Producer Scott Kroopf
I interview Scott Kroopf, president of Ted Field's Radar Pictures, at his Westwood office July 29, 2002.
Scott: "I was born in Palo Alto, California. My father was a doctor. Two of his children went into show business. My older brother Sandy wrote Birdy (1984). He's going to produce a movie in Italy, Under the Tuscan Sun. I have an older sister.
"I went to the University of California at Irvine. I had no idea for the first quarter what I wanted to do. I took a nature of drama survey course from Professor Robert Cohen. He was such a brilliant lecturer that it got me into drama. I then wrote an autobiographical play, Alice Through the Needle, which I then produced and directed the following year. It's the story of a young boy, disappointing all of his friends, by going out with a wrong druggie hippie girl and how all of them, three years later, were coming to him to score pot, having gone through their own ridiculous transformation.
"I wrote the story in detail and then I had the actors improv the whole thing. It came out great. It was totally hilarious. I was off to the races. I studied directing and acting. I went to the American Conservatory Theater's summer acting program in San Francisco. I worked the Utah Shakespeare festival. I graduated in 1973 and made my first strategic career mistake. I chose to stay in Los Angeles instead of moving to New York. If I had moved to New York, I would've most likely stayed in theater.
"Here I got a job working at a theatrical supply company to make money. Then I became one of the founding members of Ramama Hollywood and produced and directed plays in this theater underneath the Ford amphitheater across from the Hollywood Bowl.
"I did lighting designs for nightclubs and rockn'roll shows. I designed Xenon in New York, the big rival to Studio 54. I did the Hollywood Palace here. I got tired of it because I felt I was recreating the drug experience for people on drugs. My services were redundant.
"My brother got me a job as a reader for a friend of mine who worked in the TV business. I worked on commercial and documentary crews. I got a job in 1982 reading for Embassy Pictures, owned by Norman Lear and Jerry Perencio. I became a story editor and then production executive over the course of three administrations (Jeff Young, Rafi Edkus, Marty Shafer). Norman and Jerry didn't see eye to eye so it was hard to get movies through. I worked on The Sure Thing, Chorus Line, Emerald Forest, and Stand by Me.
"I worked with Lindsay Durand, the only person from Embassy they kept. She went on to work for Paramount and then ran Sydney Pollack's company. She then became the head of UA (United Artists) and she now has a deal with us. She was my mentor on story development. I worked on a great cult movie, The XYZ Murders, written by Joel and Ethan Cohen and directed by Sam Raimi.
"Not knowing what was going on at my company (it was being sold to Coke) in 1984, I phoned up Lindsay to talk about Interscope, run by Robert Cort and Ted Field. She got me in to see Robert and he hired me. My first movie was Outrageous Fortune. It was a baptism of fire because we had the classic problems. The studio hated Bette Midler's wardrobe and hair and made a meltdown over it. Bette Midler and Shelley Long didn't get along resulting in a large fracas to which Jeffrey Katzenberg said to Robert and I when we phoned up about it, 'That's why you guys are producers and I am a studio executive. I don't have to deal with it. You take care of it.'
"Then I produced Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Warners put it in turnaround. DEG (Dino De Laurentiis Entertainment Group) picked it up. Dino had no idea what it was about. He didn't understand what dudes were until someone explained to him that 'dudes' meant guys who had big dicks. Then he said, 'Oh, great, now I get it.'
"We finish the movie. We never test it. Rafaella and Alan Rich are out. Howard Koch comes in. The company is circling down the toilet to bankruptcy. Everyone's bailing out. I'm facing my baby being released on HBO. I went in to see Rick Finkelstein, who used to work at DEG. He moved over to Nelson Entertainment owned by Barry Spikings. Rick had always liked the movie. I said, 'Rick, you can buy this movie for ten cents on the dollar. For a million bucks and you get all rights.' So they did. They tested it. They immediately realized that it tested great.
"It was amazing to me that none of the DEG guys bothered to test the movie. They just all looked at it in a screening room and decided it was no good. It was too silly.
"Between Excellent Adventure and Outrageous Fortune, I got a strong producing start. When we screened Fortune for Disney executives, several of them thought it was awful. Then it tested well and they loved the movie.
