Producer Michael De Luca Says His Heart Is With the Scrappy Independents
Years after leaving the executive suites to become a producer, following long stints at New Line Cinema and DreamWorks, Michael De Luca is in the Oscar game as one of the producers of The Social Network. Scott Timberg talked to him for The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter: What appealed to you about The Social Network?
Michael De Luca: What grabbed me -- instantly -- was the idea of story about college students, who are at a time in their lives when you're still struggling to find out who you are, who you want to be. You still have a hangover from high school about those emotions of wanting to fit in, not feeling alienated: Do people like me? Do the right people like me? All the things I went through in junior high school and high school.
But you're playing it out at the level of geniuses -- who can vent that frustration, give voice to those feelings -- by enacting the communications revolution. To take someone that vulnerable, that young in their development, becoming a revolutionary thinker, going up against the forces of conventional wisdom, while you're still trying to figure out who you are. ... I thought it was really rich ground.
THR: It seems like a film about characters more than about technology.
De Luca: I think Aaron and David's genius was keeping it about universal human emotions. This could have been a movie about Copernicus and his friends. It's a path everybody goes through – we're just dealing with highly developed intellects. With the same human foibles, the same, "I want to belong, I want to be recognized, and I want to do it my way." And the forces of conventional wisdom always say, "Do it our way."
THR: I wonder if you saw similar things in one of your biggest successes at New Line, Boogie Nights.
De Luca: That script read like a comedy to me -- a comedy about the human condition, with this band of misfits. They're refugees from their biological families, trying to construct their own family. Needing the same thing we all need -- which is a sense of belonging and family and support.
THR: It must be hard for you not to miss those years when indie film really seemed to be exploding.
De Luca: It felt like in that period, in the '90s, the writer-directors were really putting themselves forward. Paul Thomas Anderson didn't come from a film school background, he just started doing it. Spike Jonze came from music videos and skater boy culture. I felt in the middle of it -- that these new directors and writer-directors were coming from anywhere and everywhere. And doing films that were so groundbreaking and exciting that mainstream actors and studios were starting to pay attention -- and also lining up to work with them.
THR: These days, how close do you like to get to a film you're working on?
De Luca: I love being on set. Because I was an executive for 19 years -- 16 at New Line and three and DreamWorks -- so I couldn't wait to get out from behind a desk and observe the director in action with the cast watching a movie coming together: There are so many people involved, it's like watching a military campaign, or watching 300 people suddenly come together as a family.
THR: Before you decided you wanted to work in the movies, what did you want to be when you grew up?
De Luca: To be honest, I didn't think of other fields.
THR: Does seeing movies still excite you the way it used to?
De Luca:For Avatar, I was there on opening night for the midnight show, with the glasses and the Imax presentation. I still get a kick out of that. Any time you can be with like-minded people, laughing or crying over the same joke or the same scene... For me it's therapeutic. You just feel a little less alone on the planet.
THR: What's an ideal slate of films for you?
De Luca: Because of my New Line upbringing, half my heart goes to scrappy independents, and half goes to mainstream, down-the-middle pop culture events. And even with those, to try to keep something fresh and original with them and try to do things that the majors miss. Someone once said to me, we're all prisoners of our skill set.
THR: The studios, you think, have loosened up considerably since you started working in film in the '80s, when new studio bosses came in.
De Luca:Once those jobs changed hands, the new people started to open up to the new generation of filmmakers doing studio movies. So you end up with David O. Russell doing Three Kings, Bennett Miller doing Moneyball, Spike Jonze doing Where the Wild Things Are.
THR: The indie revolution seems to be over. What will it take to keep smart, unconventional movies coming?
De Luca: For the fresh Young Turk filmmakers to have the access they need, you need heads of production that don't mind taking chances on new talent: I think it keeps the industry really fresh. I think this town is a meritocracy.