Born and raised in Israel, movie producer Moshe Diamant fought in the Israeli Defense Force in the country's 1967 and 1973 wars for survival. He now lives in Los Angeles with his second wife and five kids.
We spoke by phone February 18, 2002.
"I'm an engineer by profession. In Israel in the late '70s, I developed equipment that was the first in the world to do subtitles directly on videos. I was offered a deal by Deluxe, which belongs to Fox, to open with them a company here in Los Angeles. And eventually I fell in love with production."
Luke: "You're best known for your action pictures. Why that niche?"
Moshe: "It's more of an international language than say political dramas or things that have to do with local culture. It's something that everybody in the world understands. Good guys killing bad guys after being hurt by bad guys. And then I found it more logistically challenging than any other type of movie."
Luke: "And a reflection of coming from a country constantly fighting for its survival?"
Moshe: "Probably, in the back of my head. The thing with action movies is that you have to treat it for what it is - a movie. We saw real action in our lives. It's not the same. I've never made a movie that feels the same as real action. I'm getting entertained. Action is entertaining.
"In the beginning, my company just did distribution. We opened a video company. And the prices we paid for finished movies were so high that I said, 'Why don't we try to make a movie on our own?' I met Bill Malone and he pitched me the story for my first movie Creature."
From Imdb.com: "A crew of scientists arrives on a far, cold planet to examine archaic artifacts of unknown origin. They discover that the German enemies have already a ship there. When they seek their help after a failed landing, they only find the German's bodies, obviously slaughtered by one of the archaic creatures, awoken to new life. Now the alien is after them."
Luke: "Why did you leave the Sony lot, the former headquarters for your production company?"
Moshe: "I left two years ago and they've been my most productive years. I've made three studio movies (The Musketeer, The Extremists and Fear Dotcom) and we're in pre-production for two more movies.
"Sony had expectations for me to deliver Jean-Claude Van Damme action movies [of which he's made seven]. And new management came in and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies were not their cup of tea. I didn't find that I was able to make the movies there that I really wanted. All they offered me were scripts that, I don't want to insult anybody, were not something that I would make a movie out of...
"I ended up sitting [at Sony] for a while doing nothing. The last movie I made there [Simon Sez, 1999] was a compromise. They released a cut version of the interesting movie I made. I wanted to make a hyper-realistic movie. It was before Matrix. We would have this mysterious hero who will help whoever is in trouble.
"We shot something interesting but the movie as released didn't work. Sony made him [Dennis Rodman] an Interpol agent. I've never seen a black 7' feet tall man with orange hair and earrings who was an Interpol agent in the south of France.
"What was supposed to be a fantasy with action that is not realistic, was not here and not there. It was an action movie that tried to be realistic. It didn't make sense. But I am on good terms with Sony. They just bought the foreign distribution rights to Fear Dotcom. But being independent is more fun. I have total freedom. I've made three movies that I've wanted to make for a long time and all will get a studio release.
"We developed The Musketeer more than ten years ago. We wanted to make a classic period piece Chinese style. Not in the action, but in how it's shot, the pacing, the look... Universal decided not to do it and we ended up doing it with director Peter Hyams."
Luke: "How pleased are you with the result?"
Moshe: "I always love my movies. It's like your kids. You don't even like to criticize them.
"Double Impact  was my first box office smash. It gave Jean-Claude Van Damme legitimacy and was shot in Hong Kong on a modest budget. I've always been fascinated with the East. I shot my first movie with Van Damme in Hong Kong for the scenery and setting. Once there, I developed wonderful relationships with Hong Kong filmmakers like John Woo. We ended up bringing him to the United States to make his first American film, Hard Target . I've also brought Hong Kong directors Ringo Lam and Hark Tsui to the United States to make movies with me. On almost every movie I work on, I use a stunt team or cabling team from Hong Kong.
"My biggest budgeted film (around $40 million) was [1995's] Sudden Death. Van Damme's best film. It forced him to act. It didn't do well on the domestic box office but it did well foreign and ancillary rights."
