Growing up in Brentwood, Paul began working as an usher at a movie theater at age 12. By 16, he was booking movies. By 24, he had an MBA from UCLA.
Friday, January 11, 2002, I visited Paul at Regent Entertainment's headquarters on Ocean Blvd in Santa Monica. We walked out his office to the deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean and sat down at a table. Within a few minutes, we had our feet up.
Luke: "When did you produce your first film?"
Paul: "In 1987 - The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years. Before that, I worked at Fox TV where I was head of late night programming and created the [short-lived] Joan Rivers Show."
Luke: "I remember Thicke Of The Night."
Paul: "We were on the same soundstage."
Luke: "Which of your projects have had the most meaning for you?"
Paul names off his most critically acclaimed features: "Gods and Monsters, Twilight of the Golds, Tom and Viv, and One False Move."
Luke: "Those were also your most financially successful films?"
Paul: "None of them are on the list of our most financially successful films. At least ten of the smaller more commercial films have made more money. We try to balance it out. If we just made the purely artistic projects, we'd go broke. For every one that hits, three miss. With the more commercial projects, even if you don't creatively hit it right on the nose, you can still be profitable. With artistic projects, there's no room for error. Nobody wants a so-so art film."
Luke: "So the cliché is correct - the art films that the critics love are hard to make money on."
Paul: "It's very hard. We try to make these movies that are very commercial that have an art edge, like One False Move"
Luke: "Where do you make the cash?"
Paul: "The films you don't know about are the ones that make us the most money. Circuitry Man, a sci-fi series. The Brotherhoods, a little video series. These cost under a million dollars each to make."
Luke: "What pulls your trigger to decide to make a movie?"
Paul: "A script that is a cut above. Once I have the material, I can get the actors, directors and packaging.
"A good film is like love - you know it when you feel it. There's chemistry with the crew, the director is creatively on and the actors are crackling."
Luke: "How have you grown as a filmmaker over the past 14 years?"
Paul: "I've gained more respect for the basic rules of a good screenplay. When I was younger, I believed that you could do a deconstructionist work and it would be good. I now don't. It has never worked for me. I need the good solid three-act American screenplay. Anything other than that, doesn't work. You'd be amazed at how few screenplays are even structured well enough to consider. People submit us things that are more artistic. People think that artistry gives one the right to ignore the rules. Quite the contrary. Artistry is using the rules in a creative and unique way. So it has gotten easier for me to decide what to make. I can throw out the poorly structured stuff right away unless I feel I can fix the structure easily. Then I take the ones that are well structured and work with that smaller set, about one in four. I get a lot of movies that have no third act. I get movies that have no second act.
"The television movie structure is the three-act structure cut in half into seven sections. All the movies I've made that didn't turn out well are the ones that weren't structured right."
Luke: "Can you make a good movie where the lead characters are not sympathetic? I'll often take a dislike to the lead characters in the first few minutes and then not enjoy the movie."
Paul: "They can be seriously flawed but they should be sympathetic. They have to have a redeeming quality. If they don't, it's hard to emotionally look into the film. The audience must identify with someone. If they don't feel involved, the movie doesn't work."
Luke: "Are you able to enjoy movies as much as ever?"
Paul: "I don't analyze them as I watch them. I'm able to lose myself more than ever. I'm open to the ride.
"I could relate to Twilight of the Golds. It was a Southern California Jewish family dealing with issues of sexuality.
"I have an older sister. In high school, I was in the student government clique. I was on every committee. I produced all the campus events. I've been producing since I could talk. I enjoy the challenge of integrating people. For a living, I pick groups of people to work together.
"I've always been a hard worker. I worked 30 hours a week during school and full-time during the summers. I tried to get as much experience as I could in as many places as I could. I worked for distribution and exhibition companies. I managed movie theaters.
"My parents were serious people. My dad Eugene, born in Texas, was a nuclear chemist. My mother Betty, born in Montreal, was a bacteriologist. My parents were atypically Jewish. They were scientists. They were not religious people. They were stark realists."
