pagan religions which surrounded the ancient Israelites, whose worship DID involve idols, but more to the point it involved human sacrifice. As such, avodah zarah is considered to be an affront both to God and man.)
Other than the three sins mentioned above, any Jewish law MUST be broken if that law stands in the way of saving a human life. No Jew who understands halachah -- Jewish law -- would ever refuse a blood transfusion. I'd be glad to entertain the notion that some Talmudic rabbi proposed the idea and was quickly shot down by his peers, provided that you can give me the citation. (A frequent cause of misunderstanding concerning the Talmud is the fact that it is a record of legal discussions, not a straight legal code. Every so often one of the conversants says something revolting, but far more often than not a rebuttal is recorded, and that rebuttal accepted as the law.)
While Jews are certainly not immune to racism -- no more than are Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or atheists -- Israel Shahak is not the place to start learning about Judaism and Jewish values and laws. His grudge sometimes proves to be valid, but he is selective about information in such a way that it favors his views and soils the name of religious Judaism. He is what is called in many circles a "self-hating Jew."
If you'd like to read a solid introduction to Jewish ethics and morals, try "The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living" by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. To believe that one can learn about Jewish religious values from Shahak -- rather than the perversion of those values, which he sometimes doccuments accurately -- is to believe that one can understand Roman Catholicism by reading about the recent abuse scandals.
A Jew is required to save a non-Jewish life just as much as he is required to save a Jewish life, with or without notice from "goyim."
An extension of this myth, which Shahak embraces, is that Shabbat may only be violated to save a Jewish life. Again, this is a perversion of true Jewish law. Shahak's story about the orthodox Jew who left a non-Jew to die on Shabbat rather than call an ambulance -- in line with the Chief Rabbinate's ruling -- is problematic for two reasons.
1. The chief rabbinate of Israel has ruled very explicitly that Shabbat must be violated for the purpose of saving any human life, be it Jewish or not. They phrased this ruling very carefully, because there is a belief among the more ignorant in the orthodox community that this is not the case.
2. The Summer 1966 edition of the magazine Tradition recounts an interview with Mr. Shahak who, when asked to identify the mysterious orthodox Jew who would have let that man die, acknowledges that the Jew of whom he spoke did not exist.
I've located the article in Tradition. Volume 8, Number 2, pp. 58-65. Shahak's admission that he lied about the Jew who would not save the Gentile is documented therein, as is his lie concerning the Chief Rabbinate's ruling. (pg. 59) Additionally, the responsum on saving lives on Shabbat is summarized with appropriate quotations and citations of Torah, Talmud and various post-Talmudic authorities.
Perhaps once you see proof of Shahak's deceit, you will begin to realize the extent of his sociopathic tendencies and the lengths to which he went to discredit that which he most hated in himself -- Judaism. His act amounts to multiple violations of the Ninth Commandment (he perjured himself with regard to both the Jewish community and the then-Chief Rabbi, Rav Unterman) as well as multiple acts of chilul Hashem (first he slandered the Jewish community, then he was revealed as a liar, casting doubt on Jewish honesty.)
In reading Shahak's writings, one gets the impression that his upbringing was not just "orthodox" in the sense that we now use the word. His claims - - that one should curse a non-Jewish cemetery, or that a non-Jew cannot be saved if it means violating Shabbat -- do line up with certain streaks of eastern-European superstitious drivel which sadly have accumulated in some Jewish communities over the centuries. These streaks come from several sources and types of conditions, but the formula is usually something like this:
1. The Jewish populace of a relatively isolated area spends many years unconnected to the Jewish community at large, falling into a certain degree of ignorance with regard to Jewish legal writings which, like any other written work, can only be understood in their cultural context.
2. Antagonistic relations with neighboring non-Jewish communities lead to a perverted reading of complicated works such as the Talmud, resulting in distorted Jewish "laws" which the Talmud's authors would have rejected, and which most Jews do as well.
Another distortion is Shahak's claim that the ritual washing of hands after a meal -- which is almost non-existant in most of the Jewish world anyway - - constitutes worship of some kind of "satan." This does not hold water, if you'll pardon the expression. Firstly, Jewish law strictly and very harshly forbids the worship of anyone or anything but the one God. Secondly, mainstream Jewish theology does not really make a place for an anti-God figure akin to the Christian idea of Satan. What Shahak speaks of -- what he often speaks of in his distortions -- is an uninformed interpretation of the doctrines of Kabalah.
A bit on Kabalah: It is a mystical tradition which found fruition during the 16th Century in the town of Tzfat (usually inexplicably spelled "Safed" in English). The recent popularization of pseudo-Kabalah as a new-age spirituality has led to a widespread belief that Kabalah is part of mainstream Judaism. It is not, any more than snake handling and poison-swallowing are parts of mainstream Protestantism. Most Jews who take the time to learn anything about Kabalah beyond its poetry find the belief system to be anti-Jewish at best and remarkably disturbing at worst. Multiple godheads are often the subject of Kabalistic doctrine; the very basis of mainstream Judaism is the existence of one indivisible God. Kabalah holds that sexual union between husband and wife emulates sexual union between a male God and a female nation of Israel; mainstream Judaism holds that God has neither body nor bodily image of any sort and has no gender. (We usually refer to God as "He" simply because English -- like Hebrew -- cannot gracefully express gender neutrality in a sentient being.) Kabalah also has, I admit, some remarkably insulting things to say about non-Jews. They do not have a place in mainstream Judaism, many of whose followers view Kabalah as a heretical offshoot religion.
