Producer Chris Mankiewicz
I knocked on the door of Chris Mankiewicz's home May 20, 2002, and it is opened by a beautiful young woman.
Luke: "Hi, my name is Luke Ford. I have an appointment with Chris Maniewicz."
Woman: "Hi, I'm Nancy Mankiewicz."
Luke: "Are you his daughter?"
Nancy: "No, I'm his wife."
Nancy had laughing eyes and I could tell immediately that she had a strong sense of humor. We schmoozed for 15 minutes until Chris (born 10/8/40), a big tall man, lumbered in.
Chris is one of three children of famed director Joe Mankiewicz. Chris's brother Tom is a director.
Chris: "Louis B. Mayer's MGM was known to be a producer's studio. In the old days, the producer was the assigned foreman of a movie, to see it from conception to completion. My experience was different. I worked at United Artists (UA) during the 1960s and 1970s. UA was the studio that wasn't a studio. It was meant to be a filmmaker's company. We didn't have a physical lot that had to be amortized. Filmmakers could shoot their movies any way they wanted to. We read and approved a script, financed it, and said to the director, go away and bring us back a movie. We didn't watch the dailies every night the way other studios do. We didn't micromanage the movie and try to see every draft of a script.
"Today studio interference is worse than ever. Everybody has an opinion. And the result is that..."
I try to turn my chair and knock it off the hidden bricks that support it.
Chris: "Nothing in Hollywood is at it appears to be. My father and I were seated at the home of well known director Jean Negulesco. And when there was nobody there, my father went over to one of the chairs, turned it upside down, and it said, 'Property of 20th Century Fox.' They used to loot the studios and bring a lot of the furniture home with them.
"There used to be one producer on a movie. Now there can be 10 producers on one movie. It's become a vanity credit. The role of the producer has been denigrated. Before, the studios put a producer in charge of a movie. Today studios are so filled with young would-be filmmakers [working as executives] that they find it irresistible not to produce the movie themselves though with all the films they're working on, they can't do it with the same dedication and time that an individual producer could. Yet they find it all so glamorous, and that's what they're in the business for anyway.
"We now have the rise of the line producer, formerly called the production manager. But by definition, he's for hire and he doesn't have anything to do with the creative end. The creative producer in the studio system is a dying breed. The big producers in the studio system are salesmen and dealmakers.
"I remember when I worked for producer Marty Ransohoff. We did a film up in northern California and Marty came up once. I asked him why he didn't come up more often. Marty said, 'Chris, what am I going to do? Stand around and watch the director?' He could not think of anything more boring. For these guys, their big climax is making the deal. Once they have to pass over control to the director, they lose interest. It's boring and intolerable for most producers to stay with a project day by day.
"When I developed A Perfect Murder , Arnold Kopelson was invited in on my project against my will by Warner Brothers. Arnold had a big deal with Warners and he didn't have many pictures [in production], so Warners brought him on to my movie. Arnold told me he didn't like the script. I asked him what he did like about it. He said, 'I love the title [based on the Alfred Hitchcock film Dial M For Murder].' I said, 'We can't use that original title. We're not making a remake.'
"I said to myself that this is insane. He looked around for something to find, and he looked for good titles. That's how deep it went. He never attended a single writers meeting during the entire development of the movie. As soon as the script was finished and we started looking for a director, it came time for him to strut his stuff. Suddenly he wanted to get involved. Suddenly his wife, Anne Kopelson, who I never even met, showed up in the credits as a producer. How bizarre! Gee, maybe I have a cousin that I could make a producer too."
Luke: "Has your wife ever shown up in the credits as a producer?"
Chris: "No. She has nothing to do with the film business thank God."
Luke: "Tell me more about A Perfect Murder ."
Chris: "It's not a happy subject. Arnold tried to package it with different combinations of mostly lowball talent.
"I've been a fan of Hitchcock material. I had a deal to develop projects at Warner Brothers. I thought that we should take one of his less successful movies, Dial M for Murder, which was shot as a 3-D stage play. It was made to get rid of a commitment [by Hitchcock] to Warner Brothers. Hitchock was anxious to move on to Universal where he had a good deal.
