Don Phillips - Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon

Dr. Jess Moody devotes a chapter, titled "The Man With the Golden Eye", to casting director and producer Don Phillips in his 1999 book Club Sandwich: Goes Great With Chicken Soup: A Collection of Best-Loved Stories.

Dr. Moody writes: I had heard that there was a certain man in Hollywood who weilded great influence because of a singular gift, a talent possessed by very few people on earth: his eye. This man's gift was heaven or hell to the future career of every actor he met.

They said that in a New York minute, he could tell if an actor could make it or not; and this was not based on the actor's talent but on a characteristic very superficial to most people.

Many times, when the casting directors could not make up their minds between two actors for a major part, they called in "The Eye" to make the decision. One brief look and "The Eye" would say, "This one, not that one," and that settled it.

One Sunday, I preached a rather ordinary sermon on Jesus' gift of seeing in people what most people couldn't see.

When we extended the invitation, the "altar call" as they call it in California, a man and his wife came forward. He was weeping. She was an attractive lady. He was a sartorial disaster. Blue jeans slit at the knee - then the fad of sixteen-year olds (but this guy was forty-five), a faded denim shirt, no socks, and loafers. Hair, generally uncombed, and reaching his shoulders like a superannuated hipie, one that didn't turn Republican, like the rest of them.

"I really want to settle it with Christ. Right here. Right now." He meant it.

As time went by, the man with the golden eye grtew more and more into spiritual maturity. His wife, Dottie Pearl, a masterful makeup artist who won many awards ranging all the way from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Tootsie, finally left Don, and the marriage was lost in the sea of Hollywood relativity and the mud of misinformation. Don was quite broken over this, but I never heard him criticize God or th church even one time. He shouldered it like the true man he was becoming. This man had more demons to fight than the uncomplicated average Christian.


I interviewed producer and casting director Don Phillips (a preacher's kid born December 21, 1940) in his office at Neo Entertainment April 22, 2002.

Don: "Michael Chinich and I began casting extras in New York in the early 1970s. I came from the corporate world and they thought that a corporate logo was more important than our real names. I was so wrong. So the first movies we did we were on the screen as Talent Services Associates Inc. [Such Good Friends, Thursday's Game, Heartbreak Kid, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-moon Marigolds, Summer Wishes Winter Dreams, Miracle on 34th Street, and Serpico].

"I grew up in Ventner, New Jersey, which is also yellow on the Monopoly board. I was born on St. James Place, which is orange for $180. Ventner is a heavily Jewish town. All my fellow cub scouts were Jewish. I went to Hebrew School on Saturday so I could play basketball in the Jewish Community Center."

Luke: "How come you never converted to Judaism?"

Don: "Because I believe in Jesus Christ. I am a Judeo-Christian. We both believe in the same God but I believe He has a son named Jesus Christ.

"When I was nine, we moved to another island next to Atlantic City, Ocean City. In high school, I decided that instead of writing a term paper, I'd write a play with my friend. And we'd perform these plays. In my freshman year, we had a course in world history. At the time, there was a popular TV show called Dragnet. We decided to call our show Fishnet. We were getting A grades for our plays and they were fun.

"By my Senior year, we were writing great stuff as well as playing all the sports. Growing up then was fun because we kids did all these clean activities. I said to my friend who's since become chairman of the board of several of the biggest oil companies in the world, 'Why don't we become playwrights?' And he said, 'Are you crazy? Only queers go to Hollywood.' I said, 'You're right.' He said, 'You either become a doctor or lawyer or insurance salesman or teacher. You don't go to Hollywood with all those queers.' That was 1957.

"I left teaching to go into the business world. I went into advertising and marketing with Nabisco. I went to St. Josephs College in Philadelphia and took four years of courses in food and marketing. I became a hot shot boy for Nabisco, winning their special Silver Tray award and the coveted Nabisco ring.

"In those days, corporations were run differently. If you hadn't served your time, you didn't get promoted.

