Producer Lloyd A. Silverman
After six years at Universal Pictures assisting Rafaella DeLaurentiis, and 10 years as an on- and off-Broadway producer, Lloyd A. Silverman established The Artists' Colony to make independent movies.
Lloyd served as executive producer of Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) and produced 1998's Shattered Image. He's a visiting lecturer at the Department of Film and Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. We spoke by phone February 5, 2002. Lloyd speaks powerfully and clearly, like a professor should.
Luke: "How did you get into producing movies?"
Lloyd: "Good question. Probably as a function of not being able to do anything else. I've been intrigued by the arts for as long as I can remember. It began many years ago when I realized that I wasn't the greatest rockn'roll singer. I've always felt an attraction to talented people and wanted to move their careers forward. This was the logical course.
"Rafaella was my godmother. I was involved in theater in New York and London. I could indulge my passion for theater through my moderate success in the New York real estate business. Those were the old days when if you had a phone, a mouth and a rolodex, you couldn't help but make money. The rockn'roll '80s was a good time to be in business. I made my money in the day and I lost it at night.
"When the New York real estate bubble burst around 1990, I was single and comfortable and able to move to Los Angeles to pursue my dream. Rafaella was the first person who embraced what I thought I had to offer - relationships with writers and talent coming out of theater. This was a time before Slingblade and the independent movie movement was as generic to the industry as it is now.
"Working for Rafaella, as she was off slaying dragons, I sought material that I thought compelling. And sitting on the lot at Universal, I realized that that material wasn't what they were looking to buy. What I wanted to sell was not a commodity that anybody in Hollywood was interested in buying. Universal eventually gave me my own producing deal.
"Around 1992, I was given an unpublished manuscript by first-time novelist David Guterson. In Hollywood, it is hard to get executives to read scripts by writers they're not familiar with, let alone a 400-odd page unpublished novel by a first-time writer about the Second World War. I thought the novel would make a wonderful film and I presented it to every studio and was passed on. After David found a publisher, the book was presented again to every studio and passed on again. Then the book found its way on to the best seller list and was passed on again. Then it hit number one on the best seller list and was passed on again. Then it was number one for 72 weeks and still everyone was passing on the bok.
"It wasn't until [screenwriter] Ron Bass and [director] Scott Hicks [of Shine fame] that the film attracted attention. Studios don't make movies because they want to. They make movies because they have to.
"Scott Hicks brought in producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshal, perhaps the best producing team in the world. And the film mushroomed into something considerably more than the studio had agreed to in the beginning. What had started as a small film had grown into an epic. Universal was gracious to allow Scott Hicks to make the movie he envisioned.
"I was overwhelmed with how well the movie turned out."
Luke: "You didn't resent the project escaping out of your hands?"
Lloyd: "Filmmaking is a collaborative process. The word 'resent' is a bit strong. We're not always very happy with certain decisions made. This was a complex movie that required skills and experience that at that time I did not have."
Luke: "What attracted you to this material?"
Lloyd: "It's not often that you read a script that has the kind of emotional impact that means something beyond a good story, that reflects a society's perspective and good and bad and points out the weaknesses in the social fabric.
"This was probably the darkest time in United States history. We as a people were doing to our citizens [interning Japanese Americans] what we were complaining was being done to us. It's hard to look in the mirror sometimes and see what it is that we're doing wrong. And as Max Von Sydow [who plays a defense attorney] says in the film, people like you and me are called upon to give the report card of the human race. It's a powerful line in a powerful movie. And as he says, we hate each other. This has been going on for generations. It makes the movie more relevant today than when it was released."
Luke: "Why so?"
Lloyd: "After September 11th, there was a lot of talk about how we as a culture behave towards Arab-Americans. Are we profiling? Do we segregate ourselves by color? Because someone looks different does that make them guilty of a crime? The subject we address in Snow Falling on Cedars is the same subject being addressed in the world today. Do we crucify a race of people because of the actions of a few?"
Luke: "Do you believe that interning Japanese-Americans during WWII was clearly wrong?"
Lloyd without hesitation: "Yes."
Luke: "Do you believe that racially profiling Arab-Americans on, say, airplane flights, is clearly wrong?"
Lloyd: "We would be foolish not to explore potential threats. To generically crucify a race is wrong. What tools are available today that weren't available then to address the types of threats that may exist?"
Luke: "Do you think that diverse peoples can live together in peace?"