"Warners had bought the play, Dial M for Murder. Hitchcock made no bones of the fact that it wasn't one of his terrific movies. It was stagy and not cinematic. It was a one-set play. And because it was shot 3-D, you couldn't pan without strobe problems with the 3-D cameras.
"I'm against remaking masterpieces but I thought this was a good opportunity. So we tried with one writer and it didn't work. Kopelson came in. We found another writer, Pat Kelly, who became the writer of the final script. He came up with an interesting gimmick: The person who's supposed to commit the murder, is not a down and out acquaintance as in the original movie, but is the wife's lover.
"Kopelson's original idea when he came on to the project was to do a big action piece like The Fugitive [a terrific 1993 action film directed by Andy Davis]. Pat Kelly tried a couple of versions of that and it was just terrible."
From the Warner Brothers press release: "Warner Bros.' "A Perfect Murder" is an elegant psychological suspense thriller from the creative team behind "The Fugitive," including director ANDREW DAVIS and producers ARNOLD KOPELSON, ANNE KOPELSON and PETER MACGREGOR-SCOTT, as well as producer CHRIS MANKIEWICZ, who is new to the team."
Chris: "Warner Brothers doesn't make movies unless it has a star. We couldn't find anybody for our film. Arnold tried to cut me out of the packaging. I was happy to let him package it. That was something he should be able to do well. In fact, he didn't do it well. In fact, he didn't do it at all.
"Director Andy Davis has a commitment to do a film at Warners that fell out. His agent CAA sent him a stack of scripts, including Pat Kelly's script of A Perfect Murder. Andy read it and loved it. He lives in Santa Barbara, near Michael Douglas. Andy took the script to Michael Douglas and said, 'Here's a wonderful script. Why don't we do this together?'
"We'd always had Michael Douglas in mind for the lead. But we'd been told by a former employee of Kopelson's that Michael didn't want to play bad guys anymore and we shouldn't even consider him. But Michael read the script and wanted to do it. And thanks to the director, this movie happened."
Luke: "How did you get Gwyneth Paltrow?"
Chris: "My impression is that Michael Douglas suggested her. He wanted to make a movie with her, for whatever reason. You're not going to get me in front of a recording machine to say why he may have wanted to make a picture with her."
Douglas is a notorious womanizer who's been the driving force behind the selection of various beautiful young ladies to play opposite him in steamy movies.
Chris: "Paltrow was happy to finally have a payday and make some money. We paid her $3 million. She'd just made several independent movies.
"On this movie, I was aced out by Arnold. I was kept on the sidelines. I wasn't on the set. He said, don't worry. You'll get your credit. You'll get your money. But let Arnold take care of this. And the picture was pretty good and did fairly well.
"The only thing that pissed me off was that Arnold Kopelson moved in on my project and never once in the history of this picture ever asked me to lunch or dinner or to have a drink with me, much less send me a gift Mercedes. 'Here, this is a present from me to you. Thank you for not minding that I barged in on your picture. The guy has no class. I'm sure he's done this before. He has a famous saying around town. 'Movie projects are like subway cars. There's always another one coming down the track.' That says a lot about his attitude to individual movies. He's a salesman and he just wants the action. The condition of the subway car doesn't interest him much."
Luke: "Did you like how A Perfect Murder turned out?"
Chris: "I hoped for more. I think we could've done better with the casting of the artist. I think the directing could've been better. And we had a much better ending, which is on the DVD. The original ending was the Gwyneth Paltrow character blows [Michael Douglas character] away. But not in self defense, as in the Warners ending, where he hits her and she's knocked to the ground. It's more devious. She sets up the same trap for him that he set up for her.
"He's in the shower. He hears the phone. He goes into the kitchen and picks up the phone. There's nobody there. Then she steps out and shoots him in cold blood. Then she sets it up to look like they'd had a fight. So when the cop at the end of the movie says, 'I guess that's the way it was,' wink, wink... He realizes that she's gotten her own back.
