Hi Film Folk,
Today we bring you another In Conversation.
This time with the talented and lovely producer behind new Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke movie Maggie’s Plan – as well as BAFTA and Oscar-nominated Moneyball – Rachael Horovitz!
At what stage in your life did you decide that you wanted to be involved in film and in producing?
To be honest, I never decided to be in film so I’ve yet to make that decision but I was born a producer. I produced a film when I was eight years old. That was definitely my role in the family.
Having a father who’s a writer (Israel Horovitz is a playwright from Boston who attended RADA) means I read a lot of scripts. My mother was a painter which means I did a lot of the washing up and shopping! So it was in my nature and nurture to produce things and to be the organiser for whatever it was that was going on.
At what point did you start going in to the business officially and in what role?
I was working for the New York City government for Ed Koch’s administration and I had a group of friends who were all working for Dino De Laurentiis. One night, one of my friends said they had a job opening and they’d really love for me to come work there.
It was in international publicity and Dino, I think, was the inventor of the foreign pre-sales business. That was a perfect department to be in – as far as being around Dino – because it was the area that he cared about the most.
I’m not so sure that the quality of the product at that time was as high as it could have been. Although, the first film that I gave notes on was Blue Velvet.
Tell us how it felt at the time – and how it feels retrospectively – to have been there during Blue Velvet.
In some ways that did seal my way into film. I can’t say that I really understood the film at that age but, being around David Lynch, I admired the fact that he was an artist who was making films from an artist’s point of view. Albeit in the context of doing it for this mad Italian mogul. It was so unusual. Blue Velvet was what another later boss of mine, Joe Roth, always called a voice movie. And it turned out that those would be the kinds of movies I would produce.
Whatever one’s personal response to Blue Velvet is, you can’t deny the fact that it’s one person’s vision. It was early on in the career of someone who really was able to communicate his voice in film. Also, in his era, his timing was excellent because he really got many years and a good body of work out of that voice.
How did things go from there?
I got canned after a few years with most of the people in my department. That was good news because by that point he’d moved us to LA and I wasn’t happy living there. So I just came back to New York and became an independent producer, kind of overnight. I worked in theatre as well as in film.
In theatre, I worked with people like Kenny Lonergan and Frank Pugliese and some of the up and coming playwrights/screenwriters who were all of my generation. We had a theatre company together called Naked Angels. It was a really fantastic time. It was immediate and there was no money for anybody but it was a wonderful way to be creative together.
One of the projects that I developed at that early stage, with Kenny Lonergan and Matthew Broderick, was the movie that became Analyze This. Although we were going to do it on a low budget scale. Kenny got discovered while I was on holiday and sold the script to a big producer in LA. He got a lot of money and that film happened the way it happened.
But it definitely got me going in terms of feeling that I could sit with the writer and an idea and work on a script as a professional producer.
You said you still haven’t taken the decision to be in film – so did you just go with the flow from there?
Yes, the first film I produced was then with a friend from school. It was a low budget endeavour called No Telling. It was a horror film, written and directed by Larry Fessenden. He’s had a fantastic career, also with his voice, very much in the horror, low budget arena. He’s also been a champion of other filmmakers – he produced River of Grass and some other Kelly Reichardt films.
We weren’t quite Ted Hope and Christine Vachon but we were in our corner of New York, and we were all of the same generation. Then one day, I just got very very frustrated. I think it was not long after Analyze This – losing those rights, I learned a lesson on that. Not long after that, I thought there were some basic facts that I don’t know about how people do business in Hollywood and I should probably figure out how to learn them.
Someone offered me a job at a division of New Line and I spent many years there and that was really my education in film production, sales distribution and marketing. It’s a great company – Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne were absolutely mentors.
What did you learn on the job?
I saw it as a fact finding mission. I always felt like I was kind of hiding out on the inside, so to speak, so that I could get the information to then take to my friends on the outside and also for my own career. I never wanted to remain a studio executive, never saw myself as a studio executive.
I learned everything about what goes on in the mind of the ‘buyer’ – why they say no, how they say no (even when they use the word ‘yes’). A lot. It’s essential if you want to work with distribution companies to speak their language.
New Line was a very unusual company in that period. It became a family for me when I needed it. It was a very special place in which we were all learning as we went along. You felt as if you were in a family and that there was a point to making some of those movies. It wasn’t all business. We keep in touch and still support each other professionally and as friends.
Then, again, I was moved to LA, which I disliked, so when I was offered a job at Revolution Studios – and a friend told me ‘Do it! It’s fun to pay people $20 million!’ – I took it. Those experiences were invaluable. Even the bad experiences – and there were some really bad experiences – were kind of entertaining. I was able to see them anthropologically and consider all of it great material. I took as many notes as I possibly could.
Eventually though, being a woman, there was a panic moment when I realised if I didn’t have a real family I would regret it. I also knew I wanted control of my time as well. So I quit.
How did you go about assembling people for Moneyball?
After reading the book, I set it up at a studio pretty quickly. Things have really changed in terms of studio development. Back then I was able to set it up without any big star attachment unlike nowadays. The two studios who were interested in buying it just genuinely liked the idea. They were Warner Bros and Sony and I ended up making a deal with the latter.
