AICN Legends: Capone covers the Cannon Films canon with producer/director Menahem Golan!!!
Published at: Nov. 18, 2010, 11:33 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
In light of the recent passing of Dino De Laurentiis, I don't see how this edition of AICN Legends could be any more fitting or timely. As much as we live in a world of Jerry Bruckheimer and other producers of mega-wattage blockbusters, we don't really live in the world of the producer the way we used to. Men like Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus, the runners of the Cannon Group from 1979 to 1989, as well as De Laurentiis and others, made diverse types of films with an equally varied pool of directors and actors. Sure their bread and butter might have been in action and exploitation films, but they used the profits from those works to fund smaller, art-house fare.
Born in Palestine, Golan made a name for himself in Israel as a director, but only after attending film school in New York and working briefly for Roger Corman on 1963's THE YOUNG RACERS. He formed the production company Noah Films with Globus that same year, and the pair made EL DORADO, which Golan directed and co-wrote. A year later the company produced SALLAH, which got an Oscar nomination for best Foreign Language Film (the film won the Golden Globe in the same category). After 10 years producing Israeli films the cousins got the itch to move into the global market. While a couple of their productions had been picked up by U.S. and other worldwide distributors, including the Golan-directed MGM-distributed KAZABLAN and the great Peter Boyle vehicle JOE.
They made their stab at international recognition when Golan and Globus purchased the failing Cannon Group in 1979, and within a few years, the were producing dozens of movies annually, with Golan never straying far from the directors chair. Cannon releases under their regime included THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES HOLLYWOOD, LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER, ENTER THE NINJA (which Golan directed), NEW YEAR'S EVIL, SCHIZOID, all of the DEATH WISH sequels, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, 10 TO MIDNIGHT, the two BREAKIN' movies, BOLERO, LIFE FORCE, THUNDER ALLEY, RAPPIN', RUNAWAY TRAIN, KING SOLOMON'S MINES, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, John Frankenheimer's 52 PICK-UP, STREET SMART, THE HANOI HILTON, BARFLY, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, A CRY IN THE DARK, KINJITE, THE FORBIDDEN DANCE, POWAQQATSI, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and STREET HUNTER, just to name a few.
The company put out many of the Chuck Norris films of the 1980s, including the MISSING IN ACTION series, INVASION U.S.A., FIREWALKER, and THE DELTA FORCE, directed by Golan and featuring the final on-screen performance of Lee Marvin. The company also provided a home for most of Charles Bronson's later works. Golan also discovered Jean-Claude Van Damme (casting him in BLOOD SPORT and CYBORG), and propelled Sylvester Stallone's asking price per film well into the eight-figure realm with COBRA and the Golan-directed OVER THE TOP.
As I mentioned, Cannon also made a name for itself working with established directors on films geared toward the arthouse crowd, including Jean-Luc Godard's KING LEAR, Zeffirelli's OTELLO, Normal Mailer's TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE, and John Cassavetes LOVE STREAMS. Golan and Globus pretty much invented direct-to-video sequels, and introduced the multiplex to theaters across Europe.
With 44 directing credits to his name, Golan might have actually been one of the few producers at the time with an credentials to actually make decisions concerning a film's production. Perhaps his most notorious work (in a filmography that includes MACK THE KNIFE, THE VERSACE MURDER, an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, DEATH GAME, FINAL COMBAT) is the musical THE APPLE, which has seen something of a rebirth in recent years thanks to a few circulating prints and VHS tapes making their way into viewing parties and midnight shows across the country and around the world.
The reason I was fortunate enough to chat at length (we spoke for about an hour) is a very special event taking place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center from November 19-24, which is reuniting Golan and Globus for the first time in many years, after a falling out. For all the details on the various screenings (including THE APPLE, BARFLY, Nicolas Roeg's CASTAWAY, 52 PICK-UP, KING LEAR, LOVE STREAMS, OPERATION THUNDERBOLT, RUNAWAY TRAIN, STREET SMART, SHY PEOPLE, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, Raul Ruiz's TREASURE ISLAND, and TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE), guests, and events, go to the Film Society's website. I can't imagine a self-respecting New York film lover missing any part of this glorious retrospective. It's going to be a great week in the Big Apple.