"We had a preview of it and the other ending [Warners] scored better. Director Andy Davis didn't care one way or another, which is pathetic. A director doesn't care about the ending of his movie. The studios follow focus groups. We had one theater in a multiplex show one ending and another theater show the other ending. And the studio totaled up the cards, and because the other ending did a little better, they decided to go with it.
"Today movies are a big business, and a big business immediately. A film can debut on 3000 screens. I understand they spent $50 million to open Spiderman. The costs are so huge that testing and focus groups become essential. It's like saying to Picasso, oh, this angle tests better. These [studio] people are no longer artists. They no longer have a point of view. The studios take the point of view that it is their movie and they want it to be appealing to as large a population as possible. And directors responsive to that work more frequently that directors who don't.
"This picture Unfaithful was more than five weeks over schedule and over budget. Director Adrian Lyne's a taskmaster and a difficult man. Everyone got pissed off with him. Sometimes he did 40 or 50 takes, which typically drives a studio insane. Everything today is cost conscious, not quality conscious, because studios don't believe that the public cares about quality. But Adrian made a terrific movie.
"I could never see myself making a movie like Spiderman or Star Wars. Those are comic books.
"The budget on A Perfect Murder was about $55 million. It cost more than it should. If they would've let me produce the movie, it would've cost significantly less. But the moment you sign on a Michael Douglas, who gets about $22 million, and you take a producer like Arnold Kopelson who takes a couple of million for himself, and everything has to be grand, and money is no object, then the budget gets bigger and bigger. And it is a relatively small movie.
"The people who have the leverage are the people who run the show. The stars in particular and anyone attached to the stars. They set the tone for the kind of movie that is made.
"I'm trying to make this John Grisham movie with Will Smith. But Grisham, who has script approval and actor approval, will not approve Will Smith.
"Will Smith was going to get $20 million. And he came with an entourage of eight people. The stories are well known today about the actors who have their own trainers and their own chefs... In the old days, the producer was empowered to hire and fire people. He was responsible for the cost of a movie. Stars were on contracts and could be punished and suspended. A producer today could get on a set and say no and everybody would laugh at him.
"It's a little different for a producer in the independent world. But if your financing hinges upon a certain star, and the star knows it, then you can't replace the star. Over 20 years ago, a friend of mine did a tiny movie in France. And the star actress, in the middle of the movie, decided that she wanted her boyfriend to get half the profits or else she would leave the movie.
"Today Tom Cruise is in the producing business.
"And let's say you have a director like Adrian Lyne who won't say print and keeps shooting. Who are you going to replace him with? Once the movie is over, the studio gets involved. The only place a producer has power is in the development process. In the old days, when I was an executive at United Artists and Columbia, the amount of meetings were nominal. You expected the filmmakers to come up with a movie that reflected your discussions. You didn't demand notes from everybody. Now everybody shows up with notes and comments and rewrites and drafts and it can go on for years. I'm developing something at Warner Brothers now and the writer has just finished over three-and-a-half years and 12 drafts of a picture. And every time we're about to start, the studio says, 'Oh, we just need him for a few more weeks to do another polish.' Today there are so many cooks that it is amazing that the broth ever gets served.
"I remember hanging out with Marty Scorsese in New York in the 1960s. He'd made one short film and he was teaching film. And I said to him, 'You don't even know how to make a movie. How can you teach it?'
"There's a famous story from the British Academy of Film about Director Karel Reisz, who made Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. He wrote the British Film Academy's book on The Art of Film Editing. Marty gave me a copy of the book. Years later when I was going to direct a movie in England, an agent told me the back story. After WWII, the Academy didn't have any textbooks. So they sent people out to write texts on the art of film editing, the art of this and that... So Karel Reisz wrote this book long before he ever made a movie. Fade out. Fade in. Years later, he's making his first movie [1955's Momma Don't Allow] and he can't get it to cut together. He's got all kinds of editing problems. So he calls the dean of English editors for help. And the guy says to Karel, 'You want me? You, who wrote the definitive book on film editing, want little old me?'
