Chuck Roven Spills Secrets of 'Batman v. Superman,' Heath Ledger Death (Exclusive Video)

Austin Hargrave
Charles Roven

The producer of the comic book tentpole film tells all in THR's Hollywood Masters series

In a revealing interview about the hotly awaited Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, megaproducer Chuck Roven told The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Galloway that the big difference between the old Batman and Ben Affleck's version is that Affleck — cast partly by Christopher Nolan — plays Batman as an "extremely rough guy. … Very, very, very, very rough," who "tower[s] over Superman [Henry Cavill]." Affleck's Batman is part of a new superpower posse that includes Wonder Woman, for whom Roven is developing a spinoff movie.
 
Roven spoke candidly about his whole career to students at Loyola Marymount University's School of Film and Television on Oct. 8, as part of LMU and THR's Hollywood Masters series, which has included interviews James L. Brooks, Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell, Judd Apatow, John Singleton, Alan Horn, William Friedkin and Sherry Lansing.

"[Affleck] was the first guy we went to," said Roven. "We knew that we wanted a very mature Batman, because we wanted to juxtapose him with this very young Superman. So we wanted a guy who was tougher, rugged, who had signs of life, who had lived a hard life, and we wanted the guy to have chops, for sure. So when we went down that list, there just weren't a tremendous number of guys who could carry that.

"We also wanted a guy with big stature. Ben is 6'4". Henry [Cavill] is 6'1". We wanted Batman to tower over Superman. Not hugely, not like a basketball player. Superman needed to 'look up' to Batman. We wanted that dynamic, and Ben could do that, easily," he said. Affleck "wanted to know exactly how [director] Zack [Snyder] planned on treating this Bruce Wayne that was going to make him be completely different," said Roven. "He’s a much more social animal in the Bruce Wayne incarnation, but he’s also an extremely rough guy in the Batman incarnation. Very, very, very, very rough."

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He added: "Warner Bros. has announced a number of DC properties that are going to be made over the next five years, including Justice League. And the biggest difference between what Chris did in the Dark Knight trilogy and what we’re doing now is that Bruce Wayne, Batman, lived in what I call a closed universe in that there were no superheroes in it. There’s Batman and he is a human being, and [even] though he’s definitely got some dysfunction to him, he’s made himself, in many ways, into the best a human being can be, intellectually, in terms of his ability to be a detective, physically, etc. But he’s real ... he’s a human being. He has no superpowers. As Chris is fond of saying, his biggest superpower is the fact that he’s one of the wealthiest guys in the world."

"When we embarked on Man of Steel, and Chris Nolan produced that with me, one of the things that we were doing was we were creating a universe that had a superhero in it, because Superman is clearly a superhero," Roven continued. "He has superpowers, he comes from another planet. So once we did that it was with the knowledge that if the movie was successful and we expanded the universe we were going to expand it and populate it with other like characters. Wonder Woman [has] powers. She’s a goddess, right? She’s a demigod. Her father was Zeus."

When Galloway asked, "Are you actually developing scripts for follow-up to that?" Roven replied, "Yes, we are."

Roven also revealed how he dealt with the death of Heath Ledger, whom he helped cast in The Dark Knight despite the studio's preference for another actor"It was definitely a big blow," said Roven. "We had worked together before on another Terry Gilliam movie that I did called Brothers Grimm. ... We became a little bit closer on The Dark Knight. And, in fact, he was just a fabulous guy, very warm, and was in the process — he had been directing music videos, he was looking for a movie for himself to direct. And he was an avid skateboarder, and even when he wasn’t working he would skateboard down to wherever we were shooting and he would hang by Chris because, you know, Chris is just a master. And one of the things that we did on The Dark Knight to try to eventize the film was we shot in Imax — Imax film, 65, 70 millimeter film — and where the studios would normally come out with their big holiday trailer, our movie came out in the summer, so we had a big holiday trailer, we did that as well in the 35 millimeter houses, but we also did what we called a prologue in the Imax houses. And, in fact, this was a Chris Nolan marketing tool and it’s one of the things that turned Imax into Imax in terms of its acceptance by the public."

Ledger never saw the finished film, but he asked to see the prologue twice. When he died, said Roven, "the first thing that we did was we contacted his family. And then we had a whole big conversation about what are we going to do, how are we going to market the movie, all of that stuff. And we quickly made the decision that we wanted to do whatever Heath would have wanted us to do, and the best way for us to find that out was again going to his family, in particular his sister. He had a very, very close relationship with his sister. And we showed her the prologue and told her that story that I just told all of you. And she talked with her parents and they came back and they said, you know, 'We want you to do exactly what you would have done if he would have been around. Don’t change anything, because that’s what he would have wanted you to do.' So that’s what we did."

Roven also shed light on the little-known attempt by certain Muslim organizations to stop the filming of Three Kings. "They felt when they read the script that it wasn’t an appropriate depiction and was a caricature of Arabs, particularly Muslim Arabs," said Roven. "We hired a consultant, and we talked through that with the consultant. They picked the consultant; we interviewed the consultant and we liked him. He was a good man. And we ended up talking him through the reasoning behind the words that we used in the script, the reasons that certain characters spoke the way they did, and the consultant pretty much went along with us on most of the things. There was a couple of things that he asked us to really think long and hard about. ... That same organization honored us and gave us their greatest honor that they give every year for somebody who’s made a difference for that community and the perception of Arabs and Muslims in that community."

The studio also feared a Muslim protest. "Before we had come to terms with the Urban Muslim lobby in Washington, Warners was also visited and really threatened that if this movie was made there might be some dire consequences. And Jim Miller, [then] president of worldwide business, called [GeorgeClooney into his office and basically said to him, 'Look, you know, Warners is a monolith; there’s not one particular individual that symbolizes the studio, but you’re an international movie star' — ER was a worldwide phenomenon — 'and if you make this movie you may very well have to walk around for the rest of your life looking over your shoulder.' And his response was, 'I love this script, I want to make this movie and now that I’ve heard what you’ve told me I want to make it even more.' ”

"Which I think is pretty damn brave," said Galloway.

"Yeah, it was awesome," concurred Roven. "It was great. He’s an awesome guy.”

The full transcript of the interview follows:

THR: I'm Stephen Galloway and welcome to the Hollywood Masters filmed on the campus of Loyola Marymount University. Our guest today is one of the great American producers. You all know his work probably inside out.  It includes one of my favorite films, Three Kings, The Dark Knight, which has become a modern day classic, American Hustle, Twelve Monkeys.  He's at work now on two major films, Warcraft and Batman Versus Superman. I'm thrilled to welcome Chuck Roven. [Applause]

ROVEN: Nice to see you.

THR: Slovakia, 1938. Why is that important? 

ROVEN:  Well my family came from there and, you know, that’s when the Germans came in and they took over Czechoslovakia which Slovakia was part of.  And it was a, you know, important, seminal moment for my family because several years later all the Jews in that city where my family was from were deported and sent to camps.  There was 4,000 Jews who were in the city.  It was 10 percent of the population and 400 ran away.  That was good for them.  3,600 went to the camps and 3,200 passed away in the camps.  But my father was fortunate that he didn’t go away and he was a very, very, very interesting forward thinker and he had good fortune in his long view.  And so he survived there and then he survived in Europe even though the Nazis were all around him.  In fact he pretended to be a Nazi for a while.

THR:  He did an extraordinary thing.  He told somebody to join the Nazi party.  Why?

