An actor-producer's day includes raising coin, hiring crews and marketing their pix
Small, personal films don’t seem to get made without star power and a whole lot of fundraising. George Clooney, Tommy Lee Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Don Cheadle, who shepherded a handful of potential awards contenders to screen this year, can certainly attest.
“In general, the films I try to make have not been easy to make,” says Clooney, who directed “Good Night and Good Luck” and produced “Syriana” while taking supporting roles in both. “But I have one huge advantage. I’m in a position that people offer me the kind of money that they do. No one was jumping to make either film but we got them financed.
“Your best tool for fundraising is to take your (acting fee) and make a back-end deal,” says Clooney, who produces with Steven Soderbergh via their Section Eight shingle. “I doubt we’ll see any back-end on ‘Good Night,'” he says, “but hey, I’ve got money in the bank and I’m doing OK. It’s important to make these films we think are interesting and we’re at a place in our careers and our lives where we can do that.”
Don Cheadle says he spent the better part of a year trying to raise money for “Crash,” in which he also co-starred.
“I knew when I signed on that this was a foolish gambit. Had it not been for Bob Yari’s company stepping in, it never would have happened. It was a great script and two guys (director Paul Haggis and co-screenwriter Robert Moresco) were really passionate about it.”
Tommy Lee Jones says he didn’t want to “go door to door” to finance “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” which he developed with “Amores Perros'” screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. He zeroed in on EuropaCorp and sent the company the script and then lured Luc Besson, whom he knew was a diving enthusiast, with an offer of a meeting in Nassau.
“On the way out to the reef we had lunch and I asked if he wanted to make it, and he said he did,” Jones recalls. “I gave him the budget and said ‘I will come in $100 below that figure,’ and he said OK.”
In Cheadle’s case, producing “Crash” coincided with filming the most demanding role of his career, the lead in “Hotel Rwanda.”
“I’m surprised I didn’t collapse,” he laughs. “I was getting dailies from ‘Crash.’ Every week I’d wake up at 3 in morning (because of the time difference) to go over notes and different scenes and different cuts and takes with the editor.”
“It was a lot,” he admits, “but ultimately as rewarding as anything I’ve ever done. I was in a position of being able to be in front of the camera and have a say about how things developed. I could try to protect the script and the ideas. That’s what turned me on about it from very beginning.”
“Sure, I was acting on ‘Ocean’s 12,'” Clooney says, “but I was also prepping ‘Syriana’ and ‘Good Night’ so there’s never really any downtime. It’s not like I’m ever just sitting in my trailer.”
On “Syriana,” he had the strain of working on location and adding 40 lbs. in four weeks. “We did a year of post. It’s a complicated, tough movie and a lot of work.”
For Jones, wearing multiple hats on “Three Burials” actually made the whole process easier.
“As an actor, I didn’t have to spend any time preparing because I spent two years writing the part. As a director I didn’t have to worry about getting the equipment in the place because I’m the producer. And I didn’t have to worry as the producer about the director spinning off and making demands. And as the writer, I didn’t have to worry about anybody jacking with the words or the narrative.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman had previously produced “Love Liza” and “Owning Mahoney” but on “Capote,” in which he plays the lead, he took on a much more active producing role.
“It was tough to wear both hats. It’s two different parts of your brain,” he says, particularly since he stayed in character — maintaining the voice and physicality of Truman Capote — while on set. He came on as a producer “just to get it going.”
“Executive producers are more overseers and troubleshooters,” he explains. “They may get something done but are ultimately not as hands-on as a line producer. But they do have influence. Things still have to go by them.”
Adds Clooney: “The key is to hire the right people to do the right job. You have to be a bandleader and just keep things moving in the right direction.”