"United Artists ended up doing a movie with Karel Reisz. I went to dinner with him and he told me that the story was accurate. he said that when he wrote the book he didn't mean to suggest that he was a great savant who knew everything about film editing. He was just compiling attitudes of other film editors but he was always stuck as the author of the book on film editing, which always amused the other film editors.
"The 1960s were a wonderful time in the sense that not knowing didn't stop anybody. Marty learned to make films pretty well. Everybody in the late 1960s wanted to make movies and it destroyed the old guard in Hollywood and turned the business into a director's world. To write a book about producers today is a sad story. Most companies would just as soon not have anything to do with a producer. Unless it is a line producer. On A Perfect Murder, they gave the line producer [Peter MacGregor-Scott] a producer credit. In the old days, he would've just been a production manager. He was a dreadful man.
"Today the director is king. Who knows who produces a Steven Spielberg movie."
Luke: "Walter Parks."
Chris: "Let me tell you a story about him. A friend of mine [David Scarpa] wrote a movie called The Last Castle. A terrific script [eventually directed in 2001 by Rod Lurie] bought by Dreamworks. The first thing they do is hire someone else to rewrite it several times. Then Walter Parks rewrites it. And the director Rod Lurie, a closet writer, can't resist rewriting it. And by the time they're finished, the movie is a piece of shit. It went into the toilet in about two weeks. It was a disaster.
"My father told me this story about Jack Benny, a consummate comedian who never really became a movie star. They (writers, director, studio executives) went out to Pasadena to preview a Jack Benny movie. The audience roared from beginning to end. They went back to the studio and sat around and they analyzed the reactions. They were convinced this was going to be a smash. And one person said, 'Yes, it was great. There was just this one little moment. If we cut it...' And another person said, 'Yeah, and there was this other moment.' And it snowballed. By the time they'd finished recutting the movie, it was a disaster.
"A friend of mine, Bob Downey, father of Robert Downey Jr, was an underground filmmaker. I got credit for playing a lunatic postman in Bob Downey's  movie Too Much Sun. We went to a screening of an early cut and it was too long. Things didn't work well but it was funny. They kept cutting it down and soon they cut out all the laughs in the movie. When I finally saw the final cut, it was terrible. I asked the editor what happened. He said, 'Instead of letting it breath, they kept trimming every scene. They compressed the movie down so much there was nothing left to laugh at.' And the movie died. And Bob, even though he was a pioneer of underground cinema, has had a hard time as a filmmaker eversince.
"I see the same kind of thing happen in script notes and the development of movies today.
"My bete noire [dark knight] Arnold Kopelson did this movie Outbreak . I know because I was developing another picture at Warner Brothers at that time with the same executive who was in charge of Outbreak. They had a two-guy writing team [Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool] do the basic script. And they brought on board Dustin Hoffman who said that he'd like Elaine May to rewrite the movie for a million dollars. They refused. But they said ok to Carrie Fisher for $750,000.
"She rewrote the script. The studio was not happy. They went off to Hawaii to make the movie. They brought back the original writers. Then the director, Wolfgang Petersen, thinks of himself as a writer. So he rewrote the script. And in the mornings, before shooting, they'd all get together and have a paste-up. And each person had been rewriting the night before... And they'd take a third of a page of this script and a line from that script and they'd put it together like a jigsaw puzzle. As a young man, I went through that on the 1963 movie Cleopatra, that my father directed. There the scenes were written the night before. And what was going on was an absolute template on how not to make a movie.
"And this confusion is mirrored in the studio's willingness to give producers credits to anyone. Instead of giving someone a half a million dollars, they give a credit. And writers feel defensive because their work is changed. Star actors will sign on to a project and say, 'Oh, my character would never say these lines.' And these practically illiterate actors will become the writers. And the producers who've spent years developing the dialogue, that all gets chucked out the window. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.
"There were different sets of writers working on The Fugitive while it was shooting in Chicago. One person said to me that Andy Davis is the luckiest director in history that it all worked out. That picture should've been a total mess yet it came together. A producer today can only be a referee and try to stop people from killing each other.