ROVEN:  He had read Mein Kampf and he knew what Hitler’s plan was and he just had a premonition that, that party would grow.  It never really did grow big in Slovakia, but when the Germans came and the Nazi party was in control, that prescience really saved his life and the life of my mother.  I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that. [LAUGH]

THR:  But what did he do specifically?

ROVEN:  He asked his closest friend who wasn’t a Jew to join the Nazi party.  This friend of his worked with him in his…  He made a prune brand he called [SPEAKS GERMAN] and in doing that he became the…  He was a high ranking guy in the brewery.  But when the Germans came in, the Nazi party became the big party there.  And his name was Stephan.  Stephan made sure that my father was kept out of the train that went to Auschwitz for the war effort.  It was important to make sure that the officers had booze.  And they were so close in fact that in 1943 even though he was still needed for the war effort and even though Stephan still ran the brewery he couldn’t stay there anymore.  They were going to take him away to Auschwitz.  And Stephan gave him his passport and my father actually left Czechoslovakia under Stephan’s name and spent the rest of the war in Budapest in a basement apartment underneath the Nazi party headquarters as Stephan. 

THR:  God.  Wow.  What did he teach you? 

ROVEN:  My father taught me to…  He taught me to work hard.  He made sure I worked hard.  But he was a great lateral thinker.  And I think that at least for my job as a producer I think that’s an important attribute to try to have is to not necessarily just look in front of you, not just look behind you but make sure that you have a lot of peripheral vision so that you can see what all the options are. 

THR:  Give us an example. 

ROVEN:  [LAUGH] It just, it happens every day, you know, when you're making a film.  You quickly are pursuing a certain course in your shooting day and things go wrong.  Anything can go wrong, right.  So you can have a piece of equipment that fails, you can have a location that all of the sudden your location guy didn’t realize but there’s a concert next door so your sound is screwed.  You can have an actor get sick.  So you…  But you can't just go oh, we’re not gonna shoot today.  You gotta just say okay, what are we gonna do?  And you have to find something that’s not…  That’s gonna be…  That you're going to do and that’s important to do so that you maximize your day at all times.  So that’s an area of lateral thinking.

THR:  What’s the worst thing you've had to deal with on a shoot? 

ROVEN:  Death. 

THR:  I want to come to that later by the way, Heath Ledger’s death. 

ROVEN:  I mean, I've had to deal with somebody passing on my film while it was shooting, not on my set thank god.  But rehearsing for a stunt.

THR:  Oh wow.  Who and on which film? 

ROVEN:  It was on The Dark Knight.  And he was a stuntman.  It was on a track that was at the effects facility where we were practicing, we called the Bat Mobile on The Dark Knight trilogy The Tumbler.  That was its nickname because…  And so he was practicing a particular stunt move that The Tumbler needed to do and he was holding a recorder because he wanted to watch what the car did when it was doing the stunt.  And he had his head out of the car shooting and there was another stunt guy driving and they were both not looking forward, they were looking to the side because the car was…  They were parallel to the car.  And the stunt driver just mis…  You know, miscalculated where he was on the road and he went off the road and the stunt guy who got killed hit a tree at very high speed, his head. 

THR:  Wow.  Let’s go back to you and your growing up because I can't imagine you thought you'd be dealing with these problems.  How did you imagine your future when you were a kid? 

ROVEN:  I just wanted to have fun. 

THR:  Did you?

ROVEN:  I did.

THR:  Tell us more.

ROVEN:  I grew up in Los Angeles in the late 50s and 60s and there were areas in Los Angeles even in the 50s that had…  Down into the town that had…  You could still ride horses.  And I grew up riding horses and surfing so that was great.  I had a very difficult time getting my ass in school.

THR:  Right.

ROVEN:  Because I wanted to surf and ride. 

THR:  How did your father react to that?

ROVEN:  He wasn’t very happy about it.  I had a pretty strict dad.  He was a fantastic guy.  I loved him very much.  He died when I was 21, but he…  As I said he taught me hard work and he…  But I was, you know, I wasn’t a great student because I just wanted to have fun.

THR:  But you were a great surfer.

ROVEN:  I was a pretty good surfer.  Yeah, I did. 

THR:  So here you are you drop out of school, you go to Hawaii and you become a surfer on the original Hawaii Five-O

ROVEN:  Yes.  I was fortunate that my love for surfing took me to Hawaii as it should. [LAUGHTER] And I had to make some money while I was there, I just couldn’t surf and a buddy of mine told me that they were hiring for stunt extras and what you had to do all day was be in the water and when the AD yelled action you had to like surf.  It was a perfect job for me. [LAUGHTER]

THR:  You might be giving these guys the wrong impression of how to become a producer, you know.

ROVEN:  And that lasted for a while.  I did make a bad mistake, though.  I of course after surfing as a stunt extra for a while began to have delusions that I was actually gonna be discovered because you know, some stunt men actually moved on and have become successful actors.

THR:  Don’t tell me you're another failed actor, please.

ROVEN:  No.

THR:  Thank god. 

ROVEN:  But acting has helped me.  So I kept bugging the AD to, you know, let me get close to Jack Lord in a scene because I was sure.  And he said no, you don’t want to do that.  And I said yeah no, I really do want to do that.  And he said no, no, no, you don’t want to do that.  So I did.  He allowed me to do…  To play a car part guy in a scene where Jack Lord has a shootout and then I was never hired again.  That was it.  It was over.  And I went to the guy and I said did I do something wrong?  He said no, you were great.  He said remember I told you, you don’t want that?  [And he?] said your face was too much in the camera so now they’ll recognize you as the car part guy, I can't have you as the surf guy.  Sorry. 

THR:  [LAUGH] There’s a price for success. 

ROVEN:  So it was at that point that I decided I really didn’t want to be in front of the camera anymore.  That was too risky.  But I also at that time ended up getting my draft notice because back then and this is now in the late 60s America still had a draft.  And if you had a low number you either got drafted or you had to see if you had another kind of exemption.  But one exemption that you could get was you could go to college.  So I reluctantly got on a plane, flew home and I went to college.  But I didn’t do great there either.  

THR:  This was UCLA. 

ROVEN:  This was UCLA.  And I ended up taking a film course there.  Back then it was called Project One.  I don't know if it’s still called that.  And basically they said listen, UCLA’s on the semester system…  I mean on the quarter system.  They said here’s some film footage, here’s 1,000 feet of 16 millimeter film. We’ll see you in 10 weeks.  See what you come up with.  And if you do well then you can continue to make films and if you don’t then that’s it.  So that really…  I had never ever really…  I couldn’t use even a still camera.  I was very, very not mechanically inclined that way.  And I didn’t know anything about directing an actor or anything.  But a cousin of mine was teaching a course at SC and he was a director.  And he was an actor studio guy.  And he was a method director.  He taught…  He believed in the method…  The Stanislavski method of acting.  And he had a course for directors which was really a fantastic course.  It was called A Director Acts.  And in order to take that course you literally had to be a director in the school, you know, taking a film directing course or stage directing course.  And part of that course was his class.  Part of the curriculum was his class where he taught directors how to work with actors by having them work with other directors who were acting.  And I wasn’t going to SC but I audited that course and one day one of the guys who was supposed to work on the scene with another one of the directors was sick.  And so they saw me sitting there auditing the course and like [well you?] come down and work on the scene with us.  And by the end of the class that director asked me if I would be an actor.  Turned out to be the lead in his student film, his Masters film.

THR:  I have to see this film.

ROVEN:  Yeah. [LAUGH] I don't know if I'm gonna show that to anybody but.