"I married a wealth woman (Mona Newman). Her father (Thomas Newman) invented steel containers. He was a German Jew who came to America with an idea to containerize things. His company was Container Transport International, CTI.

"I wanted to move to New York and work for Nabisco on Park Avenue. They told me I needed to wait a few years. So I resigned.

"My father in law introduced me to Juan Metzger, a Spanish Jew, whose family ran Dannon Yoghurt. I got a job as assistant to the president. I was in my late 20s. I hated yoghurt.

"These were the days of the head hunters, who'd look out for these young executives and find them jobs. I got offered a job to go to Continental Banking Company, which owned Wonderbread. The headquarters were in Rye, New York, in Westchester County, which is where my wife and I lived.

"I became a national accounts manager and flew all over the country. I'd go to a hotel and meet the manager and the general manager and they'd always take me out to dinner. I'd go to their hotels and at night, there'd be a piano player or a duo or a real rockn'roll band. I asked the managers how they got their acts, and they said they were a pain in the ass. Sometimes they didn't show up.

"I decided to start a national company that books acts for the major chain hotels. I tested out my idea on Joe Smith, the president of Holiday Inn. I told him my idea and he said I had his business. I started Talent Services Associates Inc.

"Now, my wife and I were avid theatergoers. We joined the Lincoln Center in Manhattan. I was the chairman of the United Way's Battle of the Bands contest.

"Now Talent Services Associates Inc. didn't have a clue that if I went to Denver, Colorado, and I booked a nice band, and the commission was $200, that the plane might have been $240. Things were not working out.

"One day in Manhattan, I ran into a guy I hadn't seen in ten years. He made industrial movies. He said, 'We're doing one on Tuesday for a paper company that sells school supplies. They want to appeal to the youth. We're going to film a rockn'roll group and have a disc jockey doing a voice-over. Don, how about you giving me one of your rockn'roll groups and I'll give them $500 for the day.'

"I showed up to the shoot on Tuesday. They've got 35mm cameras and lighting guys and grips and actors. I spend 12 hours that day watching them do it. My jaw drops open and I realize that this is what I want to do the rest of my life. I want to make films.

"The only guy I know remotely connected to show business is Tom Sullivan, who was an actor and a partner in a PR firm on Madison Avenue. This is how God works. I tell him my story. 'But I don't know what do do? I'm not an actor.' He said, 'You could be an agent or manager.' I said, 'Tom, I've done that with the bands. I don't like flesh peddling.' He said, 'Well, there's always casting.'

"Casting? I go to Lincoln Center and I know some actors and I'm always watching a movie and thinking, wouldn't he be better in this movie?

"Tom's regular secretary is pregnant and is having her child. And the temporary secretary is Marian Chinich. She'd just married Michael, who had experience in casting. He was starving. Tom set us up.

"We started out casting industrials, commercials and book covers. Our first movie was for Otto Preminger, Such Good Friends. Otto Preminger was the tyrant of tyrants. If you ever got a chance to work for this man, you'd probably get fired.

"My Talent Services Inc. card said we had offices in London, Beverly Hills, New York. I had buddies. They saw that on our letterhead and were impressed. In those days, you got 10%. So if the extras budget was $50,000, you'd get $5000. We agreed to work for 5%. We got the job and we did not get fired. Otto Preminger wrote an open letter to Variety saying we were the best he'd ever worked with.

"I got my first taste of producing on [Polish] Director Krzysztof Zanussi's film The Catamount Killing [1974]. He was the darling of all the film festivals."

From Imdb.com: "Born in 1939 in Warsaw, Poland. Documentary and feature film director. Studied physics at Warsaw University and philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Cracow. Graduated from Lodz Film Academy in 1966. Amateur film maker. His school diploma film _Death of a Provincial_ (Smierc prowincjala, 1966) was awarded in Venice, Mannheim, Valladolid and Moscow 1967."