"In the last five years, producers have become the low man on the Hollywood totem pole. Writers have surpassed us. "Producer" has become such a watered down credit that people think that producers do nothing other than be lucky. There are a ton of do-nothing producers. I don't want to name any. They fall into categories. They are the tagalong producers. Either they're managers or someone who knew someone. The obscurity of the connection and the desperation that people cling to these credits. I understand about putting your foot in the door, but if you don't do anything, then what's the point of the foot in the door? There are packaging producers. They find good material, let the studio develop it, and never walk on a set. Then there are line producers who creatively do nothing.
"The difference between a good producer and a bad producer is how much courage they have to confront people over problems. Now, you don't want to take on a director in front of an entire crew. I've seen it done. It's folly. But you've got to confront over problems. More often than not, producers don't confront. They let things slide.
"Some directors will not pay any attention to actors because they are more interested in the technical things. Sometimes a producer must work with the actors and let them express themselves, but without undercutting the director's authority. If a director won't give people what they need, be they actors, technicians, makeup artists, someone's got to go in and do that. But you don't then want that person turning to you after a take before they look at the director.
"One guy told me that the job of the producer is to keep the atmosphere on a set like a freshly opened bottle of champagne. Keep everyone's spirits up. Parties are good. Little signs of appreciation. Bring a masseuse on to the set. Anything from icecream to hats. It's like camp. There's the army metaphor and the camp metaphor. You want to keep the atmosphere light because people can get hunkered down.
"We're doing Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was in Texas last week. The actors were working in a van while the temperatures outside were over 100 degrees. They were acting their guts out. So we gave them each a one-hour massage this weekend as a show of thanks."
Luke: "What are your guilty pleasures?"
Scott: "I have smoked. I don't anymore. Occasionally, if I need to really think about something, I'll get a cigarette. I've drunk countless double espressos and iced cappuccinos. I'm always trying to not eat all the time. You can sit, if you're working with any level of anxiety, at a crafts service table and just eat yourself to death. And then you end up feeling like hell. I think a drink at the end of the day is a good thing. I drink martinis. I've found you can't drink at dailies because it results in too much exhaustion.
"I like a good party. I'm the last guy out of the office type. I'll go to all the dailies. I've had a couple of movies with outstanding party schedules. One of the best was The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag because the director, Allan Moyle, was a brilliant party thrower. We shot in Oxford, Mississippi for ten weeks. We had parties at every different duke joint in 100 miles.
"Whenever there's that level of partying, it's never good for the movie. People just burn out. Actors can party because they get a lot of down time. It's really hard on department heads, directors, to party.
"We had a great wrap party on an 80-acre cotton farm. I can't call it a plantation. We had four blues bands and a Mardi Gras-style parade where the grip, electric and camera department dressed up as women and threw junk at people."
Tito reviews The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag on Imdb.com: "I just don't understand what was supposed to be funny about this movie, which is a pretty major flaw in a comedy. As opposed to many bad comedies where "thud" can be heard every few seconds due to the pathetic jokes, this movie had no thuds. I couldn't identify what was meant to be funny but simply wasn't. It didn't have jokes...even bad ones. It didn't have anything."
Scott: "It's good to find sporting events and concerts for people to go to. It's always good to hang out with your actors because the producer is usually the one who has to ask them favors."
Scott's been married 18 years. It's his first. He has a 14-year old son and 8-year old twins, boy and girl.
Luke: "How has being a father affected you as a producer?"
Scott: "It helped me focus. I'd always thought about directing. Then, when I had kids, I made the judgment that if I put my mind to producing, it would be better for my family. If I wanted to direct, I'd have to go backwards and fight my way up. My first kid was great. For about five years, you can pack them up with you. My wife, Kristine Johnson, is a screenwriter (I am Sam, Imaginary Crimes). I met her at Embassy Pictures. She was the head of acquisitions.
"We'd bring our son on location. But once they are in school, it's no good. Once the twins came, it let me know I was really a father. I had to go off and do a movie (Terminal Velocity) shortly after they were born. The first day of the movie was the big 1994 earthquake. I'd hoped it would go smoothly and I could bail out. It turned out to be a battle to finish it. It was a big action movie that wasn't budgeted as big as our director's appetite. It built the appropriate resentment from my wife.
"Everyone goes through the on location resentment. Now I'm running a company and I'm doing more executive producing, though I find it the most fun to be on the set all the time.
"I love development, because it is pure. You are just dealing with a writer. You don't have a big committee yet. I find packaging interminable and agonizing. Then I enjoy production. Editing is tough. It means previews and the attendant anxiety. You get to figure things out and if necessary, reshoot. We made many movies initially with Disney and I don't think there was a movie where they didn't do a reshoot."