THR:  So failed director, failed surfer, failed actor.

ROVEN:  But acting in that film which I did do ended up getting me invited to go to SC.  And instead of one film the course then at SC allowed you to make actually six films before they decided whether or not you had any talent in that area.  And that kind of saved my career as a filmmaker. 

THR:  Has any director asked you to act in anything like David O. Russell

ROVEN:  Chris Nolan always liked me to do some kind of voiceover in the movies.  So if you look at Batman Begins, there’s a voiceover in the third act of the train operator telling where the train hub is in Wayne Tower that Ra’s Al Ghul is gonna try to crash that the train is headed out of control towards it.  That’s me. 

THR:  How many takes did you have to?

ROVEN:  I was pretty good actually.  You know, maybe three, three or four.

THR:  That’s good.

ROVEN:  Chris doesn’t do many more than that.  And then in The Dark… 

THR:  He doesn’t do a lot of takes?

ROVEN:  Chris doesn’t do a lot of takes, no.  In The Dark Knight Rises…  Sorry, in The Dark Knight I was a helicopter pilot in the third act doing a voiceover when the police helicopters were over the…  In the tower where the Joker had all over the prisoners, the medical prisoners there.  So once it worked in Batman Begins, you know, Chris is a guy who likes to keep things working if they work.  So he allowed me to be the voiceover in all three movies… 

THR:  So you're now part of the regular Nolan Company.

ROVEN:  If I'm producing.  He didn’t invite me to do yeah, a voice in Inception and he didn’t invite me to do a voice in Interstellar.

THR:  And you didn’t plead for the…?

ROVEN:  No, no.  It’s okay.

THR:  So you come from USC, you start working for a producer who had been Kubrick’s producer and at some point I think you worked on something with Richard Pryor.  What was that? 

ROVEN:  Oh yeah.  Richard Pryor.  So yeah, the producer was James B. Harris who he produced the early Kubrick films.  He produced The Killing, he produced Paths of Glory, he produced what was that great film that Peter Sellers...all the great movies but Lolita.  He'd produced Lolita and then they broke up over Dr. Strangelove and Harris…

THR:  Why did they break up over Strangelove?

ROVEN:  Dr. Strangelove was originally supposed to be a thriller in the vein of Failsafe.  It was very similar to Failsafe.  And about six or eight weeks before they were supposed to start to shoot Kubrick called Harris and said it’s not gonna work, this movie’s not gonna work, we have to shut the whole thing down and I'm gonna rewrite it into this black comedy.  And Harris said you're crazy, what are you talking about?  We’re funded, we’re ready to go, we’re starting to shoot and whatever it was. 

ROVEN:  But he did it and obviously that became Dr. Strangelove so that was a good move but it broke up his relationship with Harris..

THR:  So if you'd been the producer and Kubrick had come to you and said Mr. Roven, I have a slightly different idea of the direction of this script, what would you have done? 

ROVEN:  You know, I don’t like to second guess guys when you're not there in the room at the time so…

THR:  I like the way you're wiggling around the answer.

ROVEN:  Well I respected James B. Harris and he gave me a shot so he had a reason for doing what he did but, you know I will tell you this, that I've had something similar happen on American Hustle where the script which was a excellent and fine script that was written by Eric Singer was very much transformed.  And even though the basic arc of the story was…  I actually wouldn’t say the basic arc of the story but the subject matter of the story, right.  The hustle, the con, the conman posing as the front for an Arab sheik, that was always the subject matter of American Hustle, but the character relationships, the focus of the characters, their arcs was completely rewritten by David Russell.  There’s still some of Eric Singer there but it’s definitely became a David Russell film. 

THR:  Yeah I read that original script which was a terrific script but it’s not the film.

ROVEN:  It was a black script, you know. It was one of the…On the black list.

THR:  Do you all know that?  The black list of like [hot scripts?].

ROVEN:  So it was a black list script from the time that Eric wrote it and from the time that Richard Suckle, my producing partner and I were trying to get it made.  And it was a very, very popular script and a very well written script but David turned it into something that’s pure David Russell. 

THR:  And how long before you shot did he do that? 

ROVEN:  He…  I would say he was doing it while we were in hard prep.

THR:  Wow.  And were you cool with that? 

ROVEN:  I [LAUGHS].

THR:  I like the way everyone laughs at this question. 

ROVEN:  Well so I mean that’s my way of answering your question isn't it right? 

THR:  Yes. 

ROVEN:  While I was…  Would have been very happy to make Eric Singer’s script, once I understood what David wanted to do, I went along with it because I also knew that in David’s hands that would be a great movie or felt that it had a shot to be.  You know, I had worked with David Russell on Three Kings, I understood what kind of a filmmaker he was.  And, you know, producers have their own style and the great ones really, they do things differently, they do things their own way and they have a certain kind of, you know, a belief of how they should produce, let me say it that way. 

ROVEN:  And whether a project is developed through my development pipeline or whether I'm asked onto a picture as a producer I pretty much approach it the same way just because it…  And the reason I mention my development pipeline is because American Hustle was from my development pipeline.  We initiated the project, Mary came to us with the idea of doing a movie on this particular guy, Mel Weinberg was his real name, this is a real guy, the conman. 

ROVEN:  And we developed the project as part of an overall deal we had at that time with Sony.  And another great iconoclast director who worked for me like was Terry Gilliam and Twelve Monkeys, we developed that script through our pipeline also back with Universal.  But it didn’t matter whether I'm asked onto a project by a studio or a filmmaker or director or we…  Or the film comes through my pipeline.  Once the director comes on, the director has to sell me on his vision.  It’s awesome when the vision’s exactly the same but if the vision excites me, if I get on board that vision it doesn’t really matter.  Because obviously if you gave the same script to any number of people they would all make a different film.  That’s what’s one of the great things about filmmaking.

ROVEN:  It’s…  You know, I'm not a big believer in the auteur theory because it’s a collaborative medium.

THR:  Does everybody here know what that is?  Yes, you know the director is…

ROVEN:  Is it.

THR:  …  king and stamps his identity on the film. 

ROVEN:  So…

THR:  You're not a believer in that?

ROVEN:  I'm not a beli…  No, because I think it’s a completely collaborative medium and you really need…  But you need to be following a vision.  You can have great ideas that are not the director’s inside that vision.

THR:  So what makes a great producer? 

ROVEN:  I think there’s a lot of things that make a great producer but, you know, I think I do my best work when there’s a director who has a vision and he holds to that vision.

THR:  And what are some of the things that make a great producer?  

ROVEN:  I think, you know, I've had the best good fortune in producing when I have made the films that I've chosen to be involved with for the right reasons.  And when I've ever…  I've stubbed my toe, it’s been because I agreed to make the film for the wrong reason.  Wasn’t really passionate about the project.  That’s the most important thing is to have passion for what you do.  And once you have passion for what you do, for the picture that you want to make, then you need to, you know, just don’t take no for an answer.  I think it’s really important because the motion picture business as much as any business and I've been in a number of different businesses, the motion picture business is hugely a business of rejection.

ROVEN:  You get many more passes than you get yeses.  When you're trying to set a project up, most of the time most people say no.  That’s why it’s hard to be prolific.  You know, I…  When I made my first development deal in the mid-70s, I didn’t make my first film until 1982.

THR:  Which was Heart Like a Wheel?

