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Producer Larry Brezner

"How are you?" asks producer-manager Larry Brezner Tuesday afternoon, February 12, 2002, as he welcomes me into his spacious Beverly Hills office.

"Great," I reply.

"You're Australian," Larry picks up immediately.

Brezner's a partner in Morra, Brezner, Steinberg & Tenenbaum Entertainment, a premiere management company that shepherds the careers of such stars as Robin Williams, Woody Allen, Billy Crystal and David Letterman.

Larry looks at his secretary. "You didn't tell me he was Australian? How did we let an Australian in here?"

Larry turns to me with a smile. "What do you make of the Australian invasion? They've always had good directors. Now they have good actors [Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, etc]..."

I smile and bask in the success of my countrymen.

Brezner's an amiable balding chap around 50 years of age, dressed casually in jeans. He stands about 5'10 and 180 pounds. He has two degrees in psychology including a Masters from John Hopkins University.

Luke: "How did you break into the entertainment industry?"

Larry: "It was a fluke. I was a school teacher during Vietnam because it was an automatic deferment from the draft. As I walked home every day, I passed by this nightclub that was never open. So I bought it for a dollar and opened a small club with organic food for hippies. Then I started bringing entertainers into the club. Big managers would come in. I met my [future, now ex-] wife Melissa Manchester there."

Luke: "How long were you married?"

Larry: "About 150-200 years. We never had kids. We're still on good terms. I became her manager. There was this big manager who came to my club all the time - Jack Rollins. Jack had discovered Woody Allen. I took Melissa to him and said that I wanted to manage her for him. And Jack didn't have to pay me. So I did what I recommend to people who graduate from film school - get a job in entertainment, even if you have to work for free.

"I decided to become a movie producer as part of the management business, but not necessarily with my clients. I was more interested in producing movies than in managing talent. Although I continue to manage talent and I continue to produce movies. I recognize that we're a management company first and a production company second. If our clients said, 'We don't want you to produce movies anymore', we wouldn't produce movies anymore. But many of our clients, like Robin and Billy, have been with us for over 25 years.

"Now we're in an age where all managers try to be producers by simply attaching themselves to their clients projects. We never do that. When we produce something, I'm on the set all the time. I devote myself to that movie. We don't put our names on a project for a fee. That's why we've had production deals at studios since I've come to LA.

"We generate our own material. I have a number of people who work for me just in generating material.

"I was deeply involved with the production of the [1981] film Arthur on a day-to-day basis. Steve Gordon, who wrote and directed Arthur, was such a great writer that we sold his series "Goodtime Harry" to the network just so that he could practice directing before making his film debut with Arthur. That was stupid because directing three-camera film [for television] is entirely different from directing a feature film. He had written a film [1978's The One and Only] before that was so destroyed by the director [Rob Reiner], that he said he'd never let that happen again.

"We took Woody Allen's entire crew and put Steve on it to direct Arthur. And everybody on that film knew what they were doing except the director. He had no idea that he was surrounded by people, which is what you have to do with a new director. His assistant-director was Woody's line producer, Robert Greenhut. And Bobby clearly directed the film.

"Steve directing Sir John Gielgud was funny. Steve would say, 'Would you like me to call you Sir John? Or can I call you John?' Gielgud never quite got the movie. He didn't see what was particularly funny about it. He didn't see what was particularly funny [about such lines as], 'I'll alert the media.' Or, 'Would you like me to wash your dick for you, sir?' He found it ironic that after the great Shakespearean work he'd done over his lifetime, he won an Academy Award for Arthur."

Larry takes a call from his 18-year old daughter away at university. She's hurt her leg in a snowboarding accident and this distracts Brezner, married twice, throughout our interview.

Larry: "Steve died of a heart attack right after Arthur. And I just thought he was a major hypochondriac. Every day we'd walk into his office, he'd be on the phone with Lew Wasserman complaining about the air conditioning. That's how crazy Steve was. He'd call Lew Wasserman to complain about a maintenance problem. He couldn't possibly work under these conditions.

