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February 2006
Joe Roth News

An Interview with Revolution Studios Head Joe Roth

By Wilson Morales

 

While in NYC to promote his latest film as a director, Joe Roth spoke to blackfilm.com, and other journalists extensively about the state of affairs regarding Revolution Studios, which just recently announced it will be shutting down, but has 12 films left on its slate, which includes the film, "Across the Universe", directed by Julie Taymor that is a musical featuring all Beatles songs. He also spoke about "The Waterhorse" a fantasy family film that will be produced by Walden Media and directed by Jay Russell. Roth also commented on the demise of the "XXX" franchise and how Pixar


Can you give me your me perspective on the Disney-Pixar deal having been part of both companies. Do you think all of the stories that are written about Pixar will save Disney?

Joe Roth: Well, I'm on the Pixar board. I was at Disney before "Toy Story" came out; so I've been with them right from the beginning. The day I left Disney, I joined the Pixar board, and there are only six of us on the board. I think what will happen is that Pixar will totally infused Disney with its own stuff; and if Disney cant movies of the quality of Pixar, they'll have to stop. I think Ed C. runs the day-to-day and John Lassiter, who we would be thinking of in terms of Steven Spielberg frankly if he were working in live action; and they'll have to learn the Pixar team effort and I think that Pixar will, not so dominate, I think in terms of animation when I hear it from a studio, it's like a reverse merger. Pixar will continue to do what they are doing and I wouldn't be surprised that there will be two pictures a year; one would be a Pixar original movie and one would be a Pixar sequel. They've made seven movies and "Cars" being the 7th. There's no reason to think that they couldn't make sequels of their own.These guys can make sequels to "Monsters", ÔThe Incredibles", and "Nemo" and things like that.


What makes you want to be a film director in addition to guiding films into production as a studio mogul?

JR: I don't know. I get bored doing one thing. There are different brain functions. The studio boss function is a very external, analytical, math related situation where you are pondering what you like and saying it's a risk. Directing is saying what hand should Sam Jackson have a salt shaker in and it's a very different function. It's enjoyable to me.


Is it tougher as a filmmaker to decide what films are the right films for you and for Revolutions to make?

JR: It is. It gets tougher and tougher. We're not Warner Bros ; we're Revolutions. We don't have a stockpile of 500 scripts that's been compiled over the last ten years. We don't have Batman or Superman or things like that. So you actually have to come up with original notions every single time, and that make more difficult too.


Of the films that remain on Revolution's slate, are you expected to direct any of them?

JR: No, there are 12 other movies coming out and they have all been put together; six of them coming out this year, and six coming out next year and there are directors on all of them.


Is there any one of those films that you are particularly excited about?

JR: Yeah, I'm excited about a number of them for different reasons. The Wayans Bros., who did "White Chicks" for us, are doing this movie called "Little Man", which is coming out Memorial Day and I think it's going to be really funny and successful. Adam Sandler's movie, "Click", in June which I think will be his biggest film, much more like "Bruce Almighty" and that's a broader film for him. In the Fall, in November, we have Julie Taymor's movie. She was the director of "The Lion King" on Broadway and "Frida" and what I did, for the first time we were able to license the Beatles catalogue; so we got 30 Beatles songs and we've written an original screenplay and doing an original musical for the theaters. It's tentatively titled "Across the Universe" and Bono sings a song in it and Joe Cocker sings a song in it, and the cast sings the rest of the songs; so that's very exciting. Actually, while I'm here in town, I'm going to look at about an hour of footage that she's done. I'm excited and although I can't get anyone else in the room excited about "Rocky 6" cause I read that script and I thought it was great. I thought it was very much like "Rocky" and Stallone is playing his age and playing the loser that he was in the first picture.


Why do you think people aren't excited about this picture?

JR: Because the last couple of versions of it were lousy. I think what happens is in sequels in general as you get up to numbers 3,4, and 5, you run out of ideas and you make them bigger and glitzier and the good news about this script is that it is a simple comeback story as the first picture was. So, I'm excited about that.


Is that what he tried to do with the fifth one too?

JR: I don't know. I wasn't involved with the 5th one. I didn't see the 5th one. I read this one. I also felt that this one kinda mirrored the place where Stallone is at in his career and I think we are a forgiving people; and I think his comeback story works on two levels frankly. One is Rocky and one is Stallone.


Isn't Wes Anderson doing an animation?

JR: Yeah, Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, who just got nominated for "The Squid and The Whale" wrote "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" and he's in Paris working for a while on an animated film for us, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox", and also next year, and we're shooting it here, "Perfect Strangers". We're shooting it now and it's a thriller with Halle Berry and Bruce Willis. The last movie of the slate for next year is a family film called "The Waterhorse". It's written by the man who wrote "Babe" and it's being produced by Walden Media and the people who did "The Chronicles of Narnia". It's pretty great. We go shooting in New Zealand starting in May.


Will WETA be a part of that?

JR: Yeah, WETA is doing the work on that. Peter Jackson's the best.

 


Who do you have cast in that?

JR: No one is cast in it yet. Jay Russell, who did "Tuck Everlasting" and "My Dog Skip" and "Ladder 49" (will direct it). It's going to be a 12 year-old and a British actress and it's a fantasy film. Basically it's a retelling of a child's point of view of the Loch Ness Monster story.


Will you go to New Zealand?

JR: Yes, we'll spend two weeks in New Zealand and a couple of weeks in Scotland.


