Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman

I interviewed Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman at their office on July 16, 2002.

We sat on a black couch and drank cold water.

Cary: "[Don] Simpson and [Jerry] Bruckheimer had said that if you write a great script, you'll own the town. We wanted to run a studio. We wanted to be like Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg. So we've concentrated on writing scripts and it's worked for us.

"There are two types of producers. There's a producer who's a schmoozer. He gets material and takes it with him to star actors and directors and studio contacts and puts the package together. And then there's the creative producer."

Chuck: "I don't know how the producers on the lowest rung of the food chain, who are strictly producers, are able to function these days. The studio system as it exists today presents those guys with an unfair set of perils. Products are no longer bought simply because the script is a good idea. A script has to be in shooting form before anybody is going to put out a nickel. The producer must acquire that material with his own money and have it up to snuff. I don't know how they make a living."

Cary: "You have a two-tier system. You have the low-end producer who lived off foreign pre-sales and manipulating this and that. They'd make $150,000 off one movie and the next thing you know they're working in the circus that just left town. Then you have the studio producers like Joel Silver and Arnold Kopelson.

"We want to produce and direct. We've charted out a plan. We wanted to become writer friendly and become a Statute of Liberty for writers. We leveraged in with the writing and now we're starting to direct. And because of our heat as writers, we're doing The Inferno with Joel Silver and Warner Brothers and we're working with Stan Lee and Bruce Willis on a project called Femizons... We've become A list. We get approached by independent money sources.

"It's a town of legal extortion."

Chuck: "The more acceptable term is leverage. That's how the business works. You negotiate the best deal you can based on what you bring to the table. Clout. People back East used to call it 'drag'.

"Because the international market has monopolized that under $10 million feature range, we've become landed immigrants for Canadian purposes (the Canadian equivalent of resident alien status in the US). Now we don't get shut out on the producing end from the Canadian and Canadian-Euro subsidies. We can get tax credits anywhere in the world.

"We lost our series The Immortal. It was a good idea that became an awful 22-hour series."

Cary: "We had a brilliant idea for a TV show. We took it to the star of Lorenzo on a Friday. By Monday we had a deal closed. He had another series. He walked from it to do ours. They come to us at the last moment and said, 'You're not Canadian. We're shooting the show in Canada. You're screwed.' They ended up paying us $16,000 a week to do nothing but we didn't get any credits. They castrated the show. They turned it into a piece of sh-- because they had no idea what the hell they were doing.

"One of the problems of going to a B producer is that it is all about the money. They take what they can. If it were the same situation now, we'd be able to make a hit show and get the credits and residuals for the rest of our lives. We decided we weren't going to let this happen to us again and now we're eligible for every tax credit in the world.

"The rest of the world is joining up to beat up Hollywood."

Luke: "Who did you have to sleep with to get this special landed status?"

Chuck: "Like everything else in this industry, it comes down to money. There's an attorney in Toronto who makes it his business to do this."

Cary: "We were in Artisan Entertainment the other day. They're talking about doing business with us. We brought up the fact that we were landed. They went crazy. They said we could work forever because in some cases you can get 30% of your budget subsidized."

Luke: "How did you guys meet?"

Cary: "My mom and dad divorced when I was a junior in high school. We moved out to New Jersey. Chuck was the guy next door. I felt sorry for him."

Chuck: "I let him follow me around and it was the mistake of my life. I went to college at Notre Dame and studied accounting finance. I audited mutual funds for a few years. Cary and I opened a brokerage for a few years. We made a lot of money but we decided we hated our lives and our business. We'd rather make movies. We figured if we were successful in one business, we could be successful in Hollywood."

Cary: "Our decision did not make our girlfriends too happy."

Chuck: "We had no idea how difficult it would be to get into this business. We call it the paradox of Hollywood. Anyone who is raised in Los Angeles typically doesn't understand the types of movies that excite the rest of the country. And the rest of the country doesn't understand how movies are made. It is difficult to find someone who understands both sets of realities."

Cary: "We started in the mutual funds business having no contacts and ended up making incredible amounts of money. We were doing a speech in Philadelphia. We had offices in 20 states. After my speech, I said to Chuck, who was about to go on stage, 'Do you want to go to Hollywood and make movies?' And he said, 'Yeah.' And that was it. We were off.

