Bob Shaye Interviewed – ‘The Last Mimzy’

     March 21, 2007

Opening this Friday is The Last Mimzy. If you’ve been reading the site for awhile you’ll think hasn’t Frosty already interviewed Bob for this film at Sundance and didn’t he post a video interview? The answer is yes and if you happened to have missed it you can check it out here.

Since the good folks at New Line are trying to get the word out on Bob Shaye’s return to the director’s chair, they held a press day for the film here in Los Angeles and I decided to attend the event and support the film.

If you are not familiar with the movie here is the synopsis (from the studio):

Based on the acclaimed sci-fi short story by Lewis Padgett, The Last Mimzy tells the story of two children who discover a mysterious box that contains some strange devices they think are toys. As the children play with these “toys,” they begin to display higher and higher intelligence levels. Their teacher tells their parents that they seem to have grown beyond genius. Their parents, too, realize something extraordinary is happening. Emma, the younger of the two, tells her confused mother that one of the toys, a beat-up stuffed toy rabbit, is named Mimzy and that “she teaches me things.” Emma’s mom becomes increasingly concerned. When a mysterious blackout shuts down the city and the government traces the source of the power surge to this one family’s house, things quickly spin wildly out of their control. The children are focused on these strange objects, Mimzy, and the important mission on which they seem to have been sent. When the little girl says that Mimzy contains a most serious message from the future, a scientific scan shows that Mimzy is part extremely high level electronic and part organic! Everyone realizes that they are involved in something incredible…but exactly what?

Interviewing Bob Shaye again is the reason why I wanted to do this press day as how many times do you get to sit down with the head of a studio? He talks a lot aboutwhat’s going on at New Line right now. It’s definitely worth reading.

If you would like to listen to the interview you can download the MP3 here, otherwise the transcript is below.

And if you want to watch the trailer before reading the interview click here.

The Last Mimzy opens this Friday at theaters everywhere.

Bob Shaye: Thank you all for your attention I hope to keep your attention – your tentative interest, I guess I should say. Half of you journalists are ‘.com’ that’s what this movie is about, remember – too much about technology overtaking our souls.

Question: About technology, your letter indicates we don’t have anymore ‘alone time.’

Well, I think – first of all, Samuel Goldwyn once said, ‘If I want to send a message, I use Western Union.’ This is not meant to be a message film, per say it’s meant to be entertainment, it’s meant to be comedy, it’s meant to be, I suppose coming from someone who made Nightmare on Elm Street, heartwarming – but in a not yucky way. But, I do believe that there’s a lot of encouragements in the relationships we have with other people I don’t want to underscore it too much. But is amazing, I’ll tell you, this particular thing is amazing I went to a lot of trouble on reflection on what are the subtle things that are taking over our lives. I’ve been into a lot of homes where people have the television on with no sound it’s just on all the time. We had a rule in my house, when I lived in Detroit – it comes from my mother’s soul, that there was never a television set in our dining room, at least. But I’ve seen televisions on, up to and including TV dinner tables or something, but that was a concession, a little treat. But, I’ve shown this movie to a lot of people and most people don’t think twice about televisions in the family house all the time. That, a little bit more heavy-handed way at the beginning of the movie – that bus scene where the two kids are riding, there was a lot more stuff about people working on computers it’s beautiful outside in the middle of Seattle, the mountains are incredible, the mist and all that stuff – and all people can do is watch their video screens, or listening to music, or staring off into space. So, am I worried about humanity? Well, I am worried about humanity, but there’s more to it than that, and this does make you count after a while when you don’t recognize this stuff.

