Producers Don Murphy, Susan Montford and Rick Benattar Interview – SHOOT ‘EM UP

     September 5, 2007

If you’re a fan of action movies then I hope you have some free time this weekend. Why? Because one of the best films of the summer is finally opening… it’s from New Line Cinema and it’s called “Shoot ‘Em Up.”

And I know by now you’re sick of me raving about the film and reading about it on every website. But there’s a reason the web community has embraced the movie…it’s fucking good. Seriously, it’s 90 minutes of pure action and it has a cast that makes it even better. Starring in the film is Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci, Paul Giamatti…you see where this is going.

So to help promote the movie I got to participate in some roundtable interviews with the cast, Michael Davis (writer/director), and the three people that are posted below… Producers Don Murphy, Susan Montford and Rick Benattar.

During our discussion we talk about everything. From how this movie came together to what they have coming up. It’s a great read and absolutely worth your time.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the interview as an MP3 by clicking here. You can also download the audio and put it on an iPod or any portable player for listening later.

“Shoot ‘Em Up” opens this Friday and I cannot recommend it enough. Look for more interviews tomorrow night.

Question: Don, we know you really championed Michael in doing this movie. Can you talk about discovering and nurturing an artist like that and why don’t more producers do that? Find these voices that can bring something to film.

Don: Yes, it was all 3 of us, all 3 of us were championing him. What happened was it’s kind of a long story but what happened was Michael had gone to USC with me to graduate school. He was 2 years ahead of me. Michael and Jay Roach were like the 2 guys who liked walked on water. Michael and Jay like 8 years later Jay wound up getting the Austin Powers movies. Michael stayed in there doing these indie films. We were friends with Michael. Michael came to the 3 of us and said—our companies name is Angry Films. He came to us and said I’ve written this script about the angriest man in the world. You guys will love it. We all read the script on one weekend and we all loved the script and we all looked at each other and I said you know, dollars to doughnuts he’s going to want to direct it, which like we knew he could direct it, but this is not going to be a $3 million film. This is going to be like a $37 million film. You have to convince people that you can direct it. So he comes in the next Monday, we’re all sitting there and sure enough he wants to direct it. We’re like great, which makes him the biggest genius we’ve ever come across. He turns around and puts a DVD into the DVD player and it’s 17 minutes of the film stick-figured—it’s all in your press kit or online or whatever.

He showed us on his iPod.

Don: But it’s 17 minutes of the film stick-figured animation. All the action sequences etc, etc. So it didn’t make it a no brainer but it did give us a tool. So when people said well, we like the script but how do we know he can do it. It was like oh, well, here’s a DVD.

So is the answer then that you have to go back with the guy and know all their developing to be able to…?

Don: No, well, your actual question was why don’t more people develop talent and the answer is I don’t even know that we did. We just knew the guy and we knew he could do it and we liked his script and so we fought for him.

Rick: There’s a bunch of things that have to fall into place. Like Michael, he wrote a great script. Number one, and we loved that. Then he’s got a background as a storyboard artist and he did these animatics and we thought that was great. So, I guess the answer is you never know if the person you’re going to nurture is ever going to be a success, you know what I mean? So a producer isn’t going out nurturing talent because it’s a crap shoot. Why go there if I know that this guy and do this.

Susan: Well the thing is that the script was so brilliantly written that you know we were pretty sure he would be amazing. You know, because someone with that amount talent as a writer then that amount of talent as a storyboard artist doing animatics and visualizing it. You know it’s not that much of a crap shoot.

Q: What in particular about the film or the script that made you guys say you’re going to back this?

Susan: We just loved it. We wanted to see it as a movie. You know, for us we come across material that speaks to us and we want to see it as a movie. That’s a drive for us.

Q: It was good. It was very entertaining more so than a realism.

Susan: Well the humor just cracked us up. It’s there in the script—all the humor. I mean, what you see on the screen is not much different than the script, because we didn’t develop the script. We took the script and we sold it to New Line. The only notes were to make some changes for Paul Giamatti when he came over. And they weren’t so much changes as an extension of his character so what was in the script is what we see him.