To prime you for this week of bliss, please enjoy the man with a million stories to tell, both on screen and in his own words, Menahem Golan
Menahem Golan: Hello.
Capone: Hello, how are you?
MG: A bit of a cold, but feeling good.
Capone: Oh, you have a cold?
Capone: I’m sorry.
MG: It's okay, I will heal. By the time I have to come to America on the 18th I’ll be okay.
Capone: That’s good, and congratulations on the event at Lincoln Center. That’s got to be thrilling for you.
MG: For me, it’s thrilling, because one of the reasons is it puts me and Yoram together again. After a long time, we didn’t talk to each other, and this heals the relationship.
Capone: That’s good to hear. I take it you’ve talked to him since they announced that they wanted to do this event.
Capone: Okay, I’m going to resist, as much as I can, the temptation to just sit and name the titles of films you directed or produced that I greatly admire. I would like to get a little bit into your entire career and life story. Do you remember what it was that first made you want to get involved in the movie business to begin with?
MG: All of this is a result of childhood. I am from a town called Tiberius, which is on the lake of Galilee where Jesus walked on the water, you know. And in this town, there were two cinemas that played three films a week, and I tried to see them all. Most of the films were either Westerns or musicals from America, and I fell in love with that, but my father stopped giving me money. I was eight, nine, ten years old and I spoke to the man who screened the movies, the projectionist, and asked him whether he needed somebody to help him turn the translation. In those days, the subtitles were not in the body of the film; the subtitles were run on a separate reel. You had to have somebody to turn it according to the voices and the dialogue that came from the screen.
Capone: Manually turn it?
MG: Yeah, and you know I begged him. I said, “I will work for nothing,” and I came and started to go to projection room and roll the subtitles, according to the dialogue. I knew English a little bit, and I remember that I was so involved in the story of the movie, and sometimes I forget to turn the reel and I hear shouting from the theater “Hello, Menahem! Subtitles! Wake up.”
I fell in love with American films. At this time when it came to Tiberius, the film THE GREAT DICTATOR by Charlie Chaplin. We all waited for weeks and we had a teacher, a female teacher, who used to sit on the table and read the kids--the boys I think we were eight or nine--we had mirrors on a piece of wire to see her underwear and we were betting on what color this underwear was. Anyway, she caught us and she called the headmaster and he gave us a punishment, “This weekend is coming shortly, and it’s very important, everybody is waiting, you are not going to the cinema.” And this punishment, I couldn’t take, so I went to the cinema on the Saturday night, and the teacher was hiding in the gallery, and he saw me. Anyway, I saw this movie of Chaplin’s, and the next morning the teacher called me in front of the class and said, “Where were you last night?” and I said, “At home.” He said, “No, no don’t lie. Where were you last night?” I said, “Well I was reading books at home…” I told him a foolish story, and then he slapped me on the face, and they threw me out of school for lying. For two weeks, I was not in school. [laughs]
But all of this is for the love of movies, as a child it started. I don’t know how the bug came about. I studied movies at the New York City College. They had a film institute, and I studied filming, editing, etc. Then near the end of my training, I heard that Roger Corman was going to do a movie in Europe called THE YOUNG RACERS, and I always admired Roger Corman, because he discovered all of the great actors and he did films quite really cheap, most of them were exploitation films, but he was a very clever producer and still is. I wrote him a letter “I would like very much to join your crew. I’m not asking for money. I just finished at film school. Can I join?” And he said “Yes, if you will be on the 6th of June at this hotel in Monte Carlo, I’m doing a film called THE YOUNG RACERS about car racing.” And I said, “I will be there.”
I said later, “Listen, I must take my wife with me.” She was with me. “Can she do something in the film? Maybe earn some money?” He said, “Well we don’t have a make-up woman, does she know make up?” I said “Yes, of course” and I asked her, “Do you know make up?” She never did make up, and I asked her about it and I bought her a book. And on the airplane to France, she kind of learned it from a book. We went down to Monte Carlo, we came on the 6th of June, and there I found the students, among them Frances Ford Coppola--people that came from school before they became filmmakers. When I asked Francis “What are you doing here?” He says “I’m the sound man.” I said “Do you know sound?” He said “No, but I have a book.”