From the Jerusalem Post: When Moshe Diamant first met Jean-Claude Van Damme, he befriended a young man he found to be likable, but doubted he'd ever become a big-time star. That was 10 years ago. Since then, the Israeli has produced the last seven of Van Damme's films, including The Quest, which has just opened in Tel Aviv. The Quest, which co-stars Roger Moore, and was made on a budget of over $30 million, was the most popular film in North America the weekend it opened. It's the first Van Damme has directed as well as starred in.
His lucrative linkage with Diamant began when Van Damme walked into Diamant's office in Milan 10 years ago and announced he was going to be a star. Diamant, previously a co--owner of a lab called Film Technique in Tel Aviv where he says he developed the first video subtitling system for Israeli television, had set up a similar company in Los Angeles before becoming a producer. He says he told Van Damme he didn't have star quality, but they nevertheless became friends.
"I liked him as a person. Jean-Claude is an immigrant to the US, and he's more comfortable with another immigrant. And we Israelis are warm. Though I didn't believe in his future, and I was open in telling him, I helped him buy his first house.
"Then when his film Kickboxer came out, my son and I went to see it with him. The theater was packed. What surprised me was all the women and children cheering whenever he did the splits and took off his shirt. When we walked out, nobody recognized him. He was totally unknown. I said to him: 'You know, I never saw it on the tape you showed me, but you're right, you have a chance to be a star. Let's find a way to do it.'
Diamant, who has five children, three born in Israel, two in the US, says it's because "Jean-Claude is accessible; he's not Superman. He is a hero who is still vulnerable... and smart, the way kids think they can be."
Luke writes: Diamant's two favorite movies are ones he lost control over - 1990's Bad Influence, directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Rob Lowe and James Spader, and 1993's Carlito's Way, directed by Brian DePalma and starring Al Pacino.
"Carlito's Way was based on two novels by a judge in New York, Edwin Torres. It took years to produce and eventually we sold it to Universal. It's interesting how Hollywood can take a project you've developed for years and make something you don't like. The minute we had Al Pacino, he wanted to bring in this other producer. We started to lose control as Pacino started to call the shots. We found out we had to use director Brian DePalma who had a totally different vision from what we wanted to do. I learned a big lesson. If you love a project, don't ever lose control. Lose the star before you lose control."
"David came to me with the script. I read it and I loved it. It was difficult to put together because it is a dark movie."
Luke: "Didn't you discover Jean-Claude Van Damme?"
Moshe: "I hate that word, 'discover.' He discovered himself. He made a bunch of low budget movies for Menahem Golan's Cannon before we worked together on Double Impact. The distributor Columbia only wanted to spend $4 million and I wanted $11 million so we could do it with Van Damme. Eventually they went with it, and it worked out for everybody. Double Impact sold a record 400,000 videocassettes."
Luke: "Why don't you guys work together today?"
Moshe: "He went back to doing low budget action movies and I decided to stay more in the mainstream. I lost myself making Van Damme movies. I was looking for scripts for Jean-Claude rather than a variety of scripts that I really liked like Bad Influence, Consent of a Woman, Full Moon and Blue Water, and Carlito's Way.
"Jean-Claude was so demanding that I had to spend all my time [for seven years] looking for projects for him."
Luke: "You did two movies with Dennis Rodman, Simon Sez and Double Team."
Moshe: "I love him. He's a character. There are two Dennis Rodmans. There's the one that the media knows and then there is the real Dennis."
Luke: "Is he a good actor?"
Moshe: "He's not an actor. Dennis Rodman is Dennis Rodman. You have to bend the movie to accommodate Dennis Rodman. He's not going to act different than Dennis Rodman. But he's disciplined. He works hard for many hours and rarely complains.
"I did Double Team with Dennis Rodman, Mickey Rourke and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Columbia told me I was a lunatic to put those three in one movie. They're considered difficult. Actually, Dennis Rodman was the glue. He made everybody work harder by not being spoiled. Those guys are spoiled, needing a big trailer and specific hours."
Luke: "Do your children have a favorite movie of yours?"
Moshe: "Many of them they are not allowed to see. I'd say there favorite movie is The Musketeer. I'm married a second time."