Q: The film is for a very specific audience those of us who might be as obsessed as Michael about the same sorts of movies, should it reach a more limited audience than we hoped; would there be any problem for Michael continuing a career in these sort of films? What would happen in a worst case scenario?

Don: It’s a bifurcated question. I don’t think there’d be any…if the film God forbid bombs? I still think Michael’s made a great film and it’s being well reviewed and well received and I think Michael would work again. You said would it be difficult for Michael to continue in these sort of films? Michael’s written a possible sequel which is even more out there than this, if this somehow bombs then that would be difficult, sure. But Michael’s career, I think, is established because he’s directed a really cool movie and you know done well with it. I’m not sure someone would say hey, can you do that but even more crazy?

Susan: And for the budget, it’s really, really well done. Because a lot of times you spend a lot more money on a film like that.

Don: It’s because we kept it down to the budget that we did that I don’t think anyone at the studio even paid much attention to what we were doing.

Q: What was the budget on this film?

Don: $37. Everything.

Q: I was just curious Don, do you think that it can possibly…how can I put this…when someone writes about a film and then you write a lot of responses, do you ever feel that as the producer it can be…?

Don: I know totally where you’re going and you’re asking if I’m too out there with my responses. Having set up a message board on Transformers and having lived for a year and half with everything from Don Murphy’s great to Don Murphy’s raping my childhood and everything in between. I’ve had people that promised me online that they weren’t going to see Transformers because I told them they were jerk-off’s or something and I don’t think that effected Transformers at all. So at the end of the day I think what happens to people—I think people are surprised because I go on by my own name instead of like Jerk124 or something. I think people are surprised that I’m actually me but for the most part—I mean the weirdest part of this is and you’re going to say where’s he going with this but if you watch that To Catch A Predator Show, I’m not sure those people are actually like dangerous pedophiles. I think these are people sitting there on their computers going to like a weird bad place and like imagining themselves doing strange things, right? I think that’s what happens to a lot of people on the internet. Oh, fuck Don Murphy, I’m going to kick his ass or whatever. Then I come on and go hey, why don’t I kick your ass? So the answer is no one takes the internet that seriously I hope not anyway.

Q: What happens then when your own director starts posting stuff on his blog, like Michael Bay did over the summer after the movie opened?

Don: Well, Michael got really angry at the other producer, Tom, because Tom had done a bunch of press promoting himself and I think I got a couple of slams in there but it was irrelevant to the process. Michael and I are fine.

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Q: You guys are involved in a whole bunch of projects. You guys are busy people, so can you talk about things that you’re currently…and I know you made a film. Could you talk about future things that are going on?

Rick: You want to go first? So Faces of Death which you know a lot of people remember as the 80’s sort of films that you weren’t supposed to watch. We’ve got a story, we’ve got a director, we’ve got a writer, J.T. Petty, did a couple of indie films. He’s coming in and he wrote a script. We’re sort of taking a look at the in the world of Saw and Hostel, who are the people who actually go watch these movies? So we kind of tied that in with Faces of Death, we have a narrative story which the originals never had and we also nod for the fans—fans—I use that real loosely, for guys like me who watched it as a kid, who snuck away to watch these things. We have a few nods to those original films, so we’re putting that together.

Don: But it’s interesting because it’s a horror film that asks in today’s society when you could just go online and see Al Qaeda beheadings. What’s horrifying anymore? Why do people—I guess they didn’t see Hostel 2-but why do people like Hostel and did they like Hostel for a while there and Captivity and these kind of torture films? We’re kind of doing the opposite of that like what kind of person obsessively goes on the internet and watches killings and …

Susan: And what is that fascination.

Don: And what is that fascination we all have with stopping at a traffic accident. So it’s kind of cool.

