May 18th
Download the comprehensive unabridged Cannes 2010 Product Guide   Contact: 06 75 11 54 71
Contact David Shoshan ImageWorks Riviera  B11/C12
Keep In Touch With Home
View World Newspapers
Sydney Morning Herald
The Toronto Star
China Times
Le Figaro
Die Welt
Ming Pao
The Times of India
The Jerusalem Post
La Repubblica
The Japan Times
New Zealand Herald
La Vanguardia
Dagens Nyheter
Financial Times
New York Times
The Drudge Report
Entertainment World Reports on Cannes
Your Link To All The News

Cannes News Bytes 2010 -
The Poet Trapped In
The Body Of A Warrior
Renny Harlin
On the rooftop of 73 Market Street Venice just yards away from the beach in California, The Business of Film caught up with Renny Harlin, director of Georgia, the epic tale of the war between Georgia and Russia, produced by US based Rex Media. Mention Renny Harlin and the mind springs to hard core action thrillers like Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Cliffhanger, which established his name. But is there another side to Renny Harlin that fans of his work as a director and fans of his films don’t know? Looking relaxed and positioning his chair to take advantage of the afternoon sun, he mentally kicked back and in a candid and enlightening conversation with Elspeth Tavares shared his immense passion for directing, living and working in Hollywood, and how in spite of his friend Bob Shaye’s warning he smoked the drug that is Hollywood for a time. Revealing the real Renny Harlin, he shares his profound thoughts, the essence of his individuality, and how the moment Georgia was brought to his attention by his new agency UTA, he knew he was destined to make the movie.

ELSPETH TAVARES: What were the deciding factors in your decision to direct the independent movie Georgia?

RENNY HARLIN: I changed agencies about a year ago, with the goal to receive better and more mature material. I have been in Hollywood for 25 years and I’ve made different kinds of movies, but I am known as an action/thriller director, so I get the films that circulate around town, and many are frankly not good. The mandate when I joined UTA was for them to find me something, it could be a small or big picture, but it had to be something that I would feel motivated to make. My agent Charlie Ferraro and George Lascu of Rex Media were meeting over breakfast, and George who is the US producer on Georgia told Charlie they were looking for a director. Charlie said, “I have the perfect guy for you – Renny Harlin.” George’s first reaction was “Would he be interested in this kind of topic?” Although the picture is an epic, it’s an independent movie and he questioned whether ‘Renny Harlin’ would be interested in a ‘small’ independent movie. Charlie said, “Meet him.” Like most people, I knew of the war in Georgia from the news, so I met George, and the moment he told me more about the movie, I knew this was the movie I have been waiting practically all my life to make. It gave me the opportunity to take all I have learned in terms of action and big visuals, and put it into a framework that actually means something. It was exactly what I had told my agent, I needed something of substance in my life, which may sound highfalutin and out there, but I honestly love making movies, and I wanted and needed something that my heart could invest in. I called Charlie and told him to do what deal we could because I was making this movie. I think it also has to do with the fact that last summer Mannerheim, a movie I had developed for 10 years fell apart two weeks from shooting, and Mannerheim is similar to Georgia. It’s Finland’s struggle against a super power and it’s also a war movie. I felt I could take all that passion, preparation and put it into making Georgia, which was why I was sure the instant I made the decision that I was going to make this movie no matter what. There were many challenges, putting the script together with Mikko Alanne who was the perfect guy, from the blueprint they had. Added to that we had very little time. It was now late July, and the events take place in summer at the beginning of August, so we had to have the script, prep the movie and shoot before the winter. I did a lot of research and headed to Georgia. My passion for the movie intensified when I arrived in Georgia and saw the locations and met the local people – the refugees, politicians and journalists who had covered the war. I fell in love with the country.

ET: Let’s go back to your having been in Hollywood for 25 years. You made a lot of movies and continued to get the same scripts because you were pigeonholed. Aside from taking the step to change your agent, why do you think that happened?

RH: It’s simply the way Hollywood works, once you have success in a genre, you are considered just an action, drama, or comedy film director. The truth is, and the studio executives themselves will admit it, when movies are greenlit, it’s almost the ‘luck’ of the draw. They try to maximize the chances of success by using the last success of the director in that genre, on the basis that “we don’t really know why that movie was a success so let’s use him because he had a success so he must know or have ‘something’ and we will repeat the formula as well as we can.” Currently there are comic book movies, the video games, and the re-makes because one, two and three worked, so we will keep making those movies until something goes horribly wrong. The Hollywood adage is: let’s keep repeating the same people and make the same films and maybe that will continue to lead to success.