Don: "He was a wonderful intelligent filmmaker who is good friends with the Pope. He was good friends with Roman Polanski. The Polish Wave with him, Polanski and Andrzej Wajda was coming on strong. Krzysztof got to make his first American movie, The Catamount Killing. I cast, was associate producer, accountant. I went on location. It won festival awards. It was a dime-store novel trying to turn into a psychological thriller.

"After we shot the picture, Chip Taylor, Jon Voight's baby brother, wanted to produce a film Zanussi had written. Chip wrote the song, 'Wild Thing' and 'Just Call Me Angel of the Morning.' I put him in the movie as a sheriff. He was a little stiff. But Chip fell in love with Zanussi, with his mind and his philosophy.

"We flew to Berlin where Krzysztof was editing the picture. It is December, 1973, and Krzysztof wants to take us to Poland. We had to fly out of East Germany. Krzysztof told us to tell customs we are just tourists. Please don't mention my name.

"We had a great Polish cinematographer Witold Sobocinski. Witold was a rebel. He bought a Mercedes while in Germany and got punished for it by the Polish communists. Witold's wife was a doctor who did research on thirst at Oxford and Cambridge. And they lived in a tiny cheap apartment.

"I've been known to have a big mouth. I was warned not to say anything. When Chip (who was quiet) and I got on the plane to go to Warsaw, I asked for some Polish newspapers. I figured they might have a picture of Zanussi. He was huge in Poland. In most Communist countries, the director is more lauded than any actor. They love the artist.

"The captain comes back. 'I understand you want the Warsaw papers. Do you speak Polish?' I said no. He said, 'Then why would you want to look at the Polish newspapers?' I said, 'I don't know, I just wanted to look at the pictures.' The captain went back and the stewardess gave me the papers.

"And Chip said to me, 'Don, they think we're spies. You were told to keep your mouth shut.'

"We get to Warsaw. We're last off the plane. We're escorted off the plane by six soldiers with Uzis. Chip disappeared into customs. It felt clandestine and frightening. When you go into customs, they close a steel door and you're separated from the real world until they check your passport and open the steel door.

"I'd just separated from my wife and it was a crazy time for me mentally. I come to the customs. The guy takes my passport. He asks what I'm doing in Poland. I tell him I'm a tourist. The guy says, 'I don't believe you. Let's wait a minute. Would you like a cigarette?' I said no. He replied, 'No, you will smoke.' Ok, I will smoke.

"He said, 'Do you like women?' I said yes. He said, 'Do you want women?' I was in no mood to carry on this conversation. I said no.

"He opened up a drawer, pulled out a Luger and cocked it. He put it right in front of the window facing me. And he said, 'Are you sure you don't want women?'

"I said, 'Listen pal. I don't want women. Why are detaining me? Give me my passport.' We've been chatting for 25 minutes. I take a cigarette. I'm getting crazy.

"I said, 'Listen, you motherfucker. I'm here to see my dear friend Krzysztof Zanussi and my dear friend Witold Sobocinski.' I said the right thing. He apologized, stamped my passport and handed it back, opened the door and there were Krzysztof Zanussi and Witold Sobocinski waiting for me with open arms.

"Krzysztof Zanussi takes us around Warsaw. He speaks 13 languages. We were followed by guys in black raincoats. They were trying to entrap us to exchange money on the black-market.

"Krzysztof wanted to take a nine-hour train ride to Krakow. The city hasn't changed since the Ninth Century. We were going to visit Krzysztof's dear friend, Andrzej Wajda, who eventually made Man of Marble [1977]. He ranks up there with Bergman and Fellini. Then we were to visit composer Wojciech Kilar, who eventually composed Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. Then we'd go see Kilar's parents.

"Between Zanusi's four years of studying physics, and four years studying philosophy, he took a vow of silence for one full year and lived in a Ninth Century monastery outside of Krakow.

