AN INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD ROSENMAN

Howard Rosenman is a Hollywood veteran, with forty years experience as a producer, and a mightily impressive filmography. He's experienced highs and lows, the changing face of the industry, various kinds of production roles, and success and failure, and he's a man who is not only responsible for smash hit entertainments, but also intimate dramas and a series of documentaries dedicated to improving tolerance and understanding of issues relating to gay life and HIV sufferers and AIDS victims. I spoke to Howard about his fascinating career.

How did you get started in the movie business?
It's a long story! In 1967, I was in medical school. My parents are Israeli, and I volunteered for the Six Day War as an extern, which is an intern without a medical degree. Over there, thirty days after the War, I met Leonard Bernstein whom I had known previously in New York. He recognized me and invited me to a concert he was doing with Isaac Stern - Mahler's 'Resurrection Symphony.' At the after-party, he asked me if I would be interested in being a gofer on a documentary that was being made about him conducting the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Judea and Samaria for the Israeli Defense Forces. I said yes, and we got to know each other a little better. He saw that I was a storyteller and convinced me to eventually abandon my medical studies.

I went back to the States in September '67, and at first, took a leave of absence from medical school. I came to NYC and fortunately got a job working on a Broadway musical called 'Coco' with Katharine Hepburn. I did two more musicals and during that time met Barry Diller, who had just invented the 90-minute 'Movie of the Week' for ABC TV. We became friends and he told me that when I was ready I could ask him one favor and one favor only: "You can exploit me once but never again. I want to be your friend." He knew that friends in Hollywood always end up exploiting each other. I got a job at an advertising agency called Benton & Bowles making commercials. Within nine months I had won my first Clio on a Cool Whip commercial ('Anniversary Waltz').

Five years later, my girlfriend Kitty Hawks (the daughter of Howard Hawks), was working for Ron Bernstein at ABC (he's now a very important literary agent at ICM). She showed me a manuscript called 'Great White,' which was about a killer shark off the coast of Long Island. I liked it and thought it would make a great movie. I decided it would be the only favor I was going to ask of Barry Diller. He loved the idea of the story and brought me out to California. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the rights because the writer's agents wanted much more money than we were willing to offer. ABC was now making a hundred of these films a year. Both Spielberg and Michael Crichton got their starts making films for this unit.




Barry then introduced me to Richard Bassman, the Head of ABC Circle Entertainment, who was making 2-hour, not 90-minute, 'Movies of the Week'. The head of the division looked at the 'Great White' manuscript and said "We only make films that people would go out of their house on a Saturday night to see, and this isn't one of them." A week later 'Great White' was sold for the then unheard of $450,000 to Richard Zanuck and David Brown. Spielberg directed the film version for them. It was called JAWS (1975). Barry Diller called me and told me "You obviously know what you're doing with material. Go find a piece of material, bring it to me and I will make it."

Ron Bernstein was working with Daniel Melnick and David Susskind at the time, and he found a piece of material called ISN'T IT SHOCKING? (1973). It was about a guy who goes around killing people with a electro- cardiograph machine. Deanne Barkley, the head of the division that made the 90-minute 'Movies of the Week', liked it and it was one of John Badham's first movies. He later directed SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) and WARGAMES (1983). We had a great cast (Alan Alda, Ruth Gordon, Will Geer, Edmund O’Brien, Lloyd Nolan, Dorothy Tristan and Louise Lasser) and it did very well in the ratings. It was a really witty movie. Ron Bernstein and I became partners and made a lot of TV films. We started a company for Robert Stigwood called RSO Films. Stigwood was an Australian entrepreneur who managed the careers of Andrew Lloyd Weber & Tim Rice, The Bee-Gees and Eric Clapton. We made films like KILLER BEES (1974) with Gloria Swanson, Kate Jackson and Eddie Albert (Curtis Harrington directing) and ALL TOGETHER NOW
(1975), which was Randal Kleiser's first film. He later did GREASE (1978). I then introduced Stigwood to Barry Diller who by now was the Head of Paramount Pictures. Out of that relationship came SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and GREASE - humongous hits for Diller and Paramount.
 
Can you talk about befriending and working with Joel Schumacher very early in his career, and how you collaborated on SPARKLE (1976) ?

He was a window dresser at the time I met him in New York in 1969. We became friends. He is, and remains, a great raconteur and anecdotalist. I remember being on Long Island together on a really hot day listening to The Supremes on a loop. We both loved R&B. His displays on Mondays in the windows of Bendel's on 57th Street and 5th Avenue became like fashion underground events. All the fashion types would come and watch Joel create his displays. Joel stripped the mannequins, dumped them in vats that had various shades of coffee and twisted them into various shapes. This was before Benetton created their multi-culti look. One night he put three mannequins in red dresses in the window and one of them had paillettes all over them. One of the sparkling pailletes fell on the floor and as I passed it to Joel, it glinted in the light. I said to Joel "We've got to make a movie about these three girls in the red dresses and call it 'Sparkle'.'' We both really wanted to go to Hollywood and make movies.

