Fast-talkers can't hold a candle to Pressman
CANNES — LOOKING LIKE a wayward academic who’s grown weary of grading term papers, Ed Pressman threaded his way through festgoers and random gawkers on the Croisette, intent on his mission. He had come to Cannes, as he had 20 times before, to hype a new movie, “The Blackout,” directed by auteur-tough guy Abel Ferrara, and to arrange pre-sales for several others. As always, Pressman’s slate seemed inconsistent with his cerebral demeanor. There’s one movie based on Bret Easton Ellis’ outrageous novel, “American Psycho”; a ’60s-style, tree-hugging movie based on the 1975 Edward Abbey novel called “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” which Dennis Hopper will direct and which apparently has attracted interest from Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei and Woody Harrelson; and a techno-Gothic fantasy called “Mutant Chronicles.” Slight and ascetic, Pressman clearly savors his reputation as the industry’s quietest rule-breaker. In a business of fast-talkers, most of the sentences he utters are either inaudible or simply incomplete. The stories he tries to tell tend to trail off without a punch line. Yet, none of this has impeded his success in producing some 40 movies, including such offbeat hundred-million-dollar hits as “The Crow” and “Conan the Barbarian,” not to mention widely praised projects like “Das Boot,” “Badlands” and “Wall Street.” Clearly this bespeaks a fierce diligence that he shrewdly disguises. As a neophyte producer in the late ’60s, Pressman actually pitched projects in the company of his mother, a formidable woman who was co-founder of the Pressman Toy Co. This proved a clever tactic with studio chiefs who had become steeled to pushy producers, but not pushy mothers. Later, when Pressman decided to go it alone, his presentations were punctuated by long silences — it was never clear whether he was gathering his thoughts or simply trying to see if anyone was listening.
OVER TIME, Hollywood learned to take Pressman seriously. Though his tastes are, to say the least, eclectic, he is nonetheless a responsible businessman who brings a lot to the table. For one thing, he spends his own money to develop projects, thus avoiding the studios’ “development hell.” He also brings along co-financing and completion guarantees, and has mobilized stars like Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Michael Douglas. None of this has insulated him from the clunkers that decorate every producer’s career — “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and “Judge Dredd,” among them. Reflecting on these debacles, however, Pressman says two other failures, “City Hall” and “Hoffa,” were tougher to assimilate. “No matter how many movies you’ve survived, it’s still a crushing disappointment when a film looks great and everyone admires it and it still fails to find a broad audience,” he says. Ever mindful that producing is a never-ending roller-coaster ride, Pressman has sought new devices for capitalizing on his winners. He is readying another sequel to “The Crow” in addition to an animated version. He’s also exploiting the rights via comic books, CD-ROMs and merchandising, and the soundtrack tothe sequel will be a major release from Hollywood Records. As with the first “Crow,” Pressman will hold onto foreign territories and ancillaries.
JUST AS THE STUDIOS BOAST of their “franchise projects,” so Pressman, too, is always chatting up this mantra among investment bankers and the proverbial Japanese investors. Given his limitations as a pitchman, Pressman regularly issues formal documents resembling annual reports that detail his numerous joint ventures, his productions and his pre-production slate, plus his executive staff. Indeed, while Cannes is awash with hustlers who can spin great stories and who freely drop the names of the major stars supposedly “attached” to their hot properties, they can’t hold a candle to Ed Pressman, who quietly, somberly makes his rounds, handing out his annual reports. He may not finish most of his sentences, but he closes most of his deals, and that, especially, sets him apart from the madding crowd on the Croisette.