With Brett Ratner’s comedy Tower Heist opening this weekend, I was able to chat with the busy director on the phone when he was in New York City promoting the movie. Starring Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Gabourey Sidibe, Téa Leoni, Stephen Henderson, Judd Hirsch, Michael Peña, and Alan Alda, Tower Heist centers on a group of disgruntled employees who decide to rob a white-collar criminal living under house arrest in their high-rise after he scams them all out of their savings.
During our wide-ranging conversation, Ratner talked about how he got involved in the project and who was originally going to star in it, the test screening process, deleted scenes, improv, what will be on the Blu-ray/DVD, and what it was like to work with Eddie Murphy. In addition, Ratner talked about producing next year’s Oscars, future projects like Movie 43, 39 Clues, Hercules, Hong Kong Phooey, Beverly Hills Copy 4, Rush Hour 4, the Woody Allen documentary that he’s producing, and a lot more. Hit the jump for the interview and audio.
- He began working on Tower Heist in 2006. The film was initially an original idea from Eddie Murphy and involved a bunch of blue-collar working-class guys.
- In Murphy’s original idea, the cast was made up of all black actors including Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle, and Jamie Foxx. The story ended up being too much like Ocean’s Eleven, so they scrapped it.
- Ratner initially tried to get Robert Redford to play the character that Alan Alda ended up playing.
- He says that the test screening process didn’t result in any changes or cuts to the film. The theatrical version is Ratner’s director’s cut.
- Most of the deleted scenes were cut because they were trying to keep the movie PG-13.
- There’s only one improv scene in the film. It’s the scene where Eddie Murphy and Gabourey Sidibe are learning how to open the safe.
- When he agreed to produce the Oscars, he knew that he needed a comedian so his top choice was Murphy.
- He says many of the ideas for the Oscar ceremony are dictated by what’s nominated, but he’s also coming up with a lot of ideas beforehand.
- His short that he directed for Movie 43 is completely out of his comfort zone and “plainly beyond R-rated”.
- The short for Movie 43 stars Gerard Butler, Seann William Scott, and Johnny Knoxville.
- The decision of what Tarsem Singh’s Untitled Snow White Project will be titled is up to the studio, but he says it will have a title soon.
- He’s developing some things for network television, but we won’t hear about it until next season.
- He’s producing a miniseries for HBO about Sidney Korshak, a wildly powerful lawyer who acted as the go-between for the mafia and Hollywood.
- He’s also producing a documentary about Woody Allen that Bob Weide is directing. Allen gave Weide permission to make the doc, and it features not only interviews with Allen but they were able to film him working on set, in the edit room, and they even filmed where he writes his scripts. The documentary airs on PBS this November.
- Ratner says there probably won’t ever be another Rush Hour.
- There’s no script for Beverly Hills Cop 4, but he says that they will probably make it in the next few years.
Here’s the interview. Click here for the audio.
Was this one of these projects that came together quickly?
Ratner: No. Are you kidding? 2006, maybe, I’ve been working on this thing, five years. I mean, five years from start to finish, but it took me three and a half years to get it going. So it was a long, long process, it was very hard to get it going for a lot of various reasons.
Was what was finally on screen what you originally set out to do or how did the actual thing change over the years?
Ratner: So it started out, Eddie Murphy came to me with an idea…it was Eddie Murphy’s idea, actually. He pitched me an idea about a bunch of blue-collar working-class guys, but they were all black. Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Dave Chappelle, Jamie Foxx, all those guys, and they work in a tower. It wasn’t a Bernie Madoff-type character, it was kind of like Donald Trump, or something. The movie felt too much like Ocean’s Eleven, which I had actually developed.
Ted Griffin, who actually wrote Ocean’s Eleven for me, came in and came up with this whole idea about the guy who does kind of a Punk’d scheme and loses the employees’ pension fund, which just made it much more relevant. But the original idea was Eddie’s.
Ratner: I was a kid when I was watching him and I watched him over and over and over and over again. There’s nobody that I would rather work with in my life than Eddie Murphy. Rush Hour existed because of Eddie Murphy, because I was just such a big fan of Eddie’s. I watched his movies and that’s what influenced me to make Rush Hour. But, to work with him on a movie like this is the ultimate.
Did you have a lot of friends that wanted to visit this particular set to see him do comedy?
Ratner: Yeah, it was like it was almost as big as the Miley Cyrus video I did.
You have a really great cast in this thing. Can you talk a bit about landing everybody? Was it one of these things where everybody you approached said, “yes,” did you have to do any convincing or did you just have to say, “Eddie Murphy has a role?”
Ratner: The only person that turned me down was (Robert) Redford. I was such a big fan of The Hot Rock, and I wanted Redford to play it. I think he was finishing his movie or whatever, I don’t know exactly what happened. (Alan) Alda was the next idea, but it wasn’t that he was a second choice. He was actually a great choice for the part, but I think when you have a script with great specific characters, you get actors that really, really want to contribute and be a part of it. That’s really exciting.