"I've produced several TV shows only because I said, 'I'm the producer,' and nobody said no. I had some run-ins with Barry Diller over the [1990 series] Good Grief, which took place in a funeral home. Barry Diller can be the most intimidating individual on the planet. Joe Roth, who was one of my closest friends, I produced the [1990] film Coupe de Ville that Joe directed, Joe was head of Fox at the time. And Diller was above him. Joe would say, 'Diller can be a tough guy. Don't let him intimidate you. He'll say some really vicious things to you. If you allow it to happen, he'll just continue and you'll just be a lackey.'

"We'd got into this dispute about the television show Good Grief, which he wanted desperately. We had a hilarious pilot script. We wanted to do it as a movie and he said no, I'll give you 13 shows. Well, he never gave us the 13 shows, so I took the show away from him and he got furious.

"I get a message that Diller wants to see me immediately. I'm thinking about the warning from Joe. How do I protect myself? Peter Chernin is sitting in Diller's office. And Diller starts in a soft spoken way. 'I hear you pulled the show from us?' And I said, 'Yes, because you did not live up to some of the agreements we made.'

"Diller says, 'So you're an expert in television now? So you're an expert in comedy now?' And slowly he starts to build [in ferocity]. And he says, 'Let me tell you something about you.' And then he starts to insult me in a way you can't believe. 'You don't know anything about comedy. You know fuck-all about the television business. You don't know what you're doing. Who the fuck do you think you are?' He just went on and on. He started getting really out of hand.

"Even though in my stomach, I was getting tied up in knots, for some reason, I got up and walked up to one inch from his nose. And I said to him, 'I've got to tell you something.' He said, 'What?' I said, 'In this light, your eyes are just fabulous.' He just looked at me. There was a long pause. He started smiling and he said, 'Get out of here.' And he threw me out of his office. I could hear him laughing as I was leaving. It was just one of those situations where you had to protect yourself by going in another direction.

"Throw Momma From The Train [1987]. Stu Silver came to me with the idea to a version of the Alfred Hitchcock film, Strangers on the Train, as a comedy. I didn't get it but I told him to write it on spec [without getting upfront payment]. So I worked with him on scenes. We decided to make it in Hawaii so that in case someone makes the film, we can go to Hawaii.

"I needed the rights from Strangers, owned by Warner Brothers. And WB doesn't give up rights. We gave them the script and they said, 'Pass. We're not doing it and we're not giving up the rights. So forget it.' We were dead. Because we needed the rights and we needed a film clip from Strangers. He gets the whole idea of throwing momma from the train from watching Strangers on the Train.

"Something strange happened. Arthur was a tremendous hit. Warner Brothers developed a sequel. And even though we were the producers, they never mentioned this to us. Certain executives were dishonest. Dudley had come to them to do a sequel. I called up the head of the studio and asked him if they were doing this. He said yes. I said, 'You better check your contract. You can't do this without us. You have no sequel.' I got a call a day later from that executive. 'We want you to produce the movie.'

"Ok. They told me the idea and I said pass. I think that film will fail. I think that Arthur without his money is not funny. They said, what can we offer you because we want to do the movie? I said, give me my fee for the movie and give me the rights to Strangers on the Train. And they said, we can't give you the rights. I said, well, give me a letter saying you won't sue me if we do Throw Momma From The Train. And they were willing to do that.

"Good Morning Vietnam [1987] was a two-page treatment, not a comedy, about the true story of Adrian Cronauer, a disc jockey in Vietnam who became known for two things: His morning call "Goooooood Morning Vietnam.' And he was the first guy to play rockn'roll on Armed Forces radio. I saw it as a comedy. I went to New York to interview Adrian Cronauer. Stu Silver wrote the first half of the movie.

"We developed the script at Norman Lear's company. Alan Hall ran the company. He said, 'We're not going to do a film about Vietnam. No film has been done about Vietnam. It's too soon.' This is before Platoon had come out. So Lindsay Duran, an executive who was in that meeting, went to Paramount. She called up, 'We want it over here.' We took it to Dawn Steel, a good friend who ran Paramount at the time, said, 'If we ever disagree about the concept, I'll let it go.' Ned Tannen, number two at Paramount, and I disagreed about the last act of the film. He thought it should continue as a comedy. I said no. I think this film is a metaphor for the war. The whole thing was a joke for a while until it wasn't a joke anymore. That's the way the film should be. Ned disagreed and Dawn Steel let the film go.