There exist Catholic communities in which people pray directly to saints with the understanding that they are lesser gods. The people in these communities, while often extremely pious and God-fearing, are not following Catholic doctrine but their own ideas, based upon distortions of the concept of an interceding saint. Shahak is their equivalent in Judaism: he was raised in an oppressive, ignorant and xenophobic pseudo- orthodox environment which, coupled with horrifying childhood trauma, led to his unique interpretations of the Jewish religion. I do not question that he was taught as a child not to save non-Jews on Shabbat, and I believe that he really was told to curse the mothers of non-Jews who die. I only contest the notion that the religion of his upbringing was proper Judaism.
I'm sure that Mr. Shahak was an excellent chemist, but he was not a scholar of Judaism. In any case, the onus of proof should lie with the claimant; Shahak does not convincingly back up any of the bizarre claims he makes about Judaism. Telushkin, by contrast, cites the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud and whatever else he needs, chapter and verse. A true scholar gives his sources, so that they may be checked. Shahak was not a true scholar of religion.
Egyptian-American Producer Hadeel Reda
I sat down with Producer Hadeel Reda (pronounced Ha-DEAL RED-uh) June 6, 2002 at her Winchester Films office in Venice.
She arrives 30 minutes late for our interview.
Dark, tall and slim, with long curly hair, about 30 years of age, Reda makes a few calls and then invites me into her office. She puts one dog outside but allows another to play at her feet.
Hadeel sits on her couch and stifles a yawn. She's just back from Cannes. She pats her dog. She apologizes for being late. She's friendly and relaxed. She sniffles and wipes her nose.
"I get this cold every year when I get back from Cannes. I'm so run down. And I can't avoid it."
Reda grew up in Boston. Her father, a chemist, started his own medical equipment company which flourished. "I get my entrepreneurial spirit from my father. We were just getting by. And then for him to quit his job and start his own company, without knowing anything about the system was brave. I have an older brother who works in the same field.
"I went to Needham High School. It's a little town west of Boston. I wasn't in a clique. I was all over the place. I'd go from hanging out with dead-heads to hanging out with jocks, popular girls, stoners... I never had one group. I was voted most likely to become a rock star even though I wasn't involved with any musical activities. I didn't think I had any musical ability. I was always out front. I always liked to be on. Highschool was about figuring out how to get the best grades for the least amount of work, and have a good time. By the time I got to college, I was more serious.
"I went to Emerson College, a film school in Boston. At first, I wanted to be a screenwriter and then I quickly learned that I was a much better producer. When we had to put together our film projects, I was great at getting everybody else to do my work for me. I would get the best person who knew how to shoot, the person who knew how to edit... I found it was just a natural instinct to find people who did things better. I enjoyed creating a team and still telling my story. People would ask me, 'How do you get people to do your projects for you?' I said, 'They bought into what I'm doing because I bought into what they excel at. That makes people feel good and want to be part of a team.'
"After college, I worked for producer Dan Blatt. I was his assistant in Boston on a TV show called Against the Law. Dan said that if I moved out to LA, he'd help me find a job. He noticed that I had ability. He'd say things like, 'We need somebody to do the script revisions.' And I'd say, 'I know how to do that.' And I didn't but I would figure it out with a few mistakes along the way. By the time Dan would find out, I'd had already learned how to do it. He'd say to me, 'You are the best natural liar. You will either end up running Hollywood or in jail.' I was eager to learn everything.
"I moved to LA and Dan got me a job as a PA. Then I got a job as a casting assistant for Barbara Clayman. I realized that casting was not for me. I can't remember who all these actor's names are... My best friend, who I trained, is now one of the top casting directors in television - Jill Anthony. I had a tremendous amount of responsibility for a 22-year old. I liked making deals. One thing I couldn't do was remember actors from bit parts in television from way back when and put them together for a reading.
"After nine months working for Barbara, I moved to Disney. I worked in development for a year. It was a complete change from the pace of the casting world. Casting is go, go, go. Development is about waiting and giving notes and waiting. I got to Disney and I was so ready to go. I was young and full of energy. And to just sit around was not acceptable. I spent most of that year putting together proposals for the higher-ups to get transferred into Buena Vista International and move to Europe. Finally I was sent to Paris and London to oversee promotions. I liked being in Europe but approving Sinmba on Happy Meal boxes was not exactly my dream.
"In 1995, I left Disney to produce on my own. I spent a year going around foreign sales companies learning how the business worked. I got my own business card. I called myself an independent producer.
"Most studio producers have not understood how their films were financed. They just put together projects. They're on the studio payroll. I wanted to offer these producers the opportunity to hold on to some rights to their movies.