Ratner: It didn’t. I’m very lucky, because I screen the movie. A lot of comedies, you know, they test them and change them, they test show them and change them. My director’s cut is basically the version of the movie. I don’t think anything changed from the first version of the movie to this version, believe it or not.
So you didn’t have that many deleted scenes then?
Ratner: Barely any. I already deleted them before they were tested. I knew they didn’t fit, they were obvious things that I just knew didn’t fit. My movies are pretty tight and they’re pretty well-paced. I’m not one to make long movies. I don’t dwell on stuff. I have the worst ADD and I keep it moving.
Are you a fan of the extended cuts? Can fans of the movie look forward to seeing deleted scenes of this one on the Blu-ray?
Ratner: Oh, there will be. There’ll be some great deleted scenes, especially with Eddie and Gabourey (Sidibe) and stuff that was really, really fun to shoot. But, because we were doing a PG-13 movie, we kind of had to tone it down a little bit. We had fun making the movie, that’s for sure.
Ratner: I don’t know about X-rated, maybe R. Definitely not X. Yeah, we definitely went there with some stuff. There’s not a lot of improv in the movie, actually. The one improv scene is that scene with Eddie and Gabourey when she’s showing him how to open the safe. But otherwise, there’s not really a lot of improve, but there’s definitely some funny shit that you’ll see on the DVD for sure.
You’re producing the Academy Awards. You’ve done a lot of stuff in your career; is this possibly the one that makes you a bit nervous?
Ratner: Not when I have Eddie Murphy as the host. If I didn’t have Eddie Murphy as the host, I might be nervous. But when Eddie agreed to be the host…I didn’t know I would be producing the Oscars when I got the job for Tower Heist, so it wasn’t part of my plan. I just knew that I needed a comedian, because of the fact that Billy Crystal and Johnny Carson and Bob Hope were the three best hosts ever, because it was comedic. They were great. So I said, “Well, if I can get Eddie Murphy, then I’m a home run.” That’s what I did and I got him, which I guess I had some good will because he loved the movie.
Ratner: You can’t reinvent the wheel. You’ve got to just take the best from all the other shows and try to make it work, because there’s the “live show Gods” that dictate if there are going to be any surprises, if there’s a very commercial film that’s a Best Picture, you know what I mean? There are a lot of things that are out of my control, but I do my best.
So are you going to flesh out your ideas once you find out what’s been nominated?
Ratner: A lot of the ideas are dictated by what’s nominated, obviously. A lot of them I’m coming up with beforehand. It’s not an easy job, that’s for sure.
I’ve seen your name attached to a number of things: 39 Clues, Hercules. What do you envision being the next thing that gets you behind the camera?
Ratner: I don’t really know. All these different projects are developing in various stages of development. So, the one that comes together first…some have an actor attached, some have a script that still needs work, some have a budget that’s not there yet. You see how hard it is to get these big movies made even with big movie stars.
Ratner: I think it’s much more difficult, especially in the movies that I’m making which are very expensive movies, meaning high budget. I don’t think it’s easy anymore.
I know you did a segment in Movie 43. What can you tell people about it and how much fun did you have making it?
Ratner: When I do short films, I try to do something completely out of my comfort zone, out of my element. So I did New York, I Love You which is a very personal film for me. My most personal film, but it’s not like a film I’ve ever made. I would never do that film as a feature, for instance, because it’s not very commercial of an idea. So that’s what I did for Movie 43. I did a film that was completely insane and would definitely not work as a feature. But it’s something that’s out of my comfort zone and that’s what I do when I’m asked to do one of these shorts within a feature.
Is it an R-rated short?
Ratner: Oh yeah. It’s plainly beyond R, it’s insane!
Who did you cast in your short?
Ratner: Mine is with Gerard Butler, I have Sean William Scott and Johnny Knoxville in my film.
When is this thing actually coming out?
Ratner: I don’t know because I’ve only done one segment. There are twelve other segments and they’re working on the interstitials. I’m sure they’re going to put it out…I don’t know when. I think the Farrelly Brothers got distracted with The Three Stooges, so they need to finish it, because they were overseeing the production.
Ratner: That is getting made! Eddie Murphy attached himself, which is great. We’re getting that made, I’m producing Snow White, I have a documentary coming out November 20th and 21st on Woody Allen that I produced.
About working with Tarsem Singh and producing the Snow White movie, are you guys close to a title?
Ratner: It will be titled but I don’t know when. That’s a studio decision. We will, soon. [Tarsem’s] amazing. I actually didn’t see his other movie and I’m a big fan of his work. So I was excited to be producing a film that he directed. It’s really exciting.