"Today's big producers are mini studio heads mainly interested in the deal. When there were fights on Outbreak, Kopelson was nowhere to be found. The last thing a producer wants to do is to say to Dustin Hoffman, 'You're wrong.' Because maybe next year he needs Dustin Hoffman for a movie. A producer doesn't want to be here when there's trouble. I just want to be here when the TV cameras are here and I can show them that I am in charge.
"I remember associate producing a movie that Brian Grazer produced - 1986's Armed and Dangerous. It was a real piece of caca doodoo. And Brian Grazer was never there except for when we had a really dirty sexy scene with a girl he was interested in taking a look at... And when they were doing a studio publicity thing about the making of the movie, suddenly he wanted to be there because he wanted to show everybody he was the producer.
[Brian Grazer did not respond to an interview request.]
"This line producer who just did Don't Say a Word, which Arnold Kopelson produced, said to me, 'What kind of producer are you? Are you like Kopelson? Do you only show up when the star is there? Or are you going to be there everyday.' His point is that Kopelson ain't there except when he can show off to the big star. Such producers like to ingratiate themselves with the power, which is the movie stars. At all cost, they must stay in good with the movie stars, because those are the people who will get movies made.
[Arnold Kopelson refused my interview request.]
"Sad to say, if I were that kind of producer, I'd probably be much happier with a much bigger track record of successful movies. I love to hang out with the crew. I love the process of making a movie. I grew up with my dad making movies. I hung out at the lot. It was summer camp for me. The actors have always intimidated me and made me nervous. With my mother being an actress and my father being a director, the battles that they waged with actors... I don't want to be involved with that. I want to with the normal people who do real work. People who are much less complicated. Actors can be cruel and mean and petty and self-centered. You can't relax with them.
"I remember when I was with Bernardo Bertolucci in England. The English censors wanted to edit Last Tango in Paris. And a group of us were sitting around smoking marijuana. But not Bernardo. He had to stay in control.
"My mother [Rose Stradner] (a famous stage actress in Vienna before WWI) was an alcoholic. My father's brother Herman, who wrote Citizen Kane, was a big alcoholic. They could let themselves go and be drunk but he never could because he had to be on top of the situation. My father loved out of control actors because he could be the psychiatrist to them. The role that Bette Davis played in All About Eve was classic. He loved that kind of temperament. I find it too much a strain. I like to be with people with whom I can kick back and be myself and say whatever I want without worrying that you could walk away permanently scarred because I said something nasty.
"I find writers easiest to get along with. Writers are neurotic for different reasons though usually for good reasons. Though I resent that they are the first ones to get good money on a project. Writers have to deal with people and their complexities. I'm developing something at Fox now with a young writer. We're starting the second draft. I spent hours talking with him about the characters. It's almost like psychoanalysis. For most producers, their attention span is too short. They want to build empires. They can't wait to show up at the big glamorous premieres. Being locked in rooms with grubby writers who have to work with their brains does not appeal to them.
"Most producers have to turn over so many projects to justify their existence. They have to be big hoovering operation to suck up every script and book they can and schmooze with the actors and create an aura for themselves.
"Look at the pictures at the end of the year that get nominated for Academy awards. Most of them are not big studio pictures. Most of them are not even financed by the big studios. Most producers are not in business to make Oscar winning movies. They're in business to make as much money as possible.
"I spoke to Peter Biskind about this at length. He's writing a book on independent film. I supervised Playing for Keeps (1986), the only movie Bob and Harvey Weinstein wrote and directed (aside from a couple of animation efforts). David Korda was with Film Finances Corporation [a completion bond company] at the time."
From Imdb.com: "This movie could only be interesting to someone who is conducting an anthropological study of 1980s pop culture. Bad hair, bad soundtrack, bad lipstick, gratuitous shots of women's legs, bad overacting, ludicrously tight pants, bad plot. It's just very bad."