ROVEN:  Heart Like a Wheel, yeah.  So I had a lot of disappointments in not being able to set the projects up.  Sometimes I would even spec my own money and have the scripts written.  I even took a hand at…  My own hand at writing scripts and sold those scripts but couldn’t get them made.  And…

THR:  You didn’t sell them to yourself? [LAUGH]

ROVEN:  No. 

THR:  You would have got them made. 

ROVEN:  But I sold them to studios and still couldn’t get them made.  So I think that it’s really important as I said to have passion for the material and then to not take no for an answer.  And then to be able to, you know, to be able to not say to David Russell you're dismantling this script, what are you doing?  We’re supposed to start shooting in four months, right I think was lateral thinking.  Oh yeah, you can do this.  And he had a…  It’s not like he didn’t have a vision.  He wasn’t hunting, he knew where he wanted to go.  He told me what he was going to do with the characters.  He told Rich and I and ultimately Megan because she was part of the process too, Megan Ellison.

THR:  Who financed it. 

ROVEN:  She co-financed it.  But she was there, she was present as a producer.

THR:  Let’s go to one of your first major films.  You went from being an [assistant] producer to actually being in finance. Chuck went into his brother’s hedge fund and was an arbitrager.

ROVEN:  Yes.

THR:  Don’t quite know what that is, but…  And then you went back into producing.  Why?

ROVEN:  Yeah.  Well when I went into the securities business and ultimately moved into arbitrage it was because I was a producer without portfolio.  Meaning I told people I was a producer, I developed screenplays, I even sold screenplays, but I hadn’t produced anything yet.  So was I a producer or wasn’t I a producer?  I was in that netherworld of being kind of a producer.

THR:  Was that frustrating? 

ROVEN:  Terrible, of course. 

THR:  But you were making money, you were…

ROVEN:  I was making good money.  Very, very good money but I did have a passion for doing it by that time, for producing, for trying to get it made.

THR:  So let’s look at one of the first major films you made and then I want to know where this began and what you brought into it.  Another sort of iconoclastic director, Terry Gilliam.  Let’s look at a clip from Twelve Monkeys.

ROVEN:  Oh.

THR:  That’s magic.

ROVEN:  Nice.

THR:  That’s the magic of the movies. [CLIP] [APPLAUSE]

ROVEN:  Hm.  I haven’t seen that in a while.

THR:  Oh really? 

ROVEN:  It’s pretty good.

THR:  So Bruce Willis naked.  Was that an interesting shoot? [LAUGHTER] Don’t die on us, Chuck.  Wait another 45 minutes and then, you know.

ROVEN:  Bruce Willis.  I think it’s one of the best performances he’s ever given.  He was…

THR:  He bared everything in that performance, so. [LAUGHTER]

ROVEN:  Well we needed Bruce Willis in order to get that movie made.  That film could not have been made if it wasn’t for Bruce Willis agreeing to do the movie and literally taking scale.  He was a pretty big movie star at that time and he really wanted to do something different.  Terry Gilliam’s name meant a lot back then even though he was always in and out of being in director jail. 

THR:  What does that mean?

ROVEN:  Director jail?  It meant that he would make films that would be highly acclaimed and then he might make another film that would go wildly over budget.  In fact, at the time that I was, you know, trying to package together Twelve Monkeys which as I said came from my development, Terry was struggling to find a movie to direct because he had done a film that was highly acclaimed called Baron Munchausen but had gone wildly, wildly over budget.

THR:  Famously over budget.

ROVEN:  Famously over budget.  It had caused a company to go bankrupt.  And ironically while he didn’t…  Hadn’t prod…  While the movie wasn’t produced during her tenure at the studio, it was distributed while my first wife was the president of the studio.  And Terry and my first wife, her name was Dawn Steel, clashed hugely over the financial results of that movie because the financial results of that movie were not very good and he blamed Dawn for not being able to muster enough inside push to get the movie out there. 

ROVEN:  But the fact of the matter was even though it was highly acclaimed it just wasn’t a commercial picture.  And so it was interesting when I went to Terry because I thought Terry was the right director for Twelve Monkeys and after he read the script and said he liked the script he wanted to make some changes and then he found out that I was married to Dawn he laughed and he said god, Hollywood’s just one place where you just can't burn the bridge, can you? [LAUGHTER]

THR:  What did she say to you about working with Terry? 

ROVEN:  She was not very happy about it but she wasn’t the head of the studio where the movie was.  And they really wanted Terry.  But what ended up happening was that we…  Terry’s a guy that you want to be in business with until you're in business with him and then you wonder do you want to be in business with him?  And so we started to prepare the movie and we budgeted the movie and, you know, it was a… 

ROVEN:  It was supposed to be a tent pole picture for the studio, a big science fiction movie.  And then they saw Terry’s drawings and saw the price point of the movie and they began to worry that maybe the movie really wasn’t gonna be that commercial.  And they basically told us you gotta make the movie for half the money.  And I went wow, that’s tough. [LAUGH] Again comes the lateral thinking.  So we figured out how to make the movie for half the money and one of the ways for us to be able to do that was to not pay the cast any money. 

THR:  Including Brad Pitt

ROVEN:  Brad Pitt wasn’t really a big star at that time, right.  He originally wanted…  It’s so funny because he had wanted to play Cole, the Bruce Willis part.  At least that’s the meeting that he had with Terry was for the part of Cole.  But in reality when Terry met with him he said, you know, I see you more as Goines.  And Brad said yeah, that’s really kind of the role that I wanted to play. 

THR:  Why didn’t he say that in the first place? 

ROVEN:  Doesn’t matter because that is the role that he played and that is the role that got him the Golden Globe and that is the role that got him the Oscar nomination so.

THR:  Did you think he was gonna be a big star?

ROVEN:  Oh yeah.  He…  While we were making the movie, that Western that he did came out.

THR:  Legends of the Fall.

ROVEN:  Legends of the Fall.  And he was already a big star.

THR:  Yeah.

ROVEN:  Because that movie really blew him up.  So it was to our good fortune.  But even though we had Bruce Willis who was, you know, accommodated what we were trying to do, he had a really nice back end but he accommodated us by taking a very, very, very low fee and Brad took a low fee because he wasn’t a big movie star and Madeleine…  Everybody took low fees and we deferred a big portion of our fees as did Terry, et cetera.  

ROVEN:  And then it was very, very difficult getting a bond company and the studio didn’t want to guarantee completion because of what had just happened with Terry.  So, you know, I basically said to Terry if he puts up whatever percentage of his money I'd put up the same amount so we were in it together.  And he appreciated that.  And then still the studio said well, you know, we only want to put up half the money.  So I had to go out and I, at that time, put together which was extremely unique a consortium of independent distributors, Shochiku in Japan, Tele Munchen, which is the largest independent in Germany now, in Germany, UGC in France and a combination of the BBC and ... they no longer exist, they were actually acquired by Universal.  

ROVEN:  I put them together and convinced them that they should not just pay for their territory, they should actually make an equity investment in the rest of the world as well which somehow I convinced them to do.  And it was actually good for them because the film was extremely successful.  But that’s what I mean by never saying…  Never taking no for an answer because these things we call movies are very, very fragile but also there’s a lot of twists and turns to getting one made.

THR:  So you mentioned your wife.  Does everybody know who Dawn Steel was?  Some people do.  Famously feisty executive, one of the first, very first women to be a studio…  Major studio executive at Paramount in Columbia.

ROVEN:  Well she was the first studio…  Female studio president ever. 

THR:  Yeah.  Strong. 

ROVEN:  Oh yeah.  

