ANOTHER DE LAURENTIIS PRODUCES
Raffaella De Laurentiis is shrieking. “He wants me to look corporate!” she says, shaking a finger in mock anger at a publicist while keeping an eye on a newspaper photographer shooting away. “I don’t want to look corporate--he’s trying to spoil my image that I worked so hard on,” she says, abruptly stepping out of her size 7 1/2 heels to complete the session barefoot. For the last dozen years Raffaella, the second of four children of producer-mogul-studio head-restaurateur Dino, has cultivated an image as a globe-trotting, hard-edged producer who lived out of a suitcase.
In 1977, she was dispatched to Tahiti to work as a production assistant on “Hurricane” and to build a $3-million hotel that remains open today. (It was there that she developed a penchant for bare feet. For two years, she says, she never wore shoes.) In 1981 she was off to Yugoslavia to produce “Conan the Barbarian.” Next, she spent four years in Mexico making the ill-fated “Dune” with director David Lynch. Finally, it was Raffaella whom Dino entrusted to oversee the making of the soon-to-be-released “Tai-Pan” in China.
Now, in her mid-30s, Raffaella is coming in from the cold. Just one year after the re-formation of the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group into a full-fledged studio, Dino has decided that his daughter is the right person to head up production. Instead of producing one movie at a time, she will, starting Jan. 1, oversee a slate of about 20 “go” movies and the development of perhaps 40 more projects.
It is a daunting assignment and one that Raffaella readily admitted may not be right for her. “Dino has been trying to talk me into this for seven years,” she says from behind a massive wooden desk at DEG’s blood-red carpeted Beverly Hills headquarters. “I always said I was the wrong person for the job. I’m very bad at rules--good at breaking them and bad at making them.”
Raffaella’s modesty is classic De Laurentiis, though. Like her father, she comes off as a charming and stylish character-- sans cigars--someone equally at home choosing the wine as selecting the director. But those who know her say Raffaella is smart, aggressive, hot-tempered and plenty poised for this latest assignment. “She is one tough woman,” says one industry insider. “She can charm you right out of your socks or she can be tough as nails. She’s not just the boss’ daughter, either. She’s a lot smarter than that.”
Born in Rome, Raffaella grew up watching her father make movies. Early on she discovered an artistic leaning and as a youngster she planned to become an architect. But she got the film bug when she started working on Dino’s movies at age 14.
John Burnham, a William Morris literary agent who has known Raffaella for 10 years, says that she has paid her dues by producing a number of difficult and complicated pictures. “She’s extremely bright and capable,” says Burnham. “She also has very good taste and instincts.”
But those instincts have also landed her in trouble. While “Conan” was an enormous success ($51.7 million in worldwide ticket sales to date), “Dune” (which cost about $38 million before prints and advertising) was an expensive flop, a project that took four years and was a gut-wrenching disappointment to her. “ ‘Dune’ was a labor of love. We all thought we were doing the right thing,” Raffaella says, a giant poster from the movie hanging behind her desk. “Then you look at it and you say, ‘Well, somewhere down the line I made a mistake.’ David (director Lynch) and I still talk about it. I don’t think we’re over it yet.”
Raffaella readily accepts the blame for the film’s failure at the box office, a posture that immediately separates her from the majority of her peers. “We were just too faithful to the book,” she says. “We loved the book and Frank Herbert (author of “Dune”) so much and we felt the fans could not be betrayed. But we ended up with something that was just too complicated to understand.”
The populist version of “Dune,” says Raffaella, was made by George Lucas when he did “Star Wars.” “We were pretentious enough to think we could do it a different way.”
Perhaps as a result of that experience, Raffaella says she wants to shrink the broad canvas that became her father’s trademark (i.e., “King Kong” and “The Bounty”). In 1987, DEG will release about 20 features with a tight-fisted average budget of just $9 million. “This is a public company now. We have commitments to our shareholders,” Raffaella says. “I think we will want to have some high-budget movies, but making all high-budget movies is not an intelligent way to go in today’s marketplace.” (Two green-lighted projects Raffaella says she backed at DEG are “Collision Course,” which is about an American policeman and his Japanese counterpart who clash as they both try to solve the murder of a Japanese businessman in Detroit, and “China Marines,” about three U.S. Marines who escort a group of archeologists across the Gobi Desert in search of the mythical saddle of Genghis Khan.)
Raffaella and Dino are almost vestiges of the past, running the last of the family-controlled studios. Raffaella, who has never been confined to an office, knows it will not always be easy. “Sometimes he drives me mad and sometimes I yell and sometimes we fight,” she says. “But I have to tell you, he is one of the greatest salesmen I’ve ever met. He has great instincts and he loves what he does.”
According to insiders, under the new structure at the company, decisions will mostly be made by a committee of two--Dino and Raffaella. She will probably not green-light any projects without Dino’s approval and she may keep her father from making certain large-scale epics. (To this day, Dino still has all new scripts translated into Italian so that he can read them faster and understand them better, she says.)
Getting along with her father will be the easy part. As head of DEG, Raffaella now will have to compete with studio heads who have spent years in Hollywood cultivating relationships with stars and the writers and directors that make up the creative community. In her gypsy years, Raffaella has had little time for schmoozing at Morton’s or pushing deals over lunch at the Palm. “That’s one of the things I don’t like about Hollywood,” says Raffaella. “A lot of this is not about making movies; it’s about making deals. I’ll just have to learn that’s the game in town, make that the challenge.”
To succeed, she says she will have to constantly keep her eye on the ball with little time for anything else. She was married once for six years, but to this day Raffaella has never owned her own home and she knows she has missed a great deal by letting the movie business swallow her whole. “In life you have to make choices,” she says. “I always believe you have to learn what you can do without before you learn what you want. Yes, I haven’t had a home in 15 years, I’ve lost all my friends. But this is a different life and if you asked me if I would do it again, I would say yes. I’m actually willing to do it all again starting right now.”
‘A lot of this is not about making movies; it’s about making deals. I’ll just have to learn that’s the game in town, make that the challenge.’
--Raffaella De Laurentiis