Producer Rob Carliner

I sat down with Robert Duvall's producer Rob Carliner at his Butchers Run Films office, May 22, 2002. In his early 30s, he's of medium height, wears glasses and has graying hair. He speaks slowly and deliberately and seems to mean what he says. He's the opposite of the fast talking Avi Lerner, Don Simpson, Randy Emmett style producer.

Rob: "My parents divorced. I grew up with my older brother and my mom, a homemaker, in Manhattan. My father, Mark Carliner, is a TV producer in Los Angeles. I'd visit him over the holidays. He's been a valuable asset for me in getting started in the business.

"I went to Horace Mann, a well known Ivy-League feeder private school in New York. About ten of my classmates ended up pursuing the entertainment business, writing for Seinfeld and Fraser. This industry attracts people from all over the country because there are no rules. There is no set system by which you get to a certain level. You don't have to wait for five years to become a partner. You can be in highschool and write a script and get it into the hands of an agent or producer and sell it. Nobody cares where you are, what you look like, what school you went to...

"My older brother Paul is a staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee. Our worlds are strangely similar. There's a unique bridge between Hollywood and Washington. I love exploring it with my brother. We can trade war stories and they are eerily similar. We think that Hollywood is the center of the universe but we realize that the numbers here pale in comparison to Washington D.C.. We deal in the hundreds of millions of dollars and they deal in the tens of billions. The personality types are similar too with the senators and the movie stars. There are similar forces at work."

I spot a picture on the wall of Rob with President Clinton.

Rob: "During The Apostle promotion train, one of our stops happened to be at the Clinton White House, shortly after the Monica Lewinsky scandal first broke. We had a screening of The Apostle with Bill and Hillary as one of several stops that also included Cannes, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Academy Awards... As my first feature film, it was a home run. The hardest thing will be to make another film that equals that one."

I found this mention of Paul Carliner in an article in the 3/4/99 John Hopkins University News-Letter:

Paul Carliner, '87, echoed Joseph's enthusiasm about working for the federal government. Carliner, who majored in political science, works for the office of Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. As a senior legislative assistant, Carliner advises Mikulski on matters dealing with the Senate Committee on Budget and Appropriations.

Speaking of working for the government, Carliner said, "Despite everything you read and hear, it is a public service, and you can make a difference."

Carliner has made a difference. During a controversy over domestic and imported sugar, the Domino Sugar factory in south Baltimore faced the threat of closing, an outcome that would have left 600 workers without jobs.

Carliner was a part of the team that successfully lobbied the Secretary of Agriculture into allowing into the country more imported sugar, thus saving the jobs.

"I'll never forget the look on the faces of those workers when I went down there. They were saying, 'You saved my job. You saved my house, my kids' education.' If you work for the government, you will have moments like that which are priceless. Whether it's saving lives in Bosnia or jobs in Baltimore, you can make a difference," said Carliner.

Rob: "I went to Princeton for two years and then transferred to the University of Michigan. I graduated in 1992 with a degree in Russian Studies. I figured that I would end up either in the diplomatic corp or business or law. I'd seen enough of Hollywood that given my personality, I didn't think it would be a world I'd be comfortable in. Hollywood was too unpredictable. I'm more conservative and methodical. My track was heading to law school but I got sidetracked once I got a taste of the movie business in 1991 as a PA on the Russian set of my father's TV movie Stalin. It enabled me to combine my Russian studies with my language skills.

"Once I saw how a movie was made, I was hooked. It was an incredible window into how people live in the movie business and the kinds of people the business attracts. Hollywood does attract a certain personality type that you don't find in most other businesses.

"I moved to Los Angeles after graduation and hustled for a job. I worked as a production assistant on different movies and then landed at Duvall's company, because I'd become friends with the guy (Brad Wilson) running the company. Duvall had just signed a production deal at Sony. I wrote this impassioned letter to Duvall. He didn't know me even though I had PA'd on the set of Stalin. He was standoffish, particularly because I was the son of the producer of the movie. Duvall is an outsider. Being related to somebody in the industry was an obstacle more than a help in the Duvall world. Actors generally are against the management and producers.

"I wrote a letter and said that I would sacrifice everything to work in the office. Please give me a chance.

"Once I was in the office, Duvall recognized my work ethic. I read everything that came in. I made myself knowledgeable on everything going on.

"I spent three years toiling, answering phones and reading scripts. At one point, Duvall said, 'I need an assistant for this job I'm doing. Why don't you pack your stuff and come with me.' And I didn't really have an option. My attitude was, 'Whatever it takes, I'll do it.'

"Then I caught a lucky break. Brad got another job offer and decided to leave the company in 1995. I was 25 years old at the time. The day Brad called Duvall to say he was leaving, Bobby [Duvall] called me and said, 'Brad's leaving the company. I'm going to give you a shot at running the company. When you go into work today, move yourself into the big office, find yourself an assistant and let's go.'

"We immediately went into pre-production on the TNT film The Man Who Captured Eichman (1996). That was my first producer credit.

"Duvall is based on the East Coast. TNT is based here. If I had been in their shoes, I would have been equally disturbed. You can only imagine the look on the TNT executives when I went in. But everything worked out.

"The Eichman story was based on a book by Peter Malkin that he'd been trying to set up for years. Duvall had read the book years prior to my joining the company. Once we got the rights to the book, we found writer Lionel Chetwynd who did the screenplay, which follows the book closely.

"The controversy about the telling of the capture of Eichman story is that you have at least nine guys involved in the capture, and each one tells the story differently. There's no objective source. I'm sure that not all guys involved were told everything. Malkin's book is one version.

