Lorenzo di Bonaventura is in a good mood.
That’s because the producer, 4½ years into his six-year first-look production deal at Paramount Pictures, has become the alpha producer on the Paramount lot, with three big movies for 2007: Antoine Fuqua’s conspiracy thriller “Shooter,” starring Mark Wahlberg, fresh off his Oscar nom for “The Departed”; Michael Bay’s summer tentpole “Transformers,” produced in partnership with DreamWorks; and Matthew Vaughn’s “Stardust,” a whimsical fantasy adventure based on the Neil Gaiman novel and starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro.
Getting any movie made is rough going, but constant changes at Paramount have only served to turn the seasoned di Bonaventura, who exited Warner Bros. in 2002 after eight years as production president, into Paramount’s go-to producer.
With Scott Rudin now allied with Disney and other producers trying to make the adjustment to the post-Sherry Lansing universe, di Bonaventura has had no trouble setting up projects, no matter who’s in charge.
“He couldn’t be more valuable to us,” says production president Brad Weston. “These are three hard movies. With him there’s no concern that a film will go off the rails.”
Di Bonaventura also has a smaller pic slated for this year: “1408,” a $25 million psychological thriller starring John Cusack and based on a Stephen King story, which will be released by Dimension through MGM on July 13.
His Paramount gig is a far cry from his heyday at Warners, where he juggled an unwieldy staff and huge annual slates, sometimes as many as 16 to 20 films a year, plus less-demanding partnered productions. He showed a taste for such robust actioners as “The Perfect Storm,” “Under Siege” and “The Matrix” series.
Di Bonaventura’s skill set marries a strong story sense with social ease, which helps when working with movie stars, and he has learned to manage the challenges of visual f/x. He also loves the R rating, and pushed through such less-than-overtly commercial films as “Training Day” and “Three Kings.”
After Warners’ co-chairmen Bob Daly and Terry Semel departed the studio, di Bonaventura, whose big personality fills a room, never bonded with new boss Alan Horn. In fall 2002, wooed aggressively by Lansing and Jonathan Dolgen, di Bonaventura made his move over to Paramount. One promise he made to himself: to be the kind of responsible filmmaker he always wanted to work with.
“I want to deliver on the promises I make, financially and creatively,” he says.
It was rough leaving a sprawling organization to work with a handful of people, he admits. The toughest adjustment: time management.
Once accustomed to making swift decisions all day long, time slowed down dramatically.
“I used to measure time in two- to three-minute increments,” he says. “Now I have to think through decisions in two to three hours. You’re not spread as thin.”
Now, instead of operating with a major studio at his back, di Bonaventura must persuade studio execs to do what he wants. “I’m less stressed,” he says, “but more anxious.”
The producer has wasted no time. He knocked out four movies in 2005. Two were hits (John Singleton’s urban drama “Four Brothers,” starring Wahlberg, and Warners’ CGI fest “Constantine,” starring Keanu Reeves), one recouped (the Weinstein Co.’s “Derailed,” a low-budget thriller with Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston) and one, Universal’s adaptation of vidgame “Doom,” was a box office dud.
When Lansing asked di Bonaventura what Paramount project he’d most like to tackle, he asked for a problem child that had stumped the studio for years: “Shooter,” based on novel by Stephen Hunter.
“I understood the character,” he says. “As an audience member I want a guy whose sense of right and wrong I can align with. We’re living in a time when we’re looking for people who can stand up and be accountable for their actions. That’s what I wanted out of a modern-day hero.”
After writer Jonathan Lemkin overhauled the post-Vietnam politics of the screenplay, Brad Grey and Gail Berman, with whom di Bonaventura got along, fast-tracked the picture. “Shooter” is the producer’s fourth movie with Wahlberg, after “Rock Star,” “Three Kings” and “Perfect Storm.”
Like the ’70s paranoid thriller “The Parallax View,” “Shooter” doesn’t pull punches: The maverick outsider played by Wahlberg is good; the corrupt government represented by Danny Glover and Ned Beatty is bad.
Whether audiences will embrace these extremes remains to be seen; advance tracking for the movie suggests a less-than-stellar opening frame.
On the other hand, “Transformers” looks to have all the makings of summer hit. It’s a project that di Bonaventura chased at the same time as producers Don Murphy and Tom DeSanto, who nailed down the movie rights with Hasbro Toys.
Di Bonaventura came on when DreamWorks and Paramount agreed to partner on the movie, which is jammed with eye-popping f/x from ILM, including a Transformer who rollerskates.
It’s no secret that di Bonaventura and Murphy don’t get along. On Murphy’s Angry Films Web site, he names di Bonaventura after the character “Skorpinok,” a transforming scorpion. But, says Murphy, “When DreamWorks took domestic and Paramount took foreign, we said, ‘Fine, let’s try to play well with others.’ ”
Bay and Steven Spielberg are running the show anyway.
Spielberg came up with the iconic idea of hanging “Transformers” on the premise of a teenager buying his first car and romancing his first love. Says hero Shia LaBeouf in the “Transformers” trailer: “I bought a car. It turned out to be an alien robot. Who knew?”
The film on di Bonaventura’s slate that really challenges the norm is “Stardust.” It marks the fourth time di Bonaventura has tried to tackle a Gaiman novel; He whiffed on the first three at Warner Bros.
“Gaiman is tricky,” di Bonaventura says. “He doesn’t fit into a box; there’s an unbounded quality to his creativity. He’s uncommon. This has complex multiple story strands; it’s a big task to do on a large scale.”
And di Bonaventura is not slackening his pace. He’s setting up Kurt Wimmer’s original screenplay “The Far-Reaching Philosophy of Edwin A. Salt” at Sony Pictures. And the producer is teeing up a summer start for “NowhereLand,” a comedy starring Eddie Murphy about a financial executive who loses his confidence.
Which is not likely to happen to di Bonaventura any time soon.