"If you come to town to make movies, the hardest part is making an entry into the business, because you are going to suffer and be humiliated, no matter what. It's a ten year ordeal. The industry is a terrible mistress. But if you can endure, after ten years, you know everyone. Mathematically, you can't help bumping into people at a diner."

Chuck: "As Dick Wolf [Law & Order] says, success is just outlasting everyone else."

Luke: "People tell me that the best asset for a producer is some money in the bank, because there are such long dry spells."

Chuck: "Sooner or later, someone without basis for it is going to try to block your access to a property file. So you need at least $50,000 in an account to hire a good attorney to squash that suit."

Cary: "It's not like you can't do it without money. We did it."

Luke: "Wait, you just told me you made a ton of money before you came here?"

Cary: "When we came out, we couldn't take a lot of that money with us. We were living high at the time, which was a mistake. We were arrogant and said, 'We've conquered Wall Street, we can conquer Hollywood.' Because we were 3000 miles away, they gobbled the business up and stopped sending checks. We went from wealthy to having to buy 69c burritos to survive.

"In our heyday, we were spending hundreds of dollars for dinner. We'd take eight friends out and end up footing a bill for hundreds of dollars."

Luke: "Did your girlfriends come with you to Hollywood and shared in your pain?"

Chuck: "Mine came with me for six months."

Cary: "Mine promised she'd love me forever. That ended the day I quit my business."

Chuck: "She could tell we were headed for the 69c burritos."

Luke: "Women have good antennae."

Cary: "I don't blame them for leaving. What we went through for the next five years, I wouldn't put anyone through. The tragedy of Hollywood is that there are many creative people who will never get a chance because of Hollywood's caste system."

Chuck: "It's as bad as being a serf in the Middle Ages."

Cary: "You have this great piece of material and you can't get a meeting or an agent."

Chuck: "No one will look at it and no manager or entertainment attorney wants you for a client because you don't make any money."

Cary: "If you've got the stink of no one wanting to talk to you, how do you break in? You have to scrape your way like a gladiator rising out of the pits. Our first writing job was for $250 to take a script from Polish to English. We did our first producing jobs for free for the experience.

"Then you meet five, ten, fifteen people and over time, people see you and hire you."

Luke: "Tell me about your film school experience at USC. I hear that's the best place to make Hollywood contacts after Harvard."

Cary: "We bought into their accelerated six month program for $50,000 each. We didn't know anything about film. We heard it was the most prestigious film school in the world. The guy told us on the phone, 'This is going to be four awesome years. You're not going to have time to eat or sleep.'

"We go in and they're teaching us all this useless crap. They spend six weeks teaching us about film from 1908."

Chuck: "Then you break into little groups and do a 16mm color sync sound short. The director of the program asked us to stop scaring students because we were too intense. We wanted to learn everything we could in the shortest amount of time. We had only one good professor. Herb Pearl. He was a director of photography. He would only teach on Saturday or Sunday because he was working during the week. He would teach more in those two days a week."

Cary: "We finished the program in two months and got in our car, drove back to New Jersey, moved all of our stuff out here and went to work. It was a worthless program. You learn by doing. If you want to be a producer, roll your sleeves up and go to work. Do everything. Assist someone. We have interns by the bundle. We believe in helping people. You need a mentor. That's better than film school.

"In the nine years we've been out here, we've seen the whole industry change. It used to be you could go to a meeting at a studio, pitch an idea and they'd rip out a check for $750,000. That doesn't happen anymore. You have to go through 50 ranks before and then they ask you, 'What's your quote?' And if you don't have a quote...

"A quote is a fee you get for your services. If you are a writer-producer, and your quote for your first movie was $125,000, then that's your quote. If you don't have a quote, they are going to start you at $75,000."

Chuck: "Studios have become good at sidestepping. Studios don't honor production company quotes even if they are big production companies. Studios will try to depress your price on your first studio gig. Here's where you gauge whether they really want you. Our manager responded six months ago, 'Let the quote write the script.' In other words, if you want the project, you are going to have to pay more."