Can you talk about the challenges of producing vs directing?
Ratner: Producing is making films without having to work sometimes. It’s still making films, but it’s a different job. When you’re the director, you kinda do all the work. I’m actually going tonight to check the prints of my movie even though the premiere’s tomorrow night. So I’ll be working til 4, til the sun comes up, probably. Then I gotta go do The Today Show. That’s what the director does, just kinda has to oversee every detail.
The producer can put something together, package it, oversee it, give input. I’m the kind of producer that likes to take a back seat and let the director run with it. If he needs me, I’m there for him. As a director, I like to have the producer there with me. As a producer, I don’t want to be there because I happen to be a director first and foremost, I don’t want to “that guy.”
Is there anything that’s bubbling up for you right now in television?
Ratner: I do have a lot of exciting stuff coming up in the TV world, but you won’t be hearing about it until next season. Stuff that I’ve been developing that I’m really, really excited about.
Is it stuff for the networks or stuff for HBO, FX, etc?
Ratner: Networks. I’m also developing something for HBO, a miniseries on Sidney Korshak that Robert Evans is producing and Brad Gray, believe it or not. It’s the Sidney Korshak story, who was kind of the link between the movie business and the mafia. That’s a miniseries I’ve been developing over at HBO. I have a deal at FOX Television, so I’ve been developing a lot of TV stuff.
Ratner: Bob Weide is the director. I produce the film, executive produce it actually, because in TV it’s better to be the executive producer, right? It’s going to go on my friggin’ gravestone; it’s like the best thing I’ve ever been involved with. Bob Weide came to me and said, “I want to do a movie about Woody Allen. I’ve been writing him letters for twenty years. And he’s going to say ‘no.’ The only movie he let get made about him is Barbara Kopple’s film (Wild Man Blues), which is about his jazz music. He’s never late anybody make a film about his personal life or his movies or anything. He finally said, ‘yes.’ I asked if you could produce it and he said, ‘yes.’” So that was the end of it. I just went out and raised some money. We made the film and it’s premiering on PBS on November 20th and 21st. I’m just so proud. I’m proud of all the documentaries I’ve done. I did the documentary on John Cazale. And I did a documentary on Helmut Newton.
So the Woody Allen one actually has interviews with him and people talking about Woody?
Ratner: 100%. Not only interviews. We filmed him on set, we filmed him in the edit room, we filmed his entire process. We showed where he types his scripts, where he handwrites his scripts, where he gets his ideas from. All of it. It is incredible.
I didn’t realize it was so comprehensive.
Ratner: It’s a two-part, four hour documentary about Woody Allen’s life. It’s the definitive life of Woody Allen and it’s for American Masters and there will be a theatrical two-and-a-half-hour version for international.
What kind of decisions did you have to make going from the four-hour version on PBS to the theatrical cut?
Ratner: It’s not easy, but it’s a theatrical version. You can’t show a four-hour movie in a theater, really. So we cut it down to two-and-a-half hours for the theatrical version, which is as good. I personally can watch an eight-hour documentary on Woody Allen because I’m fascinated by him. But, an audience can’t really sit through more than two and a half hours on any movie. It doesn’t matter if Marlon Brando came back from the dead. It’s just impossible.
Ratner: It’s probably the definitive film. I don’t think it covers every single film, but it’s his life for sure and it’s totally approved by him. It’s a great film. You should somehow get together with the director because he made it. I just helped make it. I’m the behind-the-scenes producer who kind of just helps push things along and gets things done. It’s Bob’s movie and he made, really, one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen on a portrait of a filmmaker. I’m very, very proud to have my name on it and my company, because my company produced it.
There’s always been a lot of talk about another Beverly Hills Cop and Rush Hour…
Ratner: I don’t think there will ever be another Rush Hour unless it’s Grumpy Old Rush Hour or get the children of Jackie and Chris to make a Rush Hour. I think there will probably be another Beverly Hills Cop but I think more so now than before because Eddie and I now have a rapport and I think it’s a film that…he was very precious about Axel Foley, less than a movie like Tower Heist, which is an original. But everywhere in the world he goes, someone’s like, “Yo, Axel!” So I think it’s easier because now I know him so well that I can really get him to come around on some of the ideas that have been pitched out.
How close are you as far as a script for Beverly Hills Cop 4?
Ratner: We’re not close, but I’m hoping in the next few years there will be one. Eddie and I are even setting up some more of his ideas. I’m hoping that we have a long, fruitful relationship. We’re both still very young, believe it or not. Eddie’s only 50 years old, so I think we have a little bit of time to come up with a great Beverly Hills Cop.
Is there a chance that you guys could ever pair for an R-rated movie?
Ratner: It would be Beverly Hills Cop. Or it would have to be a movie that was a big piece of business, like a Beverly Hills Cop, or an original idea that was like an independent kind of film.