Ratner digs through scrapbook to unearth some teachable moments

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Brett Ratner makes Hollywood blockbusters, dates celebrities and jet-sets around the world, but what he really wants to do is ... be a teacher?

Hard as it might be for some to swallow, Ratner's recent moves are putting him in the spotlight as a film-industry educator.

The director, who hasn't made a film since 2007's "Rush Hour 3," is readying the Tuesday release of the first volume in his DVD line, "The Shooter Series," which focuses on early and little-seen work of directors who made the transition from hip-hop music videos to movies. (Naturally, the first volume shines the spotlight on one Brett Ratner.)

It comes on top of Ratner's recent resuscitation of his Rat Press publishing house, putting out several volumes that reveal the industry's inner workings.

"For me, this is kind of an education piece," Ratner says of the "Shooter" series. "I learned from watching movies over and over and going to the behind-the-scenes stuff. I studied by watching laserdiscs -- remember them? -- and watching the extras."

Ratner was inspired by seeing compilations by Palm Pictures that focused on the work of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. The director partnered with the producer of that series, Richard Brown, to create the new direct-to-DVD project. After Ratner's first volume come looks at the Hughes brothers, F. Gary Gray and perhaps others. The series will feature film-school shorts, home movies, music videos, commercials and public-service announcements as well as documentaries on the filmmakers.

Ratner's volume was two years in the making as he combed though his archives, his garage and his mom's home, searching for anything that could be included. One find came this year: 20-year-old footage Ratner unearthed in his garage of Mickey Rourke as the actor prepares for one of his early fights.

As with many of Ratner's projects, hearing him talk about it is as much as fun as watching.

"Mickey grew up in my house because he never liked being in his house," says Ratner, talking about his boyhood in Miami. "He was the only connection to the movie business I had as a kid. And he told me, 'I'm going to quit acting.' I flipped. 'Are you crazy?' 'Yeah, I'm going to go into boxing.' I told him, 'I think you're insane,' and I asked him if I could film him boxing. I was looking for any excuse to film. So I followed him."

Ratner got Albert Maysles, co-director of the original "Grey Gardens," to edit and produce the short, with the resulting piece making an excellent and eerily prescient companion to "The Wrestler."

Another noteworthy item is a short showing photographer Peter Beard working with models, footage that was shot 23 years ago. Ratner charmed Beard into letting him come by a photo shoot, though he had only a bit of film.

"I had to act like I was filming, and so I ended up inputting (some of) the film into the camera three times; that's why there's a lot of superimposed shots," Ratner says. That short film, "Beard by Ratner," features a Rolling Stones song that played during the photo shoot. "Mick gave me permission to use the song for free, which is shocking because the Rolling Stones never give anything for free," Ratner says.

The director is excited about the effect the series could have on someone looking to make a start in filmmaking.

"I think it can be inspiring to a film student to see that early work and go, 'He went from there to there,' " Ratner says. "They can see all the out-of-focus shots, the shaky shots, the bad composition and go, 'This is the guy that made "X-Men" and "Rush Hour"?' "

Ratner wants to make a similar impact with his publishing endeavors: He has issued soft covers of out-of-print books on Marlon Brando and Robert Evans, and this summer he put out a hardcover of photographs by Scott Caan. He says he was as much a voracious reader of books on directors and the entertainment business as he was a watcher of movies, and he wanted to put out the type of books he learned from.

"One thing it encourages is fearlessness in me," Ratner says. "(My career) is not going to be hit after hit; the business is cyclical. And when you read about other people's life experiences, you learn as much as you would in school.

"My rule is that it has to be written by someone in the business," he says of the publishing mandate. "I might publish a novel by an editor; I might publish a script. I'm fascinated by the culture. I really learned from the books I read about making films, on top of the films I saw."

Working on the "Shooter" series inspired Ratner to go back into shorts -- he's part of the directing lineup in "New York, I Love You," and he exchanges shorts with Roman Polanski -- but he is itching to get back to his blockbusters. He is about to begin casting his untitled tower-heist project, eyeing a January start with a new draft expected this week.

"It's everything I'm good at: action, comedy, relationships," he says. "It'll be an ensemble."
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