THR:  How did she influence you? 

ROVEN:  I think that I just admired her for her being sort of a force of nature.  And she had just the most amazing instincts in terms of her ability to understand very quickly what would capture the public’s eye.  You know, what would…  How a certain kind of thing could become a phenomenon.  So for example, before she was the president of Columbia Pictures, she actually was a merchandiser.  She actually started the…  I guess you could call this consumer products division of Hustler Magazine.  And she… [LAUGHTER] Exactly.

ROVEN:  And she…  Her first…  And she did that while she was actually Larry Flynt’s…Was it Larry Flynt? 

THR:  Yeah. 

ROVEN:  Yeah, I think it was, yeah.  Larry Flynt’s secretary.  And I think her very first consumer product was called the Cock Sock. [LAUGHTER] And it’s for the man who has everything and nowhere to put it.  That was her line as well.  So that’s Dawn.  That’s a perfect example of what Dawn was.  And when he wouldn’t give her a piece of the action she left the company and she started her own merchandising company where she developed Gucci toilet paper.  Except that it wasn’t really Gucci toilet paper.  So she…  Paramount picked her up as a marketing and promotion executive and then she became a creative executive at Paramount.

ROVEN:  And she was…  She made some amazing picks of movies while she was there and she ended up being the head of production there.

THR:  And you produced some films with her.  City of Angels was the last one I think.

ROVEN:  We produced only two movies together because I was on one track as a producer and she was on another track as a studio executive and then after she left being a studio executive which was after her tenure at Columbia, Columbia at that time when she was the president of the company was owned by Coca-Cola and they sold to Sony.  And when that sale happened, she ended up leaving that company and becoming an independent producer at Disney.  She had a very, very closer relationship with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner.  She was part of what was called back then the Killer Dillers.  And when she finished being an executive she had an independent producer deal there.  And by that time I was not only a film producer, but I had always been sort of I guess you could call it a multi, because I always had my hand in the music business.  I was…  I would manage musical acts, I had a management business as well.  And in the late 80s and early 90s, 19…  I guess it was 1991 through 1998 I had a very, very big music management company as well and that company was Atlas Entertainment which is still my company, Atlas Entertainment.  And Dawn, when she left being an executive joined Atlas Entertainment. It became Atlas Entertainment when she joined and we produced two movies together, the last one of which was City of Angels.  And she passed away during that time.

THR:  Do you like tough people? 

ROVEN:  I like strong people.  I like people who have conviction about what they do and I would say that I get along better with people who speak their mind and who aren’t passive aggressive.  Who say what they mean and are direct.

THR:  Are you a strong person? 

ROVEN:  I think I'm pretty direct.  It’s a lot…  You don’t have to wonder what I'm saying. 

THR:  I read somewhere you said of your many qualities you don’t have a great bedside manner. [LAUGHTER] I've always found you pretty…  Well not that you've been at my bed but… [LAUGHTER]

ROVEN:  I thought I'm kind of charming.

THR:  I find you charming.  You did get into a conflict with a pretty strong director, John McTiernan.  You made Rollerball with him and you were somewhat famously tape recorded by him.  Do you know about this?  Should I tell you about it?  There was a sort of Hollywood scandal.  There was a private detective, Tony Pellicano, now in prison, who was being hired to tape record people.  One of them was you.

ROVEN:  Wiretap.  Wiretap. 

THR:  I guess there’s a difference. [LAUGHTER] What happened? 

ROVEN:  Well wiretap is different because tape record is like you and I are talking and I have a recorder [over?] there, right?

THR:  Oh yeah, and I'm not in jail, yes.

ROVEN:  You're not in jail.  Because you see the tape recorder…

THR:  I might be in reporter jail. 

ROVEN:  But wiretap is somebody is listening and recording what you're saying in your private conversations on a phone that they have illegally gotten a connection to so they can hear what you're saying and talking about.  So I…  One of the films that I produced, which I would say was not for all the right reasons was the remake of RollerballRollerball was a film that starred James Caan and was originally directed by a really fabulous Canadian filmmaker who directed some amazing movies. 

THR:  Norman Jewison.

ROVEN:  Norman Jewison, exactly.  And that movie was kind of a very famous movie, Rollerball.  But John decided that he wanted to remake it and he developed it at MGM.  And I, in the late 90s, this consortium that I had put together for Twelve Monkeys kind of evolved into another co-financing venture for a series of movies.  This was when I merged Atlas into a company called Mosaic Media Group.  And one of the things that we did in the late 90s and early 2000s in Mosaic Media Group is we made a big overall deal to co-finance films with MGM and this consortium.  And we were looking for the first movie.  And the guys who were running MGM at that time, Chris McGurk and Michael Nathanson said hey, we’re in business with John McTiernan, he just did the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, another Norman Jewison movie and we…  Why don’t you come in and co-finance it and then you can produce it? 

ROVEN:  And I agreed to do that.  And obviously I was at that time in the start of the process, a very big McTiernan fan in terms of the films that he had made.  He had made some just fantastic, great American cinema starting with The Hunt for Red October.  He made the first Die Hard, he made Predator.  He was, you know, he just made just really great populous popcorn movies.  And we met in Hungary while he was scouting locations there although the movie didn’t end up shooting there, it shot in Montreal.  And we agreed sometime after our first meeting we had to iron out some things.  And he was at that time…  While he wasn’t at the pinnacle of his career, he was still…  He still carried a lot of weight And so he had a lot of very strong creative controls in the process.  And I wasn’t necessarily totally comfortable with those controls but ultimately I had a lot of wind at my back and a lot of pressure to make…  To close this deal and get going with this venture before it evaporated.  Not the right reason to make a film.  And so I agreed to produce the film.  He was also a producer on the movie.  He had final cut on the film.  And we started the process of making the movie and we always had a terrifically cordial relationship when we would talk to each other.  He's a very charming guy and he's exceptionally bright. But as the movie started to shoot and I was looking at the dailies I realized that he wasn’t shooting the script.  And so I…  We had some discourse about that for a while and I said, you know, what…  You're kind of just sort of vamping on the day.  Well this…  Really, you think that’s what I'm doing?  I go yeah, that’s what I think you're doing and that’s…  This is…  You're not making the film that we agreed that you were gonna make. 

ROVEN:  He said well I think I am.  And I said well look, I think we really should bring the studio in on this.  And he said well do what you need to do.  And I did go to the studio and I did tell them my perception of what was going on and they said okay we’ll look into it and they supported him completely.  I was completely shit out of luck. 

THR:  Wow. 

ROVEN:  Nevertheless he didn’t like that.  And so he hired Anthony Pellicano to wiretap me.  And I didn’t find out about this for years.  Six years later I found out about it.  And here’s the interesting thing about the wiretap laws in the United States, wiretapping is a criminal offense but the criminal has to be charged within five years of the discovery of the criminal act.  And the FBI came to my office when they raided Pellicano and, you know, cracked one of his computers and heard Pellicano talking to this guy about me and how badly he wanted to get some really bad stuff on me so he could hurt me.  And they asked me who that was and then I said, “That’s John McTiernan.”  And then they went to John McTiernan and if John McTiernan because it was in the sixth year, when the FBI went to John McTiernan and asked him what he knew about wiretapping and had he ever hired Anthony Pellicano to wiretap.  If he would have said, “Yeah, I wiretapped Chuck Roven, what do you want to do about it,” he would have been off, but he didn’t.  He lied to the FBI.  So that was a new offense.  So if the FBI ever comes to your door.  [LAUGHS]

THR:  The late 1990’s you are going to collaborate with another very strong director, and I want to take a look a clip from the first one David O. Russell, and you know how much I love this film.  Let’s take a look at a clip from Three Kings.