"At the IFM, I saw this film in progress called Courting Courtney, written and directed by Paul Tarantino [a distant cousin of Quentin Tarantino]. I fell in love with it. I had to piece together the rest of the financing. I made a couple of pre-sales. I sold the airline rights to Virgin and Paul and I put the rest on credit cards and finished the movie. We got some money from a sales company that ended up suing us. It was ugly. We eventually settled out of court. I realized that having control of the sales of your own films was a good idea. So I hooked up with Winchester Films to run their Los Angeles office. We produce, finance and sell films. It allows you full control over your projects.
"I helped produce Palmer's Pick Up, directed by Christopher Coppola. That film instigated Winchester setting up an LA office. It was Winchester's first US production. Gary Smith, who runs Winchester, called me to oversee the film. In a way, that's a good memory. But Palmer's Pick Up was a bad experience."
Luke: "I assume you were excited by the script. Did the director shoot the script?"
Hadeel pauses: "I thought the script had problems. I thought we could address them. The way that Christopher would talk about the script made me think that he got it. But once they started shooting, it became apparent that his vision of the film wasn't what we expected... Sometimes a director's vision can be much different in execution than how they verbalize it.
"With Courting Courtney, I always trusted Paul. He was always on. I had problems with Christopher. I could not get them to listen. Christopher insisted on final cut [having final say on the editing of the film]. If I knew then what I know now, I would have worked more closely with Chris to get a cut that would satisfy his creative vision and also be commercial enough to sell.
"I just worked on Scorched. I loved the script. I thought a two-year old could shoot it without screwing it up. I started seeing the dailies and some of the jokes were being missed. But once we got into the editing room, we created a movie. I brought the writer in. We all sat in a room for three weeks and cut the movie together. And the film works. It feels seamless."
Luke: "Do you notice people treating you differently because you are young and female?"
Hadeel: "They do all the time. Does it affect the ultimate outcome? I don't think it does.
"I've had lawyers say to me in meetings, 'Well, you're a smart girl, aren't you?' This is a lawyer negotiating on the other side of a deal who should be doing nothing but being respectful of the fact that I am going to be financing his client's movie. And he talks to me like I'm a kid."
Luke: "Ethnic reactions? To your name?"
Hadeel: "I get that all the time. People always ask me, 'What kind of name is that?' And then when you say you're Egyptian, they seem surprised.
"Last October, a friend of mine brought me to a party. And she introduced me by saying, 'Hey everybody, this is Hadeel. She's Egyptian.' And she'd never introduced me that way before. And the hostess of the party says, 'Really? I have this joke about Arabs.' And it was horrific.
"People want to know my opinion more. I don't have the luxury of being able to have an opinion because I can only have one opinion that is acceptable. I'm American. And on things like the Palestinian-Israeli issue, we're all divided on what's going on there. I can't express an opinion on it without seeming biased, but my opinion comes from being American, that's how I was raised.
"I was raised agnostic."
Luke: "How did you get mixed up with the Australian film Muggers?"
Hadeel: "It was another learning experience. It was project we did with the Australian Film Commission. The script was not ready for production. Director Dean Murphy and producer David Redman were insistent that they had to shoot this script.
"It could've been so much better. It was a great concept. It had two great characters. This is where if you spend more time on development it goes from a movie that is released and nobody remembers to a film that has longevity and laughs.
"I brought on two US writers to punch it up and they made it more laugh-out-loud funny."
Luke: "You were an executive producer of Heartbreakers. After it became a number one box office success, did you notice a change in how people around town treated you?"
Hadeel laughs. "Totally. This town is so fickle. There was definitely a change of attitude. It's tough being a young minority woman. You have to work so much harder than everyone else because they so want to write you off. 'Oh, she's only here on a fluke. She's some token hire.' That always amuses me. It's done nothing but help me become better at what I do. I'd like to thank all the people out there for being totally judgmental."
Luke: "Do you dream at night about winning a Best Picture Oscar?"
Luke: "What do you dream about?"
Hadeel: "The ultimate goal is to be so good at what you do with a particular type of picture is that everybody who works in that genre comes to you first. To become the goddess of comedy movies. 'Oh, that sounds like a Hadeel Reda movie.'"
Luke: "What are your strengths as a producer?"
Hadeel: "I stay optimistic because, let's face it, the whole business is negative. We're all tearing each other down. We step over each other.
"My biggest talent is that I can read people. I can read what they need and I can mesh it into something. I can keep things moving forward. Many times you have to tell somebody something that hasn't happened yet, and then turn around and make it happen just to keep the project going, and you hope that by the time they get there, it will be true.
"You say to the writers: 'Yeah, you are going to do the rewrite next week. Everybody loves you.' While the director is going, 'We don't want them to do anything.' You know you need both and you need to keep the project moving forward, so you tell each side the other side loves them.
"By the time they meet, they each think the other side is a fan. They fall in love for real and everyone's happy, until the next crisis."
Women on Top
Jess Cagle writes in the 7/29/02 issue of Time magazine: [W]omen are now running half of the six major movie studios. Sherry Lansing is celebrating her 10th anniversary as chairman of Paramount Pictures, ruling the studio with an iron fiscal fist. And her two younger colleagues—Amy Pascal at Columbia and Stacey Snider at Universal—are known to be every bit as bold as their male counterparts when it comes to gambling with $200 million production and marketing budgets. All three women are working mothers with decidedly feminine personalities and gentle management styles. And all three are experiencing remarkable success, making them a dominant force in Hollywood at a time when the movie industry is enjoying perhaps its most impressive winning streak ever. “Three women are running companies that make a product that has a huge influence on the culture,” says Spider-Man producer Laura Ziskin. “That’s historic, because they’re going to do it differently than men, and it’s going to have an impact.”