Cary: "We work with a guy who's quote to produce is $750,000. We came to him with a smaller project, which he loved. But he couldn't do it because his cut would only be $300,000. And if he did that, then everyone will judge him that he's a failure.

"This is a hard time to be a producer but the magic of seeing your film on screen keeps everybody going.

"I suggest to prospective producers, if you can, write and direct. It gives you additional bullets. If you can't, you can still schmooze your way through it. It's just harder.

"You have to decide early on what you want - art or commerce. If you want to make money, you have to work within the studio system. If you want to make art films, you have to make them independently.

"We're working on a small independent called Bad Karma, which we wrote. I want to take it to Cannes and the other film festivals. We want to make both independent films and studio films. We can do both so long as everyone knows that it is conscientious decision on our part to go independent, not because we're failures."

Luke: "How do you convince people of that?"

Cary: "One of the great things in this town is the publicity machine. You need to quickly learn how to spin things because people get destroyed over perception. In Hollywood, it is not about who you really are but about how you are perceived. If you don't get a hold of your image quick, you're dead.

"You say to your agent, our agent is ICM, we're doing this because, damn it, we're artists. And you tell them 90 times because you want them to get it. They are so deluged with so many clients and material..."

Chuck: "Unless you're born wealthy or well connected, you have to find the most powerful advocates to champion your material. Credibility comes from being vouched for by other people who are perceived as credible. The toughest thing is for an unknown outsider to break in. He may have written a brilliant piece of material but people out there probably won't recognize it as brilliant. Or, if they do suspect that it is something special, they will be afraid of their own convictions. And if they hear any negative reaction from anyone, they will tend to say, 'Oh well, that wasn't as special as I thought it was.'"

Cary: "We were lucky that we mapped out a plan whereby if we could get our hands on great material, sense it out like a Thalberg, then we could show it to stars and get it made. Most of the talent can't predict great material. We've been fortunate to have a manager who goes around town every day telling people, 'This is great. This is hot.'

"We started off with an entertainment lawyer who had no idea what he was doing. Now we have the best lawyer in town, Mike Adler.

"You need a battle plan to conquer Hollywood. You need to plan everything.

"If you were to come to town and suddenly make a big deal and become a success, it would wipe you out. You won't handle it. You don't know anything yet. You don't know anybody."

Chuck: "You get one person to like you. Then you get other people to like you. We have a spec script going out in the next week. It was a sneak to one star who wanted to be attached to it. If the star didn't want to be attached, everyone's perception would be damaged."

Cary: "I have chancey material that I won't move right now. It goes in the treasure chest. When you've got the heat, you can let it out.

"If I sell this spec script for a million and end up producing for $250,000, and the result is good, we get heat. Then that piece I put on the shelf is ready for daylight. All of a sudden, I'm a genius. I'm daring.

"You've got to turn your heat into meetings with the right people. You've got to build associations with the right people to move forward."

Chuck: "Most chronic gamblers begin with a lucky first day at the track and it is all downhill from there."

Luke: "Many producers tell me that their best experience was making the first film and everything has been downhill from there."

Chuck: "Because they rounded up independent money and they had nearly complete creative control."

Cary: "Because everybody gets involved."

Chuck: "The moment you take that studio check, you must realize that you are beholden to them. They are in charge."

Cary points to a poster from one of his projects gone bad, Race Against Time [2000].

Cary: "If I were to teach a film course, I'd make people read the script and then watch the movie. And see how 30 extra people in the process destroyed something brilliant.

"It was a piece called Gabriel's Run. It won several screenwriting awards. It built our careers."

Chuck: "It was watered down for cable TV. We only let it go because it was supposed to be a backdoor two-hour pilot for a series."

Cary: "The agent sold it for fast money. We thought it was going to be a feature and it ended up on TNT. We send out Gabriel's Run as a writing sample of our work and they want to make it."

Chuck: "It's what got us the Stan Lee - MGM - Bruce Willis project.

"Many film producers are bringing in 60% of the financing from funds under their control. They expect complete creative control but they still have to meet numerous studio criteria."

Luke: "How do you guys divide up?"

Cary: "He's great analytically. He's great with numbers and finances and planning."

Chuck: "I want to bring things back to structure. He's the great intuitive thinker. He thinks outside the box."