Luke: "Would you rather marry a Jew or a non-Jew?"
Paul pauses: "I don't think I care."
Luke: "Many of my Jewish male friends long for shiksas."
Paul: "Oh. I'm gay, so maybe it makes a difference. My boyfriend is half-Jewish even though he does not look it or act it."
Luke: "Why are there a disproportionate number of gays in Hollywood? Gays seem to have a better visual sense."
Paul: "I think there is an artistic bent that goes with the orientation. This business needs people on the cutting edge who are visually astute. You've got to integrate a lot of things on the production side - not just smart with the written word, but visual, and a good businessman."
Luke: "And gays tend to be the most empathic people I know."
Paul: "The ability to empathize is essential for producing. Because most of the time the people you are talking to can't tell you what they want to say. They can't get it out. Or they have a feeling and they can't even express it. If we can translate those feelings, we can get a group of people to work together and succeed. Every time you start a movie, you're starting a new company with 120 people who've rarely worked together before. And everybody brings all of their issues to the table."
Luke: "We've seen more films dealing with gay themes in the last five years than in the previous 100 years."
Luke: "Is that reflecting or driving a societal change?"
Paul: "Reflecting. Film rarely drives anything. It reflects. Gay liberation started in 1969 in New York with the Stonewall riots. There came a point in history where we said enough is enough. We're going to start to fight. It's been a 30-year fight. It is the civil rights movement of our generation."
Luke: "Are there still distributors loathe to deal with gay-themed films?"
Paul: "Yes. There's homophobia everywhere. It's rampant."
Luke: "I'm a liberal Hollywood Jew. But as a straight, seeing two men on screen kissing is very jarring and disturbing."
Paul: "You'll get over it."
Luke: "Do you remember any particularly biting comments from distributors?"
Paul: "I remember a thousand of them. The one that sticks with me most... I've made a lot of movies. I know when I've made a really good one because it doesn't happen all that often. No producer makes a really brilliant film all that often. I was pitching a distributor who should've bought Gods and Monsters. And he said, 'We already have one of those kind of movies.' And their other one of those kind of movies turned out to be a dismal failure while Gods and Monsters got three Oscar nominations. They thought they were allowed one per customer. Could you imagine saying that to a black producer? Oh, we already have a black movie."
Luke: "I can imagine people thinking it."
Paul: "But they wouldn't have the guts to say it. These are people who are supposedly my colleagues and have known me for years and without hesitation will make a statement like that to me. It doesn't even make an impression on their cerebellum that that might be a problem. Homophobia is so accepted. That too will change."
Luke: "When I grew up, when you were mad at someone, you called them a fag."
Paul: "You are one of the few straight Australian men I've met. I remember one thing about Sydney - the huge gay population and very open."
Luke: "Was that epithet used where you grew up?"
Paul: "Yes. All kinds of awful things were used. Abuse of gay people is still accepted. Stuff that no other group would have to put up with, we have to put up with."
Luke: "When did you come out?"
Paul: "When I was 24."
Luke: "How did your parents react?"
Paul: "It didn't bother them."
Luke: "Do any of your movies reflect themes from your childhood?"
Paul: "No. Growing up as a gay youth, you're managing your way through childhood. You're not embracing it."
Luke: "One producer told me that his movies were his psychotherapy."
Paul: "Not mine. I find that a poor use of film. I don't make these things for me. They're not self-serving. They're designed to entertain the world."
Luke: "Many movies are self-serving."
Paul: "I have no patience for such things. We have responsibility as producers to entertain and inform. If we're going to be self-indulgent, we should do it on our own time."
Luke: "Is there a thread through your work?"
Paul: "On the contrary, they are eclectic. I'm looking for that quality piece that can come in any form. It could be a science fiction movie or a romance..."
Luke: "Could you make a film where you disliked the moral?"
