Producer Richard Hull
Producer Richard Hull grew up in Texas, graduating from Vanderbilt in May, 1992, with a degree in English.
"I went on an archaeological expedition to Alaska," Richard told me by phone March 6, 2002. "In the summer time, Alaska is 24-hour daylight. As soon as I felt the first snowflake, I got in my car and zigzagged the country. I met some guys in the middle of Yellowstone National Park who were also from Texas. Us Texans tend to stick together. They were doing a theater show. They gave me a place to live in exchange for me being their gopher - loading their props, making their coffee, etc...
"I had no intentions of getting into the entertainment business. About three weeks in, one of the lead actors hurt his back, about 20 minutes before curtain. They said, 'Dude, if you don't play his part, the show doesn't go on.' And I loved it.
"I moved to Texas and worked my way up to a VP at a company that bought and sold the radio stations. Then I moved to Los Angeles and slept on a friend's couch for $200 a month. I got an internship with manager-producer Hilly Elkins, who represented James Coburn, Lou Gossett, Robert Guillaime, Barry Corbin. I had to go on three interviews to get this unpaid internship. After three months, I was put on the payroll, and over the next nine months, I learned the business side of the business.
"Then I decided to go out on my own as a producer. I went to Ikea and bought a desk and put it in the bedroom in my little apartment. I went to all the film schools and I put up signs and I met people and I started getting scripts. I'd also met people at some music labels and at some advertising agencies. I went to the film schools and I said, 'I can help you get your first little commercial, your first little music video. If you have a good experience, then send me your scripts.' It was a good way for a young writer-directors to build up their directing reel and that became my pipeline for scripts.
"I found this short-film script called The Spartans, that I totally sparked to. I decided we could make it. I went back to Texas to raise money. Then I came back here and begged, borrowed and stole to make the movie. And it was my film school. I showed up the first day on the set and this big burly grip came up and said, 'Where's the craft service?' Craft service? That would be what?
"Cut to me on the corner at the pay phone calling my girlfriend. 'Get out of bed. You've got to get me bags of Doritos and Diet Coke up here now.' I learned my hard lessons that way.
"The film got into the 1996 Sundance and that opened a bunch of doors for me. Suddenly, people who would never return my phone calls are now going, 'Rich, hey, let's schedule lunch.'
"I went back to Texas and raised more money and we started making these little independent films. I moved my desk from my bedroom to my living room. I brought on an assistant. I started raising these $1-2 million dollar budgets for these independent films. We made them with the people who were directing and making the little music videos and commercials for us. It was win-win for everyone. I got my films made and they got their stuff made and it was cool. We launched a bunch of cool people's careers - Ken DuPuis, Bill Johnson, David Portlock.
"We would sell the domestic side to a Showtime or HBO. We'd sell the video. And on the foreign side, we'd hold on to the rights and have a sales agent go around and sell the territories. All the people who'd invested in those had a good experience. They'd started out as a country club investment, to see their names in lights and to tell their friends about. Then suddenly they were making money. And they wanted to get into bigger movies.
"I wasn't comfortable getting into bigger budgets because without controlling the US distribution, like a studio would, I would be getting outside the business model I knew. My friend Andrew Panay put together a deal for She's All That with Miramax. It was Miramax's biggest grossing movie of 1999 and that movie got us into studio movies. We found a niche doing teen movies like Get Over It and On the Line.
"My fellow Texan Mathew McConaughey and I were looking for something to do together. So we decided to make a documentary on the University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal, who won three national championships. It's the definitive story of this guy's life. Darrell Royal is a hero in Texas. When I was growing up, I was taught there's your mom, God and Darrell Royal, not necessarily in that order."
Willie Nelson, Earl Campbell, George W. Bush, Coach Mack Brown, Keith Jackson appear in the video narrated by Matthew McConaughey.
"We grew our commercials company Avalanche. We made 20-25 national spots a year and worked with directors on the features side that we'd groomed on the commercials side. In late 2000, we decided to shut down the commercial side. Because I'm in the teen movie world, I got to know Lance and the guys from NSync, through Wendy Thorlakson at Tom Hanks' company. Five of us ultimately decided to partner up, and the company then became known as A Happy Place. So we moved down to offices overlooking the Venice Beach and we throw cool barbecues on the beach. We sold our next movie to Miramax, On the Line. We put Lance [James Lance Bass] and Joey [Fatone] from NSync in it.
"My partners are Lance Bass, music attorney Joe Anderson who heads up our in-house soundtrack label, Wendy Thorlakson, and Johnny Wright, a music mega-manager who represents Britney Spears, NSync and others. We're making studio movies in the $10-20 million range."
Luke: "What do your friends back in Texas think of you now?"
Richard: "They're all married and live in homes with white picket fences. And they're having children. They love having a single guy out in LA and does the movie business so they can hear all the stories. They're all bankers and lawyers and investment bankers."
Luke: "And your family?"
Richard: "My family discouraged me from coming out here initially because I was leaving a good job. Then the first time The Spartans had an article about it appearing in the Dallas paper, suddenly my parents were like, 'Oh yeah. I taught him everything he knows. That's my boy.' The tide quickly turned."
Luke: "How did you get into your romantic-comedy teen movies?"
Richard: "Those are the movies I grew up watching - 16 Candles, Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful. I loved all those John Hughes movies. I had a friend from Texas, Lee Fleming, who wrote She's All That.
"There will always be teenagers out there but their tastes change. You can't keep making the same movies. The good thing is that teen movies are cheap to make ($10-20 million) and you can almost always make your money back."
Luke: "What's your favorite part of your job?"
Richard: "I get to meet a lot of really interesting people and that's pretty cool."
Luke: "Which people do you find interesting?"
Richard: "I never thought I'd see myself tooling around with pop stars. I never thought that I'd meet some of the movie stars I have, and some of the sports stars. I get less star struck with movie stars than I do with sports stars. When you lose that, it is time to get out of the business because there are easier ways to make a buck. If you're not enjoying what you're doing and if you're not in awe of the people you meet, and you're not having a great time, then, I've always said that I'd go back to Texas and sell stocks."
Luke: "How does critical reception affect you?"
Richard: "Everybody likes to say that it doesn't, but it does. The bigger the box office is on a movie, the more you are going to hang your hat on it. And the reviews won't matter so much. But when you're getting bad reviews over and over and it affects the box office, that's when you get down on yourself.
"There have been tons of excellent movies that have not been marketed well, and they've disappeared into oblivion, despite good reviews."