Rachel Abramowitz writes in the 5/2/02 LA Times: In the Hollywood of the '80s and '90s, "chick flick" was a pejorative term denoting movies about women that were soft, low-concept character studies.
Worst of all in this bottom-line industry, most of them didn't make money. "What [angered me] is they just talked about films about women that didn't work," recalls Columbia Chairman Amy Pascal, who was involved with a range of female-driven projects from the commercial blockbuster "A League of Their Own" to the unsuccessful "28 Days." "I called them dramas, not female films. Nobody ever said anything about 'Charlie's Angels' being a chick flick and how terrible it was. If it didn't work, it was a chick flick."
I did my second interview with Dr. Alain Silver at his Santa Monica home March 21, 2002.
Alain: "I opted out of the studio system when I was an Assistant Director. I don't believe the environment of the studio system is open to many things. There are so many years in development, a long time shooting and in post-production, so that much of the creative energy that might infuse a picture gets lost. It's not a system that nurtures innovation and creative freedom. I'm amazed that someone convinced a studio to make Moulin Rhouge. My interest lies in making good pictures. I didn't go to film school to work in episodic television. If you want to make movies, rather than make money, this [independent pictures] is the best choice.
"My most recent studio experience was a Showtime [owned by Viacom] picture [Time at the Top, 1999], which confirmed all my sentiments. My wife wrote the script. Showtime gave us an 83-page contract for optioning the script, a typical studio approach right out of the gate. We fell into the system where we had to shoot it in Canada. It had to be a Canadian-content movie [to qualify for Canadian subsidies]. The choices for director were limited. He [Jim Kaufman] put a lot of effort into it but I don't think he ever clicked with the material. And I don't think the result is optimal."
Luke: "It's hard to make a living outside the studios."
Alain: "Yes. This property was purchased with my earnings as an Assistant Director when I worked at the studios. I have rental units in the back. That mitigates the need for me to worry about my next job.
"With their $3-5 million dollar budgets, independent movies often have more in common with episodic television than features. What's different is that the casting is more ambitious, for two reasons: Aesthetically and fiscally. To try to get your money back from the film, you try to cast differently than in television. It's not a question of acting ability but marketability. You try to cast performers who will engender interest in the marketplace."
Luke: "You believe that digital video will soon replace film as the medium on which motion pictures are shot."
Alain: "They're still motion pictures. It doesn't matter which format you shoot them on."
Luke: "Tell me about your 1992 movie, Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, starring Sean Young and porn star April Rayne (Andrea Naschak)."
Alain: "It wasn't the worst script I've ever read, but it was pretty bad. It was about white slavery. It had women being branded. I remember saying, 'You can't shoot this.' And they [executive producer Michael Hershman and his brother, director Joel Hershman] didn't believe me but when they brought in a guy from PM Entertainment, an exploitation distributor, the first thing he said was, 'You can't shoot women being branded.'
"Michael said Joel had an entirely different concept and after I met with Joel, I agreed to come on board."
Luke: "It became a cult hit."
Alain: "They got a development deal out of Warner Brothers to turn it into a series, but it never worked out. The only actor they wanted to carry over from the picture was Bela Lehoczky. A lot of the problems with the picture have to do with casting issues, which stem from the picture's low budget (significantly under one million dollars).
"Sean Young rented her own limo and her own jet for the picture. We didn't pay for it because we couldn't afford to pay for it. She gave herself the star treatment. The first day that she worked, she was willing to jump in and wrestle with the actor and roll around the ground. She's about giving a performance. We had Dianne Ladd and Timothy Leary for a day each.
"Whatever the limited success of the picture, it did not translate into recuping the investment.
"Andrea Naschak was a good actress. There was a rumor that she died of AIDS [but she's now living in San Francisco Bay Area, married, with a son]. All the non-professional actors in the movie, like Bela and Andrea, gave the most memorable performances.
"Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me typifies the best you can hope for if you do a really quirky picture with a few names scattered here and there. Unfortunately, the best you can hope for in that type of picture is far short of a return on your investment."
Philip Corvus writes on Imdb.com: The director allegedly vowed to make the sleaziest movie he could as a condemnation of Hollywood. He succeeded admirably, but it feels more like homage to me. Dialogue example: "I guess killing your sister, burying your dog, and losing your virginity all in one day is a lot for a girl."
This film is shot in the colors of sleaze--from Sabra's day-glow spandex to the hues of the trailer court. Everything is there to enhance the camp. This is side-spliting sleaze all the way. I mean, how about the scene where he takes Danni out to dinner with handcuffs on? Or, Sabra's come-on line, "down deep I'm a sensitive and vulnerable girl. Don't let my vibrators and dildos fool you." Symbolism?
How 'bout the scene where pink-spandexed Sabra walks Gus down the SPCA promenade of death? That'll make you give up topless bars and stroke mags, man.
