There are lots of reasons for wanting to make a movie. In the case of Mike Traeger’s “The Moguls,” that reason was anger. Traeger first came to Hollywood in 1986 when the screen adaptation of his play, “Rich Kids on a Ledge,” attracted some industry attention. He parlayed that attention into a lucrative writer-for-hire career. But after a decade of watching his projects wither, mutate or worse, he was just plain sick of it.
“As a tonic,” Traeger says, “I decided I needed to write something sweet, but — for the obvious financial reasons — it had to be the kind of sweet Hollywood would go for.” His concept: a bunch of lovable losers trying to get rich quick by making a porno movie. “Sure, it’s about porn,” Traeger says, “but it’s Capra-esque porn; it’s sweetness in unexpected places.”
He also decided that directing “Moguls” was the only way to ensure that the version he put on the page became the vision that ended up on screen.
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His producer, Aaron Ryder, agreed. “He’s the only one who could have done it,” says Ryder. “The script has such a singular voice. Can you imagine someone else directing a Woody Allen script besides Woody?”
Eventually Qwerty’s Michael Kuhn (“Kinsey”) stepped forward with the financing, Jeff Bridges signed on as the lead, and Traeger took his place behind the camera.
In helming his first pic, he kept things simple. “It’s not snazzy. I grew up thinking the director is a guy you shouldn’t notice. I like actors, I like faces. I don’t like obvious.”
And while Sundance passed on his end result, Traeger says, “My perception of what people think is a Sundance film is not what I think of this film as being.” So, “The Moguls” will screen for buyers on Feb. 2 and close the Santa Barbara Film Festival. And the pic they’ll see is, finally, the one Traeger really wanted to make.