If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Middle Men yet (check out my review here) then you’re missing out on one of the more original and exciting films to come out this year. For those who have seen the film, you would know that its based on a true story, but what you might not know is that its based on one of the films producers Christopher Mallick.
Mallick is a maverick in every sense of the word, emerging victorious from the Wild West of the burgeoning Internet culture and commerce. He is now using his success to follow his dream of making movies. He’s also got a great mentality about the process, trying to remain true the way it was done when films were truly great and only producing original content. I was fortunate enough to have a lengthy one-on-one interview with Chris where he discusses how the project of Middle Men came to life and what’s on the horizon (including a secret project with Oliver Stone).
First off, congratulations on the film. I saw it recently and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it and think it’s poised to be the sleeper hit of the summer.
CM: Thank you so much. I think “sleeper” is probably the right term because I think if you go in and expect one thing and you get something else, which is always what I loved about seeing movies when I was younger, unlike now when you know everything about a movie the day it releases, it’s great to see a movie and be surprised. So I’m happy and proud that you liked it so much.
Can you talk about how this film came about and what drew you into the world of cinema?
CM: I’ve always been a huge huge movie fan. When I was a kid I went to the movies on Saturday with my dad and my brothers and we’d go see 2-3 movies, especially during the summer. I’ve always had a love of film so that’s my number one reason for getting involved in the industry. It sort of crept up on me, producing. I had some investment opportunities several years ago that I took advantage of and I did very well on those. I’m credited for financing deals. I’ve executive produced a couple of things but really no producing on the ground. We had this project and because it was so personal and because I really wanted to make a transition from internet and investment business to something I really loved with my life, I took the opportunity to go ahead and produce this film.
This film is very personal to me. It came about pretty honestly, innocently I guess as having a conversation with this girl that’s been a friend of mine for about a dozen years now and her then-boyfriend that she then married, Andy Weiss. Getting to know him I and talking about I used to be in this business and that business. I was kidding with him and said I was in this business and it would be a better movie then a business. He said I agree and think you’ve got a movie there. I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘In your story that’s a film.’ We toyed around with the idea of an HBO open-ended series. And then George Gallo and Andy talked about it and we had a meeting and I was convinced that having George and Andy agree write together and then having George direct was a better shot than most films. So I went ahead and hired those guys to write a screenplay and worked with them on it. They knocked the screenplay out in like three months. We did a lot of work on it and continued to develop it and decided I’d finance the film.
My vision — if you can call it that — has always been of that back when films were really great. The term independent hadn’t really even been invented yet and every studios was kind of a maverick when they started. The studio system has dictated certain realities for filmmakers or perceived realities like you have to have a cast that has a foreign value because you have to pre-sell the foreign and then you have to go shoot some place that has a big rebate because you have to bank the rebate and if you’re lucky you get people deferred then you’re not actually out of pocket any money. I think doing all those things are compromising the purest sense of the industry is which is what’s on the page. What does the page say and who is the best character on the page?
If you love the script, and you cast to the script and you shoot in locations where it services the script and if you’re for the movie without any bureaucratic layers and without giving constraints economically, not that we had all the money in the world but we had decent budget film, I think you’re gonna have a great movie if it starts from the page and that’s what we were able to do is stay true to filmmaking at its finest.
Where do the lines of reality and fiction blur with Middle Men and your personal career?
CM: I think the parts of the film that are most true to the character would be Luke Wilson’s character and that would be me. The other roles are really composites of various people I’ve known over the years doing business and they’re sort of an outgrowth of me sitting with George Gallo and Andy Weiss and telling stories and them composting these characters. Some of the events are made up, but some of them are based in a bit of truth and I think what we’ve been saying is that 80 percent of the film is pretty accurate. The 20 percent that’s not we want to leave that to the audience to figure out. We think its more fun that way rather then saying this is true this happened, this didn’t happen. I’d say virtually in every scene there’s a good bit of truth, more in some less in others of the shots that made it into the movie.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in making this film?