Alain: "Digital video is empowering. Christopher Coppola and I are about to start a $600,000 picture, which would cost more than twice as much if we shot it on film. It involves one actor playing four parts, which is simple to do in digital video. You shoot the scene three times and you mask off the portions of the frame that are unaffected. You put the image together on a desktop computer in a couple of minutes. And the effect is seamless. That's power of digital. You see your dailies immediately.
"This is my current cause. Ninety percent of a good movie is good performances. What gets in the way of performance in motion pictures is the amount of time you have to spend getting it. It's difficult for an actor to sustain a characterization over a 100-day shoot. You have a lot of days and a lot of significant breaks, say between a master shot and a closeup. It can be hours. It is difficult for an actor to come back to the same level of intensity and mode two hours later. You lose more time trying to put the actor back to where he was. That's why movie acting is really hard and a lot of movie stars are really good actors.
"We shot this feature in 18 days on digital. We worked standard days. Some of the performers were surprised how short the days were and how quickly we were ready to do a closeup. Actors are used to going back to their room after a master shot."
I met producer Sylvio Tabet at his Hollywood Hills mansion, called "Rising Zen," April 15, 2002.
I look around the house while Sylvio finishes off a meeting. It's decorated in a Zen way, with many Buddha statues. There's a stunning view of Los Angeles, from the downtown to Santa Monica.
In addition to producing a dozen movies, including 1984's The Cotton Club and three editions of The Beastmaster, Tabet has published several books including A Journey to Shanti: My Life is My Message - Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Here's an excerpt from the book of distilled teachings by Indian holy man Sri Baba: "There is only one religion, The religion of Love. There is only one caste, The caste of Humanity. There is only one Language, The language of the Heart. There is only one God, He's Omnipresent."
Luke: "How would you describe this house?"
Sylvio laughs. He's a solidly built handsome man of medium height, with curly chest hair showing through his open shirt, and thick white hair. He speaks with a heavy accent: "It is a reflection of who I am and what I like. You can mix all kinds of design and architecture so long as it is pleasant for the eyes and is done with taste. It is a mixture of Asian and modern architecture. It is eclectic but it has a feeling of Zen. That's why the house is called Rising Zen and I am on a road called Rising Glenn and I am overlooking a beautiful vista.
"Zen is a certain practice of Buddhism. To the general public, Zen reflects quietness. You see many Buddhas. The one in front of you is a begging Buddha. The sculptures portraying Buddha generally have a serene face. When you are alone, you can see that you have a companion. They reflect quietness."
Luke: "Tell me about A Journey to Shanti?"
Sylvio: "It is a book about the meaning of life and human values. And the Dalai Llama blessed this book. And the book who put this book together was somebody I considered a holy man who lives in a small village in India. His name is Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Everybody looks for peace. You can read this book to find out how to find it. I tried to put in one book certain quotations which are enough, if you read them, and if you are ready to follow them, to guide you on your life. This is the kind of book that you will put in your living room to share with your friends and to understand how energy works. If you understand this, you can control your life and have serenity in ups and downs that are always part of our life and the duality that makes up our life."
Luke: "Is Sri Sathya Sai Baba Buddhist?"
Sylvio: "No. This is the man who said, 'There is only one religion in the world and that is the religion of love. You could be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever you want. As long as you understand that everything is energy. So long as you follow the basics of your religion and you give love, you receive love. This applies to everything in life. If you give health, you get health. If you give money, you get money."
Luke: "So where did you grow up?"
Sylvio: "In Beirut, Lebanon, with a French education. Most Lebanese speak Arabic, French and English. I went to a Jesuit school. My first language was French and my second language, for 13 years, was Latin."
Luke: "Is your family back in Lebanon?"
Sylvio: "My parents are back in heaven. I have a brother in Lebanon and one sister living in France.
"I studied film directing at IDHEC, a famous school in Paris, and graduated around 1964. Filmmaking in France and Europe is more intellectual than visual."
Tabet produced five movies in France and then moved with his wife and three kids to Los Angeles in 1979. He produced Fade to Black in 1980, Evilspeak in 1981 and The Beastmaster in 1982."
With a budget of $9 million, The Beastmaster grossed less than $4 million domestically. Director Don Coscarelli told the website www.thedigitalbits.com in 1999: "I wrote the villainous role for the late Klaus Kinski, who was not cast over a $5,000 dispute. I had several readings with an eighteen-year-old Demi Moore, who had never been in a film. The executive producer [Sylvio Tabet] decided she couldn't act, and selected Tanya Roberts instead. The animal trainer was fired, and another "friend" of the Executive Producer hired. This Executive Producer had me forcibly removed from the editing room, and recut my version entirely."
Sylvio: "Two young guys (Don Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman) brought me the script for The Beastmaster to produce. Don did his job properly. On any movie, you always have conflicts between the producer and the director. He sees it from an artistic point of view. But in the end, the producer has to think of his financier. Somebody has to take the final decision. Yes, some changes were made."
According to this Beastmaster website: "There was a long-standing rumor that an additional nude scene with Tanya Roberts was filmed in addition to the infamous swimming scene. However, the producers decided that it needed to be cut because they were aiming for a more kid-friendly "PG" rating, and the additional scene would certainly net the film an "R."