"We were told Kilar's parents were in the country. On the way, we stopped at Zanusi's monastery. Zanusi rang the big bell and out walked the monk, with the old Catholic outfit on. Zanusi said he wanted to show his two friends from America (Chip and Don) where he slept, prayed, ate, etc... And the monk looked around and said in Polish, looking at me, 'He can't come in because he can't keep his mouth shut.'

"I hadn't said a word. But he looked at me and saw that I couldn't keep my mouth shut. Zanusi says forget it, we'll go see Kilar's parents. We drive and it is Auschwitz. You walk in and there are bins in these buildings. One bin is just hair. One bin is just glasses. And on the wall are pictures of everybody they gassed and killed. There are two shots of each person. One is full frontal and you can see they all weigh about 80 pounds. And there's a side shot. And because they're so weak, there's a nail driven into the back of their skull so their head can be held up. And these were Kilar's parents who were gassed and killed.

"The German were so proud of their medical experiments that they filmed them. We watched some of these horrid pictures. And it was snowing that day and it was so brutal. It's now late in the afternoon. We drive back to Krakow to go to this Catholic church. Zanussi goes up the steps to the back of the rectory and this priest comes out. He has a key about two feet long to unlock the catacombs. The priest walks with us and talks with us. Franz Liszt's heart is buried in the church. The priest speaks good English. As we were saying goodbye, the priest says, 'If you had gotten here half an hour later, I wouldn't have been here. Because I have to go to Warsaw tonight.'

"That priest was a Cardinal, the future Pope. He was Zanussi's best friend. He had written plays. He loved the theater and he loved the arts. Zanussi made a movie a few years ago that the Pope wrote the screenplay. And I would've never met him if I could've kept my mouth shut.

"After casting Dog Day Afternoon [1975] for Director Sydney Lumet, we were considered the mavens of the East. I moved to Hollywood in 1975 and got a job right away at MGM.

"My mother and father were sitting on their porch in 1977 in Ventner, New Jersey. An elderly man came up the steps and introduced himself as Max, the [Jewish] furrier with a business on the boardwalk. He said he'd been observing my father for 30-something years. And Max had decided to give my father and my mother an all-expenses paid trip to Israel for 17 days. He pulled out the tickets and gave them to my father. And my father naturally said, 'Isn't that awfully expensive?' And the guy said, 'I knew you were going to say that.' And he reached into his other pocket and pulled out a ten-day trip.

"My dad, when he'd marry somebody, he'd give you the money back as a wedding present. If he buried you, he'd give you the money back. One time they gave him a bus, and he gave it back to the church. They gave him a house and he gave it back to the church. If you had a child in the hospital, my father would sit with your child. Dad was a giving man. When he was young, he used to preach like some dingdong, on a platform off the boardwalk. That's where most of the Jews who owned stores got to know my father. They got to know that he wasn't a fanatic but was a shy and humble man.

"My dad prayed about. And it was Israel. It was where Jesus walked. My dad could not pass this up. So he and my mother went to Israel. One day dad was going to fulfill his dream of baptizing a few people in the river Jordan, where Jesus was baptized. There he met another minister, Jess Moody, who was a minister to many presidents and had a humongous church in Van Nuys, CA. They met and they dug each other. And they found out that both of their sons were in the movie business. Dr. Moody's son was working for Burt Reynolds and living in Georgia. I was in California doing every drug known to man and as far away from God as I could possibly be.

"A couple of years later, in early 1979, I was ready to shoot Melvin and Howard. My parents wanted to come out to LA. I said yes, they could stay in my four bedroom house but they could not mention God or try to get me to go to church. My father was excited about coming out so he could go see Jess Moody's church and hear him preach. And they did that. And at the end of the service, they got down at the altar, Jess and my father, and prayed for their sinful boys, their wayward sons.

"Melvin and Howard got made. It took another year before the studio allowed it to come out. There was nudity in Melvin and Howard, not to titillate, but just defiant nudity. Mary Steenburgen decides she's going to quit her job as a cocktail waitress at a strip joint. She pulls off her outfit, quits, and storms off naked. I'm sure that's one of the scenes that helps her get the Oscar. [for Best Supporting Actress]."

