Brett Ratner loves cinema. When speaking with the 47-year-old filmmaker, it’s abundantly clear that movies are unspooling through his veins, and if our discussions felt more like two movie buffs just enjoying great conversation, it’s because of his general enthusiasm for the medium.
“It was always my dream to direct movies,” he says, rarely pausing for a breath. “I always knew I’d do it. I had the drive and the desire. I was determined. But I never knew I’d be making movies of this size, stuff like the ‘Rush Hour’ films and ‘X-Men’ and ‘Red Dragon.’ When I was in film school, I knew I wanted to make entertaining movies. But I don’t think I could have prepared for how fast my rise would be. I was 26 when I got my first film.”
But it was before he’d set foot on a movie set that he received some long lasting advice from a key person in his life.
“I had a professor at NYU who inspired me a great deal,” Ratner says. “His name was Milek Knebel; he made a massive impression on me. And he helped to shape me when I got out of school. He told me that I should never work for anyone but myself, and that I wasn’t meant to work for anyone. And he really instilled it in my head to just get out there and make a film. I’d talk about making movies for years, to anyone who would listen. I willed it into happening. I really just didn’t take no for an answer.”
After NYU, Ratner headed out to Los Angeles, passing up the chance of working for Brian Grazer’s assistant, a fantasy job for any dreamer fresh out of school.
“I got lucky. I met Brian Grazer when I was at school, and he invited me to some test screenings,” Ratner says, adding that he “got to know Brian a bit and I tried to make an impression on him as he would be checking out the classes, to see what kind of filmmakers were there. I saw him at a screening of ‘The Paper,’ and he said to come see him after I graduated. So I went out to Los Angeles and he brought me in to meet about being his assistant. ‘You’re going to be my assistant,’ I can remember him saying. And I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to be a director! And he offered me a salary, and every time I said no to him during our meeting, he’d tack on another $2 grand, until I just got up and proceeded to leave. With my career flashing before my eyes, I couldn’t help but turn around and tell him that my friend Russell Simmons wanted to make a new ‘Nutty Professor.’ Brian sealed the deal hours later, and he’d call me a few years later about the sequel. I still have to pinch myself sometimes.”
|“I’d talk about making movies for years, to anyone who would listen.”|
That phrase comes up again and again. It’s that sort of inherent excitement inside Ratner. And then there’s Ratner’s connection to old Hollywood, and with the industry mavericks who paved the way for the auteurs in the 1970s. Listening to him talk about his closest friends is like being privy to a roll-call of cinema titans.
“My closest friends are James Toback, Roman Polanski, Warren Beatty, Bob Evans — these are the guys who have helped me and given me the best advice. I show all my films to them, and Roman, he gives me the best notes. He’s so generous with his knowledge, and he’s always giving me ideas. Peter Bogdanovich was my roommate for two years, and RatPac [Ratner’s production house] just did a documentary about him. He’s another guy I consider to be a legend and one of my closest friends.”
The filmmaker’s love for old Hollywood even extends to his digs on the Warner Bros. lot, where his company, RatPac Entertainment, occupies building 95, the bungalow made famous for housing everyone from Frank Sinatra to Richard Donner and Joel Silver.
“There’s a tremendous sense of pride you have when this is where your office is located. As a kid, I used to dream of having a bungalow on the lot, so to be calling this particular spot home, it’s more than a little surreal and special. The amount of history in these walls, and what it means to come here every day to work is not something I take lightly.”
And in Toback, Ratner has found a true friend and collaborator.
“Brett Ratner’s Hilhaven Lodge is my second home, and Brett has become an essential force in world cinema whose star on the Walk of Fame will add fresh luster to that stellar sidewalk,” says Toback. “Brett’s a wonderful person and a great storyteller.
“I’m working on a film for RatPac called ‘The Man Who Beat Vegas.’ I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and it’s a contemporary Las Vegas story. ”
When talking with Ratner, it’s abundantly clear that he loves to tell stories. “A big magazine was going to do this hatchet piece on me,” Ratner says with a laugh. “They had sent this reporter, a total killer. And I was nervous, because my house at that time, it was being called this place of Hollywood sin and debauchery. And I don’t do drugs and I don’t drink, I never have. But I love to party and have fun with my friends, and fine, so maybe some things got out of control. But it was all being blown out of proportion, and I knew I was going to be in trouble because she was writing the piece.