Anyway, we started to work. It was a Sunday, and Roger asked the people, “Tomorrow we are shooting the race when the driver gets the wreath.” It’s the flowers on his neck, and they throw champagne on his head, etc. So, “Do we have a wreath?” It was Sunday, and nobody dared to say that we didn’t have a wreath when he have to shoot it at seven in the morning. “Who can get me a wreath?” Now, it’s night already. I put my hand up and I said, “Give me a hundred bucks, and I’ll go out and get a wreath.” He gave me the hundred bucks, and I went to the streets and was looking for flower shops. All of them were closed you know, and then I found the shop, and it was closed. I looked for some kind of an address of the owner, couldn’t find it, and suddenly a police car stopped by me.--they thought I was breaking into the shop. So they arrested me and they took me. I told them in broken French, “I’m looking to get a wreath for a film.” They took me to the owner's home in the mountains, and he came, and I was working with him the whole night to build the wreath, and at seven in the morning, I came with the wreath to the set, to the location, and Roger Corman called all of the crew and said, “Gentlemen, here’s another Roger Corman.”
Capone: I’ve actually talked to quite a few people who got their start with Roger Corman--Peter Fonda and Ron Howard. Do you remember specific lessons about being a producer that you learned from him?
MG: Well, to understand what the budget is and to fight for every dollar. To do a low budget movie, it’s more than a profession. Really, you have to learn how to do it, and when I started to do movies with Yoram [Globus], my cousin, we worked all the time at doing them at the lowest cost. We said, “You make money when you bring the costs low. Then you can make money.” You don’t think what you are going to earn; think what you are going to spend, and that was the school of Roger Corman.
Now, let me tell you a story about what happened with Francis Ford Coppola. We were sitting in the weekend all of us around the table for dinner in the hotel, and I told Roger… He asked me “What are you going to do after the movie, Menahem?” I said, “I’m going back to Israel and I’m going to make my first movie.” He says, “What is your first movie about?” So I told him, “Do you know Theodor Herzl?” He said “No.” I told him, “He is the father of Zionism. He wrote the book called "Old New Land," and in the book he wrote, ‘We shall have a Jewish country when where there will be a Jewish Policeman, a Jewish thief, and a Jewish home.’ So I am doing my first film about a Jewish policemen, a Jewish thief, and a Jewish home.”
He liked it and he says, “How much money do you need to do this film?” I didn’t know much about the costs, but I said “About $30,000. I’ll give you the film for the world. I’ll take only Israel.” And he agreed; he actually agreed and he was about to in the next few days to write a contract, but Francis Ford Coppola told him “Roger, are you fucking crazy? This guy is going to make a Hebrew-speaking picture in black and white. I’ll make for you an American film. Give me the $30,000.” He gave the $30,000 to him. He never gave it to me. We were in Liverpool at that time shooting the race, and Francis on the weekend crossed the channel to Ireland, and he went to the studio and said, “I have $30,000 dollars and I have a script.” By the way, Roger said [to Coppola], “Menahem has a script, this story, what can you offer?" Coppola said, "Not now, but tomorrow morning.” He was living in a room nearby me, and I heard him all night typing on the machine, and he wrote the script that night, this was Francis Ford Coppola’s first film. I can’t remember the name, but you can find it.
Capone: Is that DIMENTIA 13?
MG: Right, this was his first film, which he made with the money that was supposed to come to me. [laughs] Anyway, I learned a lot from Corman, and we are friends still today. Then, I went to Israel and I did my first movie with financing in Israel with a guy who was a tailor who came from Australia and was quite rich. He financed most of it, and I worked without money on percentage, and the film was such a hit that I made good money. From then on we started the company Noah Films, the name of my father and we did some really big hits in Israel, like the Lemon Popsicle series, I don’t know if you know of them. Lemon Popsicle did $10 million in Japan and $10 million in Germany. It was an amazing international hit, and then we took the story of the first Lemon Popsicle film, and we made in America, we did Cannon in America, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. It’s basically Lemon Popsicle.
Capone: Aside from keeping an eye on the budget, what is your philosophy about the job of a producer?