Leonard Maltin writes: "But it was her disarming performance as the slightly daffy wife of hapless Howard Hughes heir Melvin Dummar (played by Paul LeMat) in Melvin and Howard (1980) that cemented her stardom-and won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress."

Don: "But my parents thought it was sinful nudity. We weren't on speaking terms. Their boy had taken it to the limit. I had gotten married [to make-up artist Dorothy Pearl]. We bought a beautiful home. We got ourselves a frenetic Cocker Spaniel. We called him Bo, after Bo Goldman who wrote Melvin and Howard and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It was 1982. Things were going well in our lives. I was not communicating with my mother and father. Dorothy took a job doing make-up for Jessica Lange in Tootsie. When she got there, Dustin shut the show down because whoever was doing his makeup was doing a terrible job. So Dorothy did Dustin's make-up and she won the British academy award.

"Dorothy decided to separate from me. She started dating someone else in New York. One day, after the phone call, little Bo decided to get the shits. And he shit all over the walls, all over the floors, all over our beautiful furniture. And our house was architecturally gorgeous. So I cleaned it up off the walls. I got down on the rug and the smell was so bad, I was gagging so much, that I started to break down and cry. I guess things had come to a headway in my life because I couldn't stop crying. Now I don't believe that God talks to you in this way but this is exactly what happened to me.

"I yelled out amidst my tears, OK God, what do you want from me?' And a voice in my head said, 'Call your father.' So I called my father and he said, 'Son, your mother and I have given you up to God. We can't help you anymore. We don't want to talk to you. We tried for so many years. Here's what I think you should do. You should go visit Jess Moody at his church.'

"I did. And hence my reconversion and giving myself back to God. Dorothy and I restated our marriage vows at the end of that summer at Notre Dame, Paris."

Luke: "Tell me about Melvin and Howard."

Don: "Art Linson, who was my partner on the project and the other producer, was someone I'd worked for on Car Wash. I was the casting director and associate producer. Art told me to come to him with a story and we'd make a movie together. Art has since written a book called A Pound of Flesh about his stories of producing. He's got a whole chapter on Melvin and Howard.

"It took writer Bo Goldman about eight months to do a first draft. It was then called Sonny, the nickname of Howard Hughes. If you knew Howard Hughes, you didn't call him Howard or Hughes. You called him Sonny. Doing the research, Bo became more fascinated with Howard Hughes than Melvin Dumar. So my original idea for making Melvin and Howard was that we would bookend Howard Hughes and we would tell mainly about the ride. Bo wrote a different movie. But Ned Tannen, head of Universal motion pictures, said to Bo, 'This is a brilliant script but we need it to get back to its original focus. Universal is now making a television version of the life of Howard Hughes starring Tommy Lee Jones. I don't want another Howard Hughes movie.

"In those days, studios would have development deals with certain directors, giving them first-look capabilities. These directors were paid a handsome sum to say no to a lot of movies. Ned gave the script to Mike Nichols who was known for his ability to help a writer shape a movie. Mike loved the script and was hired to direct the movie. He worked for months at the luxurious Carlisle hotel on 79th Street in Manhattan. And three months later came a wonderful script called Melvin and Howard. Now it was time to cast the movie.

"At this point, 1978, Mike Nichols had directed six movies. Three were classics - The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge and Virginia Wolff. After those three movies, he directed three turkeys - Day of the Dolphin and Catch 22 and The Fortune. So Mike decided to return to directing Broadway. He'd been the premiere director of Neal Simon comedies.

"Jack Nicholson met with Mike Nichols at The Carlisle and Mike asked me if I'd be willing to wait a year for Jack Nicholson. I thought the Melvin character should be anonymous and that Jack would be a distraction, I said no. I pulled off my shoe and pounded the coffee table, which Mike Nichols sat behind, so hard that Mike's Valium went flying. And I said, 'There's no way in hell I'll wait a year.' Eventually Johnathan Demme directed the movie.