"I got a call the next day from Jeffrey Katzenberg. It was a Saturday morning and I was playing tennis. Jeffrey said he wanted to make the movie but he wouldn't get into a bidding war. I said, 'Jeffrey, you have my word I won't shop it to other people. I will talk to you on Monday. But I've got to finish this set. It's more important than the movie.' So we made a deal on Monday and we went to look for directors.

"We met with many directors, from Peter Bogdanovitch to Hal Ashby. Jeffrey mentioned Spike Lee. Robin Williams was not attached as we developed the film. He just read the script and liked it.

"We met with Barry Levinson, who'd just done Tin Men. We had a meeting. I did a little too much talking about the film because I was so passionate about the movie. Four years had gone by since I'd started developing the movie. I said, the character should do this. The character should do that. I got at midnight from Jeffrey. He said he had good news and bad news. Barry wants to direct the film but he doesn't want you involved. I was devastated. I asked why. Jeffrey said, 'He thinks you are so passionately involved with the thing. And there can only be one captain of the ship. The only way he can do the movie is if he's completely autonomous to do the film.'

"I said, I'll let you know tomorrow. That night was a restless night. I was giving up my baby which I'd developed and I thought was an important movie. And I cried because I was being rejected over something that I so loved. I knew that Barry Levinson was the right person to direct the film so I had to step away. Just before I called Jeffrey, I got a call from Orion Pictures which wanted to greenlight Throw Momma From The Train. And both pictures were set on a start date for the same week. So as one thing was taken away from me, another thing was given to me.

"I hired Danny De Vito to direct Throw Momma. I worked on the film every day. I was in Thailand for three weeks before Barry started shooting Good Morning Vietnam but I then had to go back to Throw Momma. With two films shooting simultaneously, I became the hottest producer in the business.

"The entirety of Good Morning Vietnam with the exception of one shot was done in Thailand. They wouldn't let us blow up the restaurant in Thailand. They kept asking for more payment. So we rebuilt the restaurant here and blew it up.

"When Anne Ramsey came in to audition for Throw Momma, she'd just come out of a cancer operation where half of her tongue had been removed. So she didn't make much sense. One of her lines in the movie was momma hitting Billy Crystal and says, 'Get out of the way, you black bastard.' That's how nuts she is. She's calling him racial slurs but the wrong racial slurs.

"We could hardly figure out what she was saying in the audition. Danny and I were terrified of the woman. We looked at each other and said, 'That's momma.' Barry Sonnenfeld served as the cameraman on the picture.

"I was able to suggest ideas to Danny during the shoot. One of the basic rules of the producer - director relationship is to make any idea the director's idea."

Luke: "Is Danny DeVito a naturally funny guy?"

Larry: "No. He's not a guy you hang around with who's a million laughs.

"What I'm best known for on that film was cutting the trailer. I went in to Orion and cut it together from one scene. And the guys at Orion said, are you out of your mind? You've got to show scenes from throughout the movie. And I said, this scene is all you have to know. Then I took it to Danny. And he said, 'I'm not using that trailer. It's our best fucking scene. I'm not doing that. You want to give away our best joke.' And Danny's wife, Rhea Perlman, came over and said, 'Danny, are you crazy? That trailer is perfect.' And he reluctantly agreed.

"Orion said no to the trailer. I begged them to test it. It tested high. So they agreed to go along with it. The exhibitors just played the shit out of the trailer. And the movie ultimately did well. We never changed the trailer. We used it on TV.

"Good Morning Vietnam did about $130 million domestic box office. Jeffrey said this was a film they were going to platform. Meaning, they would start it at a couple of theaters and let the movie build word of mouth and critical acclaim. Jeffrey was concerned that Robin wasn't coming off a hit film.