Luke: "Tell me about Ted Field."
Scott: "I've worked with him 18 years. He's a friend. Ted gets a bad rap. Anyone who comes from a wealthy family, there's an immediate stamp on them that they are a dilettante. Ted works hard. He has multiple businesses. He has so much money there's no reason he couldn't take six vacations a year and roll into the office at 11AM. He shows up at 9:30AM like everyone else. He works late. He goes out 365 nights a year. He has his finger on the pulse of American culture. He sees every movie including weird little independent movies. He sees music. He has a great sense of the marketplace. We see eye to eye on commercial material. We disagree on artistic movies. He loves dark indie movies.
"The key part of our business is making commercial movies. While we'd like to make movies like Very Bad Things and Gridlock, it's an indulgence. You are making movies to break even because they are artistic."
Luke: "How are you adjusting to the tougher commercial climate?"
Scott: "It's been good for us. We were a part of Polygram until it tanked. Then we had a big deal with Universal and USA. We sought a business model that gave us wherewithal to get our own movies made with an independent flexible style and profit from them more. We made an incredibly successful roster of movies for Disney and Polygram, with one in four a hit, spawning several franchises.
"We did Runaway Bride. We developed it for ten years. We gave the script to Richard Gere about ten times. He wasn't interested. Then we gave him a better draft. The moment was right. He signed on. Then we got Julia Roberts and Garry Marshal. Sherry Lansing at Paramount arranged financing. The movie grossed $350 million in theaters worldwide.
"We decided we had to start arranging our own financing and keeping more of the profits. This was at the height of the stock market (early 2000), Elie Samaha stuff. I kept thinking this is crazy. It can't last. These people are just ripping these companies off who are ripping off their shareholders. Nobody knows what they're doing. Their plans don't follow form with the movie business. We did the slow patient thing. We made an alliance with Good Machine, a foreign sales company based out of New York.
"We're making under $15 million independent movies that we are independently financing. That allows us more control over our destiny. We are continuing to make studio films. Rather than make output deals with foreign territories to raise money for our overhead, we make the deals to fund development.
"Output deal means that we can take any movie we make and give it to our partners in Germany and Spain and Scandinavia and put the movies out through them. And output deal puts teeth in an agreement but you truly want to be a good partner with people.
"We're in the middle of the best run we've ever had. We made The Divorce in partnership with Merchant/Ivory. We're making this Mandy Moore movie How to Deal in Toronto. Michael Bay is producing for us a remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We've made a deal with Michael's company to feed our lower budget division with a couple of movies a year."
Luke: "Why do directors like Michael Bay want to produce?"
Scott: "Michael is a good businessman and he sees it as an opportunity to broaden the brand of his name. He admires Jerry Bruckheimer. He got the rights to Texas Chainsaw. We sold it based on a 70-second preview that Michael did. It was ten seconds of imagery and the rest sound. It was so cool that we sold the foreign and domestic rights.
"We've got a good director who Hollywood thought was a bad boy - Marcus Nispel. We've never had that experience with him. He's strong minded which equals bad in many people's way of thinking. Marcus is like Michael, who gets a lot of shots every day. He's bold and aggressive with a high energy level. He cranks out great material. We're ten days in.
"Marcus was supposed to direct End of Days. He was blown off because he told the studio the movie would cost $20 million more than what they had budgeted unless they cut the script. They fired him and the movie came in $20 million over."
Luke: "Which of your movies have broken your heart?"
Scott: "What Dreams May Come was disappointing. It was such a great script and bold idea. The movie looked the way we wanted to, yet it didn't catch on. When we finally tested our best cut, we realized that this movie, which we thought all women in the world were going to love because it was a story about love that never dies, the people who really dug it were boys under 25. It was dark and visually cool and twisted, all the things that young guys dig.
"We made a couple of miscalculations. As a parent, I always had this bad feeling and everyone told me not to worry about it. I had this bad feeling that when you kill two kids in the beginning that an adult audience would have a difficult time recovering and they would just tune you out because it was just too painful to go there. That got us. There's nothing worse for a woman than the idea of her own child dying.
"Gene Siskel was a gigantic fan of the movie. Of course, he was in the process of dying."
Luke: "Do you sense your stock rising and falling with the box office results of your films?"
Scott: "Yes. Right now our stock is up. We have the sequel to Pitch Black with Van Diesel and the other is The Last Samurai, which Ed Zwick is directing with Tom Cruise. During Polygram times, we had a bad run."