I wrote a treatment, based on the relationships Berry Gordy had with Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. We sold it to Robert Stigwood, for $5, 000. We then hired a writer called Lonne Elder III, who had written SOUNDER (1972) and been nominated for an Oscar. By this time I had also started a company with Stigwood called RSO Films, and made quite a few TV films with Ron Bernstein, including KILLER BEES. While we were making that film in the Napa Valley (we used the house that Francis Ford Coppola now lives in), Lonne Elder's script came in and I read it. It wasn't any good. Joel was doing the production design on KILLER BEES for me after doing the costumes for ISN'T IT SHOCKING, and he elevated those movies with his work. I remember us driving in the Napa Valley together and me telling him "Our movie will never happen unless you write it." He wrote a new script on spec and we sold it to John Calley at Warners.

Calley called Joel and I into his office after he had read the 400-page script. He told us "I'm going to make this movie under the following four conditions: 1. We're going to cut the movie down to 110 pages. 2. Curtis Mayfield is going to do the music. 3. Sam O'Steen is going to direct it. 4. The budget is going to be $1.6 million. Boys, take a walk around the block, think about it and come back and give me your answer. "

Joel said he was willing to step aside as director. He had wanted to do it. Sam O'Steen was one of the greatest editors in the world. He had edited COOL HAND LUKE (1967), THE GRADUATE (1967), ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971), CATCH-22 (1970) and CHINATOWN (1974). He was both John Calley and Mike Nichols' favorite editor. Sam had just directed a four-hour musical for CBS TV called QUEEN OF THE STARDUST BALLROOM (1975) with Maureen Stapleton. Marilyn and Alan Bergman (Barbra Streisand's writers) had done the music and Calley wanted them for SPARKLE. Curtis Mayfield ended up doing the music because he had just done a deal with Warners. I had wanted Ashford and Simpson. We decided the film could be done on that budget. We saw Curtis Mayfield as our Barbra Streisand. We told him we accepted his conditions, and within three weeks we were on the lot making the movie. Irene Cara (FAME, 1980), Lonette McKee (THE COTTON CLUB, 1984) and Philip Michael Thomas (TV's 'Miami Vice') had all never made a movie before.

Can you talk about the 2012 remake?
We shot the film in October and November 2011 in Detroit. The original film was about three black girls in Harlem in 1956 who become a girl group. The new movie is about three black girls in Detroit in 1968. Salim Akil, who directed JUMPING THE BROOM (201) and created 'The Game' for TV, directed the film. His wife Mara Brook Akil wrote the screenplay. She wrote the TV series 'Girlfriends'. It's a fabulous movie and is better than the original. It's a very different film and it stars the late Whitney Houston as the mother of the three girls. Jordin Sparks plays Sparkle, Carmen Ejogo plays Sister and Tika Sumpter plays Delores. Those roles were played by Irene Cara, Lonette McKee and Dwan Smith in the original. Derek Luke (ANTWONE FISHER, 2002) is also in the cast of the new film. We used five Curtis Mayfield songs and R.Kelly wrote three new songs for us.

What were some of the first lessons you learned as a producer?
This business is about 99.9% rejection. I teach a class on how to pitch movies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and what I tell my students is "Because so many people will reject everything that you do, it means that there is always one schmuck somewhere who will buy it!" It's all about tenacity. Networking is also key as well.

What personal qualities do you feel you have that have enabled you to be a good producer?
I'm tenacious. I never take no for an answer. Every project that I have worked on has been rejected a thousand times, and I've made thirty movies! I'm hopefully beginning to understand story after forty years in the business. The three act structure and storytelling are the most important things to understand as a producer. I am able to recognize talent in writers, directors and actors. I'm able to network, and to charm and schmooze people. You're part pimp as producer, setting up people with other people on projects! And I'm stubborn, relentless, and most importantly, I'm passionate about what I'm doing.

How do you choose your projects?
Ideas are submitted to me, or I come up with the idea myself. FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1991) was a remake of an old Spencer Tracy movie that I liked. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992) was a script by Joss Whedon that was submitted to me. THE MAIN EVENT (1979) was the idea of my partner Renee Missel. RESURRECTION (1980) was an idea of mine. GROSS ANATOMY (1989) was based on my years in medical school. SPARKLE was of course an idea of Joel's and mine.

Do you get frustrated by the image of producers as people who sometimes meddle and prevent directors or writers from achieving their visions?
If the movie's a hit, the director gets the credit. If the movie's a flop, it's the producer's fault!

Do you feel that the role of a producer is misunderstood?
You can't make a film without a producer. He's the first one in and the last one out. He's the one who has to carry it all, put all the elements together and has to keep it going. Most movies take an average seven years to develop. Some of them can take twenty. Some take one year to develop. Unless you have the tenacity, the passion
and the willpower to make the film, it won't happen.