"When Anchor Bay released the DVD in October 2001, the infamous nude scene was proven to exist. Hidden in the "Extras" menu as an Easter egg, there are several rough takes of a love scene between Kiri and Dar..."
Tanya Roberts appeared in a nude layout in the October 1982 issue of Playboy magazine. The magazine published an interview with her and a Beastmaster-inspired photo layout with a lion and a fake tiger.
Luke: "I heard that you turned down Demi Moore for the lead female role?"
Sylvio: "I don't remember. It was not from me, maybe from Don. I have no idea."
Luke: "How did you come to the 1984 project, The Cotton Club?"
Sylvio: "I was supposed to be an investor in the movie. And when I came to the set, the movie had already started. And there was a lot of conflict. They asked me to help produce. I ended up like Henry Kissinger, trying to get all the parties to communicate with each other."
Luke: "And what was it like working for Francis Ford Coppola?"
Sylvio: "One day I met with him. I said, 'Francis, I am the new guy on the line. I would like to sit down to talk with you and how we can work together.' He said, 'Sylvio, go ahead and do your work. And let me do my work. If you want to hire a director for little money, then you can tell him what to do. But you paid me a lot of money. I am supposed to be the expert. You don't tell the expert what to do.' That is true."
Mike Medavoy writes in his 2002 autobiography You're Only As Good As Your Next One: "As the movie began consuming $1.2 million a week - roughly $300 a minute - the Doumanis hired a Lebanese B-movie producer named Sylvio Tabet to press Coppola. Tabet had no idea how to rein Coppola in, so he simply followed Francis around the set, shaking his "worry beads" to bring the production luck." (pg. 178)
Luke: "Beastmaster 2 in 1991."
Sylvio: "It was my most difficult movie because I produced, financed and directed. I wanted to make a $20 million movie with a $6 million budget."
Luke: "How do you feel about how it turned out?"
Sylvio: "I wish I would've chosen another approach [instead of setting it in modern Los Angeles]. The first Beastmaster worked because the audience could dream of a hero. I didn't take this hero seriously. I should've left it in his world and made the version even bigger.
"We made the third Beastmaster feature in 1995 and then 66 episodes of the Beastmaster TV show."
Robert Folk, the composer for Beastmaster 2, said: "The very last performance by the orchestra is preserved on video tape alone. A recording under the baton of my director, Sylvio Tabet, who proved once and for all his theory that if you can yell "Action" on a film set, then you can conduct a symphony orchestra."
Sylvio laughs: "He wanted to teach me how to conduct the orchestra but I have no clue how to do it."
Luke: "Dead Ringers, 1988."
Sylvio: "I raised money for the movie and I worked on the script. I wasn't on the set. What can you do on the set as a producer? Most of the time you sit and worry for nothing. Most of a producer's work is as an accountant. When you are on set, it is the work of the line producer and the director. I've made many films where I've never been on the set."
Luke: "What are your strengths as a producer?"
Sylvio pauses. "I have a vision for the story. I am a craftsman, not a businessman. I'm good at sitting down with the writer and exchanging ideas with him. Giving him new ideas to work with. I'm a creator. I started with painting. I became a photographer. I still write. I wrote a book of poems. I'm writing four other books now."
Luke: "Is there interpenetration between your interests in Zen and your movies?"
Sylvio: "I'm writing a script now about Zen and the laws of the universe. In all the Beastmasters, I always tried to put a positive message. The Beastmaster is an ecological hero, a link between nature and the human being. I'm working on television series now called Tara, the Queen of the Touargun. She's a woman, half human and half animal, who only becomes fully human when she makes love."
Luke: "What sort of material appeals to you?"
Sylvio: "When I see a painting, it could be impressionist or whatever, if I feel something for it... It's like love at first sight. I go for it. If I am attracted to the story or subject, I try to do it."
Luke: "Which one of your movies has the most of you in it?"
Sylvio: "Each one has a part of me. But Beastmaster has the most of me. I've been living with this character for 20 years."
Luke: "Which of your projects has had the most meaning for you?"
Sylvio: "This book A Journey to Shanti. It took me three years. I put the most of myself into it. I experienced the miracles this book talks about. If every school in the world could teach spiritual yoga there would be more happy people on earth."
Luke looks through A Journey to Shanti. "Could you make a movie about this?"
Sylvio: "Many movies have been made about this. The last one starred Robin Williams, What Dreams May Come. The projects that I am developing now have a lot of this in them. You don't have to brainwash people. You have to go in a subtle way and make it a part of your story."
I'm looking at a picture of woman holding up a gem.
Sylvio: "This is a miracle he (Sri Sathya Sai Baba) performed. He was speaking and he took nine lingham from his mouth. He created this ring here. He shook his hand and the ring appeared. Then I took it and it was too small. So he took it back and when he returned it to me, it had become bigger, the ring and the stone."
I look at a green gem on a ring on Sylvio's hand.
Sylvio: "These are just small things to prove that everything is energy. Matter is only a condensation of energy."
Luke: "Are you still in Catholicism?"
Sylvio: "I am still Catholic. You don't have to change your religion. You just understand how things work and then your religion becomes a religion of love."