Susan: My project is a very, very low budget film which I just directed with Kim Basinger which I also wrote. It’s a survival movie about an ordinary woman who kind of looses her temper and leaves a nasty note on the wrong car and it then comes back to haunt her when she has to fight for her life against 4 thugs. She’s got a toolbox and they’ve got a gun and a flashlight. If she doesn’t kill them all she’s not going home to her little children. So it’s quite a violent film because it’s very hyper-real and Kim’s amazing in it.

Q: What’s the name of it?

Susan: While She Was Out. It’s like an everyday situation and we’ve all done it. Flipped somebody off, left a nasty note and just showing how a situation like that can spiral out of control.

Q: It also sounds like a great thriller premise where it’s her, these 4 guys, these things that are available to her. I mean, how do you milk everything you possibly can out of that situation?

Susan: Well, it’s using all the tools in the toolbox.

Q: When will that be released?

Susan: Well, I’m still editing it just now.

Don: It’s executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro, Kim Basinger, Lukas Haas and we’re finishing it up and it’s you know it was kind of a nice situation we were able to get a financing situation that she could go make her movie final cut—everything so when it’s done we’ll find a distributor and not before because we don’t really want anyone’s opinion.

Q: With that cast and very sellable premise, it’s not going to stay a small indie film for long is it?

Don: The way she shot it looks like a $40 million movie, so it’s pretty cool. It’s pretty fun. And then there’s any number of projects we’re trying to put together pre-strike because everyone’s racing to get films done before June so you know our personal favorite is one Susan brought to the company. You probably know Grant Morrison the comic book writer, he also wrote the screenplay. It’s called We Three. It’s the most insane mash-up you’ve ever heard. It’s the Incredible Journey meets The Terminator. There are 3 animals, a dog, a cat and a rabbit who’ve been turned into Terminator cyborgs by the government and they get loose and they just want to get back home and the government is doing everything possible to stop them but they’re very heavily armed killing animals.

Susan: It’s very beautiful as well. I mean it’s a real tear jerker if you can imagine that.

Don: So we’re this close to having a director sign onto that which hopefully we’ll make and all kinds of other things. Fincher still wants to do Torso the script came in really great and we just have to cast it and see if there’s time before the strike.

Q: What are the thoughts at this point for Transformers II?

Don: The facts are that everyone’s saying there will be one and lots of ideas are being pitched around. I suspect there will be one but again the strike thing kind of confuses everybody. It’s like when would we have to start this, there’s no script; how would we be done by the end of June. But there will be a sequel.

Q: I don’t think even Michael didn’t want to rush into a sequel so I mean…

Don: I think he’s still talking about Prince of Persia or something, so we’ll see.

Q: But if the strike happens would you still be able to continue development through that or does that go on hold to?

Don: Well, what we’re all expecting in my eyes I mean the 3 of us and pretty much everyone in Hollywood, the writers guild is up in October and they will just magically elect to push to June which is when SAG is up and so they’ll all go on strike together. So if there’s no writers, you can’t do anything.

Q: I’d like to ask a question but it’s not about that. A lot of people thought the comic book movies were going to be this short little fad you know it started a number of years ago…X-men, Spider-Man and it’s been getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Do you see it slowing down like that kind of movies or why do you think they’re so popular still?

Susan: I think there’s just so much material in comic books like I can’t see it slowing down. I mean, there’s just so much great material to take and turn into a movie.

Don: Plus CG has gotten so good that pretty much things you couldn’t even dream of when X-men one came out you can now do, you know. We like to do things you’ve never seen before. If we can pull off the killer robot animals, that’s what you’ve never seen before, Shoot ‘Em Up you’ve never seen before. Michael did a great job on Transformers, so did the actors but the star of Transformers was the ILM guys who made those things look like the trucks and the transformations and the 10,000 moving pieces with Optimus Prime work, you know. You hadn’t seen it before. I really believe that’s why it did so well. So, I think a lot of the super hero movies and things that are coming out—comic book movies that are coming out are all again, things that people haven’t seen before and this is an interesting summer because the three-quels have all done well, but I think it’s by upping the ante. We just saw the Bourne Ultimatum. It was probably more tense than the Bourne Supremacy which I couldn’t imagine it being more tense.