How important is a good working relationship with the director on a movie?
Once the director gets on the set, he has all the power. According to the DGA union and Director's Guild rules, he can throw the producer off the set if he likes. A good relationship with the director is very important. It doesn't often happen that an unhappy relationship results in a good movie.

Which collaborators have you enjoyed working with the most?

I greatly enjoyed working with John Dahl, who directed YOU KILL ME (2007) with Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni. We just set it up as a series on Showtime. I enjoyed working with Tea, who also did THE FAMILY MAN (2000) for me; Brett Ratner who directed that film; Joel Schumacher, and Ellen Burstyn, who starred in RESURRECTION (1980). Rob Epstein and Jeff Friedman, who directed the three documentaries that I made with them: COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT (1989), which won an Oscar and a Peabody; THE CELLULOID CLOSET (1985), which was nominated for an Oscar and won us our second Peabody, and PARAGRAPH 175 (2000). I now am making a narrative feature film with them called ANITA about Anita Bryant, starring Uma Thurman. Darren Star, Dennis Erdman and Jeffrey Schwarz are our partners, and Chad Hodges wrote the script.

You've been working in Hollywood for five decades now. What are the most significant changes you have seen take place?
It's changed a lot. It used to be the wild, wild West out there and a lot of fun. Now it's very corporate. They used to make $30m dramas in Hollywood and now that is the realm of the indies. Movie studios usually only make tentpole movies now - $150 to $200m movies that have some sort of 'brand.' They're either from a comic book or graphic novel or have some recognizable name.

What do you enjoy the most about producing in Hollywood?
Every day's a challenge that brings a hundred different problems that you have to figure out. You meet the most interesting people in the world. Everyone gravitates towards Hollywood, so there isn't a person in the world that I can't meet.

What do you like the least?
Like I said, it's 99.9% rejection. It's very, very competitive and every day is a nightmare!

Which of your successes are you the most proudest of?
FATHER OF THE BRIDE, THE FAMILY MAN and as a TV series, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, were all big hits. SPARKLE was of course Joel and I's baby, which we loved the most from the beginning, and now we've remade it. But the things I'm most proudest of are four documentaries that I have made.

COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT is about the AIDS quilt. It follows six people from the time they are infected until their names end up on the quilt. Dustin Hoffman narrated it. Vito Russo was one of the six people in COMMON THREADS that we followed, and we created a quilt in his honor. He wrote a book in 1981called 'The Celluloid Closet,' based on a series of lectures he did on the history of gay and lesbian images in Hollywood films. Rob Epstein, Jeff Friedman and I turned it into a documentary in 1995. PARAGRAPH 175 is about gays in the Holocaust. BRAVE MISS WORLD (2012) is about my friend Linor Abargil. It's all about her rape ordeal before she became Miss Israel and six weeks after that, Miss World. It's directed by Cecilia Peck, who is the daughter of Gregory Peck.

I do all these documentaries for nothing. It's all about giving back something and they give me the most fulfillment.

How did the outbreak of AIDS affect such a small community as Hollywood?
It was a scary, paranoid and devastating time. From 1980 to 1990 was the worst period ever. I knew over 2, 000 people that died from AIDS, and there were about fifty people that I went through the process with. from 1980 to 1987, all my friends were getting sick, and I also didn't know whether I was going to get sick or not. It was brutal.

What was Hollywood's immediate reaction to the crisis?
It mobilized immediately. Sidney Sheinberg and Barry Diller created organizations to combat the disease both medically and socially. They rose to the occasion in the biggest way possible. It united the community. I started a non-profit organization called Project Angel Food, which is a Meals onWheels service for HIV and AIDS patients. It's now one of the biggest charities in Southern California. I formed it with Marianne Williamson and about ten other people.

Is your aim with such work to increase awareness and tolerance towards those suffering from HIV and AIDS, and increase tolerance and understanding towards gay people?
Yes, I think the documentaries helped create a better social climate.They put a face on AIDS and homosexuality which helped create the more tolerant conditions we have now. There's been a gigantic shift. In the beginning you couldn't even talk about homosexuality. Hollywood has always been tolerant as long as you're making money. The social mores of the country have changed so drastically. Now gays can get married in about seven states. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was repealed. There are TV shows with homosexual characters on air which have helped change the climate. Americans now accept people who are gay and they understand that being gay is not a choice. The new generation that's been brought up during the last fifteen years doesn't care at all. They're surprised by homophobia. It's only the fundamentalist right that have a problem.

You acted in Gus Van Sant's film MILK (2008). Were you familiar or friendly with the real Harvey Milk?
Yes, we were both brought up in the Five Towns area on Long Island, and we knew each other very well. I also knew the character I played, David Goodstein.

Which of your films' failures disappointed or hurt you the most? How do you deal with it when it happens?