When I was making Nightmare on Elm Street, I had two daughters, who at that time were 10-12 years old and I actually showed them early cuts of the movie – ‘Is this scary? Do you like this?’ They gave me good ideas and they were really delightful. When I came home after work, I would turn on the television and the news would be on, and they would get up and walk out of the room, every time and it finally dawned on me what was going on – it was just too bloody scary. So, that is ultimately what this is about is it possible, and it happens to be scientifically feasible, that there are a set of genes that actually together are responsible for behavior that we would call innocence. And there is good scientific evidence that there very well might be and as we do carry junk DNA around in our body, nobody knows what this is doing there – this is DNA that doesn’t operate, it doesn’t turn on other genes, it doesn’t do anything. They don’t know what that DNA used to do, and it is possible that over time, whatever the kind of innocence that we carry around us today, because of disuse, they may ultimately turn off, and that’s the underlying theme. An interesting story, I don’t know if it’s press worthy, but I’ll tell you anyhow so, the little voice over at the end where the teacher is talking about Emma’s tears and all that stuff, there was a line in the film that ‘The precious gene of innocence was returned to humanity.’ It may be a little overly arch, but notwithstanding that so at the last test screening, when we were in the middle of mixing the film, it got very good test reactions. They said, the guy who was running the test, the focus group, how many people rated the film excellent – I don’t know, half the group did how many rated it very good, and another third, and how many rated it good, and that’s what they would get. So just to sort of get a perspective on what’s going on, he asked one of the guys who rated it very good, ‘Why didn’t you rate it excellent,’ cause that’s what they do. He said, ‘I was about to rate it excellent, until that teacher, or who ever it was, talked about the gene of innocence I said enough of that stuff.’ So we actually went into the mixing studio the next day and took the line out and changed it. So as I said, it’s a fine line to tell a story, but not really tell the story but I do believe we are getting isolated, more and more isolated.

Was there a conflict between you as the director and you as the studio chief who has to sell this?

No, but I will tell you we understand the challenges of selling this in an affective way and in the beginning, the film, I expected the film – for instance, there’s a whole subplot between Tim Hutton and Joely Richardson where they’re arguing all the time because she has a job, a business of her own, which has been cut out now – a little EBay business selling salt shakers or something. He was really in the office a lot more, and was on the phone all day and there was really this sub text about the parents wanted to be what they do and they’re blaming each other for the kids being goofy and not understanding it. But I realized this film was more of a family film and there was a little more – not salacious – but a little more sex between Rainn and Katherine Hahn and it still would have gotten a PG rating. But particularly in the friends and family screenings, cause they’re a little more intimate, I kept getting these reactions from people saying, ‘You know, this is a film about a five year old and a ten year old, and I had 12 year olds and 14, 16 year olds, and I want to bring my kids here, but I don’t like to see a family arguing all the time, and it’s not what the real story is.’ And with great reluctance, great integrity, I’m not going to let audiences tell me what to do – of course I’m going to let that audience tell me what to do if they’re the audience I want the film to embrace, that they’re going to embrace the film. And so, I let this film, consciously, veer itself towards a film that I still think grown ups are going to like and find interesting people who are science fiction fans are going to, I hope, embrace because just for the visual effects aspect of it and the story line itself. But the core audience is going to be a more family oriented film, and letting the film find its own natural audience ought to help the marketing tremendously. And I think I did a service to the company, as head of it, not to insist and stand on some kind of hubris.

What about this story was compelling enough to keep it going for more than 10 years?

I’ve directed two feature films, and in both cases, and even though I was running the company, they were both films that resonated so strongly with me that I really didn’t feel I was demonstrating any kind of arrogance be peremptorily deciding to direct them. The first one is about growing up in the 50’s, by a guy who grew up in Scranton, I grew up in Detroit it was funny, it was raunchy, I loved it, and it was just what happened to me – in fact, I re-wrote a lot of the stuff. So there wasn’t going to be anyone else who was going to direct or make this movie. I was a science fiction geek as a kid, as I’ve said, and one day, when I read the short story Mimzy. Michael Phillips came in and it’s a story that I love, very famous short story. So I took on the task of trying to develop it but the problem with developing this story was – I didn’t tell you this yet, did I? – it didn’t have an ending. The story ends it’s a great story about children’s brains not being hard-wired, hardly, and being receptive to all kind of teaching we could never engage in now because everything has sort of come together. We don’t have the brain power, or the potential brain power the children have, which they end up, as the scientist says, the doctor says we kill off trillions of brain cells when we’re five or six years old, so that was the idea that really completely fascinated me. But the story ends where the kids become these super beings, step into a circle of these objects they find, and disappear and that’s the end of the story. And we started looking at this, and I said, ‘What do you mean? We can’t have a movie where they just disappear.’ We couldn’t figure out what to do with it, so much so, over the years, I just put it down, and followed the dictum that there are some stories that just don’t lend themselves to making movies. You just can’t make a movie out of everything, and in fact, as Hitchcock once said, which in this case is another axiom that I really subscribe to, most good films are made from bad novels or short stories – The Birds is a good example. Not a very fulfilling short story, but a great premise so I kept gnawing at it, ‘This is a great premise, but I don’t know how to, what that ‘A’ story is.’ ‘What’s the red thread,’ as they say in Swedish – what’s the beginning, middle and end? And it took a real long, long time, about five writers, to get it finally nailed down in fact Toby Emmerich wrote two drafts over a period of two to three years and Bruce Rubin wrote two drafts, plus a lot of extra work over a period of three to four years. And there were a bunch of years, over that 10-year period, where we just didn’t do anything cause we were just following that rule of ‘just leave it alone, you’re never going to get it right.’ But I hope we broke that rule.