"After the movie was made, the powers that be at Universal did not like the film. A president of distribution at the screening not only had an eye patch on because he had gotten drunk the night before and fallen down, he fell asleep six minutes into the movie. His report was that it will never play in the drive-ins and this is not a movie that should ever see the light of day. The movie hung around. They postponed it. They didn't send things directly to video in those years. We never gave up.

"Johnathan Demme had two friends in the business who were great directors, Bernardo Bertolucci and Frederico Fellini. Johnathan showed the movie to them separately. Fellini said, 'I'm influential at the Venice Film Festival. I'll get this movie in.' And Bertolucci said, 'Johnny, I'm influential at the New York Film Festival. I'll get your movie in.' It's free. You don't have to spend any marketing money. It's a great way to open your movie.

"The two festivals said yes to it. The head of the Cannes Festival wanted it too. The movie was sent over to France to be subtitled. I got a call at 5AM from the Cannes Festival, asking, 'Where is the print of Melvin and Howard?' I called the studio and they told me, 'We don't want your movie in Cannes, because then it will be known as a festival movie and we don't make any movies to be festival movies. So we've locked the print up in Paris. And you're not going on the trip.'

"I had the two other festivals up my sleeve. I waited for a couple of weeks and asked to put my movie in the New York and Venice film festivals. I was told no. I protested so much that they agreed to have a meeting. I brought Johnathan out from New York. We went up to the 14th floor. There's a long table and there were about a dozen executives there. I said it would be smart and wise to open in New York and Venice, because then we'd cover both bases, North America and Europe. And they said no.

"I couldn't take it any longer. I jumped up onto the table. I was dressed in my jeans and my jacket. I took my shoes off. I took my socks off. I took my shirt off. I took my jeans off. There I was in my underwear, yelling and screaming and walking around. And I told the boys that I was going to show them my ugly balls and my dick if they did not agree to put Melvin and Howard in the festival.

"A squeak came down from one end before they wanted to see me parading myself balls ass naked. 'We will allow you to be in the New York Film Festival if we are opening night.' Now, opening night is like the award that you don't know you get until two weeks before. You can not request opening night.

"But when I heard that I had a shot at it, I figured that I might as well put my clothes back on and take a shot. I said, 'Fellows, if they pick me for opening night, then I want to go to Venice. Do you agree?' They just wanted to shut me up. They just wanted me out of their hair. How much money could this cost them? A couple of plane fares and a print for Venice and New York? This is not the way you open a movie.

"We were picked opening night for the New York festival. It was a proud night. It was a standing ovation night. And now I can remember seeing some of those executives going around beating on their chests, saying, 'Yeah, we knew it.' They didn't know it. Eventually Melvin and Howard won 26 critical awards, including Best Picture of the Year from the National Society of Film Critics.

"I produced [1991's] The Indian Runner, written and directed by Sean Penn. I cast Sean in 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I also cast Pam Springsteen as a cheerleader. She's Bruce Springsteen's sister. Sean fell in love with Pam and they got engaged.

"Pam got another part to do back in Virginia. In the meantime, Bruce sent a tape of his last album to his sister. Naturally she played it for her fiancee. Sean heard a song, Last Highwayman, and not only did he weep, but he got Pam to call her brother up so he could tell Bruce that he loved the song and someday he hoped to do a movie based on it. Bruce gave him the rights.

"The song is a story of two brothers, one a cop and one a bad boy returning from Vietnam. Sean tried for many years to get the project off the ground. By 1988, Bruce was a superstar. Sean was long broken up with Pam. He'd been married to Madonna. He was making a movie in Canada with Bobbie DeNiro and Art Linson called We're No Angels. At the time, acting was make Sean sick. He'd get vicious headaches. He'd also get nauseous.