ET: For an industry that’s continually on the cutting edge of creativity, it would seem that the executives making the decisions are not creative people. Working in the system as you have, is that too critical a comment?

RN: There are a few smart successful executives but the majority are not creative people with vision. Almost every year there is the breakout film which no one expected – a Little Miss Sunshine, a Slum Dog Millionaire, or a Hurt Locker – films that were very hard to get financed, and when they are made and are successful, it becomes a pack mentality of ‘that worked so lets jump on the bandwagon’. In 2008, a movie that had no American financing, almost didn’t get distribution, and was given an initial low key distribution by Fox turned out to be a mega hit. That movie was Taken and that became the mantra for every studio executive you went to with a project. Their objective was to find their Taken. What is that? A movie where a girl gets kidnapped, and the father is tough? The executives couldn’t articulate what they were looking for except that it had to have emotion, be very exciting, and not be very expensive. It’s a frustrating pack mentality of not thinking out of the box. Then there are the tent-pole movies that the studios live on. With Avatar a success in 3D, every movie has to be converted into 3D. I think that trend is disturbing because it’s like making a movie and then changing its visual language.

ET: The perception is that you are a director who only works with the major studios. I think many wonder why you now want to work in the independent field on Georgia. In talking with you, it seems to be more about the artist in you.

RH: For me the independent world at this point of my career is more interesting. I am not going to be pretentious and say I wouldn’t want to direct a $300 million movie, if it was a good story, and had all the toys in the world available to play with. In general, when I go to the movies I prefer independent and foreign films. I watch the tent-pole blockbusters because as a professional I need to keep abreast of what is going on. Vincere, about Mussolini, was the last independent movie I saw, which I thought was brilliant – so poetic, so visual. That’s the kind of movie I love to see, and when I leave the theatre I feel as if am floating above the ground, because it was a beautiful artistic experience.

ET: I saw and loved the movie too, but is this the type of movie you want to turn your talent to direct?

RH: Mannerheim, which I have managed to get going again, will be my next movie. That will be my Vincere. It’s a biography, but I want to make this movie poetic and symbolic rather than simply portraying the sequence of events.

ET: As an action director, you have had tremendous success, yet underneath there seems to be a very sensitive person wanting to break out.

RH: Actually my career turned out very different to how I envisioned it. I am not in the least disappointed; it’s just different. When I was shooting Die Hard I came across a script, Rambling Rose, and wanted to direct it, only to learn that it was Martha Coolidge’s passion project and she was unofficially attached for years to direct, but for 22 years they couldn’t find the financing. I loved the project so much, I made it my mission to get it produced. I was completely involved, put all the financing together, got Robert Duval on board, went to the set every day and loved that experience. I thought this is great! Die Hard has given me the clout, and this is what I am going to do now, make one big movie a year, and have beautiful smaller pictures I want to produce and direct. Rambling Rose received two Academy nominations, and won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Film that year, but somehow that chance never came again. The projects never materialized and then I got sucked into Hollywood. Bob Shaye who has been a friend since the 80’s and for whom I directed Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dreamer Master gave me the perfect Hollywood metaphor when he said: “Just remember when you get some success in Hollywood, it’s one big crackpipe, and if you start smoking, it will give you a quick high, but it will be very hard to get off.” I think to a certain extent I started to smoke the pipe and with Deep Blue Sea and Cliffhanger got sucked into Hollywood. Once I was there, like many others have found, I was scared to ‘step down’ and do smaller intimate pictures or independent pictures. It’s almost as if I felt the train was going to leave the station and never come back and I would never get on it again. I was tap dancing, making movies mostly because I wanted to be working, instead of taking the time to find projects that I cared about.

It’s sometimes hard for people to understand, except perhaps other directors, that I love to direct. It’s an incredible passion, just being on the set communicating with the crew, and actors. It’s what I live for. I have sometimes made movies for the wrong reasons, because I was simply excited by the fact I could do what I love doing. When I made Born American, which was my calling card to Hollywood, my attitude was “I’ll shoot anything.” Having directed 15 movies, I have more experience. I am older, and I have a different perspective. Instead of wanting to make a stunt as cool as I can, it’s now “how can I tell the story in a beautiful way?” It’s not that the fascination with the toys has disappeared; it’s a need for substance to direct, care about and invest my time in.

