Irwin Winkler Says 'Creed' Sequel in the Works, Slams Warner Bros. Over 'Goodfellas' Accounting
"We think that there is really a story to examine the life of Adonis Creed, and we’re going ahead with it," the producer said.
The first steps toward making a sequel to Creed — the seventh film in the Rocky Balboa franchise — are imminent, says Irwin Winkler.
The producer, who won a best-picture Oscar for the original Rocky (shared with then-partner Robert Chartoff) expects to start talking about the Creed follow-up this month. “Next couple of weeks, we’ll start,” he said on February 29. “But basically it’s about Creed [rather than Rocky]. We think that there is really a story to examine the life of Adonis Creed, and we’re going ahead with it.”
He did not say whether Creed’s director, Ryan Coogler, and its star, Michael B. Jordan, were contractually committed to return.
Winkler went ahead with the Warner Bros. release despite having sued the studio recently over the profits to 1990’s Goodfellas, one of several movies he has made with Martin Scorsese (others include Raging Bull and The Wolf of Wall Street).
“We kind of separate the production from the lawyers,” he said. “And they’re very litigious and I hire litigious attorneys as well.” He added: “I’m not happy with them. They really cheated me… I had a contract that said 100 percent of video sales goes into the pot that we share. And they had a clause in the contract that said if they license it to a third party, whatever that third party reports to them is what goes into the pot. So what they did is they licensed it to a company called Warner Home Video. And Warner Home Video took 80 percent and reported 20 percent. They said, ‘Well, that’s all we got.’ But all the employees of Warner Home Video were hired by Warner Bros. The profits went to Warner Bros … so it’s obvious, you know, they cheated.”
A rep for Warner Bros responded: “He and his representatives have known for decades about the accounting methods he now challenges, and his own auditor is considered an expert on the 20% video royalty being the industry standard. The claims have no merit and have long-since expired.”
Winkler took part in The Hollywood Reporter’s ongoing interview series, The Hollywood Masters, held at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV.
He also revealed the role Harvey Weinstein played in bringing about the movie.
When Coogler initially approached Winkler, he said: “I didn’t want to meet him, because people had been coming out of the woodwork saying they always had an idea, and it was a waste of time. And then Harvey Weinstein at lunch one day said, ‘Take this DVD, I think it’s really good.’ I [had just landed] at Sundance, and I saw Fruitvale Station, and I saw the credit and it was the same guy that I had been ignoring for a year. And I said, ‘OK, I’ll meet him.’ And he pitched the idea. The idea was different, but still it had some of the heart of Rocky, and we said, ‘OK, let’s take a chance and let’s find a new way to tell the story.’ ”
The producer also spoke about his new collaboration with Scorsese, Silence, which is set in 17th century Japan and opens at the end of the year. The key players all worked for scale.
Asked why it had taken so long to get off the ground, he said: “Frankly, budget. It was very, very expensive, and it was budgeted, because it takes place in 1670 in Japan. We got lucky and found out about Taipei, and in and around Taipei and Taiwan, we found great, great locations. The prices were very cheap, and we were able to make it for a price. And all the actors, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, everybody worked for scale. Marty worked for scale, I worked for under scale. We gave back money.”
In his long career, he said, he had few regrets (losing Jaws and The Towering Inferno, when he pitched both projects to an executive who turned them down, counted among those regrets).
One picture he was involved with only tangentially helped him in a big way financially. That was the original Star Wars.
“Our editor on New York, New York was Marcia Lucas, George Lucas’s wife at the time,” he recalled. “And we were doing our sound mix at the old Sam Goldwyn studios over on Formosa, and Marcia came to me and said, ‘George has got this cockamamie movie he made in London, and he’s mixing it at Warner Bros., but he’s run out of time. He’s over schedule, and they have another film coming in, so he’s got to get out.’ And she said, ‘Could you let George come in at night? We finish mixing New York, New York sound, like, at 7:00. Could George come in at 7:30, and he’ll leave at 6:00 in the morning, and we can come in and do our film.’ I couldn’t say no to her, although the studio was not happy about it, because the equipment in those days could wear out. Everything was on reels. It wasn’t digital.”
Lucas did the sound mixing in the evenings, when Winkler and Scorsese were not working on theirs. Then he showed them the movie. “George showed [it to] Margo, my wife and I. We were literally the first people in the world to see Star Wars. The next day — true story — next day I ran out and I bought stock in 20th Century Fox.”
A full transcript follows.