You can't have success without failure. You learn from every single one of them. There isn't a person who hasn't failed and hasn't learned from it. What you learn to do is pick yourself up and move ahead. It's very disappointing when movies don't pan out. RESURRECTION was disappointing. The original SPARKLE wasn't a hit although the soundtrack album that Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin did well. Many of my movies haven't been hits. BUFFY wasn't a hit until it became a TV series. The film version was the most disappointing to me because we had a terrible director. We had the same problem on GROSS ANATOMY.

You've done different kinds of producing. You've produced for hire, you've run companies and divisions, and you've run your own production companies. Which do you prefer?
I like it all. I'm very independent now so I can do whatever I want. When I was running big companies I had a lot of responsibility, but I was very productive. I worked with people like Sandy Gallin and Robert Stigwood. After that, I worked for Brillstein/ Grey's management companies and I had such leverage. We managed the careers of people like Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton, The Pointer Sisters, Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Pryor, and in all venues of their work. We, as managers, steered them to their agencies. In Sandy Gall's case, we steered most of them to the Creative Artists Agency (CAA). We were writing a cheque for $30m every year to Michael Ovitz, so he had to pay a lot of attention to us. He would introduce us to his clients and get us spec material. He'd help us to get our movies put together and done effectively, which is why we worked with him.

How did you come to get involved in the 'Bond Girls are Forever' (2002) documentary?
This is another long story! Maryam d' Abo, who was a Bond girl in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987), actually made the film and it brought it to me. I got involved because I know her husband, the director Hugh Hudson, who did CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) and GREYSTOKE (1984). He made a movie for me in 1987 called LOST ANGELS, which starred Adam Horowitz from The Beastie Boys. Hugh and I didn't get along originally. He was an aristocrat from Britain, and I was a boy from Brooklyn. He kind of took over LOST ANGELS and I resented it. One day he said to me "Boy, you are tough." I remember one day thinking that I had to make the relationship right. I realized the only way to get him to understand me was for him to see me in a vulnerable position.

This was the time of the laying down of the AIDS Quilt in L.A. It was the first time people were going to see it in the city, and it was the size of a basketball court. Eventually you could stretch it from the White House to the Washington Monument and back. The last time it was unfurled, in 1994, it was the largest piece of artwork in the world. Each panel was 6ft times 3ft, and all the panels were interwoven together to make this gigantic quilt. I was there laying down panels for four of my best friends. There was a big ceremony at the Pauley Pavilion at UCLA.

I invited Hugh to see the ceremony. The panels were floating from the rafters and on the sides and all over the floor. The ceremony was so moving, and I started to cry as I laid down the panels. I saw Hugh come down from the rafters, and he took me in his arms and whispered "You've gotta make a movie about this. You've got to put your anger and grief into a movie." From that moment on, Hugh and I have remained close. He's like a father figure to me.

Are you a Bond fan?

Yes, big time! I've seen every single one. They have glamour and glitz, and characters that you love. They're irreverent and funny, and chic and stylish. There's always a lot of action and adventure. The villains are always interesting.

Are you a fan of Daniel Craig's Bond?
Although Sean Connery is still my favorite, I love Daniel Craig. I think he's fantastic.

How has your religious faith influenced your choice of projects?
My faith has had a big influence on my choice of projects. My parents are Israeli and they are seven generations born in the Old City of Jerusalem. I made a film called A STRANGER AMONG US (1992), which was about Hassidic Jews, which ire my familial roots. I made it as a tribute to that way of life. The Biblical values that I was brought up with are ingrained throughout my documentaries and my films.

What are some of your upcoming projects?
I have about thirty projects on the go. With my partners Carol Baum and David Permut, I just sold the remake rights to an Israeli film called A MATTER OF SIZE (2009) to Paramount. It's about sumo wrestling and was Israel's most successful comedy. I'm producing NAPOLEON with Al Pacino. I am producing two Broadway musicals. One is based on SPARKLE. The other is based on a dream I had in 1985. I convinced Anne Rice (the writer of 'Interview with a Vampire') to write a treatment. It's called 'Anne Rice’s ''The Seventh Song'' ' aka 'Anne Rice’s ''Voce'' '. Craig Lucas (PRELUDE TO A KISS, 1992) is writing the libretto, and Elizabeth Scott and Lance Horne are writing the music.

I spoke to Howard by telephone on 14th June 2012 and would like to thank him for the generous use of his time and the breadth of his answers.

 
Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. Paul is also a writer of so far unpublished short stories and novels, and is planning his first short film.