ET: So when you had all the information on Georgia, you felt you had found what you were looking for?

RN: Decidedly, every day of the shoot on Georgia, no matter the weather, or how tired I was, I felt in my heart, my passion as a director was filled with purpose. I was on location dealing with real people who had lost loved ones in this war. I thought: “If I can, through a movie – the most powerful medium, get the word out to the world, not by making a documentary but an entertaining story with the real people, how did I get so lucky that I could do this?”

ET: What was it like to film in Georgia? I understand this is the first US production film to be shot there, and that they are actively encouraging productions to take advantage of their incentives, especially if the companies are already familiar with shooting in Eastern Europe. Given shooting Georgia was the first production, was it logistically difficult?

RH: Georgia, like all ex-Soviet republics, had a film industry established from the Propaganda films that died with independence in the 90’s. There are some studios and they make two or three small local pictures a year. The local people and crew are very sweet, and speak English, but don’t have the same work ethic in terms of shooting movies like an American crew (for example what we need to get done in the day and working a12-hour day). As a consequence we had to bring in the key crew from all over the world. I think, in total, fourteen languages were spoken on set. It was a very colorful, very interesting bunch of people and it all worked great. In that regard it was a learning experience for the Georgians and for us too. Some days we had 70 setups filming the expansive war scenes, and it was all shot in 48 days. Every day was a challenging experience and some were filled with surprises, but it was a great group of people and I think everyone felt we were making this movie for a reason. It was a very love-filled experience.

ET: You always seem to work with the same actors, in this instance Val Kilmer.

RH: I love working with my friends like Samuel Jackson and Val Kilmer, and other people I know and have worked with before, but it’s not always feasible. It helps tremendously when you put a movie together that there is chemistry between the cast and crew, and between crew and cast, and most importantly trust. When it’s someone you have worked with before, that trust is already there. We know our weaknesses and our strengths and we can concentrate on other important aspects of the work. It’s no secret others think Val Kilmer is difficult to work with, but he is not with me. We have the trust and a common goal and we get on with the job.

ET: Here’s a difficult question for you: do you think you are difficult? From an actor’s viewpoint are you difficult to work for and with?

RH: It is a difficult question to answer about oneself, but I think the answer is no. I would say I am extremely prepared and organized. I like to know everything beforehand about the movie. I like to spend a lot of time, preparing and planning each day. I plan every shot so that on day 46 I know exactly what are we are doing, and that information is shared with the actors and the crew and that builds a bond and trust between all members of the crew. A key to why some actors can be difficult has to do with the director. As an actor you have fought your way up the ladder and are at a point through talent, hard work and some luck, and you don’t want that ‘position’ to go away. An insecure director who is not prepared, and does not give directions to an actor creates a huge insecurity for the actor, because the actor lacks a strong director who is providing help and guidance through the process, and that creates tension on the set. The director is the one with the vision; he makes the decisions on the set. You can say it’s a right or wrong decision but it’s his decision and he needs to be able to communicate that to the crew. Of course he listens to ideas, but he makes the decisions and has the view and a strong idea about what he is doing. That is how I work. At the same time I love collaboration and encourage the crew to share ideas. If it’s a good idea and I like it I will use it as I am getting the credit anyway (laughter). It’s the same with the actors but ultimately when we shoot they know I will direct them.

I suppose I could be considered tough by some because, I expect everyone to be prepared and work hard. I don’t tolerate laziness, and people who don’t care about their work. They can leave and they can be replaced. But I want it to be FUN. This is what we do; it’s our life. We travel to different places, work long hours, and because of the work we can be prone to neglect our families. We can spend weeks and months sometimes in far-flung places where the shoot is cold and miserable, the food is bad, and then you also have to deal with yelling and screaming and arguments. I work very badly in conflict. Some people create conflict, and create something good from that. I am the opposite. I like a happy set, joking, laughing, and I like to be incredibly encouraging. When an actor does great, I applaud and everyone joins in.

ET: What are your views regarding producers on the set, and the ideal relationship between the producer and the director? This is a good time to bring in the Georgian producer Georgia Mirza Davitaia.