Paul: "Disliked the moral? I don't know if I look at the morals that much when I make them. I look at the quality of the work. With a good third act, you bring the action to an end but it keeps you thinking as you walk out the door. The best movies aren't so simple that they give you a moral. The really good movies don't give you a moral message. They're not that manipulative. They're able to tell an exquisitely structured story without manipulating you or leading you to a firm conclusion."
Luke: "Could you make a film where the main character is a homophobe?"
Paul: "Yes, just like I could make American History X where the main character is a racist."
Luke: "It seems there is still a PC attitude in Hollywood where the characters can have any flaw except be racist or homophobic?"
Paul: "I could give you a list of movies that are homophobic in their approach. Most mainstream comedies treat gay people as a joke and marginalize them. You could go through a history of film and be shocked at how homophobic so many movies are."
Luke: "They've been instinctively used as a gag."
Paul: "Yes. What could be more homophobic than taking someone's lifestyle and making it the butt of a joke? A lot of the teen comedies, from Porky's forward, did you ever see any gay characters in those movies? Did you see any of them referred to in a nice way?"
Luke: "No. They're usually the butt of jokes."
Paul: "Talk about homophobia. It's everywhere. It's omnipresent. People are naturally homophobic. You have to be educated out of it. People are naturally anti-Semitic. Even though you are not gay, you are Jewish and you know what that is like. Now take that and multiply it by ten."
Luke: "As Good As It Gets. Jack Nicholson."
Paul: "Plays a homophobe. And the movie starts with a gay bashing scene. But would I make that movie? You bet your ass. Because of what surrounded it and the understanding that was gained throughout it."
Luke: "What's your favorite part of your job?"
Paul: "The eclectic nature of my job is my favorite part of my job. I enjoy all of it in small doses. I'm not just a finance guy. I'm not just a script guy. I'm not just a casting guy."
Luke: "For many producers, their least favorite part of the job is shooting the damn thing because it is more out of their hands."
Paul: "I like that too. It's not as out of their hands as they think. I'm never under the delusion that I have control over anything. Since I've completely divorced myself of the concept of control... Control is a unicorn. Control is mythical. I only hope to have influence. I don't feel the need for control as a driving force in my life. As we get older, we accept our lack of control and are happy with it."
Luke: "Can a film be a great film and yet be too immoral to make? Do you ever feel that tension? Such as Lolita."
Paul looks mystified. "I didn't find that particularly immoral."
Luke: "You never read a script and say, Jesus, this is a great script and would be a great movie but it is immoral."
Paul: "Out of all the scripts I've read, I don't think that has ever come up for me. I'm not terribly judgmental when it comes to morality. If I can find a brilliant screenplay, I will make it. Some people would've thought Gods and Monsters was immoral."
Luke: "What about gratuitous violence?"
Paul: "If the violence is an important part of the story, it should be there. What defines gratuitous is purely subjective. I would say it is gratuitous if it doesn't move the story along. If it is not moving the story along, it needs to be removed, not because it is violent but because it doesn't move the story along. Anything gratuitous shouldn't be there. Movies are supposed to be pithy."
Luke: "How would you feel about making a movie that promotes the war on terrorism?"
Paul: "I can't imagine a movie that would do that other than a propaganda film. I suppose if one could find a sympathetic terrorist, good luck..."
Luke: "Isn't the Bush administration meeting with Hollywood types to get them involved in the war on terrorism?"
Paul: "That's utter nonsense, of course."
Luke: "We did that in WWII."
Paul: "They were all lousy movies. The best film from WWII was Casablanca, probably the best war film ever made, but not much in the propaganda area. The lead character was a soldier of fortune."
Luke: "You're not making movies to send messages."
Paul: "I try to entertain and inform and lead people to think."
Luke: "Do you ever wonder if you're blocked from seeing good material because of your psyche or ideology?"
Paul: "I'm well therapied. I know myself. I have a lot of faith over my ability to analyze projects. I don't think I could get fooled."