Producer Brian M. Reilly
Brian M. Reilly is a big muscular Irish-American. We spoke at his office in Santa Monica on June 20, 2002.
Luke: "Tell me about your life."
Brian: "I started small and I got a lot bigger.
"I grew up in Manhasset, Long Island, a suburb of Manhattan. Most everybody there gets on the train every morning and goes to work in banking or the stock market. It's a commuter town. My dad was an electrical engineer who loved Lionel Trains and tap dancing to Broadway songs. He worked for the same company his entire life, AT&T. When he retired, he got the gold watch and he played golf. I have two brothers and a sister. We went to a private Catholic school for 12 years. I hated it. It was not a nurturing place at all. It was all about discipline. It was the birthplace of my rebellion against authority.
"I went to Long Island University. I majored in Political Science and English. I graduated in 1967 and then, because of the [Vietnam] War, I made sure I got out of the country. I got a scholarship to study Political Science and Economics of developing nations in Seoul, South Korea, for a year. While in Southeast Asia my worldview got a real shakeup, which in turn sharpened my anti-war and anti-authority feelings."
Luke: "Have you been watching the World Cup [taking place in South Korea and Japan]?"
Brian: "I watched one game during the day - Ireland vs Spain. Gosh it was good."
Luke: "US vs Germany 4:30AM Friday morning."
Brian: "Who gets up at 4:30 in the morning to watch soccer?"
Luke: "I will."
Brian: "You need a job. You need something grown up to do. You can't get up at 4:30AM to watch boys kick a ball."
Luke: "After Korea?"
Brian: "I came back to the United States. I was called to a physical for the draft, and by this time I had resolved not to go to war in Vietnam. I devised a plan to 'underachieve,' and it worked! That was a big day for me. I took off for the Vermont Mountains and was a ski bum for a year. I was a ski bum for a year in Vermont.
"Then, wanting to do something meaningful, I got a job at NBC News at 30 Rockefeller Dr in New York. I was a film editing assistant. I was there for two years. I then worked freelance production in Manhattan for a few years. Then I met the Madison brothers. These two filmmakers had made a marvelous documentary about the effects of architecture on childrens' self worth. How they valued themselves in a school environment... Did they feel good about going there. I thought this was great. This is what I wanted to do. I want to make these kinds of stories. I went into business with these two talented filmmakers and seven years later, I'd produced a ton of television commercials and no documentaries.
"I made some money at real estate ventures. I wrote a few screenplays but they were bad. I was such an inveterate New Yorker that I never considered going to California. I had a summer place in Amaganset where I met the wonderful woman [Barra Grant, daughter of 1945 Miss America Bess Myerson] who became my wife. We got married in 1982 and moved to Los Angeles in 1983.
"I didn't know what I was going to do. Having television commercial credits doesn't mean much to the people in the motion picture business. In my New York career, I had sold a lot of soap. Now it was time to learn how to make a movie.
"I took a number of film and screenplay courses at UCLA and bega to read as many screenplays as I could. I met as many people in the industry as I could. A friend from New York introduced me to Bobbie Newmyer, who was leaving Columbia Pictures to produce independantly. I had some money, which is a good thing for someone who wants to be a producer. It's hard to make money right away.
"Before long I found a script called The Real World, [which became 1991's Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead] which was in turnaround at Fox. We redeveloped the script and took it to Susan Cartsonis at Fox. Roger Birnbaum, who ran Fox at the time, told us we had to get certain elements, such as actress Christina Applegate to play the lead.
"It so happens that during my time in New York, I'd run a restaurant. And I hired someone who became a good friend and successful actor [Ed O'Neill]. I went to Ed's TV show (Married With Children) and he introduced me to Christina. The next Monday, Christina said she was interested. Big day! Then Fox gave us a short list of directors. Stephen Herek was on the list. He said yes. Another big day! On a Friday, Fox said they were going to make the movie. On Monday, they changed their minds. They had another family comedy (Home Alone) and they didn't want to compete with themselves when it came time to market the two films. This was a bad day. We ended up making it for about $10 million for Cinema Plus, part of HBO Films in New York. Subsequently, the Time/Warner deal came about and our little comedy became a Warner Brothers release. And the movie turned out well. And it became a box office success. It was a terrific experience for a first film."