Q: Susan, are you still involved with John Carter of Mars?

Susan: No.

Don: We were all trying to do that. The deal never closed.

Q: Well, it’s a Pixar now, so I didn’t know if they…

Susan: Sometimes they don’t work out.

Q: I was curious if you had an idea for a running time in your film?

Susan: In While She Was Out? It’s going to be like a tight 90.

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Q: So it’s going to be similar to this?

Rick: And it’s almost real time.

Don: This takes place in quasi real time. A woman leaves the house, woman drives to the mall, woman gets up to her eyes in shit.

Rick: It’s a hell of a 90 minutes for this woman.

Q: Rick, are you involved with Lost Boys II or is that Rob that I just wrote down?

Rick: I am involved with Lost Boys II, but I was involved with Lost Boys II it’s now….I don’t even know what’s happening to be honest with you. It’s a Warner Brothers situation so I’m not sure what’s going on to be honest.

Q: And To Live and Die in L.A. re-make? Is that you also?

Rick: No.

Don: Wow, what a bad idea!

Susan: It was such a good movie.

Rick: What is this IMDB?

Q: Yeah.

Rick: For Rob Bennetar?

Susan: Robbie–your brother—your twin.

Q: You do your research you just put in…

Rick: Got it, got it.

Q: Bubba Nosferatu turned out to be real. I didn’t that was real.

Don: I don’t know if it’s happening because the guy who championing Shoot ‘Em Up, Jeff Katz, has left New Line and gone to Fox and he was the one championing Bubba Nosferatu. Paul definitely wants to do it. We find that amusing too.

Q: I was going to ask you about your experiences at Comic-Con this year and just what did you think of it, you know the reaction in the crowd and also do you think Comic-Con has gotten almost too big for San Diego and where also could it go?

Don: The movie played really well. As people that have been going, myself since 1990 when it was Comic-Con, there was a little bit of surprise certainly in the last 3 years seeing it turn into not Comic-Con anymore. There’s no comics anymore. It’s Movie Con. It has gotten too big for San Diego. I wouldn’t know where it would go. I know that they’ve signed an extension until 2012, so it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. It was a great place to premiere our film and a lot of our comic book movies would be a great place to premiere at the same time just going for fun anymore doesn’t seem like you can.

Rick: Yeah, it’s not fun anymore. And also Clive came down for the panel and the panel was at the same hall that they did 300 last year. The crowd went…not as wild as 300 but definitely standing up. It was pretty wild. They were pretty into it, so it’s a good gauge. 5,000 people, 5,000 kids getting up and screaming for your movie. That’s our target audience so for them to get up and cheer like that made us feel pretty good.

Q: I was also going to go a little further. I know they’ve restricted now showing of R-rated material at Con and for me I think that it’s become Disney-ized you know what I mean and it’s unacceptable.

Don: Yeah, Michael was intending to show the making love sequence and they pulled it.

Q: So, do you think that—how do you feel about them basically you know hindering artistic freedom? Or trying to show PG stuff?

Susan: Don’t like it obviously.

Don: Yeah, I mean it’s not like we’re going to fuck ComicCon I mean, it was this great place to go when it was a third the size and geek out and now it’s become the Mecca for geeks it’s almost not sure what it is. It’s still comics, but it’s movies, but it’s toys, but it’s animation, but it’s Manga but it’s not sure what it is. Maybe in the next couple of years the identity will get more streamlined and it’ll know what it is.

Q: If you can go ahead on Shoot ‘Em Up II would you rather do it pre-strike or…?

Don: Well, it’s a complete function of Clive and his schedule. This movie waited for him to do Inside Man and Children of Men before we went. I don’t know his schedule so he may have his…you know how everyone’s taking about Jim Carrey has 2 slots and Clive maybe full until June so I don’t even know. But it would be all about Clive.

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