MG: The first thing with my philosophy is: If you don’t love movies, you can’t make them. You must be in love with movies. Spielberg said, and I admire Spielberg as the best filmmaker in the world, he once said, “Film is to live twice. It gives you a second life.” When you sit in a cinema and you absorb the story and you forget your life outside, your dreary life, your miserable problems, all of a sudden new life comes to your brain while you are captivated with the movie. It means you have “two lives.” For me, filmmaking is like a second life. Do you understand?
Capone: Of course.
MG: And I was very influenced by the Italian Neorealistic period with [Vittorio] De Sica and [Federico] Fellini and the Italian cinema, and I tried to do it in Israel Neorealism, in other words taking story from the life of the people in the little towns of Israel. I never shot any movie about the wars or the political side. I would try to find love stories, which are connected to the dreary life outside of the main city. And some of them became big hits, and that’s how I did KAZABLAN, a musical. And the head of MGM was visiting Israel, and we invited him to the opening of KAZABLAN, and on the spot in the middle of the screening, he said, “Did you sell it anywhere else?” I said “Not yet.” And he offered me half a million dollars to buy the film for the world. It was a big thing for the Israel film industry.
Capone: Since you were a trained filmmaker and made several dozen films over your career, do you think that influenced your nature as a producer, and you felt a little bit more at ease advising directors on their works?
MG: Yes. The producer must have almost a similar love to making movies. He’s not just a moneyman; he has to be an artist. He has to have this sense of art, and some of the great producers became also some great directors, and I admire the great directors, and that’s why when we had Cannon, I said to Yohan “We need to do some high-class art movies in order to not be named as exploitation company and that we are only doing action movies, etc…”
Although action movies conquered the world, like with Chuck Norris, who I had a contract with him for seven years. I did what the majors used to do before. I signed with Chuck this contract. And I had [Charles] Bronson. I did with him 12 movies, the DEATH WISH series. But beside all of that, I always said to Yoram “Yoram, we should keep our house open for directors who have artistic projects and are looking for house.” So, when this news came out in Hollywood, many directors came to us like Barbet Schroeder, like Robert Altman. The main one that came to me was [John] Cassavetes. We did the film with Cassavetes, LOVE STEAMS, and we won the prize in Berlin. So the art movies gave us prestige, gave us opening to all of the festivals, to Cannes, to the Oscars, etc… While the money came from the action movies, from the ninjas, you know? [laughs]
Capone: [Laughs] Yes. I love those ninja movies of course.
MG: You know, I directed the first one, ENTER THE NINJA. I don’t know if you saw it.
Capone: Of course. I’m very familiar with it.
MG: That was the first [ninja] movie [for Cannon].
Capone: And that movie in particular was interesting because you took the focus of martial arts movies off of China and moved it over to Japan, which hadn’t been done.
MG: That was the reason behind it, and then we did AMERICAN NINJA. We did many NINJAs. We discovered Michael Dudikoff and we did many of these films, and they really sold like hot cakes.
Capone: And a lot of those sequels came out straight to video, correct? That was kind of unusual at the time.
MG: Yes, the video was good for us. It’s a very good supplier for money, you know? The video really financed the big movies by doing it, because the majors were a very difficult competitor. Do you understand?
MG: But they didn’t do such movies. In every country in the world there are a number of distributors who can’t get a major film for distribution, so we were the suppliers.
Capone: One film that you did as a director that I particularly liked was LEPKE with Tony Curtis, which was a really unusual film, because it was a Jewish mafia story.
MG: When we sold KAZABLAN to MGM, I was brought in by MGM to edit the English version. I shot KAZBLAN two times--once in English, once in Hebrew. And I was brought into MGM Studios to edit the English version, and all of a sudden one day I’m getting a call from a man called Hank [Henry] Plitt. I don’t know if you heard of him. He was the owner of the ABC Theatre chain of cinemas in California. He invites me to lunch. I didn’t know why, but I came and it was in Century City. He had the cinemas there. We were having lunch and he said, “Listen, I love Israel. I love Israeli films. I saw KAZABLAN and I would like to have it in my cinemas, but MGM wouldn’t give it to me. They give it to my competitor. Can you talk to them?” I said, “How can I? I don’t own the movie anymore; I sold it to MGM. I don’t think they will listen to me. It’s up to them and you.”