"We shot The 'burbs [1989] on one street on the Universal lot. I had fundamental disagreements with the director [Joe Dante]. After I looked at the first day's dailies, I realized that this wasn't working. So I had a meeting with Joe Dante. I said, 'You can't have a guy who's military minded wearing camouflage. That's not funny.' And he looked at me and said something I will never forget, because he was fundamentally right. 'I like The Three Stooges and you like Mel Brooks. We're never going to get along in comedy. I'm the director and you're going to have go along. Tom Hanks is in the movie and he agreed to do the movie with my vision.' I realized that I was powerless. He was exactly right. From the time he says action, he's the captain of the ship.

"It was a tiny script in the sense that it was a small story. Just a small scary comedy. But once Joe Dante and Tom Hanks came on board, this small movie had to be changed. At the end of the movie in the original script, the hero gets killed because he's been making a wrong judgment all along. And you never see it coming. In the new version, we realized that we can't kill Tom Hanks. People will rush the screen. So we had to change the ending and we ruined the concept of the film. Everything got bigger and broader. Joe made the film he wanted to make but I don't find it funny. Though I've never had a more enjoyable experience on a film.

"There are all kinds of producers on various levels. Jerry Bruckheimer doesn't hire Sydney Pollack to do his movies because the clash would be too great. Jerry hires a director like Michael Bay, who he created. Jerry will have a lot of say on his pictures. Nobody would tell Jerry Bruckheimer, I don't care what you think. This is the way I'm making the film. Jerry's too powerful a producer. Most producers are not in that position.

"The producer is in charge during the buying stage, the development stage, the hiring stage, right up until 'Action!' Then you give over power to the director. This can change if you have a first-time director. But every director who's had a hit film sees himself as in charge. And it almost has to be that way. If actors think that the producer is really in charge on set, there's chaos. You have to always create the illusion, even if you are running the set, that the director is in charge. The studio is the ultimate arbiter of any dispute. And usually if there's a different of opinion between a producer and a director, the studio will go with the director, unless you are one of the few producers who has the power to tell the studio what you're going to do."

Luke: "Which producers have that kind of power?"

Larry: "Joel Silver, Brian Grazer, Scott Rudin. They're usually fanatic crazy people who will rip down a studio office brick by brick if they don't get what they want. Scott can be strong in his point of view."

Luke: "Has there been any other film where your vision has so diverged from the director?"

Larry: "There have been many. Every director has his own point of view."

Larry takes another call from his daughter and he talks her through the agony of waiting for an X-ray to see what's wrong with her leg.

Luke: "Tell me about 1990's Coupe de Ville, which Joe Roth directed."

Larry: "Joe was running Morgan Creek, a small production company. I sent the film over to him and he said, 'I love this. I want to direct.' It's a sweet film done for no money. Joe and I became close friends on the film, which can happen. Either you become gigantic enemies or close friends. I remained with Joe for a lot of years after that. When he was at Fox, I took a producing deal at Fox. When he went to Disney, I took a producing deal at Disney. Joe now runs his own little studio Revolution which produced Black Hawk Down [2001].

"Coupe de Ville never got much of a release. Two days after he finished the movie, he announced he was taking over Fox. That made the people at Universal, which was distributing the movie, unhappy. They had our movie. At one point, they agreed to sell us the movie. Then they changed their mind. One of the wives of the executives had seen it and said it was a good movie. They decided to not give it back and angry at Joe, they didn't give it much of a release.

"Mike Binder wrote the film. He was a standup comic who I encouraged to write. Coupe de Ville was a story about his family. I know his family and the story hit close to home. It was a father with three sons who didn't get along. And his little trick to try to get them to like each other."

Luke; "Which of your other films have had the most meaning to you?"

Larry: "Gosh, I don't know. There are major disappointments and there are films I don't care about. We did Passed Away [1992] for Disney. I had a huge disagreement with Jeffrey over the casting of the lead character [played by Bob Hoskins]. Even though Bob Hoskins was a fine actor, it was supposed to be about a traditional Irish-American family at a wake. I wanted Brian Denney to play that role. Disney pushed Bob because he'd done Roger Rabbit for them.

"I can't think of any film I've done where I don't ask, what could we have done better. The biggest embarrassment of my life was making Freddie Got Fingered [2001]."