How can you keep innocence away in this day and age?

I don’t believe that people are intrusively evil and I don’t think anyone in this room does, but I do think we are creatures of our environment. And the media is so effective in bringing us stories, and for some reason, the feel good stories are not as effective or as prevalent as the feel bad stories. I think to some extent, kids immersion in video games and iPods and stuff like that – in an excessive way, in my opinion, it’s a kind of escapism like my kids would leave the television, these kids just don’t want to hear about it, just totally don’t want to hear about it. I had a certain amount of pressure to take out that line after mom is watching television in the bathroom and she hears about the black out – there’s just a little tale in the next news story which is, ‘In another story, 40 are killed’ and then she turns off the TV. ‘Why do you want to have that in there for?’ ‘Because, what’s on the news except bad stuff.’ I mean there’s nothing that’s particularly heart-warming or it’s always the last story of the nightly news.

Your young actor, Chris, says the next movie he wants to see is 300.

Hey, listen, he comes from a very Christian family, and he’s a very smart kid, so it’s not like he’s some horror freak per say but I think the kids, it’s very addicting this stuff. ‘Do you want to watch 300 or do you want to read poetry?’ I guess the trick is really to make 300 with a little poetry in it, which is what I tried to do.

Was running the studio and directing this movie harder than you thought it was?

That’s not the reason New Line had a difficult year first of all, you can’t measure a film company, in my opinion, on a fiscal basis. Even these film investing groups that are investing with us – we just had Royal Bank of Scotland invest with us, it’s over 25 films, 20 films, it probably will be 25, because it’s not like you gotta hit it right all the time within 12 months, it’s just not in the cards. Even though I’ve been ill for a while, I supported, in one way or another, every production decision that was made, and only not a part of two or three of them, two if that. It was ‘the buck does stop with me and Michael Lynne’ we did, for various reasons, approve those films. Believe me, everyone is keenly aware we need to do better I think this year is going to be a very good year. I would recommend to you Rush Hour 3 which is the best of the Rush Hour’s, by far the funniest. And I particularly recommend to you, although I haven’t seen it, The Golden Compass that Chris Weitz directed for us with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Those are big movies that I think are going to do the trick. Fracture is a very good film Tony Hopkins is right in his power zone, Ryan Gosling really demonstrates to be the star of what he suggests he is in Half Nelson. I mean, we have a few films I’m less enthusiastic about, but part of them come from the past, and this is the present. I appreciate the question, but I do caution you all if you’re going to write about the business of film, try as much as you can to understand it. Too many writers – a writer said to me the other day, ‘Well gee whiz, the last three years, you spent a billion and a half dollars on production and you’ve only done a billion and a half dollars on box office.’ ‘What does that mean?’ That looks like a headline of Variety have you ever heard of DVD, do you know about international, what about television and libraries. So I promise, depending on time and place, I’ll take any of you – I’ll give a seminar actually, about the key on the business of film because it is a challenge for journalists so that they’re not just being sensationalists and writing about ‘billion and a half spent, billion and a half lost,’ so you actually understand what the issues are. And even though last year was a crummy year for us, we’ve made substantially over $100 million net profit, notwithstanding some of my brethren who make up stories about how much money they make all the time. This is the real thing and Jeff Bukus subscribed to it, and was the one who actually pointed it out to the journalist involved.

Is this amazing to you that this is the 40th anniversary of New Line?

This is the 40th anniversary, but our motto is ‘The first generation and the next generation,’ two generations. And the thing that I’m proud of, first of all that I’ve been there for both of them but the second thing is that over 60% of people who work at New Line are under 40, which suggests that they weren’t even born when I started the company. So I guess I’m the experience, and to some extent the stability and the vitality and the inspiration.

You’ve set a date for The Hobbit, what kind of director do you think you can get?

If we make it, we’ll have a good one – I promise you.

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