Get your glasses on. Grab a cup of coffee. Get ready to read.
The extended interview that’s posted below is with Producer Mike De Luca. If you don’t know Mike’s name…the first thing to do is look over his IMDB resume. Since it’s pretty extensive, I can’t even try to list what he’s produced. But a quick bit of info…he used to be the President of Production at New Line Cinema and while he was there, he helped to make some of the companies most memorable films.
Anyway, he’s produced a new movie and it’s called “21.” The film arrives in theaters this Friday (click here to watch some movie clips) and to help promote it, I was recently able to interview Mike. Actually, I was able to interview Mike twice.
The thing to know is, Sony held the “21” press junket in Las Vegas during ShoWest. So on a very busy day, I took an expensive taxi to the junket hotel and got about twenty minutes with Mike and we talked about a number of things. But after the twenty minutes was up…I still had a lot of questions to ask and due to Mike being incredibly nice, he agreed to continue talking when we were both back in Los Angeles. So about a week after the first interview, we talked on the phone for part 2. As you’re reading the interview you’ll get a red headline that let’s you know where the separation took place.
But the best part of continuing the interview was I was able to follow up on some "Metal Gear Solid" rumors. You see, at ShoWest Coming Soon reported that Kurt Wimmer might be involved with "Metal Gear Solid." So when I got more time with Mike, I followed up on the story and he said that Kurt is just one of many people that will come in and pitch his take on the material. What that means is…who knows if he’ll actually be on the project.
Since the interview is very long, I really need to wrap up this intro.
I will say that if you’re curious how movies get made or have always wondered about the inner workings of being a Producer…you’ll love this interview. Also, since Mike is involved with a number of upcoming projects like “Dracula Year Zero,” “Metal Gear Solid, “ Priest,” “Money Ball” and a few others…I got updates on where all the projects are.
Also, since Mike is a geek like a lot of us, we talked about everything from Comic-Con to “Star Trek.” Trust me, he’s one of us and we definitely geek out in part 2.
Of course a HUGE thank you needs to go to everyone at Sony who made the interview happen, as well as a thank you to Mike for agreeing to give me so much of his time. It’s much appreciated.
And since I always run images in interview articles…I’ll be posting images from “21” throughout the piece. And when we talk about other subjects, I’ll try and throw in some other images that belong....
Collider: So you’ve been in the industry—I believe you started at New Line when you were 19.
Mike De Luca: Yes.
Collider: So you’ve been in the industry for quite a while.
Mike De Luca: 23 years.
Collider: What is…you’ve been involved in tons and tons of movies, what’s your favorite film that you’ve produced, if you don’t mind?
Mike De Luca:Counting my time as an executive?
Collider: Yeah, in general, all the films you’ve been involved with, what’s the one you look back on and say, wow this is the one? Or do you have one?
Mike De Luca: Can I…well it’s a triumvirate. “Boogie Nights,” “Seven,” and “Austin Powers 2” are just my 3 top experiences.
Collider: What’s your reason for those?