CM: I guess the biggest challenge was getting passed the idea that this was an indie film which means we’re probably not gonna get paid or talking to the agencies and saying we want Luke Wilson for this movie. We sent him a script. They loved the script, they hated the idea that it was an indie film even though Luke has done a lot of independent. They hated it because indie filmmakers have a bad reputation in Hollywood. You got people who say they’re gonna do something and they don’t. They contract for things and don’t perform. They get people on set and then can’t pay payroll. And so I addressed that after talking with CAA and I said it seems to me the way to take the guessing out of the game, is to just give you the money. And so what we did was every actor we hired we escrowed their full fee on the day that we made an offer and we said, ‘Here it is,’ so A) It’s real and B) It’s within your control. If your client likes this, we want to make the deal and you can see the money is there and that seemed to take a lot of the guesswork out of it, that seemed to take away the parts that were the most difficult in the production. But other than that, once we got past that and got a great reputation of paying and performing and doing what we said, the rest of it was kinda cake actually.
You have some amazing actors in the film such as Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, Terry Crews, James Caan, Robert Forster, Kevin Pollak, Rade Serbedzija and Kelsey Grammer. How were you able to attract such an all star cast?
CM: It was the script. It’s a combination of “hey, we have George Gallo who wrote Midnight Run and co-wrote this script.” It’s sort of a period piece; it’s set against the backdrop of a corrupt porn industry which when you make that statement you almost hear the tires screeching on the highway because no one wants to do the porn movie. I think when they read the script that’s what attracted them because the whole point of the backdrop is to provide the money, the glamor, the sex and a lot of the points in the story. Middle Men is about porn like Wall Street was about trading stocks. It’s really not about that. Middle Men is ultimately a tale of a guy trying to come home, a tale of redemption and a story of hypocrisy. And I think it was so strong on the page with George and Andy’s script that immediately attracted actors who, particularly Gabriel and Giovanni.
How do you hope audiences will react to your film? What message do you want them to leave with?
CM: I think the audiences are going to come out being pleasantly surprised, having been moved emotionally hopefully by the family aspect of the film and having been made to laugh by the sheer absurdity of the behavior of these characters. And I think they’re going to come out, hopefully saying to their friends and family, you have to see this movie. We don’t have Tom Cruise or Will Smith in this film. We have amazing actors who are not typically big marquee actors but are very talented. So we have to get over the hump of this isn’t the type of film with an above the line, above the title actor for a comedy or drama. Once we do that I think we’ll get the reaction like you had which is that it’s Goodfellas-esque; it’s Boogie Nights-esque; it’s Pulp Fiction in some ways. The word of mouth is what we’re hoping people will come out with and have had a great experience watching a movie where nobody flies, no vampires, nobody has a cape. It’s just kind of a throwback to good old movies.
You’ve got the ball rolling on a few very interesting projects. Can you talk a little about Columbus Circle, Ninety and the documentary Exxxit: Life After Porn?
CM: Exxxit we finished about two months ago. It’s a documentary. It’ll be in NY and LA for one week theatrical run and we’ll be doing day and date VOD. It looks at about 18 former adult film stars and how they got in the business, how they got out of the business and mostly where are they know and how has their life been impacted by the career path that they chose. It’s very moving and very interesting. It’s not gratuitous at all. It will surprise you, again in that you go in thinking one thing and then after seeing this film you have a different opinion about these people and where they come from and where they’ve gone because, at the end of the day, they’re all just like you and me. They wake up and go to sleep, they have illnesses and families, heartbreak, tragedy and successes.