STEPHEN GALLOWAY: It’s 1975, and you’ve made a few films, including They Shoot Horses, Don’t They and Point Blank. You’re partnered with Robert Chartoff. And an unknown actor comes to you with a script about a boxer who loses. What on earth made you want to do it?
IRWIN WINKLER: Well, that’s basically the story, but not the whole story. Actually, we were introduced to Sly [Sylvester Stallone] as an actor. We didn’t have a job for him. And as he was leaving my office, he said, “Oh, by the way, I’m also a writer.” He didn’t look like a writer, he didn’t seem like a writer, he didn’t talk like a writer, but he wrote like a writer. And he said, “I have this script. If I send it over, will you read it?” And we nodded and looked at our watch and, “How long is this going to go on?” And he sent the script. It was not Rocky, by the way, and we thought the writing was quite, quite good, but it was not something we wanted to produce. So we called him and said, “Thank you very much. You’re a good writer, but it’s not something we want to do.” And he said, “Well, I have an idea. Can I come in and tell you my idea?” He was really very, very hungry for any kind of job. And he came in, he pitched the idea of Rocky to us. We liked the idea. He said, “Look, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I don’t have any money, but I will write the script for you for free. You don’t have to pay me anything, but there’s one condition: If you like the script and you want to make the movie, I have to be the star of it.” And it was really a ballsy thing to say.
WINKLER: So much so that we said, “OK,” and we also said, “What have we got to lose? If we don’t like the script, we just don’t make it, and if we like the script, why not?” So that’s how it actually happened.
GALLOWAY: He wrote the script apparently in three and a half days. Is that true?
WINKLER: No, he wrote it in three and a half weeks.
GALLOWAY: It’s amazing with these things, how they develop their own mythology.
WINKLER: But three and a half weeks is pretty quick.
GALLOWAY: When you read it back then, how different was it from the final film?
WINKLER: Quite different, actually. It was a bit messy, it was undisciplined, because he was not a writer that had a lot of experience writing screenplays. And we gave him our notes, but the heart of it was there. The character of Rocky was very clearly defined, but the plot was a bit of a mess. The relationship with Paulie, the Burt Young character, wasn’t quite what it turned out to be. But the normal process of making a film came into that.
GALLOWAY: Walk us through what a producer does on a picture like that. The first challenge is to get the material.
WINKLER: The first challenge is to get the material and to decide that you want to make it and you can make it, that there’s a possibility of making it. That was not the case with Rocky, inasmuch as: here is the setting at the time — a love story between two unattractive people. He’s not beautiful, nor was Talia Shire beautiful. The background is a boxer. At the time, fighting was not very, very big as a sport, both in television and in the ring. People didn’t go to boxing in the ’70s. And he was no star. He was an unknown. So why make a film with an unknown, about two unattractive people, and the background is fighting, which is not very up-to-date? By the way, those are the best reasons to make a movie.
GALLOWAY: [LAUGHS] Yes.
WINKLER: When you throw away the rule book and when you say, “OK, this is why we should make it. It’s because it’s a great star, great romantic story, everybody wants to do that.” The idea is to find a story that’s so unique that nobody really wants to do it. Those are the ones you should really make the effort to make. So what happened in this case, and briefly how sometimes Hollywood works, we then gave it to the studio, which at the time was United Artists, which is now part of MGM, and they said, “Why in the world would we want to make this movie? What, are you out of your mind? You want to star Sylvester Stallone?” And what happened was we said, “Well, look, we really want to make it.” And I think our determination was multiplied by their lack of enthusiasm.
WINKLER: We figured, if they didn’t really want to make it, we should make it. Again, going against the grain, just fighting the obviousness of what they wanted. So they went behind our back and they went to Sly, who didn’t have a penny to his name; he was flat broke, he had a wife and a baby. And they said to him, “You know what we’ll do? We want to star Burt Reynolds or Ryan O’Neal in the movie. Maybe it has a chance, and we’ll give you $350,000 to sell us the script.” And he, who had no money at all, said, “You know, Irwin Winkler and Bob Chartoff promised me that they would star me in the film, and I’m going to go with them.” So then they came back to us, and we had a very unique deal at the time with United Artists. We had an opportunity that, if we do not make a picture for the first nine months of our relationship with them, we could “put” a picture to them. I don’t know if anybody knows what a put picture is, but for those that don’t –
GALLOWAY: A “put” picture is a movie that the studio has to make, contractually. And you have the right to choose what it is.