Luke: "Tell me about The Santa Clause, the third highest grossing film of 1994."
Brian: "Martin Spencer, an agent at CAA, sent it to me. I had never read anything like it. The premise was wildly original and very funny. I remember sitting at my desk and laughing out loud."
From Imdb.com: "When a man inadvertantly kills Santa on Christmas Eve, he finds himself magically recruited to take his place."
Brian: "The screenwriters had known Tim [Allen] from the comedy club circuit. Tim was a big star as a stand-up comedian. It so happened that the writer's manager and Tim Allen's managers were in business together at the time. Tim became aware of the script as we were about to submit the screenplay to the studios. To be honest, I would've never thought of Tim to star in the movie. We were thinking of people who were established movie actors. Meanwhile, we learned that Disney's Jeffrey Katzenberg was looking for a movie for Tim to star in. I asked to see some of his Home Improvement shows on tape. I remember sitting watching those shows and thinking, 'This guy could really do this.' He had the comedy chops in spades, and he was able to play emotional scenes. It was an exciting day."
"It was a challenge getting to know him because he's a guarded person. He had had so much success and he was brilliant as well as killer funny in person. But over time, we've developed a mutual trust and a lasting friendship. He asked me to produce for him."
Luke: "How did Joe Somebody come about?"
"When Joe (Allen), a divorced, listless, Minneapolis corporate drone, gets beat up by a coworker (Warburton) over a parking space, humiliating him in front of his daughter (Panettiere) on "Bring Your Daughter to Work Day", he decides to fight back. His new quest for vengeance revitalizes him, even leading to romance with Meg Harper (Bowen), a young office counselor... (Belushi plays a "former B-movie star turned martial arts expert who becomes Joe's mentor and helps him prepare for his rematch with his coworker"." (The Hollywood Reporter, 3/7/01)
Brian: "We'd struggled over the script for The Santa Claus 2 for two years and it still wasn't ready. We wanted to shoot it in early 1991. When we postponed the sequel, that created an opening in Tim's schedule. Fox's Tom Rothman wanted to put something together for Tim. They sent over a couple of projects. Joe Somebody offered Tim the opportunity to do something that he had never done before in the movies - to play a straight part. It was Fox's pursuit that made it happen."
Luke: "How did you feel about the material?"
Brian gets a mixed up look on his face. "Conflicted. The original script needed to be a smaller movie. I was surprised by the level of money that was put into the movie. Fox had a vision of the movie that wasn't on the page. We had a reading and it wasn't that funny. It wasn't intended to be funny. The investors wanted the movie to be more of a comedy. We rushed to make the movie before the [proposed] strike. The studios wanted product in the pipeline. It was not the best environment for Tim to chart a new direction in his career."
Luke: "You worked with some powerful producers such as Arnon Milchan and Arnold Kopelson on that movie."
Brian: "That's part of the challenge. The original movie script presented to Tim was mostly a dark drama. Once the studio did the arithmetic on how much money was being spent to make this movie, they wanted to make a different movie. And to get their money back, they wanted to transform the script and make it into something it wasn't. Many writers were brought in. We all felt the need to be responsible to the studio's need to make a film that would appeal to a large, Tim Allen audience. Tim had signed on for one thing and the studio pressured him and everyone involved to make another movie. In the words of one of the studio execs, 'It was a classic bait and switch.'
"The most harmful decision that robbed a lot of people of the opportunity to see the film was the release date, which was during the 2001 Christmas glut, on the same day as The Lord of the Rings. None of us who worked on the film ever thought it was a big family comedy for Christmas release, but that's what the studio wanted it to be. The release date doomed the prospects of the film making money."
Luke: "What was the message of the film?"
Brian: "This guy Joe chose badly with his first wife. She dusted him off when she found a younger man. She was immune to the fact that her daughter was witness to this. Joe lives a loveless life. The fight with the bully, in front of his daughter, wakes him up to the need to find something that will put passion in his life. Julie Bowen, the human resources manager, challenges him to take responsibility for his life. And ultimately what he wants in life is to be with her."