RH: There are different kinds of producers. There are those who pretty much after the deal is done never show up, or just do the organizational and financial aspects. And there are those producers who are a combination of all those factors and are creatively involved. For me those are the best kind, because you are able to use the producer as a sounding board for ideas, to make a final decision. To discuss how we can do a scene with what I may need and what he thinks we can afford. Together we can solve the problems. I like a producer who is involved and understands what is going on at all levels. Mirza is a good example of the kind of producer I like to work with. He has an artistic background and can understand the ‘artist‘ aspect of dealing with cast and crew. In one instance on Georgia, with dialogue and brainstorming we were able to improve a scene without affecting the shooting, but it improved the scene tenfold. And of course there were days he was worried that money was flying out of the proverbial window.

ET: Mirza, how were you able to get Renny Harlin involved in Georgia?

MIRZA DAIVIATA: I originally brought the project to George Lascu of Rex Media who, through his contacts in Hollywood, secured Renny for the movie. I knew of Renny from Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and was very excited and happy that he agreed to direct Georgia. We were able to finish the funding and work fast because he has the experience of doing a ‘big movie’ and also because he is flexible and can make decisions fast. As he mentioned, there was a very short window for preparation and people in Georgia wondered whether it could get done. Thanks to Renny’s energy and the people he gathered around him, we were able to accomplish it. An important segment of completing the finance was that Renny and Val Kilmer and Andy Garcia were involved.

ET: Was making Georgia more important to you as a producer or a citizen of the country?

MD: All my life I have tried to promote Georgia in my work, to make it a place that would be familiar to other people in the rest of the world. I used to live in Europe and depicted Georgia in some way as an artist through my paintings. The film gives me and my investors and financiers the opportunity to further promote Georgia on a much bigger canvas through the feature film. The country’s rich culture is very interesting yet unknown, and my idea was that Georgia, the movie, would be a great way for people to discover this beautiful country.

ET: Is it a political film?

RH: It’s an anti-war film and a human story that could take place in Rwanda or Bosnia or a South American country. It’s very much about the journalists who go into these situations and risk their lives to let the world know what is going on.

ET: How involved are you with the Editing?

RH: I am very much involved. All the Post Production and CGI are being done in the States. We recently showed the film to the cast and crew, and the President of Georgia who was in LA for another occasion. After the screening he called it a ‘masterpiece’ and the cast and crew, always your toughest critics, were in tears. For me it was one of the highlights and best nights of my career. We are showing a rough cut to distributors in Cannes. I fully expect they will offer feedback, and based on those comments we might make a tweak here and there. By the middle of summer we hope to have it complete to get traction for the autumn Festival season. I had a film in Toronto before and I would love it if Georgia could be there. On the music, we haven’t closed a deal yet but I am hoping my close friend Trevor Rabin who is finishing the Sorcerers Apprentice will do the score. We just found out by coincidence that his wife’s grandfather is Georgian, so it could be quite serendipitous.

ET: Finally, Renny, are you open to people contacting you regarding projects? The hardest obstacle for any producer or director is to reach talent who want to work but their agents and managers are often in the way. However, if it’s a project they like, they will work with someone determined enough to seek them out.

RH: Absolutely! They can contact me! (laughter) I totally understand how trying to reach talent can be intimidating. The Hollywood system is designed in one way to protect, but it is also a way to isolate you from real people, and real life, and that is not a good thing at all. I broke into Hollywood almost out of ignorance, I just knocked on doors and turned up. On one occasion someone asked me, “Who is your lawyer?” I said, “Am I in trouble?” Had I known how the system worked I would never have made it. The Hollywood structure is like a dinasour, but I believe that anybody creative enough can break through, and I think with the Internet and youtube it is a little easier today. You asked me earlier about how I am on set, and that there seems to be another side to me. The biggest burden of the last 15 years is that people and even studio executives think I am this big Viking, who makes big action movies, and is loud, scary and brutal. But that is not me. I am the opposite!!! I am determined, and the films I want to make are in the realm of Rambling Rose and Georgia. We talked about the look and sensibility of Vincere, which I will apply to my next movie, Mannerheim. That is me. Sometimes I feel like a poet trapped in the body of a warrior.
Featured Companies
Product Highlight 2010

Eleven Arts
Lost Paradise In Tokyo

Contact Us | | Unsubscribe

Copyright 2008 The Business of Film™ and Elspeth Tavares™ No portion of this online publication, or its printed matter, may be reproduced without
the exclusive permission or granting of reprinted rights from the publisher.  For licensing queries, please view the "Contact Us" page for the publisher's contact information.