"He'd have some Scotch in his dressing room. He decided to make his time productive, he'd write this movie. He wrote A Slow Dark Coming. He showed the script to two producers with whom he'd made five films. They both said it was brilliant but there was no way in hell that you could make a movie about a guy who murders somebody and gets away with it at the end. It was too much of a downer. So Sean put the script away.

"In 1987, I decided that I wanted to make a great movie. I wanted to make the love story of Zhivago and the adventures of Lawrence Arabia combined into one movie. I'd been hearing a lot of sermons in church from Jess Moody who's a great storyteller about [19th Century British missionary to Africa] David Livingstone. I wrote down a treatment and I gave it to a great actor, a great producer, a great director and a great writer, just to find out if I was in the right track. The actor was Sean Penn. He said, 'Count me in.' I wanted him to play Livingstone. The director, Hal Ashby, said, 'Count me in. This is some movie.' I gave it to Bo Goldman. Bo said it would make a wonderful movie. The producer was David Puttnam. David said, 'This is a wonderful movie. Go for it. I've got mononucleosis. I've just resigned from Columbia. I'm not going to do anything for a year. If you need any help, just call me.'

"So off I went to make David Livingstone. I ran into many problems along the way.

"In the summer of 1989, I have a meeting with Sean Penn about playing Livingstone. Sean informs me that he's never going to act again. He's going to do whatever it takes to direct a movie. I told him that I'd be honored to produce his first movie. He said, 'Really? Meet me at my house tomorrow morning at 9AM.'

"I met him at his beautiful home in Malibu, which burned to the ground around 1993. Sean said, 'Here's a script I'm fond of. It's called A Slow Dark Coming. It's written by Jay Reeves McBee, a prisoner on death row in San Quentin. I took it home and read it. Because of knowing many Bible stories, I had a tremendous affinity for this script, because it reminded me of Cain and Abel. And yes, at the end, one brother got away with murder and the other brother let him go because blood is thicker than water, and I understood.

"I met with Sean. I said, 'I don't care if this guy is on death row. I don't care if he mass murdered 60 people. This sonofabitch can write.' Sean said, 'I'm Jay Reeves McBee.' We shook hands and a year later we were shooting in Nebraska. This time we did get to go to Cannes and get a standing ovation.

"Producing is largely casting. You have to cast the right writer, the right director, the right actors and the right crew. Producing was natural for me. When I was a young man, I was always picking a team, finding someone to buy the uniforms, to get the equipment and plan our stupid football, basketball, and baseball leagues. That was preparing me for my life's work."

From Art Linson's 1993 book, A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood:

Don [Phillips] had been working for me as a casting director on Car Wash, but he wanted a change. Like everyone else in southern California, he thought being a movie producer was the E ticket, and nothing I could say would dampen his convictions. In a weak moment, I suggested that if he could bring me something good to make a movie about, I would work on it with him. Every day for several weeks, Don would fill up the office with one peculiar idea after another. Even though most of these notions were simply twisted, there was nothing I could say or do that would discourage him.

Producer Art Linson

From the Los Angeles Times: Ever since Julia Phillips' memoir, "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again," landed on bestseller lists in 1991, a veritable flotilla of Hollywood players and would-be players have deemed themselves important enough to churn out their memoirs, with varying degrees of insight and truthfulness, from Lynda Obst to Mike Medavoy, Sumner Redstone and Harry Knowles.

Unlike many, Linson is actually an amusing writer, and he even wrote the book himself. While Phillips ladled out her Hollywood dish with invective, Linson is more of an absurdist, focusing on the dashed expectations involved with making such intelligent but not particularly commercial fare as "Fight Club" (1999) and "Great Expectations" (1998) (from which one swift Fox executive tried to nix Gwyneth Paltrow because she has "no chin").

As a producer, Linson concentrated on making a number of movies about macho men engaged in varying forms of mano-a-mano combat, from "The Untouchables" (1987) to "Heat" (1995) and "The Edge" (1997). In his own life, he's a keen anthropologist of Hollywood one-upmanship, a decoder of the strange dances of power between studios and producers, agents and stars.