Mike De Luca: It’s really personal, on “Boogie Nights” I became really close with Paul Thomas Anderson and we just had good chemistry as friends so you get excited that you’re doing something original and a little provocative but also you know every film is like a little family and you start…you get really close with the people you know when they’re being made and sometimes it’s a dysfunctional family and sometimes it becomes a close family and that was the case where we became a close family and Paul and I stayed friends so that movie will always have the memory for me of getting Paul in my life. “Seven” again, was just getting that script - it was in turnaround from a company called “Penta” and it was a hard piece of material to get initially off the ground because its so dark and Fincher was coming off “Alien 3” and he came in and it was one of the best experiences of my career. He came in and literally kind of pitched his version of the movie almost shot by shot and had a total vision for the film and it was just one of the most exciting meetings I’d ever been in because he’s such a detailed filmmaker and he could verbally express, articulate you know how the movie would look and who he wanted to be in the cast and I’d never really sat down with…up until that point I hadn’t sat down with a director of his caliber and just had him kind of articulate the movie from start to finish. Paul’s a writer/director so when you read his scripts you get that sense because he writes in kind of like the way it’s going to look and sound. David was coming in on someone else’s script so he was just kind of verbally articulating it and that was kind of a blast for me. And then watching that film come together and go for the ending it did without compromising was just kind of…it’s an unusual experience and it was a high point of my career, so I’ll always remember that fondly because it broke new ground for us at New Line. It was the first movie we made for over like $30 million, at a time where that was like a gigantic budget for us and we were sweating it so when that film, which was an unlikely hit, did over $100 domestically and I think over $250 internationally—or over $200 internationally we were like blown away, so that was like a very pleasant surprise and a lot of it most of the time in the movie business you get the unpleasant surprise of movies not working as well as you want just because of the law of averages. And then I love “Austin Powers I” but there was something about just the manic energy and the creative energy of “Austin Powers II” with Mini-Me and Will Ferrell kind of reprising his role from the first film as a kind of like a Indian henchman with the Fez. It just was full of like I think he just upped the ante from “Austin I” and I laughed my ass off in the editing room of that movie like every single time he showed me a new cut. It didn’t matter how many times I’d seen the jokes for some reason that movie—before that movie was “Dumb and Dumber” like I’d watched “Dumb and Dumber” through every cut and every test screening and laughed my ass off but “Austin II” was the most fun I’ve had watching a New Line movie while I was working there. So I guess those 3 stick out in my head. As far as my producing career goes, working with Jon Favreau was great on “Zathora” because he’s like a film buff and like a film student and he absorbs information like it’s going out of style and for that movie he kind of wanted like a 50’s aesthetic to the special effects and I could really talk to him you know about the art of Chelsea Bonestell who’s like a futurist illustrator from the 50’s and he was boning up on special effects and you could see that pay off in “Iron Man” now. I can’t wait to see that movie and that trailer looks amazing so I’ve been lucky working with people who keep turning me on creatively. That’s all you can hope for.
Collider: So I’m curious, what is it like for you to get a film made? I think that’s something that a lot of people out in…who don’t understand the industry and myself sometimes included, how does it really work? So say you come to a project and let’s use “21” as an example, how did it get made? What exactly goes on behind the scenes to make a movie in Hollywood?
Mike De Luca: Well, first there’s the search for material like whatever it’s being done by and it’s being done by everybody. It’s being done by independent producers, the studio executives, agents, managers, I mean everybody looks for material that they think can get made or be commercial, so it starts with the front line is full of people that look for material. After something is found like for example on “21” Dana Bernetti had heard about this story of these M.I.T. students way before there was a book and was trying to pin down exactly what happened. He kind of heard it through a grapevine and thought it was an interesting story for a movie. Then he spotted an article by Ben Mezrich, I think in “Wired” magazine, and he Googled Ben Mezrich after finding the article and they got in touch with each other and Dana got on it before it became a book. Then once you have the material in-hand like once Dana had the material in-hand your job is to convince a financier whether its an independent financier like Relativity or Mandate, those kinds of companies, you can go that route or you bring it to a studio and try to set it up with a studio and hope that an executive at a studio thinks its as commercial as you do. So if you have a deal with a studio, you pitch it to your home studio first and if they pass you can go to other places, but once you find material that turns you on, you have to kind of be its advocate and go convince someone who can pay for the movie that is commercial and that it’s a worthy investment. After you get the thing set up, the studio or the financing entity kind of tells you what ingredients they’re going to need to feel good about making the investment to make the movie so that means who can we get to write this or adapt it that we think will result in a good screenplay, after that what’s the cast list in terms of who’s going to make it, again, more of a secure investment for the studio to green light. Once you get a screenplay you’re happy with, you get into trying to package it, you know meaning putting a director and cast into it while you’re on the way to budgeting it and kind of getting all the things in place to eventually get the studio to say yes. If you’ve cleared all those hurdles, and the stars align and all those puzzle pieces come together and you get a green light, then as a producer you kind of manage the production and try to be fiscally responsible for the studio but also kind of protect the creative vision of the artists involved in the movie—writer, director, and the actors. And then after you get through production, you get into putting the movie together editorially and you know you kind of see it through the phase we’re in now with marketing and distribution, but it all starts with that search for material.