On the other end of the spectrum, a very commercial film that we’re in pre-production on is Ninety with Darren Lynn Bousman directing. It’s a typical horror film that is probably one of the more violent things you’ll ever see. It’s 90 kills in 90 minutes. Definitely a genre piece speaking to a specific audience, the difference with this is it not just a slasher movie. It isn’t just some maniac for some unknown or mystical reason has decided to kill this people. He has a method and a reason that he is doing this and without giving away too much of the plot, he’s a guy that could be stopped with one single action but nobody takes that action and he goes about the business of getting justice in his eyes, no matter how twisted that vision may be in these 90 minutes with these 90 kills.
Columbus Circle we wrapped production on that just recently, about four or five months ago. It’s a Hitchcock-style mystery crime drama and it’s Selma Blair and Amy Smart, Jason Lee, Beau Bridges, Giovanni Ribisi and it’s kind of a throwback and a nod to the way Hitchcock used to do movies. It’s based around Selma Blair’s character who lives in Columbus Circle in New York in a very nice apartment that she has not left in 17 years, she’s an agoraphobic. She kind of lives through her peep hole a la Rear Window and there’s a death across the hall of a neighbor that’s been there forever who she never interacted with. A new couple move in (Jason Lee and Amy Smart) and she becomes obsessed with them and through a series of events Amy Smart becomes involved in her life. It’s very well told, beautifully shot mostly interior stuff. It moves at a very good pace for a film that doesn’t have a lot of sweeping and hand-held stuff. It’s kind of the antithesis of Middle Men in terms of style of shooting.
Then I’ve got about 12 legitimate scripts that are in varying forms of development.We got a couple things we’re probably going to pull the trigger on. We’re trying to shoot two really good movies every year, maybe a third if we add in a doc or a TV deal. Generally we’re trying to do all original work. I’m sort of obsessed with true story and based on real people and real times in terms of bigger films.
Who are some of your favorite filmmakers working today? What would be your dream project to work on?
CM: I’m a huge Scorcese fan, I’m a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan, I’m a big Cohen Brothers fan, and those are all sort of all over the board, big Oliver Stone fan. I have a project in discussion with Oliver Stone after his documentary was at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Middle Men closed the festival and a friend of his whose a friend of ours got him to stay and watch our film on closing night. I was thrilled he was even in the audience but when I got back stage to the green room, he was there waiting for me and we talked for probably an hour and half that night. Two days later we talked for a couple of more hours, he came over to my house for a party, we had a couple of meetings and we found a project that I’m not really allowed to talk about but in about a year or so we’ll do together hopefully.
The strength of Middle Men in many areas is important but when a filmmaker like Oliver Stone is really moved by a film and says, ‘Shit, this is the movie I wish I had made’ or Paul Thomas Anderson, who came to a screening, and said it was the best movie he had seen in five years. Those are the people that I admire and to be able to have even a chance to even think about working them is huge to me. It’s surreal but I guess that’s how it happens if it happens and I’m embracing that and trying to stay and definitely will stay true to a particular way of producing films and that’s do it the way that it was done when this industry was great and built upon the strength of a picture as opposed to the number of special effects.
With Middle Men, you’ve made a bold statement as a force to be reckoned with. What do you hope the future holds in store for you and cinematic career?
CM: I hope that I’m able to continue producing films of that quality and nature. I will be left to my own devices. You have to be careful because you start getting attention and it’s a little like asking someone out, falling in love with them and then they move in with you and the first thing you do is try to start changing them. I’ve now met some people, we’ve fallen in love, we’re going to be moving in together and neither of us is gonna try to change the other. I’m going to structure things so I can do my work the way I want to do it and deliver a finished product. To that end I’m working on a fairly interesting deal with Paramount, which is not a first look necessarily, it’s not a co-fi necessarily, but it’s here’s a slate of films that I’m going to make, do you guys want in and if so I’ll deliver the films finished and you market the film. So it’s a bit of a hybrid where they may invest in some areas but not other areas, but that I’ll be left to produce films like Middle Men the way we produced that film so on the day everybody has the same experiences we had on that set which is my ultimate goal.
Middle Men is currently in limited release.