But then I had an idea and I said, “Mr. Plitt, you like KAZABLAN?” He says “Very much.” I said, “Why don’t you do another movie with me?” And on the spot he said “Can you do a movie for $300,000?” I said, “I bet I can.” He committed $300,000, and that’s how we started LEPKE. He said,“Do you have a script or an idea?” I said, “Give me one day,” and I didn’t but I did what Coppola did! I went to a library and I picked up "The Encyclopedia of Crime in America," and I looked for a Jewish gangster and that’s how I found Lepke, but then I didn’t have enough money. We went to Well’s Fargo Bank, and they gave us a loan and we actually did the movie for $1 milion. It was a great movie for Tony Curtis, and I think it was one of his last movies, but finally Warner Brothers bought it for distribution.
Capone: Yeah and you beat Sergio Leone’s movie about Jewish mafia [ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA] by about 10 years.
MG: Yes, that's right.
Capone: You mentioned before your contract with Chuck Norris. How did the fact that you reintroduced the contract player idea into Hollywood again happen?
MG: We were both in New York promoting on Wall Street the first movie that Chuck was going to do with us, and the idea came to me… of course, I know the history of MGM, of all of the majors like Warner, etc… And to me it was kind of an amazing way that they ensured… They were fighting to have this stars you know and by doing a long-term contract, they supplied a lot of money to the stars. Chuck Norris made with us, he started very low, but then he reached $1 million dollars a movie, and we did actually 17 movies with him.
Capone: I didn’t realize it was that many.
MG: Yeah and we did a lot of war movies on Vietnam, you know, the MISSING IN ACTION films.
Capone: DELTA FORCE is a great movie, if only because it’s Lee Marvin’s last performance, too.
MG: Yeah. Lee Marvin was an amazing man. He used to sit by the camera with me. He never left the camera. He didn’t go to his cabin, to his room. He was such a wonderful man, you can’t imagine.
Capone: You mentioned Barbet Schroeder before, and I recently saw BARFLY on the big screen again just a few months ago, because Roger Ebert here in Chicago, played it at his annual film festival and brought Barbet in to talk about after.
MG: Do you know the story about how it was born, this project?
Capone: Schroeder told the story after the screening, but I'd like to hear it from your point of view.
MG: Well, one day he came to me with a [Charles] Bukowski book and I read it over night. The next morning he came to see me, and he said, “I have a script based on this book. You like it?” I said, “I like it very much.” “So can we start the movie?” I said, “Give me time, maybe in the summer. Give me six months.” He said “No, no I’m not waiting. I must do a movie soon and I want to shoot in two or three weeks.” And I said to him “Well, we need to cast this, we need stars, etc…,” and all of a sudden the man took out an Italian knife, a jumping knife, and he put it on his finger. He said, “If you don’t tell me we shoot this month, I’ll cut off my finger.” I swear to you that’s what he said.
Capone: That’s what he told us.
MG: I said, “Barbet, don’t be silly. Give me time.” That night, listen to this, I was leaving for London and I said to him, “Come again next week, and I’ll talk with you; I’m going to London tonight.” That night I was at the hotel in London, and there was a phone call from the guard of the building. He said to me “Mr. Golan, there is a man here, a crazy guy, holding a knife on his finger, and he says that if you don’t come back and start the movie, he’s cutting his finger.” I said “Give it to me.” and it was Babet and I said “Babet, don’t be meshuga, come on! Come on, give me a chance. I like this script. I like the book. I like the story. You are a first-time director, after all.” He just did GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA, you know the documentary? The famous documentary. I said to him “Please give me a chance,” and he said “No.” I had no alternative; I was afraid for his finger and I no alternative but to tell him, “Okay, we shoot next month.” And we did shoot next month. I got him Faye Dunaway and I got Mickey Rourke, the brother of Stallone [Frank], who were my friends, and we started production.
Capone: Sure. I noticed in the program for the Lincoln Center events that the centerpiece event seems to be the screening of THE APPLE, which has become a cult hit, and people are still playing it in theaters. Tell me what you remember about making that movie.
MG: I will tell you, first of all, the film was invited to a festival in Canada in Montreal, The Montreal Festival. I was sitting in the screening, it was the premiere with Yoram and others. And all of a sudden, the crowd started to boo the film. “Boo! Boo!” And every number, “Boo.” I was so insulted, I went up to the hotel which was near the cinema and I was living on the eighth floor, I went to the balcony and I was honestly going to jump.