In late December, 2001, I listened to Dennis Prager discuss the movie on his nationally syndicated radio show.
DP says Hollywood films reflect society more than they push society. Hollywood particularly reflects urban liberal opinion, as the people who write and make the movies are urban liberals (aka Jews).
DP says we can live without "Bring Your Daughter To Work" day.
As for the movie, Allen's about to park in the lot for employees who've served more than ten years when a new employee takes his place. Then the bully smacks Allen down.
Allen is humiliated and he resolves to fight the bully again and beat him. DP asks: What does the movie want you to think about Allen's desire to fight the bully? Do women prefer men who fight bullies? What is the right thing to do?
The movie teaches that if you are a real man, you don't hit back. You are gentle. You're a peace maker.
To DP, sometimes it is right to hit back and sometimes it is right to be a peacemaker. But to the Hollywood mindset, to be a real man is to be essentially pacifistic.
It is the burning desire of men to attract lovely women. And the beautiful woman in this movie pushes Allen in the direction of a non-physical response. But if a bully hits you and humiliates you, it is a good idea to hit the bully.
Recent articles have claimed that protector-men are now in. Women want men like the New York City firefighters or police. And men will do almost anything to get women. Women's primary power is in signalling to men what they want.
Joe Somebody says you get the beautiful woman if you don't hit back.
Luke: "What does the movie want you to think about Allen's desire to fight the bully?"
Brian: "Joe was fearful. The Jim Belushi character allows him to deal with that on a physical level. Joe comes prepared to fight. And with his working out and his training with Belushi, he would've beaten the bully. But that would've been a different way to go. Maybe it would have been a better way for the story to unfold. There was always a dilemma about what to do in the film because either way you can't win. By not fighting the bully, you are going to disappoint and anger much of the audience, particularly young guys. But there was another tack, to show that Joe had to earn the capacity to not fight the guy, and to make a statement that has an impact on the bully and on all the co-workers who cheered Joe on. It was always thought of as a high school drama with the adults behaving like teenagers and the pre-teen daughter behaving as the parent."
Luke: "If you were Joe Somebody, would you have fought the bully?"
Brian: "Probably. I think I would've fought him as soon as he hit me. I would've wanted to run him over."
Luke: "And would you have advised your son to fight back?"
Brian: "No. I'm not a fan of violence. It's a tough call. In the moment, I would want to get in the car and run the bastard over."
Luke: "I think the moral response is to fight back."
Brian: "I don't know if that is the moral response. Should human beings be hurting and killing other human beings? [Physicist] Stephen Hawking's greatest fear for the future of the planet is man's aggressive tendencies. I agree. What is the root of all the horrible things that happen on this planet? That men can't contain themselves. 'He hit me. I'm going to hit him harder.'"
Luke: "If you had a boy, and he was punched at school, would you teach him to punch back or to turn the other cheek?"
Brian: "I would certainly have him prepared to fight, certainly if it is in self defense and to avoid getting hurt. If a guy hits you and taunts you and it becomes a psychological game, then I hope a sense of self would prevail rather than the need to prove oneself. I think people show who they are in moments like that. That's where character is revealed. I could never give a hard and fast answer. There are too many grey areas. There are some people you have to hit. You shoot them if you need to."
Luke: "Were you bullied as a kid?"
Brian: "Everybody's bullied. As a teenager, I had a big guy come after me once because of a girl. He was drunk and I wasn't. It was a huge mistake on his part. I just got out of the way in plenty of time and he did the rest himself. He just kept flailing away and I would just take a little shot until he was exhausted."
Luke: "How did you get this niche of family producer?"
Brian: "It just happened. If you're lucky in life, you get to do what you want."
Luke: "Were you pleased with Don Juan DeMarco?"
Brian: "No. That's the single best script that was ill treated. There was so much complexity and wisdom in the writing. Johnny Depp was brilliant. The potential of that story was great. That's the one that's most troubling to me because it had the potential to be a great movie."
