Q&A: Marc Abraham

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As a producer, Marc Abraham has worked on such big action hits as "Spy Game" and "Air Force One," commercial dramas like "The Family Man" and sophisticated fare like "Children of Men."

With his quirky period piece "Flash of Genius" -- about the indomitable spirit of a man (Dennis Kearns) who invented intermittent windshield wipers and fought for years to get credit for it -- the Universal-based producer proves he also has directing chops and is comfortable with more intimate material.

THR caught up with the producer-turned-director before his movie opened Oct. 3.

Hollywood Reporter: "Flash" has a strong underdog current -- one man against the auto corporations -- which given everything that's going on in the economy seems pretty tapped into the zeitgeist.

Marc Abraham: I think there's something to that. We could talk about how we now have less and less of a voice. It might be because we're working for fewer and fewer people. You're working at Enron, and you have this nice pension and then suddenly you don't. Or you're part of the automotive industry and then suddenly you don't know where your next paycheck is coming from.

THR: Watching your movies over the years, I'm struck by how much seriousness lurks in them -- "Children of Men" is a great chase movie, but it's really about the thin line between democracy and tyranny. "Family Man" is an uplifting suburban story that's really about the discontentment of middle-class life.

Abraham: I'm interested in themes. I want to make a movie that's about something. But I always want it disguised. I don't want anyone to know. They're movies with commercial appeal that just beneath the surface have more complex ideas.

THR: There's a parallel between you and Kearns -- he spent years fighting for what he believed was his, and you kind of did that with "Flash," which has been in development for almost a decade.

Abraham: (Laughing) I don't think of myself as Kearns, but I suppose there is something to that. I remember first reading the article about him from (the New Yorker) writer John Seabrook and thinking, "We need to make this." And then a lot of things happened. Stacey Snider really liked it, but then of course she left Universal. The years went on.

THR: What made you think this is something you wanted to direct? You see so many scripts and probably don't feel that way about most of them.

Abraham: Well, I've done a lot of things that are similar to the kind of life Kearns led. I've driven a beer truck. I've worked on an oil rig in Louisiana. I understand that mind-set. And then one day the seas parted and I said, "I'm going to do it." I remember telling (studio execs and producing partners) that we were moving ahead with the movie. "That's the good news," I said. "The bad news is, "I'm going to direct it."

THR: It's not an easy transition, is it?

Abraham: The No. 1 thing you learn as a producer is to take the hands-on part of you who wants to do everything and kill that guy. And as a director you have to be that guy. But there are things you have to kill as a director, too. You have this great idea for a scene, but your DP tells you you can't do that, or someone else tells you it won't work. Being a director is having your dream crash into reality every day at 60 miles per hour.

THR: What about the actor side? You always hear stories about first-time directors who sail on to the set with confidence, and then they get the bullhorn and they realize it's not so easy.

Abraham: As a producer, I've gotten to see how many directors are with actors. I learned never to raise my voice. I did use discipline. I told them they let me down. John McEnroe whined about everything. I'm not that guy. I prefer the Roger Federer approach.

THR: You've gotten a chance to work with some pretty big filmmakers: Alfonso Cuaron, Brett Ratner, Tony Scott. What's a partnership you might not have expected to work that did?

Abraham: When we were making "The Family Man," Curtis Hanson was going to direct, but he couldn't. And then Brett came to me. He started by telling me how much money his movies make -- he gave me all the wrong reasons. I said, "I don't care about any of that. I care about what kind of movie you're going to make."
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