Capone: Oh, no.
MG: I wanted to commit suicide, because you work on a movie so hard. It’s a big movie, you see with a huge production, and I wanted to kill myself, and then we hardly played it. The film didn’t play anywhere, and for 20 years it disappeared, the movie disappeared, and suddenly I heard that in New York they were playing it at midnight, and then it went on and on and on. It became a cult movie. That means that we were too… basically the music was before its time. Do you understand? I’m very proud that they are playing it. Myself, I did not see it for 20 years. You know, I shot it in Berlin. It was a tax shelter when we did it; we did tax-shelter financing, and Coby Recht wrote the music and gave me the idea. Basically, it’s a biblical idea.
Capone: Have you ever really tried to figure out what it is about that film that has helped it get this revival in recent years?
MG: I have tried to understand it myself; I cannot. I don’t know how it all of a sudden became a cult movie. It’s very strange. I think it turns on the young people. They like now the music, I think.
Capone: You'd done a musicals before that, correct?
MG: Yes, I did THE SOUND OF MUSIC in Israel on the stage.
Capone: Oh, on the stage, okay.
MG: And about two years ago, I did DAYS OF LOVE. In Israel, I did a musical based on a story of two singers, one is a rock singer and successful, and one is a girl in this suburban town. And I also did DANGEROUS DANCE, and I produced the first… What do you call this dancing…?
Capone: Oh, break dancing? I was going to get into that next.
MG: Break dance, yes! It’s called BREAKIN', and we were competing with Orion Films. They did BEAT STREET, and I was competing with them. My daughter told me that on the beach in Los Angeles, she said that you must go to the beach, because you see something amazing. I went there with her on a Sunday morning, and there were gobs of black kids dancing the break dance, and people surrounded them and I said, “There is a place to do a movie.” And I started the first one immediately. We wrote the script, and then we brought a young director of musicals from Israel, Joel Silberg, and we did this movie. It was a huge success. I brought it first to MGM to distribute, so all of the management of MGM was sitting in the big screening room, and when they got up, I said “Will you distribute it yourselves?” “No, it’s a schwartze movie.” You know what schwartze is?
Capone: [Laughs] I'm familiar with the term, yes.
MG: “It’s a schwartze movie,” and they didn’t want to put it out. I said to them, “Can I have another screening for you?” And I recruited kids from the street to the screening, and when the movie began with the dancing and all of that, all of the kids jumped on the chairs and started to dance. I said, “What do you think, it will not go?” Finally, I convinced them, and he started, he said “Okay, we shall play at 10 locations where they have schwartze children.” Finally, the theater ordered the prints, and it was at 1,200 cinemas. It opened big for us and it made a lot of money.
Capone: I remember seeing it. You mentioned before about how you talked to your cousin about doing both the B-films--the action films, the dance films…
Capone: But they weren’t all exploitation, many of them were tapping into things that were going on in pop culture at the time. And then you wanted to balance that with more artistic things.
MG: High-class artistic, yes.
Capone: I assume that one was paying for the other in a lot of ways.
Capone: A lot of the films that Cannon put out, including things like BREAKIN’ or even with the MISSING IN ACTION films, tapping into the re-surging interest in the Vietnam experience, those films very much had their finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist in America. That was actually something I don’t think people give the production company a lot of credit for, picking up on these emerging trends.
MG: You know, we were strangers to Hollywood. I tell you, we did two things that were revolutionary in Hollywood, let me tell you them. One, I was directing in New York a film OVER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE with Elliot Gould and Margo Hemingway. And it was non-union, and finally the union decides to strike on me, and they came and a lot of people were union. They closed my set. They stood around my set and wouldn’t let me shoot, but I went, and we hid in other locations and really we shot it under threat and under strike. But I implored the union to sit with us and come to some solution, but it can’t be.
I claimed, “Look, you can’t demand a film with the budget of one or two or three million dollars to pay every electrician a seat in first class.” You can’t demand all of those elements that are impossible for a low budget. At the same time, the majors are doing $50 million movies, and it is the same rule. So, I fought and I made the revolution, and still today if you ask the union, there is this law of Cannon that we introduced, me and Yoram, we produced, and we changed the rules of the union. Up to $3 million is one thing, but $10 million or more is another thing. So this is one revolution.