Chris: "You know how flamboyant and obnoxious the Weinstein's personalities are... This was in extremis. The producers needed somebody to look out for their interests, so they hired me as their representative. They saw that the Weinsteins were wild guys who would not care at all about budgets. They asked me to be in effect the line producer. The Weinsteins looked at me as though I were the dreadful Nazi Herman Goerring. I was appalled by what they did. The Weinsteins were rockn'roll promoters then. They hired some guys from California on a nonunion basis to make this low-budget movie. The Weinsteins were paranoid and crazed and would scream and yell. And they made this dreadful movie.
"I would call the financiers in London and say, 'Look out. It's getting worse. It's getting worse.' If you see the producer as a traffic cop or enforcer, those days are past. If you see a producer as someone who can work with the different elements and try to make everything fit together, that can happen. The third alternative is the producer as financier who is not really involved in the filmmaking process. He just raises money for other people to make movies.
"And now the Weinsteins are the DeMedicis of independent filmmaking. It seems inconceivable that these are the same people I worked with on that movie.
"In the 1970s, I worked in Italy as the head of film production company called Peah, an Italian film corporation headed by Italian producer Alberto Grimaldi. I fell in love with Europe. That run finished [circa 1977], and it became difficult for an American to work in the European film business... The Treaty of Roman, a circa 1960 agreement that governs how movies are made in Europe, requires that the producing elements be European. And the only exceptions that are permitted are for cast. To qualify for the government subsidies, each producer had to be European. As is typical, the English refused to participate in this.
"There is a famous story about the head of the ACTT [leading British film industry union] shot down a movie because it would've required going along with the fiction that Sydney Lumet was French.
"The Europeans would often make French-Spanish-Italian co-productions. Each government would kick in subsidies. Often you'd have a totally fictitious film that was dubbed in every character because each actor would be speaking a different language. The Spanish would say we have to have at least one Spanish star. The Germans would say, fine, we have to have at least one German star. The French would require a French star. And you'd get these hybrid films put together as a result of the tax structure. There's a case of where being a producer means a lot. Even though you had all these auteur directors running around saying, I am Monsieur Cinema.
"I speak fluent Italian. I was married to an Italian woman [first marriage]. I worked with producer Alberto Grimaldi on the re-editing of the Serge Leone western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Alberto is a shy lawyer but with courage and great instincts. He saw in me somebody who'd be a good liaison between him and United Artists and various filmmakers including Director Bernardo Bertolucci.
"I joined forces with Grimaldi in 1971 while Last Tango in Paris  was being written in Paris. Director Bernardo Bertolucci didn't speak English. I worked with Bernardo and often translated for him. I went on the set of the film. We had an agreement with United Artists to make the film for US$1 million. President Nixon then devalued the dollar and we needed another US$200,000. United Artists refused to pay. I then offered the movie to every other studio in America and they all turned it down. Grimaldi then put up the additional money. And the picture made millions of dollars.
"When the movie was on the cover of Time and Newsweek, it was only playing in one theater in New York. Everybody in the country wanted to see it and there was no place but one theater in New York to see it, where it played on a reserve seat basis as if it was a play. They were afraid that people would think the movie was pornographic so the distributor [United Artists] wanted to do this classy thing of releasing it in a shy, timid way for the first six months.
"Frank Yablans at Paramount told Bertolucci he would've opened it in a thousand theaters around the country and would've made a gazillion dollars. David Picker [head of United Artists] got pissed off about the remark but it was an accurate remark."
Luke: "Which of your films are you most proud of?"
"My favorite film was one that was never made. It should've been [Director Federico] Fellini's last movie. He saw 8 1/2 as the first part of a trilogy. The final movie, The Voyage of Masturner, was about himself and how he would end up. And the final scene has God in the projection room. It was never made because Fellini and Dino DeLaurentiis had a big fight. Then Fellini begged us at United Artists to make the film and we didn't. Then later, Fellini became bugged about ever finishing the movie because it would be like the end of his life. He was superstitious.
"Being around such great Italian filmmakers as Fellini made up for my not staying in America and keep my career moving more positively so that I would be a multi-billionaire.
"I lived in Italy from 1970-74, and then I moved to England for two years. I returned to America in 1976."