THR:  I love that film.  Every time I see it I just learn more.  And there was so many clips when our producer, and I were talking about clips, there’s so many that you can pull from this film that’s just brilliant filmmaking.  And I’m not going to talk about some things that are kind of unknown.  This was not an easy film to make, Clooney and David O. Russell had a lot of conflict, but I do want to ask you about something that I don’t think is widely known, which is the Muslim lobby moved very hard to stop this film getting made.  What happened and what did you do?

ROVEN:  They felt when they read the script that it wasn’t an appropriate depiction and was caricature of Arabs, particularly Muslim Arabs.  And what we ended up doing was we hired a consultant and we talked through with that consultant.  They picked the consultant, we interviewed the consultant and we liked him.  He was a good man.  And we ended up talking him through the reasoning behind the words that we used in the script, the reasons that certain characters spoke the way they did and the consultant pretty much went along with us on most of the things.  There was a couple of things that he asked us to really think long and hard about.  But I have to say at the end of the day if you’ve seen the movie you know we made the movie we set out to make.  And the beautiful thing about it was that David and I, once the movie came out, that same organization honored us and gave us their greatest honor that they give every year for somebody who’s made a difference for that community and the perception of Arabs and Muslims in that community.

THR:  I think at one point Warner Bros. called in George Clooney and leveled with him and said what?

ROVEN:  Again, a lot of times you have to make compromises because certain movies aren’t easy to make.  This was another movie that wasn’t, like Twelve Monkeys, wasn’t easy to make.  It was particularly not easy to make because of our take on the subject matter and it needed a movie star.  George was one of the hottest TV stars at that time and was just finishing his run on that great…

THR:  ER.

ROVEN:  What was it called?

THR:  ER.

ROVEN:   ER.  Yeah.  On ER.  And he had a particular price already established and he had agreed in order to do our film because again we were struggling with the budget.  That’s another thing about being a producer, I just want to say as an aside, I’ve made films literally, I think the least expensive movie that I’ve been involved with as a producer, not as an owner of a company, was about three million dollars.  The most expensive has been multiple centi-millions, so 250 plus.  So that’s the range.

THR:  Does that include the marketing?

ROVEN:  No.

THR:  Wow.

ROVEN:  The marketing.

THR:  Which one’s easier?

ROVEN:  They’re all difficult.  They’re fun, I love my job, but they’re all difficult because you’ve got so many different moving parts all the time.

THR:  So you get Clooney on board.

ROVEN:  So with Clooney, he agreed to do the movie for half his fee, which was great.  We wouldn’t have been able to make the movie if it wasn’t for him.  And as we were preparing the movie, before we had come to terms with the Urban Muslim lobby in Washington, Warner’s was also visited and really threatened that if this movie was made there might be some dire consequences.  And Jim Miller, who’s no longer here, but who was at that time President of Worldwide Business, called Clooney into his office and basically said to him, “Look, you know, Warner’s is a monolith, there’s not one particular individual that symbolizes the studio, but you’re an international movie star,” television star at that point in time because ER was a worldwide phenomenon, “and if you make this movie you may very well have to walk around for the rest of your life looking over your shoulder.”  And his response was, “I love this script, I want to make this movie and now that I’ve heard what you’ve told me I want to make it even more.”

THR:  Which I think is pretty damn brave.

ROVEN:  Yeah, it was awesome.  It was great.  He’s an awesome guy.

THR:  About ten years ago you started collaborating with another really major director, Chris Nolan.  This is the series of films that really put you on the map as a major producer.  And maybe the best known of the films is The Dark Knight.  Let’s take a look at a clip from The Dark Knight.

[MOVIE CLIP PLAYING]

THR:  Heath Ledger, did the studio want him?

ROVEN:  The studio did want him.  I wouldn’t say he was their first choice, but he was the choice that we all wanted.  There was one other actor that the studio would have preferred to have, but at the end of the day they were very willing to go along with what we wanted.

THR:  Where were you when you heard he died?

ROVEN:  I was here in Los Angeles.  It was definitely a big blow.  We had worked together before on another Terry Gilliam movie that I did called Brothers Grimm.  That’s where I met Heath.  He did it with Matt Damon.  And we were, I wouldn’t say we were close friends, but we were business friends.  We became a little bit closer on The Dark Knight.  And in fact, he was just a fabulous guy, very warm, wanted and was in the process, he had been directing music videos, he was looking for a movie for himself to direct.  And he was an avid skateboarder and even when he wasn’t working he would skateboard down to wherever we were shooting and he would hang by Chris because, you know, Chris is just a master.  And one of the things that we did on The Dark Knight to try to eventize the film was we shot in IMAX, IMAX film, 65, 70 meter film, and where the studios would normally come out with their big holiday trailer, our movie came out in the summer so we had a big holiday trailer, we did that as well in the 35 millimeter houses, but we also did what we called a prolog in the IMAX houses.  And, in fact, this was a Chris Nolan marketing tool and it’s one of the things that turned IMAX into IMAX in terms of its acceptance by the public.

ROVEN:  So what we would do, what we did do was we showed only in the IMAX screens, only over the holiday period, this prologue to The Dark Knight.  And the prologue was the bank job that starts this movie where he’s wearing a mask and at the end of the bank job he takes his mask off and you see the Joker.  And about, I think Heath died in January or February, I saw him in November or December, we had just finished, I guess it was November because we attached this to a movie for Christmas.  And I flew to London to show him the IMAX version.  And he had not seen anything.  That’s right, we hadn’t of done any ADR so, and in fact, obviously with him we didn’t do any ADR.  So he hadn’t seen anything.  And this was the first time he was going to see anything of him as that character.  And he just, you know, he was so joyous about that scene and so excited about what that meant for the rest of the movie.

THR:  So he never saw the finished film.

ROVEN:  No.

THR:  Or a cut of the film.

ROVEN:  No, the only thing he saw was that prologue, which is the first four or five minutes of the movie.  And he saw that twice.  He asked me to run it for him a second time.

THR:  So how did you hear of his death and what steps did you then take?

ROVEN:  I honestly don’t remember who called me to tell me that he had passed.  I might have heard it on the news.  I don’t even remember.  So I mean the first thing that we did was we contacted his family.  And then we had a whole big conversation about what are we going to do, how are we going to market the movie, all of that stuff.  And we quickly made the decision that we wanted to do whatever Heath would have wanted us to do and the best way for us to find that out was again going to his family, in particular his sister.  He had a very, very close relationship with his sister.  And we showed her the prologue and told her that story that I just told all of you.  And she talked with her parents and they came back and they said, you know, “We want you to do exactly what you would have done if he would have been around.  Don’t change anything because that’s what he would have wanted you to do.”  So that’s what we did.

THR:  Did you talk to him about any specific directing projects?

ROVEN:  No.  I only talked to him about the fact that I thought he would make a good director and if he had something to talk to me about that he should.  But he went off to do another Terry Gilliam movie, Dr. Parnassus Imaginarium I think is what it was called.  And, of course, he died in the middle of shooting that and they got Johnny Depp, they got…

THR:  Multiple actors.

ROVEN:  …multiple actors to play him in different incarnations, the character that he played.

THR:  You’ve continued to collaborate with Christopher Nolan.  How involved is he in Batman versus Superman?