Another one, everybody said, “Those two Israelis are eating sandwiches in their offices.” We didn’t go to Beverly Hills pow-wows to meet other production companies that produced. We didn’t leave the society of Hollywood; we kept on Israeli life in Hollywood.
You should know, I’m working now on a very big important film, which is called LAST SUMMER IN BADENHEIM, which is based on a prize winning novel by Aharon Appelfed, and I’m shooting it by the end of this year. I begin shooting in Prague and and Czech Republic, with big stars. It’s going to be one of my best, I hope. The script, I worked on for four years, so I think it’s going to be great. It’s about the Holocaust, but it’s a comedy. It’s a black comedy about the Jews who were reluctant to believe that something bad is going to happen, and I say that if the Jews were revolting, running away from the trains, maybe one million were killed, not six million. This is a wonderful script by Aharon Appelfed, and when I’m in New York, I'll be doing some casting.
Capone: Okay, so you’re going to be doing that when you are there in New York?
Capone: Tell me about the relationship you had with Sylvester Stallone.
MG: Well I’ll tell you something funny. Somebody brought me this script, it was a television script for hand wrestling, you know, pulling hands down…
Capone: Arm wrestling, yes. [Laughs]
MG: Right. And I thought Stallone could do fantastic in it, so I called his lawyer and I said, “Tell me, I would like Stallone. I’m going to send you a script.” So he said to me, “Mr. Golan, don’t be silly. Do you know how much he gets? He gets $6 million.” This was the time when Stallone was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, and he got $6 million per film. I said, “I don’t want to pay him $6 million dollars.” “No? So why are you calling me?” “I want to pay him $10 million.” The next week I had a call from him.
Capone: You got his attention then.
MG: Yes, you understand. After all, Hollywood was and remains a money machine, and all of the stars, even if they are artists, what they want is the highest salary. I remember when we shot with Stallone, he used to converse on the telephone with Schwarzenegger “How did they offer you?” "How much did they offer you?" They were kind of joking, which means, “Who gets more money?”
Capone: Stallone’s latest film, THE EXPENDABLES, seems like it's a tribute to a lot of the action films that Cannon used to specialize in.
MG: Well remember Nu Image is headed and owned by two of my students . They were working for Cannon for 30 years, Danny Dimbort and Avi Lerner. What they are trying to do is do what Cannon did, but they are doing it now bigger. Did you see that movie?
Capone: Oh, of course.
MG: What do you think? I hated it.
Capone: Really? At Comic-Con, Stallone said he tried to get two of your old friends, Chuck Norris and Van Damme, to be in it too, and they for whatever reason didn’t. But THE EXPENDABLES did make me feel young again. It did seem like a throwback to a lot of the things that I grew up watching, which were a lot of the films that you produced.
MG: But the story was so corny.
Capone: Maybe. I have to admit, I wasn’t really paying attention to the story.
MG: And the fact that they brought in Schwarzenegger for three seconds…
Capone: The scene with Willis and Schwarzenegger was not necessary. Speaking of Van Damme, you literally discovered Jean-Claude Van Damme, right?
MG: You know the story?
Capone: Tell it to me. I know he was a waiter.
MG: He was a waiter in a French restaurant in Los Angeles. I was with my wife for dinner in this restaurant. I came, and the waiter came to me to see us to the table, and he recognized me and he said “Mr. Golan?” I said “Oui?” He said “I am Jean-Claude Van Damme,” and he was holding two plates of food above his head--turtle soup--and rapidly he picked up his leg above my head touching my hair, but the soup did not move. Do you understand? It’s a very, very difficult thing to do.
And I said to him, “How do you do that?” He said “I am Jean-Claude Van Damme.” I gave him my card and said, “Come to my office the next morning,” and the same month, I had the script for BLOODSPORT, and we did it and then I did with him another two movies, and he grew to become a star, and Universal took him and paid him a million dollars. Solid gold.
Capone: Do you think at that point, in the mid-80s, do you think the company was maybe stretching itself too thin? You had sometimes almost 50 films going in a single year.
MG: Yes, if you ask me now, of course you are right. But it was not our fault, it was the demand of the independent distributors around the world. They needed product, and we were the suppliers and we grew to become the biggest supplier. They used to call Cannes “The Cannon Festival.” The thing is that, it was needed, and we over-produced, no question about it. But this was not the main reason that we collapsed. We acquired cinemas in Europe, and we had the EMI cinemas in London. We had Holland cinemas. We had Paris cinemas. We had a chain of cinemas in Italy. And the control of those cinemas, which were not in a good shape then, really almost killed us. We needed a lot of money, cash flow, and the bank kind of started to give of bad times. The banks that financed us. I would say that you are right in what you said.
Capone: As just a fan of film since you were a child, of all the directors that you got to distribute and work with, are there any in particular that you were particularly proud of having produced their films?
MG: Yes. I'll tell you, although we lost money on the film; OTELLO by Franco Zeffirelli, who, for me, was great master. And Andrey Konchalovskiy, he did for us four movies, and I remember someone saying that RUNAWAY TRAIN is one of the best movies of the century.
Capone: I love that movie. Just last week, I just saw his new film, the Nutcracker movie he made .
MG: Yeah? How is it?
Capone: It’s very dark and it’s a musical.
MG: I didn’t see it yet.
Capone: I have a very vivid memory of seeing that RUNAWAY TRAIN when I was younger and just how visually staggering it was. People might not realize it, but for a time you owned the rights to SPIDER-MAN.
MG: For seven years!
Capone: Why did that not ever get made?
MG: Seven years! We couldn’t make it because we couldn’t raise the budget that we needed and we had about 20 drafts of the script. We couldn’t afford it, so finally we sold it and got $1 million. I bought it for $400,000 thousand from Marvel when Marvel was down, and nobody wanted to do these kinds of pictures anymore. I think one of the BATMANs flopped or something, and the idea of doing a SPIDER-MAN didn’t attract anybody. Finally you know it succeeded in attracting Columbia pictures, and they bought it from us and they did the movie. It’s very big and quite a good movie.
Capone: But you did end up making a version of CAPTAIN AMERICA, though which they are also making again.
MG: It was not so good, but I tell you, if we had produced SPIDER-MAN, Cannon would exist today.
Capone: You had a very long relationship with MGM. What do you think about what they are going through right now? I guess they are done now…
MG: Look, MGM unfortunately they didn’t produce movies enough. They didn’t produce good movies in the last, what should I tell you, 20 years. They were just living on their library, you know. They were just living on the library and on television, etc. It finally hit them, and I know they are in Chapter 11 now, but I think they will come out of it. I think somebody will come with money.
Capone: In doing research for this interview, I came upon an interview with one of the dancers in BREAKIN', and he said a third BREAKIN’ movie was planned. Is that true?
MG: Yes, yes, but it never worked out.
Capone: But still the term “Electric Boogaloo” is still used quite often as being synonymous with certain unwanted sequels.
MG: Yeah, but you know dance movies are doing well now.
Capone: I know. The STEP UP movies definitely owe a debt of gratitude to some of the things that you did. So in the last few years, you have been working primarily in Israel as a director, correct?
MG: Yes, and I’m directing this movie I’m doing in Prague and Europe.
Capone: And you still have your hands in certain projects as a producer as well?
MG: Yes, I bought a script from two Hollywood writers, which is called THE SNIPER, which is a very good action movie. It’s about a group of snipers in the Afghanistan war, which I hope to do after this one.
Capone: Right. When do you think you’ll start shooting your new film?
MG: I hope before the end of the year. I’ve been on it the last two months. We have done all of the preproduction and most of the casting. If you meet me in New York at the tribute, I’ll be able to tell you who is the star. It’s a very big star who’s going to sign with me.
Capone: Well I’m actually in Chicago, so I won't be in New York, so this might be your last chance to tell me.
MG: [laughs] Ah, well. Give my regards to the head of your festival.
Capone: Michael Kutza.
MG: He knows me. I was there with a film, and we are quite friendly.
Capone: Mr. Golan, you have been more than generous with your time. I appreciate you talking to us, and enjoy your reunion in New York, and best of luck with your new film.
MG: Thank you. Write good things.
Capone: Oh, I will. Thank you very much.
MG: Thank you.
Capone: Alright, take care.
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