RIC MENELLO TALKS ABOUT JAMES GRAY

Ric Menello died from a heart attack at the age of sixty, leaving behind a fascinating legacy. He is considered an important part in the hip-hop explosion into the mainstream in the '80s, co-writing Run DMC's movie TOUGHER THAN LEATHER (1988) and co-directing promo videos for the Beastie Boys (their groundbreaking hits 'No Sleep Til Brooklyn' and 'Fight for Your Right (to Party)' ). Ric wrote short films (AMERICAN DUMMY, 2002; THE GYNECOLOGISTS, 2003 et al) and feature films (DROP DEAD ROCK, 1996) for Adam Dubin. He was also something of a film historian, sought out by DVD producers for his expert knowledge, and a script consultant on films like THE BIG BOUNCE (2004). Ric contributed to commentaries on the films of Claude Chabrol, and was a huge enthusiast on Japanese culture and cinema. Before his untimely passing, Ric collaborated on four films with acclaimed filmmaker James Gray - THE YARDS (2000), WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007), TWO LOVERS (2008) and LOWLIFE (2013). Ric was a very busy man and although he very much wanted to do a telephone interview, he found it difficult to find the time. He did agree to answer questions about his work with Gray via email. This material would've been added to the published interview. Here, as a tribute to Ric, and his treasured working relationship with the brilliant James Gray, are some of the highlights of our correspondence.

JAMES GRAY'S REPUTATION IN THE U.S.
James is in fact worshipped in France as a great director, but I think he gets short thrift in the US because critics these days are idiotic dolts. Look at what they DO like. They compared WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007) to EASTERN PROMISES (2007), and why? Because they both involved Russian gangsters? They also compared WE OWN THE NIGHT to the over-rated, bloated THE DEPARTED (2006) and why? Because both were mobster movies which had undercover guys in it?  The first two GODFATHER movies (1972-4) are James's touchstones, but it does drive him crazy when they say he rips Coppola off. When they compare him to Sidney Lumet, it really drives him crazy because there is really no connection, and he doesn't even like Lumet's films.

LITTLE ODESSA (1994)
To tell the truth LITTLE ODESSA has a great reputation in Europe, but I never cared for it much and James knows it. It isnt bad by any means, but it's very heavy handed and depressing, rather than lyrical and sad.

THE YARDS
James really finds his style here, and I think the films get better and better after that. I visited the set of the film for one day to watch James directing. It was the scene where Mark Wahlberg sneaks into the hospital to kill a policeman and he can't do it.

James wanted to give me some kind of honorary tiny credit for THE YARDS, but they couldnt figure out a credit that wasn't controlled by the WGA. 'Advisor to the Director' was suggested but the WGA wouldn't allow it because I wasn't a WGA member then. So I didn't get a credit. It never bothered me because I only made a few story suggestions, like James Caan building a new wing on the house so every one of his extended family can live with him, and then helped cast it.

I am particularly proud of helping James cast his movies. He always calls or emails me and asks my opinion on casting, especially on the leads, and often even the smallest supporting actors. It was between Nick Nolte and James Caan for the father, and he was torn. I pushed for Caan, and he finally agreed. I also cast a famous Italian actor, Tomas Milian, as the agressive Latino union rep.



WE OWN THE NIGHT
On WE OWN THE NIGHT I did a lot more creative work, helping to rewrite the script and write new dialogue, and sometimes write whole scenes from scratch. By then James had found out the WGA did not control the credits 'Consultant to the Filmmakers' and 'Production Consultant'. We thought the former sounded cooler so that was it, and I was totally happy with having the credit. According to WGA rules you can't be credited for the script unless you wrote a certain amount of the final draft. Since the original writer (James) also worked on the rewrites and I only worked with him, and he wrote the early drafts by himself, I didn't have a prayer of any kind of script credit, so James agreed to give me some sort of credit. I also helped cast WE OWN THE NIGHT and had a big influence, as I did on TWO LOVERS.

We originally wanted to cast James Caan as Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg's father, but it was made clear by the financiers that he was not a big enough name anymore to be cast in the role. We also at one point wanted Anthony Hopkins, but he wasn't available. Gene Hackman wanted too much money. Robert Duvall loved the script and agreed to do it, but he really wanted to play the old Russian club owner and told us as much. He then got tangled up in a a Western TV miniseries (BROKEN TRAIL, 2006) that he was both producing and starring in. It went over schedule, and he took over the editing and dropped out of our movie. We ended up with another big name actor in the role. He was very good at the table reading and had a totally original take on the character, but it didn't work out from day one. James called Duvall and begged him to do the picture. Luckily, the editing on his own project took less time than he thought, so he said if James could postpone his scenes for two weeks to prepare, he'd arrive ready to play the role which he did.

It was a bitch to cast Wahlberg's role. First, Mark was cast but he decided he needed to make more money as he had a lot of people to support. He needed a 'money gig'. But what really made him drop out was his pregnant girlfriend was due any day and he wanted to be with her in LA. We already had Joaquin, who had just opened big with WALK THE LINE (2005), but the financiers still wanted to know who was gonna play the role of the brother. We also had the big name actor who later left the film as the father, so they should have been fine with the cast, no matter who who played the role of the brother. But no, they demanded a star, and they had to okay whomever we cast. We offered the role to everybody, and nobody wanted to play it. They all wanted to play the lead, which was already cast with Joaquin. We offered it to Josh Hartnett, who was hot at the time, but he said no. Then we offered it to Adrien Brody, but he said since he had just done KING KONG (2005), his agent said he was only playing starring roles. Jesus, I cant even remember all the guys we offered it to who turned it down. Eventually Wahlberg came back and said he could do it if he could finish the part in two weeks. The production had to have a private jet ready to fly back to L.A. in case his girlfriend gave birth before the movie finished shooting.