"We went to great lengths to do the movie right. We shot it in Argentina. We shot it in the exact location that Eichman lived, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires."

Luke: "It was more talky than I expected."

Rob: "In a perfect world, it would've been nice to open up and show the city more. But the fascination for Duvall was this guy Eichman was in a room with an Israeli Mossad agent who lost his entire family in the Holocaust. That's not inherently cinematic. It's inherently dramatic. It was a struggle to balance the cinematic elements that weren't really there with the dramatic elements that were.

"Robert Duvall wrote The Apostle years before I joined the company. Different people along the way had tried to get it made, including his agents at William Morris. Once Eichman was put to bed and turned out well, it was not outside the realm of possibility that we could do The Apostle ourselves.

"He decided to finance the movie out of his own pocket. He wanted to do it for as little as possible. 'Make sure you know what you're doing and watch my back. Watch my money.' For me it was the ultimate Ph.D. thesis project. Here one of the greatest actors is asking me to produce his passion project. I never stopped to question whether I can really do it.

"It was the purest way to make a movie. The one guy using his own money, with one producer, with nobody to answer to. It doesn't happen. Even if you're the biggest producer in Hollywood, you are going to have to answer to somebody.

"It was the ultimate in freedom. And that is one quality that does not exist in the movie making process - freedom.

"We shot in Louisiana. I was on the set every day. Duvall, who directed and starred, his focus was on his lines and the other actors... I oversaw the details. I filtered out the nonessential elements so Bob could focus on the job at hand. I didn't want him burdened down with the minutiae of making a movie. Knowing him as many years as I did, I knew what to bring to his attention and what not to bring to his attention. That's a tricky dilemma for producers.

"We tried to mix professional actors with amateurs. Duvall had certain actors he wanted in the movie, including Farrah Fawcett and Billy Bob Thornton. He also wanted a subset of non-actors, people he would pick off the street. And one of the guys we ended up going with was Rick Dial (plays the fat guy who runs the radio station), this furniture salesman from Melverne, Arkansas. He was in Slingblade, which is where Bob saw him.

"Part of the chore of getting a movie made is figuring out a schedule to fit all the pieces of the puzzle. The hardest scheduling problem for us was Rick Dial's schedule because he refused to participate in the movie if it conflicted with the semiannual sale in Melverne. He didn't want to give up his business just to be in a stupid movie. And for Bobby, it was just as important to get Rick Dial as Farrah Fawcett.

"On the set, we knew the movie was different. Everybody who signed on to the movie, from the Teamster on up, knew that they were working with Robert Duvall and that he was using his own money. The usual obstacles you face in making a movie over money and attitude were not there. There were no meal penalties. It created an attitude that you don't find on big-budgeted movies.

"Bob directed two previous films - the feature Angela My Love and a documentary on a rodeo family in Nebraska."

Luke: "Did making the movie change you?"

Rob: "I can only hope that I can come close to the experience again. My fear is that it will be really hard. That movie was a pure expression on many different levels. Academy award winning editor Walter Murch told me that The Apostle was an A, and my best bet on my next film was to aim for a B."

Luke: "Then you did a movie I can't get my hands on, A Shot at Glory. Robert Duvall coaches a Scottish soccer team."

Rob: "It just got a limited 225-theater release. It opened the same day as Spiderman. It came and went. It got buried. It's the flip side to The Apostle scenario. The movie was made with private money. With The Apostle, we took it to the Toronto Film Festival and sold it to a major distributor. We tried to follow that same track with the soccer movie and we premiered in Toronto in year 2000. And we had no bids. In the space of a couple of years, we went from hero to goat.

"I'm proud of the film. In the world of independent films, unless you have some major reviews behind you, it is hard to get your film seen, when on any given weekend, there are ten films opening.

"There was no easy marketing angle for A Shot at Glory. It was set in Scotland with Scottish actors speaking in Scottish accents. It was difficult to understand. Duvall was authentic to the point where he would be difficult for some to understand. American audiences in general aren't much concerned with what happens outside America. And straining to understand an accent is not what most Americans want to do on a Saturday night.

"There's never been a soccer film that's been a huge hit. You can't make the case to any studio that they have a built-in franchise here. We developed the film from an idea Duvall had of playing a Scottish soccer coach. And then we ended up working with writer Dennis O'Neal who fleshed out a story from that kernel of an idea that Duvall had. And then we shot the script around. Michael Corrente got a hold of it through William Morris. He said, 'Look, I'm obviously not your first choice to be a director on this movie but if you give me a shot, I'll raise the money.' It was worth it to us to get the movie made.

"The yet to be released Assassination Tango is another Robert Duvall passion project. He wrote it years ago. He didn't pull it out out of the trunk until he was satisfied with The Apostle.

"I read an article in the trades that Francis Ford Coppolla had just signed a ten-picture deal with MGM, and that he had the power to greenlight movies with budgets under $10 million. So I did some legwork and got the script to his production company. Francis responded quickly and said he was willing to make the movie."

Luke: "I know Duvall loves tango because I've seen him with his gorgeous latina girlfriend (Luziana Pedraza) at this club in the Valley."

Rob: "She is not a professional actress but she's a worldclass tango dancer. And she ends up as the female lead.

"We shot the movie in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The picture will be out later this year. We were left alone which allowed Bobby to make the film he wanted to make. It reflects his love of dance and of Argentina.

"Bobby left William Morris a couple of years ago so I've backed into being his sole representation. Many managers become producers by glamming on to projects that their clients are attached to as actors. I came at it the other way round."

Luke: "What does your dad think of you?"

Rob: "I think he's proud of what I've been able to accomplish as a producer in a seven years. We've produced three features and a cable movie."