Cary: "We have the same goal. We want to run a studio. Everything is subservient to that goal. We know that we're better together. McCartney and Lennon were better together. Simon and Garfunkel were better together.

"People laugh at us when we say this. They think we have audacity. It's simple. We're going to do it the way Simpson and Bruckheimer could've done it. They had the opportunity but chose to stay producers. They get about 9% of the gross."

Chuck: "We're willing to take a cut in pay for the opportunity to determine which movies get made and how."

Cary: "We want to reinstitute the old studio system. I believe you can pick the winners. We know what good material is. We write it all the time. We're starting to direct. We have no doubt that our profile as directors will flare up. If you do good work, and put your heart and soul in, you will be noticed.

"People fail in this town because of sex, drugs or parties or greed or ego. One of the nasty traits becomes dominant and destroys everything.

"If you ask these veteran producers about their goal, you might find out that some of them got lost.

"Money follows success. When I was in my last business, and I was making $100,000 a month, people were calling me and offering $10 million. It's the same thing in Hollywood. Once you get a profile going, it builds on itself."

Luke: "Tell me about your manager Jeff Wald?"

Chuck: "If Jeff believes in you, he will strap on a sword and shield and go out and do battle against any dragon."

Cary: "He made our career.

"Let me tell you a story. Our manager at the time, Mark Scully, takes us in to meet Jeff in November of last year. He sits behind his desk. 'Who the f--- are you? I've read your shit. I know that you guys want to write and direct and produce and run a studio. It ain't gonna happen.'

"For the first hour, he just hits you with cannon shells. Then he said, 'You guys have something special. I know. I can do this for you.' He gets on the phone. 'I can make you guys. I'm going to get you a $500,000 deal right now.'

"Jeff makes a call. We're at Stallone's house an hour later. Stallone says, 'You guys are good.' Six hours later, we have a $500,000 deal because Stallone wanted us to rewrite a project that's been bouncing around for years."

Chuck: "It was a fantasy project (based on the novel THE GREEN) that nobody could get a take on. We didn't even have to pitch a take on it. We just got the deal. ICM became our new agents.

"THE GREEN is the story of a golf hustler (Stallone) who gets sucked into the world of Ryder's Cup play.

"We have a quirky black karma sense."

Luke: "What should I be asking producers?"

Chuck: "If you're looking to find out from these guys, you won't find the answers from asking questions. You frame questions to things you think up in your head. The real secrets of producing are things that they will have to unfold before you. If you're not experienced enough, you won't know what questions to ask."

Cary: "It's like anything else. Ten years on the police force, and you know exactly how to talk to somebody. You know exactly when somebody is lying."

Chuck: "The power producers are defined clearly. Are they gross percentage players? Do they get a set percentage of gross box office revenues?"

Cary: "They come from a different time. They came when things were flexible. Everyone was shooting from the hip. Everybody was go go go. James Cameron was a model maker, then writer, then director, now producer. He forces through because of his clout. He can direct one movie and produce five based on his muscle.

"The new producer is the creative producer who can write, direct and produce."

Chuck: "In many ways, this tough market works to our advantage. We can go out and find stuff that's just inside the 20-yard line and polish it up to get it across the goal line."

Cary: "Nobody else is paying attention."

Chuck: "Big agencies complain now, when the doors close, that they've been too successful. They've managed to get fees so high for the A-list stars, that few movies can be made. There isn't enough work to go around.

"Americans have spent about 7% of their disposable income on entertainment in every decade of the past century. A bottleneck in studio production creates a demand for more hours of entertainment product."

Cary: "When I came out here, I did not understand why studios did not accept unsolicited scripts. I now understand. I just had to shut down my development arm. Too many lawsuits. We had a production company. We'd take in 3000 scripts a year, read them and look for gold. Maybe we bought five. We had ten people working for us.

"There just wasn't enough gold to justify the expense. Those people you read are liable to file suit if they have the least suspicion that you might have knocked off their script. I now understand that the studios are brilliant to only take from the agencies, because the agencies filter most of the crap away."

Chuck: "There's a famous saying: Feature people invite people to their premieres. TV people invite people to their homes."