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David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman followed their best picture Oscar noms for producing The Fighter with a resurrection of the Muppets franchise for Disney, burnishing their status as one of the industry’s most eclectic hitmaking teams. A Detroit transplant, Hoberman, 59, earned his stripes as a Disney exec under Jeffrey Katzenberg in the ’80s, rising to president of the motion picture group. He left in 1994 and founded Mande-ville Films, where he hired Lieberman, a much younger Cleveland native who’s now 38, in 1999. After a stint at Hyde Park Entertainment, they re-formed Mandeville in 2002 under a deal with Disney and have produced modestly budgeted hits there ever since. With The Muppets, the married Lieberman and separated Hoberman — who between them have five kids — have more than $1.2 billion in worldwide grosses under the Mandeville name, with more homegrown film adaptations in the works, including Disney Channel’s popular Phineas and Ferb.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: What’s your working relationship like?
Todd Lieberman: When I started with David, I was definitely a more inexperienced executive who hadn’t worked in the studio system before. So I was very fortunate to tag along and attach myself to someone who had so much experience in the business. As our relationship turned into a partnership, it organically grew, and I got more mature and more confident in my own skills. We’ve been working together for so long, we’re almost like a Venn diagram, where our brains are kind of meshed together.
THR: What’s been the hardest film to make?
David Hoberman: Surrogates. It was a difficult film that had a lot of visual effects. We turned in the script for that film the night before the writers strike, and when the strike was over, we realized during production that the script needed a lot of work.
Lieberman: Beverly Hills Chihuahua, where I nearly died in Mexico. I lost 17 pounds, and I went to the hospital three times. It was absolutely disastrous for me.
THR: What’s been the most unexpectedly gratifying?
Hoberman: I’d have to say The Fighter.
Lieberman: Yeah. Because it came from a little story that we heard and turned into something that was well beyond what we ever would have hoped it could have been.
Hoberman: I never thought that The Muppets would be one of the best-reviewed movies of the year.
Lieberman: I didn’t realize the amount of pressure that was on this movie until after we had made it. And finally, when the reviews came out, I said to myself, “Wow, what would have happened if it wasn’t received well?”
THR: Is a Muppets sequel in the works?
Lieberman: We’ve been discussing the potential for something. We don’t know what it is or anything about it; it just started coming up.
THR: If you were Muppets, which ones would each of you be?
Hoberman: I’ll pick Gonzo for Todd. Todd is the kind of guy who’s out there and all over everything. He’s fearless, and he’s not afraid to take chances and do crazy things.
Lieberman: I think David’s Kermit because you don’t really get a rise out of him. He doesn’t go too low; he’s pretty steady at the center of the action.
THR: Do your Midwest upbringings inform your tastes as filmmakers?
Lieberman: A hundred percent, totally. My feeling is when I go back to Cleveland, I’m reminded of where my taste came from, which is very populist.
Hoberman: I have been out here for so long. I am pretty ensconced in Los Angeles and Hollywood. My taste for making movies was really formed in my years at Disney.
MANDEVILLE’S TOP 5 FILMS
- The Proposal (Disney, 2009): $317.4 million*
- Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney, 2008): $149.3 million
- The Fighter (Paramount, 2010): $129.2 million
- Surrogates (Disney, 2009): $122.4 million
- Eight Below (Disney, 2006): $120.5 million
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