WINKLER: A put picture is when you actually put it to them and say, “You have to make it. You have to finance the movie.” And the conditions are a budget and a rating. In other words, it couldn’t be an NC-17, and the budget in this case had to be $1.5 million, which today would be about $10 million. So what they did is, they put a man on, budgeted the film, and they budgeted it at $2 million. And they said, “Well, it doesn’t come under your arrangement with us, because your arrangement was it had to be a million and a half, and it’s going to cost two.” They did everything they could to get out of it, and as they tried harder and harder to get out of it, we became more determined to make it.
WINKLER: We finally said: “You know what? We’ll make it for $1 million, and anything over that we will pay for ourselves,” and we didn’t have a quarter to our name, by the way, Bob and I. We didn’t have the money to back that, so we had to basically sign a personal note that if we spent more than $1 million, we would pay for it. We ended up spending $1,025,000, but that was because we re-shot the ending. And at that point, they just threw up their hands and said, “OK, make it,” and then they sent me a letter saying, “By the way, we just want to make sure you understand that we have no obligation to release the film theatrically. We have the right to sell it directly to television if that’s what we [want].” And we won the Academy Award with it.
WINKLER: So that’s one story of how a picture got made. And there are many, many stories of how other pictures get made.
GALLOWAY: So you mortgaged your houses?
WINKLER: Well, yeah, yeah. We signed a personal note. I didn’t tell my wife, by the way.
GALLOWAY: You didn’t?
GALLOWAY: Did she approve of this?
GALLOWAY: Would you advise these guys to do the same thing?
WINKLER: No, no. It’s too risky.
GALLOWAY: Let’s take a quick look at a clip from it, and then I want to talk a bit more about this movie. Here’s the clip from Rocky, with Burgess Meredith in a role that I think you wanted Lee Strasberg for.
WINKLER: No, Lee J. Cobb.
GALLOWAY: And Carrie Snodgress.
WINKLER: Yeah, for the Talia Shire part. We wanted her desperately, and she wouldn’t work for the money. We didn’t have a lot of money for any actors. What we should have done, instead of Burgess Meredith — but he was a little too young at the time — was hire Barry Primus, but that’s another story.
GALLOWAY: Oh, well, Burgess Meredith, he’s pretty good. Let’s take a look at a clip from Rocky.
GALLOWAY: What do you remember about the shoot?
WINKLER: A couple of things. We were fast. We shot 12 days in Philadelphia, and I think 14 days here in L.A. We were basically non-union, so we were running around all the time. We had a very, very small crew, because we didn’t have any money, and we had a unit which was the camera truck, the prop truck, the generator, and various pieces of grip equipment in one vehicle. We had a small camper, which was Sly’s dressing room; it was a production office, it was the honey wagon and it was where everybody hung out in the cold. And that’s how — and we had no caterer. We would stop off at a pizza parlor in Philadelphia and have lunch. That’s how we did the movie. It was really on the run.
GALLOWAY: Did you ever imagine that 40 years later you’d still be making Rocky films?
WINKLER: I couldn’t imagine that we would have made a Rocky II. What happened is we really thought that Rocky Balboa was it, and frankly, I was very reluctant to make Rocky Balboa, but Sly really, really pressed us to make it, and we thought it ended in a really nice note, it was a success, it was very, very well received, and we had no intention of going beyond that. And then this young Ryan Coogler showed up and had an idea. We liked him a lot on meeting him, and we said, “OK, you know, we gave Sly a chance 40 years ago, and Sly said, ‘You gave me a chance.’ Why don’t we all give this kid a chance?” At the time he was 26. When Sly first met him, he hadn’t even done Fruitvale Station.
WINKLER: I didn’t want to meet him, because people had been coming out of the woodwork saying they always had an idea, and it was a waste of time. And then Harvey Weinstein at lunch one day said, “Take this DVD, I think it’s really good.” I [had just landed] at Sundance, and I saw Fruitvale Station, and I saw the credit and it was the same guy that I had been ignoring for a year.
WINKLER: And I said, “OK, I’ll meet him.” And he pitched the idea. The idea was different, but still it had some of the heart of Rocky, and we said, “OK, let’s take a chance and let’s find a new way to tell the story.”
GALLOWAY: Who owned the rights to Rocky at that point?
WINKLER: We and United Artists did. Chartoff, Winkler and United Artists.
GALLOWAY: So they couldn’t have made it without you, you couldn’t have made it without MGM/UA.