Luke: "There were so many American producers in London in the late 1960s such as Si Litvinoff and Judd Bernard."
Chris: "I'm well known as an Anglo-phobe. I do prefer the continent to England. If English was spoken in France or Italy, there would've been few Americans sitting in England freezing their asses off. There's a snob appeal about England. A lot of Americans loved the class of European life. England was the most pompous yet had a similar language. It was a natural headquarters for studios to run their European operations. Others simply wanted to live the high life. I found the English chilly. As Lord Byron said, 'The chilly isle with chilly women.'
"I went bankrupt in England. I lived off the dole and in people's basements.
"Even though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I've spent most of my life in New York and Europe. My mother was Austrian. I'm reluctant to think of a particular place as home. I like to think of the world as my home. If you were to say that I was to live in Tahiti for the next year, I'd say, 'Great, let's leave tomorrow.' I can adapt to the lifestyle of different places. I have a facility with languages.
"I've spent much of my professional life as a film executive. I started at Columbia in 1963. I've also spent decades as an independent producer. So many pictures have not happened.
"I'm not a packager. I don't call packagers like Arnold Kopelson producers. They're almost in the agency business. I think of the producer as someone intimately involved in the creative process."
Nancy leaves for a walk.
Luke: "Your wife is adorable. I can tell she has a great sense of humor."
Chris: "She's the one really nice thing that has happened to my life. My previous wife just got married a couple of weeks ago."
Luke: "Your not a philanderer like your dad."
Chris: "No. My brother [Tom, a director] is like that. I've never been a star fucker. [Director Joe Mankiewicz would sleep with his leading ladies, such as Joan Crawford and Gene Tierney.] I find actresses impossible to deal with. There's no one more psycho, insecure and self-centered than an actress. There's something about constantly offering yourself up for acceptance in auditions and it just frazzles them.
"In the old days, people loved being movie stars. They were at home in their own skin. Joe E. Brown is the guy who says, 'Well, nobody's perfect,' at the end of Some Like it Hot. That guy used to have a yacht on wheels. He'd drive up and down Hollywood Boulevard at night looking for girls. And they'd just bring the girls on board and fuck them. There was a sense of devil may care, let's have fun.
"There's this wonderful expression that Hitchcock is alleged to have said: 'Ingrid, it's only a movie.' We are not fashioning the Taj Mahal here. This is fun. We're like sports figures who get paid obscene amounts of money to play a game. We're not contributing anything to civilization.
"Today's stars live in Wyoming and Idaho and have enormous bodyguards and people who handle publicity. Getting to them is an impossible task. Mel Gibson is an example. People I know who've worked with him say what a huge process it is. You call somebody else and then that person calls somebody... The culture is different. People used to get together and have fun. They enjoyed being writers, directors, producers, actors... I remember as a kid the great parties when stars came together... That joy seems to have gone. I don't know if it is drugs or if people are shy today... It ain't the same world. It ain't the same business. The movie making business has become tougher. Everybody second guesses everybody. There's a culture afoot now where a man's word is not his bond.
"I remember Mike Frankovich, then head of Columbia Pictures, who said to me, 'If you ever get a submission from Swifty Lazar, be sure to go out and find out who really represents the talent.' Because Swifty stole everything from everyone else. And while that is an amusing anecdote, today you almost don't have to say it. And actors... I don't want to say anything because we're casting right now... But it's amazing to me how many people who are available who are said not to be available... Then you find out that they signed to do something else when they said they were going to do it with you.
"Our director [Gary Fleder] on this John Grisham picture [Runaway Jury] has just met with two actors, one of them Jennifer Connelly who supposedly wanted to play the female lead in our film. And our director met with her to find out that she'd never even read the script and couldn't even talk about it. But she took the meeting and nodded about it..."
Daily Variety reports March 5, 2002: "Courtroom drama "Jury" will be produced by Christopher Mankiewicz and overseen by president of production Sanford Panitch and senior VP Peter Cramer. Fleder's attachment revives the costly project, which had been on track to go into production this month until Will Smith and Mike Newell lost interest (Daily Variety, Dec. 19).
