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 film 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 to issues relating to gay life and HIV sufferers and AIDS victims. In the final part of a two-part interview, we talk about which directors he especially enjoyed working with, what changes he has seen occur in Hollywood during the course of his career, what he enjoys the most about producing and what kinds of producing he prefers, his documentary work, and how he came to make the BOND GIRLS ARE FOREVER (2002) documentary.
Part one of the interview.
Which directors have you especially enjoyed working with?
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 (1991), THE FAMILY MAN and as a TV series, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997-2003), 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 (1989) 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 1981 called '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 (2000) 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 (1989).
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 are 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.
Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2012. All rights reserved.