WINKLER: That’s exactly right, which gave us a great negotiating position.
GALLOWAY: So when you did Creed, what were the challenges there? I thought Stallone was pretty reluctant to do it at all.
WINKLER: Yeah, he was reluctant until he spent quite a bit of time with both Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler, and at some point, I’d say it was probably about four or five months before we actually started shooting, he really turned himself over to Ryan. He said, “OK, look, you’re the director. At this point, I’m the actor. I am not the guy that created the character, I’m not the guy that wrote and directed five of the movies, or four of the movies, and tell me what you want me to do.” And he really gave himself over to this young director, who was really brilliant and great. So that’s how it came about.
GALLOWAY: Did they not write the script until you’d had the meeting with them?
WINKLER: No. He just had the idea, and then we engaged him to write the script.
GALLOWAY: Is there going to be another?
WINKLER: Oh, yeah.
GALLOWAY: With Stallone attached?
WINKLER: Hopefully, yeah. But basically it’s about Creed. We think that there is really a story to examine the life of Adonis Creed, and we’re going ahead with it.
GALLOWAY: Is somebody writing the script now?
WINKLER: No. Next couple of weeks, we’ll start. We want to get over the Academy Awards, get that out of the way.
GALLOWAY: Good luck. So what was it like when you won the Oscar? You were against some very stiff competition. Network, All the President’s Men.
WINKLER: And Taxi Driver, by the way. It was a tough year. You know what? I was surprised; you always are surprised; you never know you’re going to win. The film before that had gotten the big, big critical acclaim was They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, which some of you may not have heard about, may not have seen.
GALLOWAY: Just an incredible film.
WINKLER: And it’s a film that got 10 Academy Award nominations, but not best picture, which is every category possible, but not best picture. And the atmosphere at the time in the mid-’70s was certainly not the atmosphere you have today. It was not all this advertising and every candidate that has a chance to get an Oscar nomination will show up any place there’s a voter, whether it’s a bar mitzvah in Woodland Hills or a christening in Queens. You know they will be out there. That wasn’t quite the case then. So it was a surprise, but the competitiveness was the same. To me, the ultimate competitiveness was sharing the best picture award with Network at the L.A. Film Critics. And standing next to Paddy Chayefsky, who is this great, great writer —
GALLOWAY: Three-time Oscar winner, I think.
WINKLER: Yeah, he wrote some of the best movies ever, and Network is a brilliantly written movie. And he was standing next to me when they announced that we had shared the prize, and I turned to him, put my hand out and said, “Congratulations.” And he looked at me and he said, “I hope you die.”
WINKLER: So that’s the competitiveness.
GALLOWAY: Wow. He was a curmudgeon.
WINKLER: That’s exactly what he said.
GALLOWAY: You know, I remember when Network came out, and I remember looking at it, thinking, “Well, I like this movie, it’s beautifully made, incredible acting. But, come on, it’s not real.” And today —±
WINKLER: And today it’s real. Have you all seen Network? Sidney Lumet was a great, great director, by the way. It’s a terrific movie.
GALLOWAY: How did you get into the business? You grew up in New York.
WINKLER: I grew up in New York. I went to NYU. When I graduated from NYU, I went looking for a job, and somebody said, “What about agenting?” I didn’t know. What does an agent do? I had no idea. And I applied for a job at MCA, which was the great big agency at the time, and it was kind of interesting. As I was waiting for my interview, there was a guy on the phone with Burt Lancaster. So this sounds like fun, you know? They asked me a whole bunch of questions, and I had no idea what they were talking about, and obviously I didn’t get the job. But I found out that there was another agency called the William Morris agency. So I went up and I applied for a job, and sure enough, they asked me the exact same questions, and now I knew what not to say. And I got a job.
GALLOWAY: Do you remember the questions they asked you?
WINKLER: No, no, no. But they hired me for the summer, because I had just graduated from college. It was June, and they said, “People go on vacation. You could be in the mailroom for the next eight weeks, and then you’re going to have to go.” And I said, “OK.” I was a kid and I couldn’t care less. And after seven weeks, they called me in and said, “You know, you’ve got a week or so to go.” In the meantime, the head of the mailroom said to me, “I have an envelope here that you have to take to Billy Eckstine.” Billy Eckstine was a great, great singer at the time, and big star. And he said to me, “Take it up to Billy Eckstine’s apartment; he lives here” — he gave me an address, 125th Street in Harlem — “and have him sign this contract and bring it right back. And here is $4, take a taxi. It’s an urgent deal.” Well, I’m making $40 a week, I ain’t going to take a taxi. I walk down, I take the subway. And the next stop, it’s an express, next stop is 125th Street. I walk up, Billy Eckstine signs the contract. I get down to the subway, an express comes in, I’m back in the guy’s office in 20 minutes, and he is furious. He now accuses me of forging Billy Eckstine’s name and keeping the $4.