Lloyd: "I hope there's a way for us to figure this all out because we must learn to live together. The world is no longer insulated by geographical territory, nationality and races. We depend on each other. This is a large jigsaw puzzle and each of those pieces contributes to the functionality of the whole. We have hated each other and we do hate each other and we need to break that cycle. Without oil from the Middle East or grain from the United States, we as a planet cannot survive. We all need from all the others to survive. So how do you take away centuries of disdain? I don't know. But educating our children into believing that we are all the same, no matter how we look or speak, is a beginning. My wife and I have taken conscious strides to make certain that our children are culturally diverse with an education that is culturally diverse with children who are culturally diverse. I'm proud that my children are color blind. They don't understand there's a difference and perhaps there isn't a difference if we can educate our children that way."
Luke: "And your reaction to the reaction to Snow Falling on Cedars?"
Lloyd: "This was a film that was so multi-layered. It travelled through four stories. To some people, it was fascinating and brilliantly crafted, which is what I believed. Other people found it disorienting trying to track these four stories through a two-hour plus movie."
Luke: "Tell me about Shattered Image."
Lloyd: "It was the first script I got involved with when I came to Los Angeles. Shattered Image was originally called Snake Eyes. When we got ready to make it, we realized there were three other movies (including Brian De Palma, Madonna) named Snake Eyes.
"Original director Barbet Schroeder was too busy with Before and After  and suggested a dear friend, Raoul Ruiz, a brilliant European filmmaker who lives in Paris by way of Chile. We met with Raoul who loved the film, eventually made for just less than $10 million. It was distributed by Lions Gate.
"This was Raoul's first big budget movie (out of more than 80). It was his first American, English-speaking film. I don't think he'd made anything for more than $2 million. It was a cumbersome project for him, and as it moved forward, the executive producer's eye required a more commercial slant than Raoul wanted. Raoul is an esoteric visionary often compared to directors like Fellini and Grunet, wonderful masters of the European genre who are more amorphous in the way they choose to tell a story."
Luke: "What are some specific examples of making a film more commercial?"
Lloyd: "It's difficult asking a director whose sensibilities sway against more skin and more sex and more of the obvious agreements that commercial distribution often demands. It was interesting to see how an international director manipulated the needs and desires of the people financing the movie and interesting to watch the ways the distributors and financiers tried to manipulate the creative team. We as producers are sometimes required to neutralize both sides towards the end of delivering a product that will attract an audience.
"When people from the business side tend to film comfortable making creative decisions, then they've chosen the wrong people to make the movie. I think it would've been nice to either have a Raoul Ruiz movie or not hire Raoul Ruiz. You don't hire a wonderful artist to paint a picture and tell him what to paint. If you want someone to mimic your creative thoughts, then you should hire someone who is a forger.
"Raoul is not known as a commercial director and he can't be expected to deliver a commercial movie. If you hire Tom Shady or Michael Bay to direct, you're likely to get a commercial movie. That's how they think.
"The movie didn't do well at the box office. Lions Gate didn't do much to promote the movie. Raoul has a significant following in the United States but it is an ethereal heady group primarily in the cities."
Luke: "Some people had trouble keeping track of the movie. Actor William Baldwin at the Toronto Film Festival said that he could not describe what the film was about."
Lloyd: "It is a troubling cerebral movie. I understand how the way Raoul approaches the film can be disorienting."
Luke: "Tell me about A Girl, Three Guys and a Gun ."
Lloyd: "Originally I made a movie called Solid Ones. It's one of the first features to be made in high-definition video. It was a project brought to me by a film professor at USC who introduced me to a young man in his class [Brent Florence] who showed me a short he'd done called Solid Ones. I found it interesting. And as I said several hundred times before, if they came back to me with a feature length script, I would be happy to work on it with them. Nobody followed through until Brent Florence a year or so later. We raised $200,000 and made the movie and sold it to Roger Corman's company, Concorde/New Horizons. They left the movie completely intact and just changed the title to A Girl, Three Guys and a Gun, when in fact it was a girl, four guys and a gun."
Luke: "You've got some internet ventures such as e-Kidfilms.com and e-Moviehouse.com."
Lloyd: "Since becoming a father, I've worked diligently to create a platform for young people to express themselves internationally through a network of interrelated points. The network seemed to be the most logical network of distribution. E-kidfilms.com tries to encourage young people to be more progressive with their filmmaking skills realizing that children around the world experience similar things. And wouldn't it be nice if they had their own forum for and by kids, without parental controls? I think kids can be intelligent, controlled and able to communicate on a level all their own.
"An awful lot of internet ventures have failed in trying to create the new method of distributing films on-demand. People much smarter than myself have gone bankrupt trying to pursue that vision. I don't think the technology has caught up to the vision."
Luke: "How has being a father changed you?"