I dont know Joaquin well at all, but he likes me and whenever I see him again he remembers me. I spoke with him on the phone while WE OWN THE NIGHT was being rewritten by James and I, and then again at the first table read of the script. Then he and James sometimes called me on the phone late at night when they were arguing about the script or a scene. I met him at the premiere, so he finally had a face to go with the name. I later talked to him on the phone a couple of times after we finished the script to TWO LOVERS and he agreed to star in it. He always has very good, intelligent notes on his character, so James and I have learned to take them very seriously. Finally I saw him again at the TWO LOVERS premiere, and he hugged me and started asking a lot of questions about my music video directing for the Beastie Boys, and I noticed a camera crew taping it. He kept asking why I didn't direct videos anymore. Then he asked if I had seen TWO LOVERS yet and I said yes. I had done some of the Q&As at some of the early screenings, and I said I thought he was great in the movie. He suddenly said "Don't say that! Don't say that!" and walked away. I later realized this little act of his was for the 'documentary' he was shooting (I'M STILL HERE, 2010). I had to sign a release form afterwards. James later told me it was a joke he was playing on the public so I got to know about it beforehand! Though later I came to believe maybe he took the joke too far even for himself. Now he's back and going full speed ahead.




TWO LOVERS
I worked on TWO LOVERS from the beginning so I got co-writing credit on that one. James won't admit it now, but we wrote the film for Joaquin (who agreed very quickly) and Charlize Theron. James actually suggested Gwyneth Paltrow (whose brother I knew) halfway through the first draft of the script. I said I wasn't usually a big fan, but I thought she'd be perfect, since in some ways she WAS that character, especially since the character ended up even closer to my ex-girlfriend, whom the character was partly based on. So we did the last half of the script with Gwyneth in mind, and then went back to the beginning and rewrote the first half with Gwyneth in mind so it all made sense. These changes actually made the movie better. Also when Charlize was going to be in it, we had two scenes involving Joaquin going to see her father, who was going to be played by James Caan. We cut those two scenes early in the writing process, as we realized the father wasn't necessary anymore.

On TWO LOVERS we both felt the mother was a key role, and at first we talked to two famous German actresses, Hanna Schygulla and Barbara Sukowa (who now lives in NYC). We thought either would be good, but James then asked me what I thought of Isabella Rossellini. I don't know why, but he thought I might be against it. I immediately told him she was the one. For me she is the casting coup of the movie. She was so amazing and so much like my mother who died six months before we started shooting.

Vinessa Shaw's role was another real bitch to cast. At one point we wanted Natalie Portman, who also basically IS the character we wanted her to play in many ways. She loved the script but said she'd only do it if she could play Gwyneth's role, which had already been cast, so no dice. Then James tells me to go see 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) and check out the girl who played the dance hall girl, Vinessa Shaw. So I did and I thought she was a very good actress and had the right look - very naturally and quietly beautiful. She looked sort of Jewish (and Italian too). James later told me her real surname or her mother's maiden name was Schwartz. We were picturing the young Claudia Cardinale inVisconti's ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (1960) when we wrote Vinessa's character. Apparently the casting director brought her to James. I havent seen Vinessa in years but we had a nice chat at the premiere. For me the casting coup of the movie is Isabella Rossellini, who was so amazing and so much like my mother who died six months before we started shooting.


LOWLIFE

I think 'Roselli' is my best screenplay yet. It's about Jimmy Roselli, the Italian-American singer who was supposed to be the next Frank Sinatra, but who was almost destroyed by his own crazy integrity, his refusal to compromise and his feud with Sinatra and love/hate relationship with the mob. Recently, after thinking TWO LOVERS was his best film, James re-saw THE YARDS and suddenly thought that was his best film. Now he thinks his best film is easily LOWLIFE and I agree. TWO LOVERS got much better reviews than THE YARDS and WE OWN THE NIGHT, so hopefully LOWLIFE will have an improved critical response. This is a controversial one, with some people thinking it is James's best movie yet, while some don't like it as much as they liked TWO LOVERS and are a bit put off by it.

Aside from co-writing it, I really only helped cast the leading roles and several big supporting roles. It all came together so quickly. A lot of the supporting roles were cast during pre-production with NYC actors who weren't well known. Our budget was much tighter because it was a period piece, so James often would just tell me who he had cast when it came to minor roles. He also sought my opinion on the choice of cinematographer (Darius Khondji), as he did on TWO LOVERS (Joaqiin Baca- Asay).

At one point James was considering casting Mark Wahlberg in the lead, but I kept pushing for Joaquin. Originally, when we first discussed the story and tried to cobble together the first outline, the character was more brutal and brutish and at one point was a Jewish Mob enforcer, rather than a pimp. Mark would've been good for the Mob enforcer, but once we made the guy a pimp and did a new outline, there was no question Joaquin would be better for the role and so James agreed.