Collider: That’s actually a very good explanation as to how that goes.
Mike De Luca: It’s kind of dynamic but those are the steps when it goes right, you know. You can get stalled out in any section there.
Collider: Yeah, it seems to me though when you explain it that way and then…I’ve heard that explanation before where it just seems it’s a miracle sometimes when certain movies get made with the material in question or it’s a miracle when you have, you know, someone gives you $200 million to go spend and make…so what is the difference between a producer and an executive producer?
Mike De Luca: Most of the time the producer credit is given to the people or person that is really physically producing the movie through all those stages. He’s kind of overseeing the development of the script and staying on through production and post-production and into marketing. Executive producer—there’s no set rule about that credit. It could mean a variety of things. Sometimes the line producer, who’s the person who is physically responsible for producing a movie in terms of all the moving parts and the physical production, they come under in pre-production and they leave after the film wraps, you know the line producer. Sometimes they get that credit as part of their deal if they’re a line producer with a lot of credits that’s been in business for a while. Sometimes it’s an actor’s manager who just insists as part of the actor’s deal, the manager will get an executive producer credit. Sometimes if there is a co-financing deal with a studio or if a film is independently financed, the financier will take an executive producer credit. Sometimes the actor will take an executive producer credit.
Collider: Do you ever have or have you had experiences where people get upset that certain people are getting an executive producer credit when they clearly just don’t deserve it?
Mike De Luca: Yeah, I’ve heard stories about that. I think the producer’s guild has been trying to regulate how credits are apportioned. At New Line, we and I think Miramax did this when the Weinstein’s were there; we used to give our executives executive producer credit as kind of a perk of working for a studio that paid less than other studios and I know it pissed off a lot of producers because traditionally there’s a line between studio executives and producers and a lot of people weren’t happy with us giving ourselves credits, but at New Line we looked at ourselves as more like producers than executives.
Collider: Actually that makes a lot of sense.
Mike De Luca: But yeah, it’s kind of a chaotic process. Sometimes you end up with people that are there or feel like they got the short end of the stick when it comes to credits. The last time I’ve read about a major problem like that happening was on “Crash” I guess Bob Yari who paid for the movie felt shortchanged when after whatever investigation they did in terms of who was on-set didn’t give him…didn’t allow him to either get the credit or be listed as a nominated producer when it got the Oscar nominations.
Collider: I heard there was like 8 producers and you only give 3 credits out or just to bull-shit like that which is pretty stupid because don’t you think that certain movies are going to have 8 producers?
Mike De Luca: It’s picture by picture, you know, you hope it doesn’t go that way because it means there’s a lot of people to please and a lot of moving parts but sometimes it just ends up that way depending on how movies are put together.
Collider: So, I know you’re a big comic book person.
Mike De Luca: Yes.
Collider: And you’re still a big comic book person.
Mike De Luca: Yeah, yeah I have my original collection from when I was a kid and I started a new collection when I was an adult and I moved out to L.A. but mostly the modern stuff and the graphic novels and whatnot.
Collider: So I would imagine that you being a producer and not being in front of the camera as much as talent can enjoy Comic-Con with some anonymity.
Mike De Luca: Yeah, and I go as a fan like I don’t go looking for properties per se because I don’t think…I mean actually I don’t think there are that many out there. All the big ones have been done already. I go as a fan and buy stuff and read stuff and just enjoy myself.
Collider: So do you ever go and have you overheard people just talking about a property say like a “Ghost Rider” or something you’ve been involved with and you’re just standing there just like I’m getting it, I’m hearing it, you know?
