Book ‘Em, Ron

You can’t listen to what people tell you. Years ago I was asked by an agent to read a series of articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer by a young journalist named Mark Bowden. I read them and thought they were absolutely stunning. They became the book “Black Hawk Down.” It was the first real explanation I had ever read of modern warfare. But Bowden was not a well-known writer, and this was a subject not a lot of people were interested in. I knew it would be hard to sell it. I took it out to a list of producers. To a man, everybody turned me down. Then I went to a new list of people. Still no luck. I thought, “I know who should buy this, even though he passed on it the first time.” He was a very sought-after producer and he had not done a lot of, shall we say, classy projects, and I thought it would be good for him to do this movie. So I went back to him. The year was 1998. And he says to me, “Tell me again when this movie is set?” And I said, “1993.” And he said, “I don’t make period films.” I thought it was a ludicrous remark. Of course, we sold the book to Jerry Bruckheimer.

Some people will always see lint on an exquisite item. When you read something extraordinary, you just hope the world gets it. It’s remarkable what people focus on. You’ve got a remarkable story like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” and I can’t tell you the number of people who fixated on one thing: the baby being barbecued. That’s the sort of moment you can keep or cut. It’s not central to the plot.

You don’t want to be an 800-pound gorilla and smash people to bits. I make very aggressive deals. But part of what I do in selling people is to educate them as to why I’m doing what I’m doing. Whatever it is I’m negotiating for--money, credit--I explain to the buyer why I’m asking for what I’m asking. A lot of times people want to make deals based on the person’s quote [what they were paid for their last project]. Sometimes I sense it’s time to take a stand and say, “It doesn’t matter what this person made the last time. This time is different.” Sometimes the buyer sees something small where I see something big. The buyer thinks this is a baby book. I have to say, “No, you are wrong. This is a big book, and I need a deal that shows me you understand that.”

Sometimes you must wait when you see something as big and no one else does. That was the case with “Jarhead.” Or Mariane Pearl’s book, “A Mighty Heart.” Everyone said, “It’s not a movie; it’s a TV show.” And then the time came for it. Some movies are willed into being by a book’s audience. “The Da Vinci Code"--it had a combination of religion and thriller I had never seen. Its audience would not allow a movie not to be made. “Lemony Snicket"--kids just wanted it to be made. It’s very rare.

Then there are the performers who are too big not to go to the movies. You don’t forget these things: The first time I saw Dustin Hoffman off-Broadway (in “Harry, Noon and Night” in 1965), when I saw Jim Carrey in “In Living Color,” when I saw Barbra Streisand on Broadway. These people leapt up and grabbed you by the throat. Very little does that. Then there are the performers who will always work, will never go out of style. You know Meryl Streep will work until she dies. Shirley MacLaine will die on the set.