Lloyd: "I've become more sensetized to the type of story that would be acceptable fare for your children. I haven't been involved with a film that I wouldn't be proud to show my children [aged four and two] right now. I've worked hard against all odds to be true to my creative vision and maintain my integrity as a producer. I would probably be much more successful if I used the barometer that they used in Hollywood. If I chose to make big broad high-concept commercial comedies that are entertaining but forgotten five seconds after you leave the theater. That's not what moves me and consequently the journey has been more difficult for me. I hope that Snow Falling on Cedars will stand the test of time."
Lloyd's interrupted by his little girl. He says goodbye to her.
"Six years ago, before I married, was a different world. I didn't marry until I was 40. I did as much for as long as I possibly could and had a great time doing it. But had I not rescued myself [from bachelorhood], we would not be talking today.
"I've been lecturing on digital filmmaking for three years which led to my teaching position at Washington University, when my wife Victoria Silverman took the position of Vice-president of External Affairs for the St. Louis symphony. She was the Director of Development at the American Film Institute. I still spend two weeks of the month on Los Angeles."
Luke: "Isn't the marketplace for independent films getting squeezed more every year?"
Lloyd: "Yes. Independent movies have the same requirements as a studio movie. You still need a movie star, a recognizable director and production values that are saleable though the budget may be lower and the movie may be more character-driven."
Luke: "I find independent films require more work from me as a viewer."
Lloyd: "I think that's right. I think independent filmmakers are independent thinkers that demand more thought and participation [from the viewer]. Studios have gone from making movies to stocking movies. Universal, 20th Century Fox, Disney, etc have been the Targets, the Wallmarts, of our communities. They're retailers who every week fill their shelves with product. If the product sells, they keep it on the shelf. If it doesn't, they replace it. The film industry is probably the only industry that spends 90% of its advertising budget before it can be purchased. The barometer for a film is the first weekend. If people don't show, the studio will say, 'Forget it. We're not spending more money marketing it. It's done. It's time to move on to the next movie.'
"My hat's off to the Bob and Harvey Weinsteins [of Miramax], who, in the more traditional marketing way, release a product, get behind it, promote it, and hope that through word of mouth, it catches on. David Picker, while president of Paramount, said that if he'd made all the movies he passed on, and passed on all the movies he made, the results would be the same.
"Distributors want a consistent supply of product like Danny DeVito's New Jersey Films or Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment. They're not attracted to one-off productions. They want to buy from a company who will be sending them product every month."
Luke: "Has living in St. Louis changed you?"
Lloyd: "I've always said, 'Between L.A. and New York is America.' I grew up in New York and spent twelve years in Los Angeles. And living on the coasts is a completely different experience from living in the center of the country. It is much more provincial. People are less driven. They are more content with their lives. They don't need to be the greatest or the best. They're not measured by the same barometer that is used in Hollywood and New York. If you're one of those people who lives there and is driven to be the best, you and I know that you're never happy because you're always being scored. You're only as good as your next project. It's a debilhitating mentality to live with. It drives me and it is important to me that I have that kind of challenge and competitive environment. But it's interesting to observe those kind of communities where that doesn't exist. And it doesn't exist here."
Luke: "I'd also expect that people in flyover territory would have more conservative values."
Lloyd: "Much more. On everything. When people ask what St. Louis is like, I say, 'When people were heading west, these were the people who stopped.' And they haven't taken a step forward since. They have not made a move in 150 years. They're stuck and they don't care. They're happy being a third-class city. They're not looking to compete with L.A., New York, London, Paris. They look at New Yorkers and Californians as obsessed overactive freaks. They're happy with their little jobs and their little lives and their little worlds. And just to frighten you more, 75% of St. Louisans still live in St. Louis. They don't leave. They're comfortable with that little Mid-West lifestyle. You were talking before about homogenized communities. This is one of them. It's highly segregated. Blacks, women, Jews, fall into the same category they fell into in the 1800s. There's not a high price paid here for progress. There are potholes on the street here from the 1800s that they still haven't figured out to fill. Nor do they care. I've never been in a place where people are so content with the way things are."
I talked about my past writing on crime and entertainment.
Lloyd: "You should write about crime in entertainment because this is one of the most criminal industries in the world. The business model is unbelievable. It's the only place in the world where businesses can file bankruptcy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and the next day open up with another billion dollars in financing. And do this consistently for 30 years. It's amazing how people can go down with hundreds of million of dollars of debt, walk away, start a new company, and be financed the next day."
Luke: "Mores that would be considered illicit or illegal in other businesses are considered the thing to do in entertainment."
Lloyd: "Exactly. They are embraced and rewarded. I'd love to know how I could go south with every single movie and people keep giving me money."
Luke: "Part of the answer is that people are desperate to have any connection to entertainment."