We needed someone to play the flamboyant magician who works in the vaudeville burlesque house where Joaquin is the emcee and has his girls dance, and where he pimps them out. The two men are cousins and hate each other. At first Matt Damon was interested and though he wasn't perfect, he would've been fine in the role and we would've been able to raise much more money. Plus, I would've gotten paid about 25 percent more! He liked the part and wanted to do it, but was set to star in and direct a new film while ours was shooting (PROMISED LAND, 2012). They worked it out so he'd shoot his scenes on weekends. He would fly to NYC every weekend for two days, then fly back to L.A. His producers on the other film refused to let him do it because the insurance company said all this flying back and forth every weekend was too much of a risk for him. So he dropped out of our picture. Robert Downey Jr. wanted too much money. We liked James Franco for the role, who loves our films and wanted to do it, but after the Oscar presenting debacle, Holywood thought he was an idiot. He is a good actor, but his name meant nothing for our movie after the Oscar mess. We also liked Josh Brolin who was interested, but as soon as we thought of Jeremy Renner, we realized he was it! Also he was hot then as an up and coming big star, and he is still hot now. Even better, he loved James and loved the script. He was happy to do the role, which only took like two weeks or less.

We also considered Charlize Theron for the role of the Polish immigrant who is induced to become a prostitute by Joaquin's pimp, because she could pass for a blonde Polish girl. But we soon turned our attention to Marion Cotillard. In fact, my ex-girlfriend, who inspired Gwyneth Paltrow's character in TWO LOVERS was blonde, and when we discussed LOWLIFE (which was called NIGHTINGALE at the time), I kept telling James there are enough Polish blondes so we should have Marion dye her brown hair blonde to stand out, but he didn't want to do it, so we didn't.

ACTORS/ ACTRESSES
James said all four actresses in his films (Charlize, Eva Mendes, Gwyneth Paltrow and Marion Cotillard) were cooperative and easy to work with. I think he would definitely say Marion was the best actress of the group. He has also praised Vanessa Redgrave (LITTLE ODESSA) effusively, as well as Faye Dunaway (THE YARDS) (he said she asked a lot of questions and loves discussing her character for hours on end) and Ellen Burstyn (THE YARDS). James also got along well with Robert Duvall and James Caan (he is very funny and can be very crazy too). Mark, apparently, is usually a teddy bear! He was very cooperative when I saw James directing him. Joaquin works very well with James, and they are close friends. They go back a long way together since he cast him in THE YARDS as Mark's co-star.

I spoke to Ric from August 2012 to January 2013. RIP Ric. Thanks for sparing your time Ric and I'm sorry we never got to chat on the phone or in person.


 Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. Paul is also a writer of so far unpublished short stories and novels, and is planning his first short film.

PAUL MAHER JR TALKS TO PAUL ROWLANDS ABOUT TERRENCE MALICK

Paul Maher Jr. is a Texas-born author, teacher, screenwriter and book critic, who has written books on Jack Kerouac, Miles Davis, Henry Thoreau and Tom Waits. He recently published 'One Big Soul - An Oral History of Terrence Malick' (2012), a book that is an essential companion to obtaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the filmmaker's ouevre and artistry. Paul also runs the Malick site http://www.terrencemalick.org/. I spoke with Paul about Malick and the book.

Can you talk about your background?
I have a Bachelor's degree in American Studies and a Master's in English and Education.


Can you talk about your previous books?
My first book was an in-depth biography of writer Jack Kerouac, which was followed by two more books about him. I also edited three volumes of books on Miles Davis, Tom Waits and Terrence Malick. I also have an ongoing project transcribing Henry David Thoreau's unpublished notebooks, which he titled 'Extracts Related to the Indians'. That's about 500,000 words worth of transcribing. I also have a number of screenplays written, one or two of which I plan to film myself.

What other interests do you have?
I delve somewhat in nature photography and whatever else strikes my fancy. I believe in following my muse wherever it may lead.

What made you decide to write a book on Malick, and to do it as an oral history?
The books on Terrence Malick that have been written thus far are academic in nature. They tend to try and dissect his films through a philosophical prism, which isn't altogether apt. I wanted to know more about where he came from, his roots, how he found himself as a person and evolved into film.


Why do you love Malick as a filmmaker?
I believed all the way back to DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) that he was tapping my mind in a way that was beyond explaining. I was bored with American film, and have always felt traditional filmmaking is too forced. It's actorly. Now its fraught with CGI and so on. Malick reminds me of Henry Thoreau, whom I also admire. The fascination with nature and the binds between the universal and the personal brought home a powerful message and he managed to do so in a sensational way. I also admire not using dialogue. Many times, when he does use dialogue, my interest flags. He is the first filmmaker to catch my eye doing that. Later it would also be Andrei Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr.