It wasn’t particularly difficult to get that leg of it going but the industry started to really change during the life of the project. The development money was at first spent on a writer who wasn’t quite an A-list writer and in a way this was analogous with the story of Moneyball – taking risks, etc.
Then things shifted and it all became about names such as A-list writers and then Steven Soderbergh’s vision for the film, which wasn’t conventional, was dismissed and he was fired.
This made things rather interesting as we then began to follow the ‘non-lessons’ of the book in some ways. Despite this, I am very, very happy with the film we got made and, in fact, it’s extremely close to the vision I had in my head when I first read the book.
I really resonated with the story of the book and I didn’t see it as an opportunistic way to make money. It shared the same philosophies as mine and I felt like one of those people. Moneyball has now become synonymous for thinking differently or think for yourself.
How did you become involved with Maggie’s Plan and what was it like working on the film?
Rebecca Miller and I have known each other for a long, long time. The period just after college, we had a lot of friends in common. Years later, we were parents at the same school and reconnected. I had done Moneyball and she had done four features and been living in Ireland and just moved back to New York. So we met, had a coffee and talked about potentially working together.
She had a few ideas brewing and this one was the best one for me to get involved with. I loved the premise of a woman wanting to give her husband back to his ex-wife. I had always known Rebecca was hilarious especially about relationships so I thought it would be a lot of fun to collaborate on this and laugh together.
So we set about developing the script. All in all, we worked for nearly three years on it and working on scripts is something I truly enjoy. With Rebecca being a filmmaker, it was really different to just working with a writer alone and then trying to find a director.
She always knew she was going to make the film and she had complete confidence we would find the money. We were not only casting whilst developing the script but buying costumes for Greta. It was wonderful as it was that determination and energy that meant the film actually got made.
For financing we went with Mike Goodridge from Protagonist Films for international whom I actually knew from my Dino days and had already done a film with very recently. He started pre-selling at Cannes whilst we worked with Cinetic and CAA on raising the budget in the US. It was tight and what was new about it for me was it was actually the first film I shot in New York, in all of the years I’ve been working in the industry.
We shot in freezing cold February and had 23 days and a pretty low budget. Towards the end of the shoot, thanks to our great line producer, we’d saved enough money to earn an extra day from our contingencies. So we had 24 days of shooting all in. We also had a fantastic DP and AD who worked with Rebecca every morning to plan the day.
Even though we were so cold and frozen at times, we really had a wonderful time on the shoot. Even more so being in New York and in everybody’s neighbourhoods. It was very special.
What sort of projects are you working on at Blumhouse? And what is it like working with Jason Blum?
Working with Jason is heaven. He is one of my dearest friends. We met when I was working at Fine Line and he was working at Miramax. We were competitors and pals. When you’re in the trenches doing acquisitions – particularly at that time – you bond for life.
One of the projects he and I have together is with Harvey (Weinstein) and it’s based on a true story about an extraordinary rescue at sea that happened a couple of years ago in this part of Long Island where Harvey and I both have homes. Though I think his home is a bit bigger than mine! That script was written by Jeff Pope who did Philomena with Harvey and he’s done a ton of research and been out here a lot.
We’re also doing a non-fiction adaption of Errol Morris’ book A Wilderness of Error, which will be a limited series for television. I’ve also got a few UK projects. One is based on Edward St Aubyn’s five novels – the Patrick Melrose Novels. If you haven’t read these books, I highly recommend them! We’ll be making a big casting announcement soon. Another is a film about Bruce Chatwin which I’m also very passionate about.
What is it like for you being a woman in film and how do you feel about what the industry’s doing about it right now?
It’s really important! We face it every day and it’s not unlike the prejudice we see in terms of skin colour or religion in the world. You can’t hide from it – it’s real.
The thing about the film business that amplifies it and makes it that much worse is that (and this is where I can turn very dark) the film business is one big club and if you’re not in the club and you’re a woman or a black person – or anyone outside the club – you have to thicken your skin. I don’t know how each individual does it because it’s not easy to do.
One of the first pieces of advice I would have for someone starting out is to get a tough shell so that you don’t take personally any of the rejection that is going to try to stop you from doing your work.
The second thing that I feel very strongly about is, right now there is a lot of money disproportionately distributed in the world which means there is a lot of money around film and thus there are a lot of really bad movies being made.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to become a producer?
I think that it’s not only important to do work, but it’s important to do good work. One should not just make films to either get glory or get attention or get paid. There’s also an element of listening to intelligent readers and taking in good feedback.
Just because you have power in Hollywood and you can make a top best-selling book doesn’t mean you don’t have an obligation to do a good job. People get very arrogant and dismissive and also I think the studios just try to meet deadlines and get sequels out as quickly as possible. There should be some sort of quality control and I think as producers we have a responsibility to do our best.
I don’t think my films are perfect but I can say that I’ve certainly worked as hard as I can to make them the best version of each film that they can be. There’s a funny quote, I think it was Sherry Lansing, some people who worked for her said she always used to tell her staff “no-one sets out to make a bad film.”
That is true but sometimes people don’t listen when they’re being told this script isn’t ready or this script isn’t good enough and they just get rolling. I think that’s a big mistake. Money could be better spent on curing diseases or helping people who are starving.
Thank you, Rachael!
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