ROVEN:  He’s an executive producer on the movie, as is Emma Thomas, his wife, and I would say that he’s much more focused on the movie’s Interstellar that he was off, you know, writing and directing, he co-wrote it with his brother, he rewrote his brother let’s just say because Jonah had been developing that script at Paramount for a long time.  And they’re off doing that movie, but he’s certainly involved in different stages.  I would say he has an advisory capacity.

THR:  Was he involved in the casting of Ben Affleck?

ROVEN:  Yes.

THR:  And walk me through how that came about.  That took some people by surprise.

ROVEN:  Yeah, it was great.  We knew that we wanted a very mature Batman because we wanted to juxtapose him against this young Superman.  So we wanted a guy who, you know, was tougher, rugged, had signs of life, had lived, hard life lived about him and we wanted the guy to have chops for sure.  And so when we went down that list there just weren’t a tremendous number of guys that we felt could carry that.  Russell wanted a guy who had big stature.  Ben is six four.

THR:  Is he?

ROVEN:  Yeah, he’s six three or six four.  Henry’s six or six one.  We wanted Batman to tower over Superman.  Not hugely.  Not like a basketball, like a seven foot player, but where Superman needed to look up to Batman.  We wanted that dynamic and Ben could do that easily.  And so he was the first guy we went to.  That’s who we wanted.

THR:  Who made the call to him?  How did that come about?

ROVEN:  I don’t really know whether or not—I think that Zack…

THR:  Snyder?

ROVEN:  I think Zack Snyder probably reached out to him.  We have a very strong relationship with Warner Brothers obviously, all of the DC comics are at Warner Brothers, Ben had literally just won the Oscar for Argo, which was a Warner Brothers movie, so it wasn’t like it was difficult to reach him.  [LAUGHS] And all of us independently had The Dark Knight, well first of all, The Dark Knight was around when The Town was around so we all hung around during that Oscar, that award season.  And then Argo was around when The Dark Knight Rises was around so we all hung around during that award season.  And also, Ben, at one time, had been attached to the predecessor of American Hustle when it was called American Bullshit.  And, in fact, he left American Bullshit to go do Argo.  So we’re all playing in a very small set.

THR:  Does he hesitate?  Did he hesitate before he took the role?

ROVEN:  I don’t think, no, I wouldn’t say he hesitated.  I think that what he did do was he made sure that he understood what Zack was looking for.

THR:  Which was what?

ROVEN:  Well, he wanted to know exactly how Zack planned on treating this Bruce Wayne that was going to make him be completely different even though he was still in the same, you know, he was still Bruce Wayne, still Batman.

THR:  And how is he completely different?

ROVEN:  He’s a much more social animal in the Bruce Wayne incarnation, but he’s also a extremely rough guy in the Batman incarnation.  Very, very, very, very rough.

THR:  I just want to ask one or two questions, but then I want to open this up to questions.  We have a clip from American Hustle, but I want to make sure you get your questions in so we’ll try and get some questions in and then take a look at that clip.  Is this going to be like The Avengers and it’s going to spawn, are we going to see other characters from DC Comics in this?

ROVEN:  Well, I don’t think it’s a secret that, you know, it’s called Batman versus Superman:  Dawn of Justice, and Warner Brothers has announced a number of DC properties that are going to be made over the next five years, including Justice League.  And the biggest difference between what Chris did in The Dark Knight trilogy and what we’re doing now is that Bruce Wayne, Batman lived in what I call a closed universe in that there were no superheroes in it.  There’s Batman and he is a human being and he has taken himself, or Bruce Wayne has taken himself and made himself in many ways, even though he’s definitely got some dysfunction to him, he’s made himself, in many ways, into the best a human being can be, intellectually, in terms of his ability to be a detective, physically, etc.  But he’s real.  He’s human.  Forget real, he’s human, he’s a human being.  He has no super powers.  As Chris is fond of saying, his biggest super power is the fact that he’s one of the wealthiest guys in the world.

ROVEN:  And when we embarked on Man of Steel, and Chris Nolan produced that with me, one of the things that we were doing was we were creating a universe that had a superhero in it because Superman is clearly a superhero.  He has super powers, he comes from another planet.  So once we did that it was with the knowledge that if the movie was successful and we expanded the universe we were going to expand it and populate it with other like characters.

THR:  In this film, too, there will be other superheroes?

ROVEN:  Well, Wonder Woman’s in it.  We know that.  So she has powers.  She’s a goddess, right.  She’s a demigod.

THR:  Yes, she is.

ROVEN:  She’s a demigod.  Her father was Zeus.

THR:  Are you actually developing scripts for follow up to that?

ROVEN:  Yes, we are.

THR:  Do you have a title for any?

ROVEN:  Can’t tell you any of that stuff.

THR:  I knew this interview would end with that also.  [LAUGHS] Let’s get some questions everybody.  And if I can I’ll do the clip if you’re not too pressed.

JESSICA:  Hello, I’m Jessica.  Thank you so much for coming.

ROVEN:  Sure.

JESSICA:  I just wanted to ask from climbing up the ladder what do you think was your hardest challenge from when you first started out to where you are now?

ROVEN:  Good question.

THR:  Very good question.

ROVEN:  I think that the hardest challenge, I would say two things, one is getting the first one made.  That took a really long time.  I remember that I was relatively young, in my mid 20’s I think, when I set up my first deal and I really thought I was hot shit and I thought that I was going to like set the world on fire and I was going to be one of the youngest producers of all time and it didn’t happen.  And then it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen, didn’t happen and so just to have the resilience and then to also rise from failure.  The second movie that I made, that I produced, was one of the worst evenings really of my life because my wife had just become the president of Paramount and I had asked her if I could borrow the studio to do a [recruited?] screening of my second feature.

THR:  What was the film?

ROVEN:  It’s called Made in the USA.  My first feature, which was…

THR:  Heart Like a Wheel.

ROVEN:  Heart Like a Wheel.  Thank you.  My first feature, which was Heart Like a Wheel, didn’t set the house on fire in terms of box office, but it was hugely critically acclaimed.  So I got some of my pride back, let’s say, after it took so long to make it.  So we test screen the second movie and there it is, it’s like at the studio and my wife is the president and when the lights come up 75 percent of the audience had left.  So that was a really shitty night.  And I really thought that I would never produce another movie, no one would ever hire me.  It was like over.  So I would say those are the…

THR:  How old were you then?

ROVEN:  I’m sorry?

THR:  How old were you then?

ROVEN:  I was 34.

THR:  I think it’s so hard when you’re young and that success doesn’t come immediately it’s just incredibly difficult to get over that.  And it doesn’t come immediately.  And the people where it does come immediately, afterwards they tend to stumble later.

ROVEN:  Sometimes, yeah.

THR:  So the next question?

JESSICA:  Thank you.

ELLIOT:  Hi, Mr. Roven, my name is Elliot and I’m a freshman here at LMU and I was just wondering, for someone who wants to be a producer, [somebody] ,yourself someday, do you have any advice for some of us who are looking for a similar career path?

ROVEN:  You know, I think I’ve tried to say it while we were talking here, I think you just need to have a lot of passion for what you do.  I’ve been doing this for a long time.  I’m 65 and so I’ve been doing this for 40 years really, even though I didn’t produce my first film until I was 32.  I thought of myself as a producer even in my early 20’s and tried to get movies made so.  But I still love it.  So it’s important to keep that passion.  And if you have that passion then you can overcome a lot of pies in the face.

ELLIOT:  Thank you very much.