Why did you go for 'One Big Soul' as a title?
It was the one phrase that most anybody that has seen a Malick film can identify with, and is from THE THIN RED LINE (1998). It sort of encapsulates the entire corpus as well . . .

What was your first experience of a Malick movie? Can you talk about your impressions?Though I did see DAYS OF HEAVEN sometime in the early 1990s, the first film that left an indelible impression was THE THIN RED LINE. It was the fact that I had to think about it, that it had an enigmatic air to it. The moodiness of the music. The voiceovers, hushed and haunted as they were, tapped into my consciousness which was largely jaded at that point and time. It stuck more than any other film I had experienced up until that time.

How long did it take for you to compile all your research?
Two years or so. It started very slow. People didn't want to talk. I learned not to target the actors for two reasons. #1 they really have little to say they won't say in interviews during press junkets. #2 They have the most fidelity toward Malick, protecting his persona and such. By targeting the others that were there also, their perspectives, I found out, were equally if not more valid than the people in front of the camera.

How did you find the new interviewees? Did you find many were willing to talk? Did many refuse?
The Internet yielded many resources. If one cracked, he/she would know others. More were reticent to speak than those that were in the beginning stages, which put the book off for a long time. They were all under confidentiality clauses, so I understood their hesitation. I found a lot of anonymous information from extras and film production members. Nowadays, I have many many people to interview. I have enough to double the length of the book, which I may do if demand calls for it. I've already spoken to twenty two people since starting 'One Big Soul'.


What was the common theme for people discussing Malick as a man and filmmaker?
Through and through, it was that he was gentle, learned, tenacious and a genius. That was the common thread. There were others with contrary opinions, most of which I didn't include because I felt these opinions to be no more than sour grapes.


How did the final results of your research compare with any preconceptions you had of Malick?
I felt they were spot-on. Anything I was attracted to in regards to Malick's films before the research of the book was only further substantiated.


In your research, which drafts of Malick's filmed and unfilmed screenplays did you get to read?
Due to the generosity of the film's producer Bobby Geisler, I was able to read all of the drafts for THE THIN RED LINE; two drafts of Malick's stage play 'Sansho the Bailiff'; and two or three drafts of his film script, 'The English Speaker'. I was also able to acquire the script for 'Qasida' which resembles more a prose-poem as well as many notes.


What were the major differences between the different drafts of THE THIN RED LINE?
Basically Malick streamlined it a bit more and more, losing dialogue, adding more descriptions and so on.


Of all the unfilmed projects, which ones do you think hold the most promise?
'Qasida' will find new life in 'Voyage of Time', whenever that comes out. The treatment for 'Qasida' is virtually identical to 'Voyage of Time'. However, I love 'Sansho the Bailiff' more than the others. Many themes found in 'Sansho' were recycled in THE THIN RED LINE.

What do you consider Malick's main strengths as a filmmaker?
His main strength is that he stuck to his guns, he believed in what he had to say and was/is tenacious enough to see it through on his own terms.

What are Malick's best films? Which one do you have the most personal connection to and why?
I believe his best is the extended cut of THE NEW WORLD (2005). I believe that is the first film that he really found his groove, and was able to experiment more in regards to sound/music/editing. I believe I will feel the same whenever Criterion releases the extended version of THE TREE OF LIFE (2011).

How do you think the gap between DAYS OF HEAVEN and THE THIN RED LINE changed Malick as a filmmaker?
I'm not so sure he changed.


How do you feel about the negative reaction to his post THIN RED LINE films? Is it justified? What do you see as Malick's flaws as a filmmaker?

I don't know. I don't care about other people's thoughts on his films. It doesn't matter to me. People that do care seem to need that validation.

I wouldn't call them flaws. I really believe that the films have an absolute fidelity to his personal vision. If people perceive them as flawed, it is because they already have preexisting baggage and expectations for the film. That's on them, not Terrence Malick. He no more cares about their criticism than he does the praise. They just are what they are.

Do you think if Malick revisited his old films and re-edited them that they would be changed significantly?
I believe he could revisit all of them and bring out something new and original, a different perspective that wouldn't make them suffer.

Which moments in his films strike you as the most poignant, memorable, key or beautiful?

I don't know how to answer that. I respect them all as an organic whole. Each film is part of his larger organism, with tropes and motifs that are important to him.

What feedback have you had on your book?

Mostly positive. I had some flack for the mechanical errors. I worked like a dog putting that together, alone. I researched, wrote, edited, typeset, copyedited, proofread and published it alone. There are and always will be errors. I put the book out alone after many publishers stated that there was no market for a book on Terrence Malick. Obviously there is . . .

How would you approach any further books on Malick?

I would use the same approach. I think the oral biography works best at this point and time since thankfully Mr. Malick is still among us and that the personal eyewitnesses will serve posterity.

I corresponded with Paul via email during March 2013. I'd like to thank him for his time.

'One Big Soul' can be ordered here. It's also available as an affordable e-book from Amazon.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. Paul is also a writer of so far unpublished short stories and novels, and is planning his first short film.