Back to the Beatles catalogue, how did you obtain the rights? How expensive was it and who has the rights to them?

JR: The Beatles catalogue is owned by two parties equally, Sony and Michael Jackson. We distribute our films through Sony and I went to them with the idea, so they were okay and we worked long and hard at a time when Michael Jackson was somewhat vulnerable and we got the rights; they say license for any 30 songs in a catalogue and you know, it's 5 million dollars. That's what the number is, but the fact of the matter is it's all the music in the film. If you do music with a big composer and a big symphony, your budget will be 2 ½ million dollars. So, for a movie driven by that catalogue and probably sold based on all those songs, it's not so terrible. It becomes the star of the film essentially. You're paying for the star of the film.

 


Did you get any feedback from Paul McCarthy and Ringo (Starr)?

JR: Well, yeah. The feedback is that they made a bad deal many, many years ago where they sold their publishing; so they're not happy. I shouldn't say they, lawyers for Apple, are not happy about any exploitation of the Beatles music. I'm sympathetic on one hand, but on the other hand, that's the deal they made a long time ago. So, it's a wonderful script. By the way, in the movie, the Beatles don't exist; so we're not exploiting the Beatles. It's a period like "Forrest Gump", from '63 to '69 and it's a love story about a boy from Liverpool and a girl from New York and the plot is driven by those songs.

 


It seems interesting to me, especially today where Broadway shows are written around musical catalogues, and I know they tried to do "Lennon", which didn't work out. With Julie Taylor behind it, do you think this is something that may have the potential in the reverse direction?

JR: I hope so. I think I probably got the order wrong, but be that as it may, I hope that it's successful and it's incarnation and if it is, then absolutely, we will flip it back to Broadway.

 


Is there any hope for the "XXX" franchise?

JR: I don't think so. I think what happened is that I made a big mistake. I felt that Vin Diesel's representatives were more unruly than usual and I just didn't want to pay the price and I guess I believed more in the franchise than I did in the actor in the franchise; and I broke my own cardinal rule, which is if you're going to do a sequel, keep all the elements together. I don't know how many times I told that to filmmakers and I felt that the movie was going to be way too expensive with Vin and felt that it was going to explode into something that was going to be a nightmare, so I chose to go a different way and it didn't work.

 


So, you wouldn't try a third attempt with someone like The Rock?

JR: Could youdo that?


I think so.

JR: You know, when you get burned on a picture like that, it takes a while to get back to it, cause you feel like, "I don't want that to happen again".

 


Wouldn't the idea for a woman revitalize the franchise?

JR: Yes, but the history and excuse me for saying this, but the history of women driving action pictures is not a good one.

 


What about "Kill Bill"?

JR: I don't know. I would keep (Quentin) Tarantino out of any formula myself.

 


What sort of postmortem do you do?

JR: If you're me, you do heavy duty postmortem to try not making that same mistake again; and then you make another mistake, and you do another postmortem, and you try not to make that mistake. There are sometimes when you don't make a mistake, but things just don't work out. Sometimes things happen that get bigger than the picture itself. I think the results of filmmaking are very much like playing baseball at Candlestick Park. You get up to bat and you hit the ball and then the ball goes up into the wind. You think you hit a home run and the shortstop catches it if the wind is blowing in or you think you hit a little pop fly and somehow it goes out of the park. I can tell you when we made "Sixth Sense", or "Home Alone" or "Toy Story" or any of these stories, "XXX" or whatever, that busted through, you don't know you're busting through. You just know, "oh, that seems to work well" and then it just takes a life of its own; and it happens negatively as well. There's very little middle ground than movie making. A person much smarter than I twenty years ago, George Lucas, said to me, and actually it was in 1989 and I was up visiting and we had the Fox franchise, and I was working at Fox and he said, "Boy, you got a big hit movie coming out." I said, "Which one? Help me". He said, "Home Alone". "How did that happen?" I said and he said, "I saw the trailer in the theater and people I could tell is going to be a big hit." "How could you tell" I then said, and he said "The movie business is binary. The lights are either on or off; and if the light's on, you can't get it off. If the light's off, there's nothing you can do to get it on." So, that's all well and good but you don't know about that light until you have made the film. It seems to be true. We've all seen movies that are pretty good that have done incredible business, and there are movie that good but haven't done any business at all; and there's something about it that audiences respond to or doesn't respond to. "Rent" is a case where the light was off; and I thought Chris (Columbus) did a terrific job. I saw that movie 20 times with audiences. Audiences always responded to the film and they were predetermined not to want to go. I don't know what the real reasons were but I can tell you that's clearly what happened. If you took the nonsense of exit polls and all the rest of that stuff and how people felt about the picture and said that the movie will do $150 million dollars and it doesn't and it only did $30 (million dollars). Whenever you're dealing with a property that has a previous life, whether it's a book or a song or another movie or a remake or a play, you're in a world where you can't control people's expectations. The real giant hits have come from original ideas from people's development and they just hit the public a certain way and they just chapel on. I was with someone at Disney the other day, who will remain nameless and is on top of the food chain, and said "Can you believe Narnia is going to do $725 million dollars?" It's just one of those things that hit people the right way.

 


Has the booming DVD business been the saving grace for films that haven't opened well at the box office?

JR: Yes, it has. Forty percent of the revenue you can expect on a movie now comes from the DVD business. What it does is cuts your loss. It doesn't turn a failure into a success, but it takes a lot of the pain away.

 


 

 

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