The Squid and the Whale (with Wes Anderson, Charles Corwin, Clara Markowitz)
Genesis: Five years ago, Newman was so frustrated with the business he was ready to leave it. It was the “Squid” script that changed his mind. “When I read it I thought, ‘I’ve got to stick around long enough to get this film made,’ ” recalls Newman.
Attraction: “I like things that are original, that have an edge to them. All four of the lead characters — there’s such complexity to what they do.”
Building blocks: The participation of Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels attracted other talent, including production designer Anne Ross and d.p. Robert Yeoman. Pic shot in 23 days, with a $1.5 million budget. What makes Newman most proud is how the film relied on old-school techniques from beginning to end. “In this day and age, people are using all kinds of innovative new ways to get films financed, or to shoot them and market them,” says Newman. “This is the little film that defied the odds — in getting made, and coming out and doing well.”
Greatest challenge: Studios were interested in distributing but not financing the pic. “The script was incredibly well received, but (director-writer) Noah (Baumbach) had been a long time between films. To a certain extent, it would have been easier to sell a hot young kid right out of film school. You’re penalized if you haven’t been active, and in Noah’s case that was five or six years. He had been very active, just not directing. I was looking for a group of people who would take the risk. If the script was as good as everyone thought it was and it was execution-dependent, we would all win — which is what happened.”
Setback AND solution: Financing came the old-fashioned way — from individual investors; cast and crew agreed to deferrals. (Goldwyn and Sony pacted on the film soon after Sundance.) To keep the costs down, middle management was eliminated. “We had well-established people in key jobs and, literally, college interns,” says Newman. “We flew under the radar. There was no outside interference; the only people we had to concentrate on were ourselves. Everyone had their hands full, but everyone also felt they were working on something unique and special.”
Newman marvels that the project never needed to compromise, even to obtain two of the pic’s biggest components: rights to Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” and permission to film at the Museum of Natural History. In both instances, friends of friends made things possible. Admits Newman: “We got very lucky. Those two things alone would cost more than our budget.”
Ever the traditionalist, it’s no wonder that Newman favorite review was the one that referred to the pic as ” ‘Ordinary People’ for the ‘Rushmore’ generation.” He adds: “We went back to the oldest formula in the world: telling a really good story in a well-directed manner.”
Career Mantra: Focus on what’s best for the movie and the decisions come easy.