Mike De Luca: Well, “Ghost Rider” I was at ShoWest when we did an appearance and we showed kind of a sizzle reel, so it was before anybody had seen the movie so that was fun because people were just excited about the character. I usually…I have a habit after test screenings going to restroom and hearing people talk about the movie because I feel that’s…they’ve just seen it and they’re in there and they let loose and that could be either earth shatteringly bad or it could be kind of enthusiastically confidence building, but I get an immediate read from those kinds of situations.
Collider: That’s actually the truth because after…I go to some test screenings and it is true when you’re standing there and you can overhear everyone being like, “that movie sucked” or “that thing was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen”, and it’s an immediate…you’re totally right. You were attached to producing—maybe you still are—the book “The Game”. What is going on with that because to me that seems like a property that could be such a great movie?
Mike De Luca: For me personally Columbia ended up doing it with Spyglass as a financing partner and once Spyglass came on, Spyglass and I couldn’t agree on a deal for me so I’m off the project, but right now I think Spyglass and Columbia are either looking for a writer or they’ve got someone developing a first draft. So it’s in active development, I’m just not on it anymore.
Collider: I was going to say that…well that sucks. I’ll say that.
Mike De Luca: I was sad to see that one go.
Collider: So now let’s ask about…about a month or two it came out that you are involved with Metal Gear Solid.
Mike De Luca: Right.
Collider: So this is the question that every fan…I’m asking this for every fan…what are you going to do to finally make a kick-ass video game movie?
Mike De Luca: I mean, hopefully not screw it up. For me adapting a video game is just like adapting a book or a play or any other…whenever you’re adapting from another medium for film you try to take into account what you need to do to make it a movie. With books it’s how you compensate for not being inside a character’s head and with video games I think what you have to compensate for is the loss of interactivity, you know. What makes video games fun is that you get to be the character and you’re sitting there ruling the universe and it’s a really first person interactive experience. When you’re in your theatre seat, you’re stuck with these subjective versions of the story and the game from a director or the writer’s point of view. You can’t interact with what’s going on so whatever turns you on about the game, you’re immediately disadvantaged in the theatre because you’re not feeling anything which I think ups the ante for how good the story has to be and how good the movie has to be because we’re going in at a disadvantage that you’re not going to get the excitement or the adrenalin rush of doing it yourself, so we have to do it for you in a way that makes up for that. So I think the bar is higher and I think in the past, people haven’t realized that they set the bar low for video game movies thinking that oh, there’s a built in audience and we don’t need to go crazy with this movie. We just need to get it out there and people will just go see it anyway. I think that’s kind of a rip-off so…I tried with the first Mortal Combat movie to honor the…I mean that game is like pre-historic at this point but we tried to honor the Enter the Dragon type of storyline of those characters and not throw something out there that was total rip-off and on this one the kind of Cain and Able story between Solid Snake and Liquid Snake and their relationship with their father and the storyline of Metal Gear Solid 4 has the makings….there’s so much story in Metal Gear as opposed to other video games that I think it’s going to be a challenge but it’s an upscale problem to have some much thematic subtexts and story material to draw from so I think we have a leg up already in that it’s such a rich universe and Kojima is like George Lucas in terms of creating this universe so what it says about war by proxy in this kind of future where war has been outsourced to private companies I think can be almost very topical and also kind of satirical in like a “Robocop” kind of way, so I think if we can get a script that honors the storyline of all 4 games, but that also has a cinematic aesthetic you know the kind of aesthetic Verhoeven brought to “Robocop” or the kind of aesthetic the Wachowski’s brought to “The Matrix”. If there’s a cinematic identity to the piece that exists on its own, it doesn’t conflict with the DNA of the game, you know that’s our goal is to pull off those 2 things. Not mess with the DNA of the game but provide a movie that is an adaptation but that has it’s own cinematic identity so even if you don’t play the game you know, you’ll come out of that movie feeling like you did at the end of “The Matrix” or the end of “Robocop”. That’s our goal anyway.
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