ELSIE:  Hi, good afternoon.  My name is Elsie.  I’m a film production student.  The question I have for you is, you touched on this briefly, it’s important to have a vision and also I think it’s important to be able to sell that vision, too.  So my question for you is what advice would you give to independent producers who would like to get financing because that world is a whole other thing to navigate?  So what advice, for someone coming out of school that would maybe like to get their first feature made, like how do they get financing or speak to investors?

ROVEN:  Well, you know, the most difficult thing when you’re starting is to, A, be heard, right, to get people to like take your call, get in the door and you just have to figure out a way.  First of all, you have to like take the rejection and find a way, network, do everything that you can, you know, if you can’t come in the front door come in the back door, if you can’t get in the back door come through the window, if you can’t come through the window come in through the chimney.  You just have to find a way to get people’s attention.  And, you know, try to be, I’m not saying that you should like stalk them.  [LAUGHS] I never found, you know, as I became successful, if people were stalking me that wasn’t a cool thing.  But trying to be different so that oh that’s interesting.  You know networking is extremely important.  I can’t stress that enough.  If you hang out with the people that are in the business, talking to the people that are in the business, making good contacts, doing the work, finding a job, it may not be the job of producing right away, but get in the door, be part of the culture, that’s really, really important.  Because your friend who you’re having drinks with after you finish work while you were on location managing the movie, he might be writing a script or he might turn you on to a script and you’re going to end up saying, you know, to that person who’s the writer, “Hey, let me help you.  I’ll slip it to somebody else.”  And maybe you won’t be a producer right away, maybe you’ll be an associate producer, maybe you’ll be a co-producer, but you’ll be moving that way.  You’ll be moving.  The trajectory will be, you know, vertical.  And so there shouldn’t just be one way.  I developed scripts, I wrote scripts, I managed people, I even tried to come in through the music business.  I did all of those things.  And I even came in by making money in a completely different business so I could finance screenplays.  Do it all.  That’s what I mean by the lateral thinking part.  Don’t just say I’m going to follow just this one way, I’m going to find a script and I’m just going to get this one particular script and until I get this one particular script I’m not going to do anything else.  You may never get that one particular script made.  It might just open a door.  And they may not be looking for that script, but you’ve made a good contact and wow, you have another script in your quiver that you take out and say, “Well, then how about this one?”  And it’s also important, don’t just have one script.  Have a number of properties that you’re maneuvering with.  My pipeline is constantly fluid and full.

THR:  How many products do you have in development?

ROVEN:  I have very many right now, okay.  [LAUGHS]

THR:  I mean is that seven or 70?

ROVEN:  Look, I probably have a development portfolio of maybe 50, 60 projects, but I’m probably active in about 15 or 20 right now.  Yeah.  But it happens to be a particularly, you know…

THR:  You’re doing well at the moment.

ROVEN:  I’m doing well at the moment.  Yeah.

THR:  We got that.

ROVEN:  But I always had half a dozen projects that I was working on.  And sometimes you have a draught, you know, so like even when I started to become prolific in making movies I all of a sudden looked up and I had nothing in my cupboard that I was developing and I didn’t make any movies for two or three years.  Don’t let that happen.

ELSIE:  Thank you very much.

JACKSON:  Hi, Mr. Roven, my name is Jackson.  I would just like to know how do you go about selecting music for your films?

ROVEN:  Mostly I do it in conjunction with the director.  And it’s a very subjective thing.  By the way, that’s how I select all my material, right, whether it’s the music or the script or the people that I work with, it’s just very subjective.  And you actually have to trust that and go with that.

JACKSON:  Okay.  Is it something, do you like kind of go through Atlas with that, too?

ROVEN:  You mean my company?

JACKSON:  Yes.

ROVEN:  Well, I got out of the music business in 2008.

JACKSON:  Okay.

ROVEN:  So Atlas is just a film making and television company now.  But I was in the music business my whole career up until then, but I never tried to force my artists on movies.  I hoped that they would find a synergy.  And it’s worked for me a number of times.  I made a film, the first Scooby Doo movie that I produced, I got Outkast to do the soundtrack for it.  So my company was managing, a division of my company was managing them at that time.  They were a pretty big act on the come.  And then I actually made a film with them called Idlewild where they starred and acted in it and did all the music.  And even though that film wasn’t very successful, I’m very, very proud of the movie.  Then on City of Angels I was able to bring many of the acts that we managed and doing that soundtrack and that soundtrack was the largest selling album of the year that year that City of Angels was made and it went on to win three Grammy’s.  So the synergy was there, but I never forced it.

JACKSON:  Okay, thank you.

THR:  Very briefly, do you have any more questions from the audience?  Two more.  Yes.

Q:  What did you [INAUDIBLE] Christopher Nolan [INAUDIBLE]?

ROVEN:  It was actually different.  I got the first Batman after he was already the director.  I had been fortunate and I’ve been making successful films with Warner Brothers since City of Angels.  That was the first Warner Brothers film.  I made a film called Fallen for Turner Pictures which was distributed by Warner’s, but then Turner Pictures and all of Turner was acquired by Warner’s.  And I had had and still continue to have a very good run with them.  And so I had been trying to get in the business with Chris since I saw Memento.  And he had been developing some projects and he ended up in a great Hollywood story getting to be the director of Batman, The Dark Knight.  The Batman Begins was the first movie.

ROVEN:  And he had gone, you know, he had made a movie called Insomnia, which was about a $30 million movie, and Batman was going to cost about 140.  And that was a big jump for him.  And I had been successful with Three Kings, David Russell’s most expensive film had been $11 million, Flirting with Disaster, and we ended up making Three Kings for about $40 million and so that was a pretty big jump, over three times.  And the studio really trusted me with directors who were making a big leap in terms of their budgets.  So they called me and they asked me would I be interested in working with Chris Nolan on Batman.  I hung up the phone, it was Jeff Robinov who used to run Warner Brothers, I hung up the phone then my phone rang like three minutes later and a guy by the name of Dan Aloni, who is currently still Chris’ agent, called me and said, “Hey, Chris is interested, are you interested in possibly producing Batman again?”  And so that’s how I ended up getting involved in the project.

THR:  Very last question quickly please.

Q:  As a screen writer I’m very interested to know, you talk about having a passion for a project, what speaks to you from the script?  Is it the character or the richness of the characters?  What do you find that draws you the most in script?

ROVEN:  I want to be emotionally moved.  I want to be surprised.  I want to go, wow, I didn’t think a movie was, a story was going that way.  So that’s really it, I just like to be thrilled in the read I guess you would say.  And it can happen with just great character, with great dialogue, it can happen in the small movies, it can happen in big movies.  I think it’s really important that even if you’re making a big huge tent pole that you try to infuse it with characters that are relatable, that are saying something interesting about the human experience.  Those are the kinds of movies that I gravitate to.

THR:  So here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to sort of thank Chuck for the film and please applaud.  No, whoa, I haven’t done it yet.  This was a fantastic interview.  Thank you.

ROVEN:  No, thank you.

THR:  Really excellent.  And then we’ll get up and then I want you to see the clip for American Hustle.  So we’re going to go out and then you can come and meet Chuck in the reception.  But as it were, the end credits will be one of your best scenes.  So thank you.  On behalf of Loyola Marymount University, thank you, Chuck Roven, for taking part in the Hollywood Masters.

ROVEN:  Thank you.

THR:  Okay, let’s play the clip.  We’ll go out that way.  [APPLAUSE]

 

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