Luke: "If we were to make a movie about your life, what would the character arc be?"
Moshe: "It would be a boring movie. Since I've come to the United States, my life has been monotonic. I've been running around the world making movies. I'd say it's a story about how you can survive against all odds. It's difficult being a foreigner, from Israel, coming to Hollywood at a time when Israelis were much criticized by Hollywood because of Cannon, owned by Menahem Goland and Yoram. Because of Menahem and Yoram [and their shady business practices], they think we're all alike. They don't trust you. It took me years to convince people that I could be trusted. That I read scripts and that I don't mind developing good scripts. Now it's easy because I've developed relationships with agencies and financial institutes and studios. The last 11 years, all of my movies have been distributed by studios. I have access to the right people. But it was a long difficult journey. Many times you want to give up and go back to Israel. But I don't like to be a quitter."
Luke: "Many people in Hollywood think Israelis are fast talking con men."
Moshe: "Which is not true. What's left in Hollywood of Israelis is Arnon Milchan, David Matalon who are not con men. There's Avi Lerner. I won't say anything about him because he doesn't help our reputation. Menahem Golam and Yoram Globus [former Israeli paratroopers] are now in Israel. Yoram runs a big theater chain in Israel and Menahem has retired. Despite the criticism, they invented the independent business."
Diamant says he never read a 1996 Fortune magazine article about Italian thug Giancarlo Parretti which mentioned Diamant. Under a section titled "Special Effects In Hollywood - How To Make Bad Loans Disappear," David McClintick writes:
The article read in part: "Another troubled borrower to which CLBN gave fraudulent help was Empire Entertainment, producer of such dreck as Crash and Burn, Crawlspace, and Ghoulies. Empire had borrowed $26 million from CLBN and by 1988 was in default and nearly bankrupt. Georges Vigon, head of European lending for Credit Lyonnais, feared that if Empire failed, the Dutch central bank and other regulators might force CLBN to call its growing number of shaky Hollywood loans. That would destroy the bank's entertainment business, possibly ending Vigon's career.
"Vigon enlisted the aid of two Hollywood producers, Eduard Sarlui and Moshe Diamant, who also were longtime clients of CLBN. They created a new company, Epic Holdings, which acquired Empire. Epic in turn was owned by a shell company in the Netherlands, Formax, whose stock in turn was owned by a newly formed Panamanian corporation, Route of the Stars, or ROS. ROS's ownership was evidenced only by bearer certificates carrying no names. The bearers were Sarlui and Diamant, to whom CLBN (Credit Lyonnais Bank Nederland (CLBN)) loaned $200 million, some of which was used to pay off Empire's old loans. Empire's other creditors, however, were not paid. And, since the the new owners of Empire were hidden behind a cloud of anonymous shares at the top of a corporate pyramid in Panama, creditors had nowhere to turn. The structure was similar to Giancarlo Parretti's corporate structure, which had been used by some Credit Lyonnais officers to conceal bad loans at the Cannon Group."
Moshe: "We had a company, Epic, that was indirectly controlled by CLBN. It started as an innocent thing on our behalf and ended up as part of a bigger scheme than we imagined. The bank said they would increase our line of credit from $60 million to $200 million if you will get the assets of Empire. And instead of you paying off Empire's debts, you'll give us stock in the new company. And we left it to them to structure it. We assumed it was legitimate. It survived about seven months until we realized they were trying to hide bad debts from Empire and other companies. We sued them. They sued us. We ended up compromising.
"CLB were financing us for years. Of all the companies they financed, most of the companies disappeared when CLBN went down, including the individuals involved. When my problems started with them, I just moved on. I made a deal with Tom Pollock at Universal and kept on making movies. It didn't affect me like it effected others."
Luke: "Did you ever meet Giancarlo Peretti?"
Moshe: "Many times. It was so obvious that he was a crook. He didn't hide it. Our main vendor, CLBN, said he was great. We wouldn't sell him anything.
"The whole line of credit with CLBN started because Peretti made an offer to buy our company Trans World Entertainment and CLBN said no. Don't sell it. We'd rather use it to buy Empire. You'll have a bigger line of credit and you'll have a bigger company and you won't need to sell it.