Khunrum writes: Luke, I just heard the shocking news. Please accept my condolences. It was difficult for me to take the good doctor seriously. Everytime I tuned in to a broadcast his dentures would whistle when he spoke. Let's hope wherever he is going there are no blacks or jews to disturb his solitude ..............amen
Robert writes: If there is an afterlife I'll wager that Dr. Pierce is roasting marshmallows with his good buddy Adolph right now.
Producer Michael Heuser
I took a drive into Santa Monica this afternoon to interview H. Michael Heuser (born in 1958), CEO of Storm Entertainment.
Michael received about four faxes from me over the past year, requesting an interview. Admiring my tenacity, he finally gave in.
Heuser reads about seven scripts a week. His office receives about a 1000 unsolicited scripts a year.
Heuser is a straight shooter. Happily married, he has three kids, one 20 years old.
I arrive at his office 30 minutes early, so I strolled down to the ocean overlook. As I gazed out at the deep blue waters, I thought about the state of my soul and the direction of my religious journey.
After three minutes, I turned around and knocked on Michael's office. His female secretary answered the door. She sat me down and gave me water.
"Oh," she said, "You come from the land down under, where glow and men chunder. Oh, can you hear, can you hear, the thunder? You better run, you better take cover."
I read the book Crying at the Movies. I tried not to look as though I were peaking into Michael's office and overhearing his phone conversations.
I wonder if Michael has accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior?
Does he believe in the immortality of the soul?
Those are the questions I need to add to my repetoir to put more pep into my producer interviews.
I'd read about Heuser in the 10/21/02 issue Variety. Here are excerpts:
In Hollywood lingo, a locomotive is a big commercial picture buyers can't resist, so much so that distribs bundle it to sell a package of films.
"In the old days if you had a locomotive you could accompany that with five to seven films," says Storm Entertainment's president and CEO Michael Heuser. "Today it's one, two, a maximum of three films."
To make an average of six films a year (three at $20 million and three in the $3 million-$6 million range), Storm relies on the bigger-budget projects to help sell the smaller ones.
"There's no formula for financing movies today," says Heuser. "You have to replace pre-sales with alternative collateral. Inevitably there's a gap, but ideally the leverage from higher-profile films will benefit niche market films." Storm chooses not to impose any predetermined genre mix on its lineup.
"The best rises to the top," explains Hauser. "Some years we may not have an action or comedy picture."
Producer Stanley Isaacs
I met writer-producer Stanley Isaacs at Starbucks on Larchmont Drive, near Beverly Blvd, in Los Angeles, July 17, 2002. He sports a large earring.
We sit outside. I sip my hot cup of Green Tea.
Isaacs has produced five low budget films and written four. He's been married for 20 years to motion picture marketing executive Cheryl Boone Isaacs. They have a seven year-old son Cooper.
Stanley: "Times are tough and are getting uglier.
"I was born and raised in New York City. I've always loved movies. I studied acting for two years at the Neighborhood Playhouse. I shied away from the business for a long time because of the economic pressures of making a living. After years in marketing and advertising and sales, I drifted back in.
"I took a class in 1975 in independent film production by a former rabbi, Herb Freed. He'd directed several movies. He'd married an actress. One night producer Sandy Howard came to talk to the group. He went from picture to picture to picture, always financially behind, using one movie to pay off the other. He was a maverick independent producer in the Roger Corman, Sam Arkoff mold.
"Somebody asked Sandy a question. 'How do you become a producer?' And Sandy deadpanned to the audience, the next time you meet somebody and they ask what you do, tell them you're a film producer. It's one of the few businesses in the world where you can say you have a few projects you're developing and nobody can say you are not.
"What does a producer do? He finds material or talent or money and puts them together. What training do you need for that?
"My first movie making experience... I was the associate producer on an ultra low budget 1978 film, The Great Skycopter Rescue. It was the kind of thing you wish you were never involved with. It was a ten-car pileup. It was ugly.
"On the first day of shooting, in a state building in Sacramento, and I walked into a bathroom before we started shooting, and one of the lead actors was standing over the sink, snorting cocaine. We shut down production after the first day because it was such a mess. I stepped in and took over more responsibility but it didn't matter because the movie was destined for failure.
"I had a friend, Alan Jay Glueckman, who'd written screenplays for several different studios. When I came back from location, he suggested that we should work on a project together. We conceived an idea. His agent got us an appointment at Disney. We went to a friend of ours who did concept art work for a one-sheet [movie poster] for the idea. We walked in, pitched the story, showed the art work, and got a deal to write and produce a big expensive action adventure movie. And I'd never written anything before beyond a postcard.
"I spent a year at Disney working on the script. It was the greatest on the job training in the world. I was paid to learn the craft of putting together a movie.
"We asked Disney to allow us to develop the movie in a similar fashion to how they develop animated features. We wanted to sit down with a storyboard sketch artist and have him storyboard the movie as we tell him the story.
"Every day we would sit down with this marvelous man, John Jensen, a brilliant wacky professor type who'd worked with Cecil DeMille and Alfred Hitchcock, and tell him the segment of the story we were working on. The three characters walk into the room and the villains are there and this is what happens.
"We'd come back the next morning and in our office were hundreds of sketches. Then we would write from the pictures. People would read the script and say, 'This is one of the most visually telling scripts we've ever read.' And we'd snicker to ourselves because we were just writing from the pictures.
