It’s not easy being a Hollywood producer in this industry. Just ask John Jacobs whose first film, Bingo, didn’t exactly set the world on fire. But now with box office hits such as Anger Management and the likely hit Blades of Glory under his belt, he has finally fulfilled his dreams. Jacobs talked exclusively to Paul Fischer.
Question: Now as a producer, what kinds of things do you look for in material in this town that is so ferociously competitive?
Jacobs: The things that I look for are things that have never been done before and things that have something original about them. And when I first heard about this story, there’s never been an ice skating comedy, and that’s very rare and the only thing – there was an ice hockey comedy, Slap Shot, years go but never an ice skating comedy. Like I grew up ice skating. I love skating and I also know what an outrageous world it is. Scott Hamilton said he has been offered every ice skating movie ever made and the reason he picked this one was that it was almost as crazy as the real world of ice skating, behind the scenes.
Question: When you got this script, how much work is involved in tailoring it for the talent involved and do you tailor it to talent or do you tailor the script first and then go after the talent?
Jacobs: Well quite a bit of work, I mean you always have to tailor a script to the talent but in this case, the sensibility was already very much Will Ferrell and also Ben Stiller who I produced it with along with Stuart Cornfeld whom I had worked with before. So I knew that it was very much their sensibility and I sort of [??03:34??] to make it even more so and then we collectively tailored it very specifically for Will Ferrell and Jon Heder.
Question: I guess Ben was kind of asked if he would play one of the characters initially and then decided that he’s been there, done that I imagine. Why Heder as the other one?
Jacobs: You know I actually got Ben and Stuart also and DreamWorks who have been great, literally the first weekend we took it to them they sort of jumped on board and have gone full steam ahead ever since.
Question: What’s particularly unusual about this movie is that you have first time directors on board. Now you normally associated first time directors with some sort of Indie drama. You don’t normally get a studio wiling to risk two first time directors on a tent pole comedy as it were.
Jacobs: Yeah. Very unusual. First of all I should say that [Jon Heder was really Ben’s choice, Ben’s idea, which was brilliant because he had actually never done anything like this before, co-lead in a big studio movie where, you know a two-handed as we call them. And then it was really DreamWorks, which is very unusual, supported hiring this directing team that had never directed a movie before because we all liked their commercials, their cavemen commercials for Geico we all felt were just incredibly original and innovative. And they had also done a short at NYU which was nominated for an Academy Award some years back. So it was a huge risk and incredibly unusual for a studio to take that kind of a risk on basically an action comedy. I mean it’s almost unheard of.
Question: What are the challenges for you as a producer to make comedies in Hollywood when there are so many bad ones and I imagine that you may have had your share of disappointments yourself as a producer, My Boss’s Daughter notwithstanding.
Jacobs: Yes I certainly have. Well Anger Management – I mean I’m very proud of. I mean it’s a similar thing where I knew the characters and the chemistry between them was great and really original. And, you know, you never can tell, I think Edwin Booth or Edwin Keen said, ‘Dying is easy, comedy is hard’ and it truly is. To get everything just right, all the elements line up just so, is incredibly difficult. I mean in this movie you had to make it work as a sports movie in its own right and as a comedy. It’s like making two movies at the same time and they both had to work or the movie wouldn’t work at all.
Question: And the audiences have to really believe and care for these people even though they’re a bit off the wall at times but ultimately, I imagine that must be very difficult to construct.
Jacobs: It’s incredibly difficult to tread the line – it’s a very thin line always between, especially as Chazz Michael is unlikeable, you know? for making him just sort of the kind of loveable bad boy and also Peter, a very thin line between making him a spoiled child of privilege or somebody that the audience really feels for and wants to win, wants to succeed.
Question: Now, I guess people gravitate towards this city either to be filmmakers or actors. What is it about the film industry that continues to take people to do something that is so incredibly tough?
Jacobs: I think that’s what it is. It’s one of the most difficult things there is. You have to really have a hundred people to all do their jobs perfectly for a film to work. And it’s kind of the ultimate challenge I think as well as combining the old, desire to write the great novel, you know. But I think with a film your doing it to give it your vision and that against all odds that your vision is going to be the one that an entire continent or world will actually embrace, I think is the ultimate challenge.
Question: Your first film was the Oscar winning Bingo.
Jacobs: (laughs) Yeah and I’m actually doing my second dog film right now.
Question: Oh I thought you were going to tell me you were doing a sequel to Bingo which I thought you’d be a very brave man. But I mean that was 1991 and you’ve only really achieved I guess commercial success twelve years later with Anger Management. What drives you to continue for over a decade to get something that’s right?
Jacobs: I think it’s just a general not being able to do any other job and just loving movies. I really do. There are certainly many more lucrative and more sane pursuits, that’s for sure.
Question: Did you always want to be a filmmaker? Was it always producing?
Jacobs: No I just always wanted – I used to wait for my parents to go to sleep when I was a little boy and then I would sneak back down and watch late movies on television until three in the morning when I was ten years old. So it’s not just producing. I’ve always loved movies. And I’ve worked in different aspects of movies, but I’ve always in some ways loved, it’s spinning stories, and good writing is what I’ve always gravitated toward and I’ve always believed professionally that good movies come out of great stories and great screenwriting.
Question: So you’re now working on The Retreat right?
Jacobs: No, right now I’m working on a movie called South of the Border for Touchstone which we’re shooting in Mexico.
Question: Which is what?
Jacobs: It’s actually a very clever movie that crosses the Latino market actually and it’s going to take place 90% in Mexico.
Question: Is it in Spanish or bilingual?
Jacobs: No it’s mostly in English. Probably 90% English, 10% Spanish.
Question: Have you got a cast?
Jacobs: We’re casting it right now. We just started casting directors yesterday and we’re starting the scout on Monday in Mexico. And then we just hired Raja Gosnell to direct it.
Question: And it’s a comedy I take it.
Jacobs: It’s an action comedy also.
Question: What’s the basic storyline.
Jacobs: The basic storyline is about a Beverly Hills handbag dog who’s out of touch with being a dog. And gets her manicures and pedicures in Beverley Hills and eats at the best restaurants and goes down to an exclusive resort in Mexico with her wealthy owner and gets separated and has no idea how to speak the language or drink out of a bowl or pee on a tree and she has to make it all the way back to Beverly Hills and makes a deal with a former border patrol dog, a Mexican dog, who helps her get in touch with being a dog.
Question: Are these dogs speaking or are they ….
Jacobs: It’s going to be like Babe. It’s live action.
Question: Live action. So are you going animatronic or real animals?
Jacobs: They’re real animals like Babe.
Question: Oh it sound interesting.
Jacobs: It’s very interesting. It’s not animatronic. It was also in the business section of the LA times recently as one of the projects that could truly not only appeal to the American market and Disney market but to the Latino market in a big way. We’re very excited about it.
Question: Is Disney planning on releasing it in 08 or at the end of the year?
Jacobs: Yeah. In 08.
Question: What do you think you’ll be doing after that?
Jacobs: And then after that I’m planning on – there’s a thriller called Trap Door at New Line that I’m hoping to make this year also.
Question: So you’re going to be very busy.
Jacobs: Yeah, it’s very busy.
Question: So Bingo – you finally have success. Are you surprised that it’s taken this long?
Jacobs: Yeah. I’m very surprised. I initially came out here for two years to do a fellowship with the American Film Institute and intending to return to New York immediately as soon as I had made some headway and I learned very quickly that it takes a lot longer than two years to make it in the film business.