"CLBN wanted us to put Trans World into Epic together with Empire's assets and Dino DeLaurentiis's assets. They had a plan that sounded good. Our library of about 200 films was sold to MGM for $280 million.
"The bank was corrupt. They made mistakes in every area, not just entertainment loans. They found out that people were stealing money and taking bribes. The bank's representatives that worked with us disappeared. We started a lawsuit against the bank and we couldn't find them. Georges Vigon is in jail.
"One day the bank stopped sending us money. So we went to Paris to see them. And we saw, wow, this bank is in trouble."
Luke: "Dino introduced Paretti around Hollywood."
Moshe: "Dino DeLaurentiis is not a crook. Despite being 80 years of age, he's naive. If you give Dino an opportunity to make a movie and lose money, he'll make a movie. Paretti gave him opportunities. Dino's public company [was bankrupt] and Paretti gave him the opportunity to make movies. Dino didn't care about anything but making movies.
"Paretti entered Hollywood by buying Golan's Cannon Pictures. Menahem knew he didn't want to deal with Paretti but Yoram stayed with him."
Luke: "Do you want to diversify from action flicks?"
Moshe: "Look at our three last movies. One is horror, one is action and one is an extreme skiing movie. And we're preparing a kids movie and a science fiction movie. I've got the label of action movies because of Van Damme. That's ok. I love action movies. You'll always find some action in my movies. The kids movie is about a monkey who does marshal arts. And the science fiction movie has a lot of action."
Luke: "You're as passionate about your work as ever?"
Moshe: "Always. That's my life."
Luke: "What do your family and friends in Israel think about you turning into a Hollywood producer?"
Moshe: "It's such a different world for them that they don't know what it means. I don't tell them too much about it."
Luke: Here are some highlights from the Fortunte article:
In less than a year , Parretti's Hollywood edifice [including MGM] would blow apart with epic force, and a shaky global empire constructed from the oldest building material known to man--the bribe--would topple. Parretti's fabled studio would be snatched away. The corrupt bank that had lent him over $2 billion, the august Credit Lyonnais of Paris, would shrivel and watch its grand dreams of global influence go up in flames.
California Superior Court Judge Irving Shimer, sifting through the wreckage, would observe in court that the French bankers who lent Parretti and other film executives billions weren't "interested in making movies. They were interested in getting girls on the yacht...That's why bankers come to Hollywood--lots and lots of pretty girls."
--Alan Ladd Jr., the veteran movie executive who worked for Parretti and praised him publicly as an important new force in Hollywood, only weeks before turning on him and taking his job in return for a $1 million bonus from Credit Lyonnais.
--Dino De Laurentiis, the Italian producer who introduced Parretti around Hollywood and whose daughter, the producer Raffaella De Laurentiis, punched Parretti in the groin when he ran his hand up her thigh at a Beverly Hills dinner party.
Between 1981 and 1988, [Frans] Afman's lending to Hollywood increased sixfold, to around $775 million. In addition to De Laurentiis, his clients included Alexander Salkind, who had made Superman; Hemdale Films, which had made the Academy Award-winning Platoon and the megahit The Terminator; Carolco Pictures, which had made some of the Rambo movies; and Gladden Entertainment, which made The Fabulous Baker Boys. (On Oscar night, 1987, the producer of Platoon, accepting the Academy Award for best picture, thanked Afman by name for "having the money in the Philippine jungle when I really needed it.")
Afman actually reported to the Dutch branch of Credit Lyonnais, called Credit Lyonnais Bank Nederland (CLBN), which had a checkered past, including allegations of laundering money for drug kingpins. In 1981, Credit Lyonnais appointed Georges Vigon, a rising star in its senior echelons, to straighten out the Dutch. One of Vigon's first moves was to create a new division of the bank exclusively for the movie loans. He named Frans Afman to run it.
Parretti decided he wanted to buy the distributor, the Cannon Group, which was run by two former Israeli paratroopers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Cannon, based in Los Angeles and traded on the New York Stock Exchange, was the largest movie theater operator in Europe and made ninja and vengeance films with actors like Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris.