Mychal: Hello Michel, I hope you are well! I appreciate you coming aboard. Wow, so you Executive Produced both I,Robot and Catch Me If You Can. Can you please give us a little background about yourself?
Michel: Hello Mychal! Yes, I am originally from Montreal, Quebec with dual Canadian/U.S. citizenship. In the early 1980’s, I was faced with some career path decisions that included my looking at both the computer and video industries. Being intrigued by films and not technologically savvy, I chose the video industry. I attended a trade show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to learn more about the video business. Randomly, a female reporter interviewed me about the video market which was later featured in Variety. And, then I ended up on television as some type of video expert! So, then I started selling video cassettes out the back of my car.
Mychal: Pre Tyler Perry style? (LOL)
Michel: (LOL) Yes! I started selling video cassettes with “How to” titles such as How to Play Tennis like Bjorn Borg, How to Play Golf like Arnold Palmer, How to Train Your Dog, How to Cook like a Top Chef, and of course How to Make Love. Well, no one could play tennis, or golf in their living room, but they sure could make love! So, that became our best seller!
Mychal: And, how did you break into the business?
Michel: Well, on the momentum of the success of How to Make Love I was a founder of MKS video. Then, I created one of the largest independent distribution and supply company called the “Prolusion Group.” During the mid-80s I went out on my own and learned about the whole business. Then, Anthony Romano and I acquired Catch Me If You Can and later a project titled Hard Wired. In fact, Hard Wired was slated to be directed by a relatively unknown sophomore director named Bryan Singer who had just directed The Usual Suspects. But, the project went into turn around and it would end up becoming the big budgeted hit I,Robot!
Mychal: Cool. And, how were you able to team up with your producing partner Anthony Romano?
Michel: Ironically, and only in Hollywood, we met after a writer sold us both the rights to his book. First, he sold Anthony the rights and then two years later the writer sold me the rights. During a phone conversation to sort out the dispute, the writer said that we should both meet. So, we did and that led us to join forces. We have a great working relationship and here we are today.
Mychal: Too funny, and only in Hollywood sounds about right! Now, on the other end of the Hollywood spectrum, you have worked with A-Listers such as Steven Spielberg, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Scott Rudin, etc. How has that experience been?
Michel: It has been a great experience. Look, I love what I do. And, having grown into an 800 lb. gorilla has its advantages. But, I will say that we never forget where we came from. We stay very grounded.
Mychal: Great answer. What films do you currently have slated for production that you are really excited about?
Michel: Well, I will name three (3) great ones. First, we have Ashes to Ashes which is a fantastic romantic comedy starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. In fact, Goldie Hawn is also the writer/director of the project. Second, we have a great cast in Vivaldi with Malcolm McDowell, Gerard Depardieu, Joseph Fiennes and Jacqueline Bisset. The picture gives a great slice of Vivaldi’s life with several story arcs. For example, there is a great story that zooms in on Vivaldi saving girls from an orphanage so that they would not be sold into prostitution. Last, we have a great “tween set” film titled Band on the Run that will revolutionize filmmaking.
Mychal: Wow, Band on the Run sounds like an innovative and exciting deal?
Michel: Yes, it is aimed at the tween set and comparable to a 21st Century Monkees. The project will revolutionize filmmaking where there is both equity financing and product integration. But, unlike Snakes on a Plane which did not perform well at the box office, the Band on the Run motion picture will be just one of the media vehicles. We are utilizing all forms of new media such as webisodes and mobisodes to create project awareness. And, bands songs will be written by top song writers of our day just as were The Monkees songs were written (Neil Diamond and Neil Sedaka).
Mychal: Sounds exciting! Now, what vehicle are you using to finance these projects?
Mychal: Do you have a production deal with one of the majors?
Michel: No, we do not but we do collaborate with the studios on the marketing and distribution of our films and on a gross player basis.
Mychal: What is your opinion about the globalization of the entertainment industry and the recent effect of world economies?
Michel: Yeah, the U.S. economy is weakening so it has been harder to structure debt. There are still a lot of funds and banks that will still finance films. Especially, those banks that stayed away from the sub-prime mortgage investments because they are the ones sitting on a lot of capital. The key is that funds need to be in the 18%-19% ROI (return on investment) to qualify and film funds can return that double digit number.
Mychal: Because there has been so much money (i.e.-private equity, hedge funds, etc.) out there to produce films, some industry insiders state that there is too much product supply in the market place. Do you agree?
Michel: Not necessarily, the business is transforming itself but there a new players that are rising such as Summit Entertainment and Overture Films. If the material is good then there will always be buyers both on the distributor and consumer ends.
Mychal: Are you predicting any acceleration for the transformation of a new studio model?
Michel: Well, the traditional studio system will stay the same in that the studios will always be there like the cinemas are here. But, I believe the VOD/Theatrical Day/Date release will work. It will collapse the windows from three (3) weeks down to ten (10) days. But, the DVD stores like the Blockbusters will have to change. Basically, their product has to meet the consumer demand and delivery systems for high definition product.
Mychal: Are you experimenting with content specifically designed for various forms of New Media Technologies?
Michel: Yes, again we are very excited about our Band on the Run project. In today’s society, we are dealing with a very young age demographic that is very tech savvy and comfortable online with social networking. So, we’ve gone out and hired great consultants to give us an edge in the New Media platforms. For example, you have to be informed on what type of band music will be hot eighteen (18) months from now. The success of the “Pussy Cat Dolls” and their numerous number #1 hits is a great example.
Mychal: Now, where do you find your best material and how would one approach you with projects?
Michel: I find our material everywhere from trainers at the gym to friends of friends. And, I do read everything myself. It may take a little longer but I enjoy it. I love what I do.
Mychal: How accessible are you? Do you have to be proven talent or will you consider newcomers?
Michel: We are very accessible! Of course, we recommend the standard submission policy of using an attorney, agent or manager and at the very least we require a signed release form for obvious legal reasons.
Mychal: Sounds good. What is your best advice to those in the business for both the new and established?
Michel: Funny, I teach a UCLA extension course and I begin the course by asking the students if they are ready to starve and work hard! In Hollywood, you waste a lot of time with the phony people and you get so involved with the fear of missing on a hit instead of walking away. But, this is the reason why most execs in the system will neither say yes or no. They do not want to be the person who dropped the ball, so they do not take the risks. That was me at one point. But, now I would say that you must fight for what you believe in. Look, Catch Me If You Can took twelve (12) years to make and I,Robot took nine (9) years. I firmly believe that you must fight for your success because this industry does not hand you anything on a silver platter unless you have earned it!
Mychal: Great advice! Can you tell us an anonymous production nightmare involving talent, writer, director or producer?
Michel: I have such great stories but anonymous ones do not exist because the players would figure it out. So, no, I don’t! (LOL)
Mychal: (LOL) Sounds great…too funny. OK….last question. What makes you a more successful film producer than others?
Michel: I would say it is because I love what I do! I get upset when it’s Friday night because it means the work week is over and I have to take a break. Producing films has become a part of who I am and it’s a passion. I find it exciting to structure new deals. Thankfully, I have never made a film that has lost money.