According to a review on Imdb.com: "There's a brief sojourn at a stud farm, where Gord lives out an apparently lifelong fantasy, wagging a horse's genitals while yelling "I'm a farmer!" like a drunken barbarian. In another scene, Gord delivers a baby, ripping the bloody umbilical cord with his teeth. He picks up a wheelchair-bound girlfriend (Marisa Coughlin) who gets her jollies by being caned in the legs with a bamboo stick. And there's the wonderful little boy who spends the whole movie getting accidentally brutalized, hit by cars and running into airplane propellers, always with much blood and flying viscera."

Larry: "I think Tom Green's a funny guy but has no experience in doing movies. I never thought in a million years that we had a director for the film who'd straighten out the script and make it funny. When that director quit because Tom wouldn't go along with the new version of the script, Tom decided he wanted to direct. He looked at me and I said, 'Well, you'll have to talk to the studio about that.' And I never thought in a million years would they allow him to direct. He'd never directed anything. They let Tom direct and Tom made the film he wanted to make but it was just not a good film. It was just shock for shock's sake. And that's not what I do. Tom said to the studio, 'If 30 people get up and leave the first time they've seen the movie, then I'll know I've made the movie I wanted to make.' And I'm thinking to myself, 'My God, if 30 people get up and leave, I'm going to kill myself.' And guess what? They left. He was pleased.

"Tom was directing his script and he was starring. What can you tell him? The studio was not going to support me. I went to the studio 25 times and said, 'You don't know what is going on here. We're making a film that you can't show.' There's a guy masturbating a horse in the opening scene for no reason. I'm not shocked by anything. I don't think there's anything terrible about masturbating a horse if you're doing it for a good reason. I can't think of a reason right now."

Freddie Got Fingered bombed at the box office but did well on home video.

Larry: "It was such a hard-R that kids couldn't get into see it. His audience was younger kids. I wouldn't want my kids to see it. It was embarrassing. There's nothing worse that I can imagine as a producer of premiering a film with all the people you love and respect in the business and at home are sitting in the audience and you're looking at something that's as bad as anything you've seen. And your name is on it. And they're looking. And they come up to you after the movie and say, 'Interesting. Really. That was interesting.' They have all those euphemisms for, I can't really talk about the film and tell you how bad I think it is. 'Gee, I thought Tom was interesting. Congraulations.'

"It's so personally embarrassing. I don't think anybody outside the industry realizes how hard it is to make a film. And to make a bad film. To put all that time and effort into making a bad film. It's just so terrible on so many levels. It's embarrassing personally. It's professionally embarrassing. It's a waste of such time and energy. It's almost impossible to imagine a worse feeling. I know there are people starving right now in Argentina who are saying, 'What's your problem, buddy?' But I'm just talking on a producer level."

Luke: "You read the script."

Larry: "Yeah, well, we didn't. We started with an idea. I sold the idea to Joe Roth. Then Tom Green wrote the script and showed it to Todd Garner at Disney. They said we're not making this movie. If Michael Eisner saw this movie with a Touchstone label he'd fire us all. Go with God. Take the script and sell it anywhere you can. So I sold it to New Regency. Yeah, I read the script. All I could hope was that we could bring in a director and another writer and turn it into a decent funny outrageous comedy. We didn't accomplish that particular goal.

"Krippendorf's Tribe [1998] was a film that also didn't succeed at the box office. It came from a book I'd read by Frank Parkin. I thought, what a funny idea. A college professor takes a grant to visit tribes in New Guinea and spends all the money on his kids and has nothing to present. So he decides that his kids are as primitive as any tribe one could imagine. And he'd just write a paper on them. The idea was enhanced by a memory from college. I got my Masters in psychology. And one of the classes studied an unusual group of people known as the Nacirema [spells American backwards]. And all the strange things they do like shave the hair off their face every morning. They wear things in their ear. And when you look at it from a sociological way, the things we do are as odd as any tribe.

"I loved the idea of the film. We were accused of being racist because the kids put on makeup. I think the film directionwise did not succeed. The director [Todd Holland] was a nice guy but again it was his first feature film [and last]. There was a clash with the stars."