“So I called Dino De Laurentiis and Bob Evans, and I said please come over and help me! I don’t know what to do or what to say to her! They came over, and keep in mind, they’d not met ever. They of course knew of each of other, but they weren’t in the same social circles. And they immediately hit it off and it was great and they saved me!
“A lot of people talk about the phoniness of Hollywood, and how nobody has your back. These guys did. And they basically gave her two additional interviews, it was fantastic!”
That’s what you get when you talk with Ratner — the sense that it’s all still extremely fun, and that spreading his love for movies is his top priority.
“Listen, I’m a walking contradiction. I like to make these big entertainments. I’m an all-inclusive filmmaker, but I’m attracted to the classics, and my taste is all over the place. I just want the audience to have a great time.”
And a good time they’ve had. Worldwide, Ratner is a $2 billion director, with an average picture gross of $113 million domestic, making him one of the most consistent and dependable big studio filmmakers of the last 20 years. And yet, his personal taste gravitates toward the artistes.
“For me, it’s Kubrick and Polanski, as far as talent is concerned,” Ratner says. “I love Scorsese and Spike Lee and lots of other auteurs and I’m attracted to filmmakers where you can immediately sense their style, without ever seeing their name on the screen. I’m doing Polanski’s new film [“Based on a True Story”], a French movie. I’m producing it. And Toback is writing a new script for me, too. Something for him to direct, and I’d produce it.”
|MOVIE LEGEND: Producer Dino De Laurentiis and Brett Ratner talk at a book signing for De Laurentiis’ autobiography in 2004. BEI/BEI/Shutterstock|
Now that he’s getting his star on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, the filmmaker couldn’t be more excited.
“I’m a bit of a throwback when it comes to old Hollywood. I adore and respect the people who have come before me, so it’s a tremendous honor to get my own star on the Walk of Fame, because when I was younger, I’d visit Hollywood and see all the names in the cement, and it was always a big deal. I can remember seeing the names of my favorite directors and thinking that one day I’d be making movies like them.”
The Magnificent 12: Brett Ratner’s film favorites range from gangsters to martial arts
I love gangster movies. “GoodFellas” is my favorite modern-day gangster epic. I never thought that after the “Godfather” there would be a film that would capture the mafia as well, but “GoodFellas” delivered.
It’s my favorite [Roman] Polanski movie. I love when directors act in movies. It’s a psychological thriller, but it’s one of the greatest endings of a movie. Ever.
It’s my all-time favorite movie. I loved “Being There” because it was a comedy that was shot like a drama. I loved the cinematography of Caleb Deschanel. Peter Sellers was genius.
“Enter the Dragon”
[This film] inspired “Rush Hour.” Lalo Schifrin’s score using traditional Chinese music and urban grooves set the stage for my idea to do “Rush Hour” with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. It’s Bruce Lee’s greatest movie. It’s a classic.
“The Last Emperor”
It is an epic Chinese story directed by an Italian director, Bernardo Bertolucci, designed by the greatest production designer of all time, Ferdinando Scarfiotti, shot by the greatest cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, and starring my favorite Chinese actor, John Lone.
“Godfather II” is proof the sequel can be as good as the original.
I love movies with Nazis, especially when they die.
This was the first movie I saw that literally made me want to be a director and go to NYU film school. I said, “How did [Scorsese] become a director? Oh! He went to NYU film school? Well, that’s where I’m going to go.
“The Kid Stays in the Picture”
It’s the first documentary I saw where they made the still photographs three-dimensional with depth. It was kind of a groundbreaking thing.
“Year of the Dragon”
[It’s Michael] Cimino at his best. Mickey Rourke at his best. Starring my favorite Chinese actor John Lone.
“Beverly Hills Cop”
It was a cop comedy that was shot like a thriller. There were real stakes, real emotions.
It’s where I really saw a filmmaker have total control over what’s in the frame — from the costumes to the set design to the production design to the wardrobe to the performances to the look of the movie.