"New Regency originally paid a whopping $8 million for rights to the novel, which revolves around a jury foreman steering a precedent-setting verdict in a tobacco liability case. The project was subsequently revised to substitute gun makers for cigarette makers, leaving the principal characters and the thrust of the story intact."
Chris: "I was fired from Columbia on my birthday, October 8, 1965. I went in to see about a raise and I was told to forget it. And I was fired. People said, 'Don't worry about it. You'll be back here sooner or later.' And 15 years later, I was rehired at Columbia as the head of East Coast Production. I oversaw Jon Peters first movie, Eyes of Laura Mars. Typically enough it was 100% over budget and Peters walked around like he brought it in on budget. It was an absolute mess. At the time I left, we were developing All That Jazz with Bob Fosse, Altered States, and Kramer vs Kramer.
"In 1978, I came to Los Angeles to work for Steven Bach and United Artists in the middle of the Heavens Gate fiasco. You'll read a lot about me in the Steven Bach book Final Cut. A lot of people have called me and said, 'I just want to speak to the person who was in this book.' He gives me a lot of juicy lines and he doesn't even tell the half of it. That was a rocky period of time.
"Then I got involved with Graham Chapman of Monty Python. I wanted to make a comic pirate movie [that became 1983's Yellowbeard]. We knocked out a treatment and I sold the project to Warner Brothers. Peter Cooke wrote a script. George Harrison's partner had a company called Handmade Films, which took over the picture. They wanted to make all the Monty Python films. We all went to England to do the picture. David Korda was hired as my line producer. Oh God, what a cold winter that was. But at a certain point, Handmade chickened out.
"Terry Gilliam had just finished Time Bandits and it had gone way over budget. I got a call saying to fire everyone on the picture. Then one of the great betrayals happened. Graham was in financial trouble. He made a deal (netting him $600,000) behind my back with Orion Pictures and got rid of me as the producer of the movie. And Orion dumped all of us and said, 'Sue us.' You can't sue on contingency [where the lawyer takes a percentage of the final judgment in lieu of a fee] like you can here and I would've had to put up a chunk of money. Orion went ahead and made the movie badly. It turned out to be a bomb. When it was over, Graham came back to Los Angeles to apologize to me about what had happened. And a year later he was dead of cancer."
Luke: "He was an alcoholic and a homosexual, right?"
Chris: "Yes. He was flamboyantly on the wagon when I knew him. He used to order cases of soda pop. I remember going out with him and there was a tiny bit of alcohol in something and he refused it. He used to have these two different lovers. One would fly in when the other flew out. It was a mess.
"Of all the Monty Pythons that I knew, John Cleese was the funniest. John Cleese gave me his house in London. He loves American blondes and he was off pursuing one [psychologist Alice Faye Eichelberger] in California, a woman he eventually married. Graham was more complex. It's difficult to be generous when someone has stabbed you in the back and fucked you out of three years of your life. We spent thousands of hours together. The two people you can not go out to dinner with and not have a real laugh are John Cleese and Eric Idle. Graham was more professorial. He thought of himself as a doctor [he was an M.D.]. He used to smoke a pipe. One of the reasons that he was as funny as he was was that he was drunk. The stories that he regaled me with about being under the table at banquets because he was smashed. He had no caution because he had no inhibitions. And when he stopped drinking, he was much more serious.
"I got a producing deal at Columbia when David Puttnam took over. A project I developed at Warner Brothers called Wounded Knee was a heartbreak. I spent five years trying to get that made. It was the first Indian project but by the end it seemed like everyone else had made an Indian movie except us.
"My favorite movie is Casablanca. [Actor] George Raft turned it down. Bogart got lucky and happened to be in it. Ingrid Bergman was in it because she was waiting to do another film and she had nothing else to do. It was considered just a programmer. They were rewriting while the movie was going on. There's the famous story where Ingrid went to Hal Wallace, the producer, and asked how she was supposed to play the love scenes. 'Who am I going to be with at the end of the picture?' And Hal said, 'We don't know yet. Just play it down the middle.'"