Luke: "Did you feel your career zooming up after The Santa Clause?"
Brian: "I guess so. I'm not the networker that a lot of people are in this business. I don't have that army of people that I stay in touch with. I'm project oriented. Most of my relationships are with writers, directors and talent. I don't have a swell of phone calls to come back to each day. I work hard to find good stories and turn them into good movies."
Luke: "What do you love and hate about Hollywood?"
Brian: "I love that they make movies here. I hate the traffic. I hugely hate the traffic. I've gotten to the point where I don't want to leave Santa Monica, where I live. The commute is not just troubling, it's like crossing through Chechnya. It's abominable to go to Disney [in Burbank]. I crossed over the 405 freeway yesterday and had heart palpitations.
"I'm not sure that this book will be read, if it is ever published... Or if you will actually write the book. I was on Sunset Blvd yesterday on the bridge over the 405 freeway and looking either way, there's a sea of stopped cars. When traffic is acceptable, it can take me 40 minutes to drive to Disney. On a bad day, easily two hours. One way. I always leave 75 minutes before my appointment in the Valley. It's Russian roulette out there and it is only going to get worse because this place is too popular.
"Manhattan is the best city on the planet. You don't have the density and the neighborhoods here and people on the street. I love California's natural beauty. I love the beach.
"I love everything about the movie industry except some of the people in it. It's a cliquey club. There are pockets of people who root for one another, then they'll turn and gloat at the other persons failings. It's a strange mix of dreamers/story tellers and dream makers. And there's this weird interdependence where they all need each other. I find myself more comfortable with the people with the dreams and the talent to make those dreams come to life on the screen."
Luke: "How significant do you think your work is?"
Brian: "On some level, not at all. Other people make significant films. I show up every day wanting to make really good movies. I don't think I've done anything bad. I've been delighted to see people's faces light up in the theater. The original Santa Clause gave me that opportunity that I took advantage of many times."
Luke: "Have you ever seen a movie that's changed you?"
Brian: "The first movie that made a significant impact on me was [1966's] Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton."
From Imdb.com: "New Biology instructor Nick and his wife Honey visit the campus home of burned-out History professor George and his viperish wife Martha. Exchange of late-night pleasantries turns into an ugly battle of words between George and Martha who use their guests to cut each other more and more deeply."
Brian: "They're drunk and always fighting. Movies before that were from the Mary Poppins world. I went, 'Oh boy, that's powerful. That's not just passive entertainment. I'd seen On the Waterfront on television and I knew that movies could be that. It was an amazing experience to sit in a dark room and witness these raw emotions."
Luke: "Isn't it tough on a marriage for you to go away six months on location?"
Brian: "Yes it's tough. My wife is also in this business. We make it work."
Luke: "Were you pleased with how Jungle2Jungle turned out?"
Brian: "That was an under-achiever. It was a remake of the French film 'Un Indien Dans La Cite'. For an American audience, we had to reinvent the movie. The French are at ease with unmotivated action. People just do things. That doesn't work for an American audience. At the same time, there was pressure to make the same movie. I didn't want to make the same movie and neither did the director John Pasquin.
"A pair of highly touted writers took too long to come up with a slightly altered English version of the French story. We brought in Charli Peters and he rewrote the script while we were scouting. We did the best we could."
Luke: "Are you pleased with how Santa Claus 2 is shaping up?"
Brian: "I am way more than pleased. I'm scared. It's frightening. The whole recent history has been fantastic. The shooting of it thanks to the marvelous director Michael Lembeck. It's been the best movie-making experience of my career. It was an enormous challenge to make a film that would be as good as the first one.
"I'm working with my wife (Barra Grant) on my next movie - Glory Days. She will direct. We're looking to produce in the fall with independent financing. I'm excited because we will have control of the project, written by my wife. There won't be studio involvement until we need one for distribution.
"I've just finished a film for $60 million and now I would like to do one for a pittance of that. Santa Clause 2 was a big fantasy comedy with over 170 visual effects shots and a 62-day shooting schedule. Now I want to make a character driven story with a whole ot of comedy and heart, half the number of shooting days and no visual effects. Not one."