"Unfortunately, the writers strike hit in 1981 and turned the business off kilter and killed our project.
"Most movies developed never get made. In the eighties, all the studios had hundreds of projects in development. They'd make about 15 a year. If you had any kind of a good idea, and any way of getting an appointment with a studio executive, and any ability to pitch a project, it was a glorious time.
"My other most memorable moment was producing the 1994 film Last Gasp. It was written by David Twohy, who wrote Terminal Velocity, The Fugitive, GI Jane, and Pitch Black. It was set in the American Southwest. The production company, in an effort to save money, made us film it in Bucharest, Romania.
"That was three months of my most schizophrenic time. I had several opportunities to go sightseeing in Italy and Turkey but I wouldn't leave the country because I knew I'd never return to the production.
"I remember we were going to shoot part of the movie in India. Ed Feldman had just returned from producing a movie in India. ,I asked him about my going to India. Do you have any advice? He said, 'Don't. But if you must go, bring a suitcase full of food.' Ultimately we never went to India but I did pack a suitcase full of food for Romania, where the food was wretched.
"When I went to the airport in Romania [in 1994] to pick up the star of the movie, Robert Patrick, we got in the car and drove through the streets of the city. He turns and gives me one of those Terminator glares and says to me, 'What year are we in?' It was perfect. It was not, 'What country?' Or, 'Where are we?' It was, 'What year are we in?' Because it looked like the early sixties. The countryside and environment looked like bombed out Berlin.
"You see the uniformed armed guards with automatic weapons standing over you as you went through customs. The buildings were old and full of rubble. The cars were old and funky. You had a sense of being in a time warp."
"The director was Scott McGinnis. After we wrapped production, Scott, Robert and I joined forces and started a production company (360 Entertainment). We produced two movies (Within the Rock and Ravager). I love the low budget sci-fi world.
"Within the Rock was made two years before Armageddon. It was about a giant meteorite on a collision course with earth and a team of drillers is sent to plant explosive charges deep within it to blow the meteorite out of orbit. The movie was released in Japan under the name Armagheddon. We got excellent reviews and a lot of press. Ravager, not as successful, was a variation on the old John Ford movie Stagecoach, but set in outer space. A mixed bag of characters on the run forced into a hostile situation. I met one of my current partners on the movie, Pat Corbitt, who's been in the computer imaging business for 30 years. He sold us two effects shots for within the rock. His company did all the effects shots on Ravager.
"We're finishing the movie Megalodon. Though made for a minimal budget, we have almost 500 computer images in the picture, including submarines, sharks, helicopters, ice storms, undersea oil drilling... An unheard of amount of material for a picture made for about $2 million. And all the images done on a computer. Though we can't afford to put big stars in our movies of this budget, we can afford big special effects.
"Megalodon is about a huge prehistoric shark that was more ferocious than the tyranosaurus. It was 60-feet long. We're already planning a sequel based on a guy we met in Florida who does fossil expedition boat tours and they're constantly finding Megalodon fossils.
"The toughest thing will be finding somebody willing to invest the millions of dollars [in prints and advertising] necessary to make the film work on a theatrical release.
"I'm on the steering committe of the Writers Guild and we've just put together a new under $750,000 agreement to entice current members and aspiring writers to join the Guild by creating a window of opportunity where they can produce or sell a project made for $750,000 and under a Guild contract. That's never happened before. The Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild have had those kind of agreements."
Luke: "What are the advantages and disadvantages of being married to somebody in the business?"
Stanley: "I don't think there are disadvantages as long as your spouse understands that your job as a producer requires that you be gone a lot. I spent six months last year in New Jersey working on Megalodon.
"If you can withstand the separation, and the frustration you inevitably encounter when things don't go your way. You live on an emotional rollercoaster. I don't know how two actors can stay together because they're dealing with such fragile egos.
"Cooper is clearly my child. I sit with him weekly and show him old sci-fi movies from the 1950s. He loves giant creature movies. He's constantly asking questions about how did they do this and that."
Luke: "Has it changed you as a writer and a producer to be a father?"
Stanley: "Absolutely. I get to see life through his eyes. I get to see his innocence. I've always had the notion, but it's been stronger since I became a dad, to infuse, even in our little low-budget sci-fi pictures, some life-affirming positiveness. I hate watching these sci-fi movies that present a dark future. My wife and I look at these movies and wonder if these filmmakers have kids.
"I wish studios would release sanitized versions of PG-13 and R-rated movies that have excessive gore, language and violence yet contain stories that kids would like. Cooper wanted to see Reign of Fire but I think it looks too dark and depressing. It's PG-13, but we all know that PG-13 can range from mild language and pretty pictures to heavy language and grotesque imagery.
"When you're constantly exposed to negative, dark, unproductive imagery as a child, I have to think it registers in their subconscious. I don't understand why we can't put more positive stuff out there for kids to see to encourage them."
Luke: "How do you relate to the tremendous snobbery in this business?"
Stanley: "Not well but it is a fact of life. I still can't relate to people who don't return phone calls. Why can't you just say, 'Fuck off and die and don't ever call me again.' But I guess they do by not calling you."