WINKLER: So I said, “Well, call Mr. Eckstine.” Sure enough, he called him. Eckstine says, “Yeah, the kid was here, and I signed the contract.” Well, he was so embarrassed, he let me stay on in the mail room. So I stayed on and I had seven miserable years at William Morris. I was the worst agent they ever had. The only thing is, they were very fatherly, and because you were there, they didn’t fire you. They let you stay. But I wasn’t very good.
GALLOWAY: Why were you not a good agent?
WINKLER: I just wasn’t good at it. I mean, there’s just some things you can do and some things you can’t, and I couldn’t do that very well.
GALLOWAY: What makes a good producer?
WINKLER: Tenacity. Besides what you said before, which was really finding material, having a sense of literature, really, is knowing how to read. And then tenacity, and some talent of putting everything together and keeping things on track.
GALLOWAY: You partnered with Bob Chartoff, who’d been a manager of comics. Why did that work, and why in the end did it not work?
WINKLER: I don’t think I want to discuss it.
GALLOWAY: Well, let’s talk about the beginning, at least. Why did you get together —
WINKLER: Well, what happened is, I was very unhappy at William Morris. He had graduated from Columbia Law School, and didn’t want to be a lawyer. And we met through a mutual friend, and he convinced me to leave the Morris office and that we should start a management business. And he handled some comics as a manager at the time, and we got into the music business, and we were very successful. We discovered Joni Mitchell and we handled Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and a whole bunch of those people. And then got into the movie business.
GALLOWAY: When you were in the movie business, how was it different then, in the late 1960s, and then coming into the 1970s?
WINKLER: It was always tough. Getting a movie made has always been a process and it’s always been a difficult process. When I started at MGM, the movie business was in terrible, terrible shape. The old studio system had fallen apart between the 1947 Consent Decree, which [ruled that] the studios had to sell all their theaters. In those days, the studios owned all the theaters, or actually, the theater owner owned the studios. So they had a pipeline for all their movies. They’d make a movie — they make 50-some-odd movies a year — and they’d go right into the theaters. That ended with the government shutting that down. Then by the late ’50s, television came along and people stayed home to watch Milton Berle and all the variety shows, and the movie business was at really a very, very low state. So when I came to MGM, it was ragged. Nobody knew what was going on, where the future was, and it looked pretty grim. And they were selling their libraries. At that point, Paramount sold their entire library to Universal for almost no money.
WINKLER: Nobody had any money, films were really kind of a passing phase. And that went on basically until Spielberg came along with Jaws, and The Godfather. In the early 1970s, it really, really started to change. Jaws was this tremendous success. By the way, in those days, if you opened a film in 300 theaters, that was a big deal.
WINKLER: Today it’s 3,000 theaters. So up until I’d say 1972, it was really, really confusing. They were all kind of on the edge of bankruptcy, and some were going out of business. But with the ’70s, you had Jaws, you had Star Wars, you had Rocky, then you had Woody Allen coming and making all these wonderful little movies, and things changed radically in the ’70s. And the studios kind of gave up their position to the filmmakers. We made a film called Leo the Last, with Marcello Mastroianni, and the process of getting it made — this was about 1968 — the process of getting it made is, I submitted the script to the studio, which was United Artists, and the head of the studio said to me: “You know, you’ve given me this script time and time again, and I keep saying no to it. Why do you keep giving it to me?” His name was David Picker. I said, “David, let me ask you a question. How many movies have you made this year?” He said, “Twelve.” I said, “How many are going to make money?” He said, “Three, maybe four.”
I said, “Well, did you like all 12 scripts?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “OK, you liked 12 scripts, three of them made money. Aren’t you better off taking my script that you don’t like? The odds are better.” And you know what he said to me? He said, “Go make the movie.”
GALLOWAY: [LAUGHS] Wow.
WINKLER: But the point is that’s how crazy things were at that stage. Nobody knew anything. And the same gentleman, David Picker, found James Bond and made that, and they made great films with Tony Richardson in that period.
GALLOWAY: And yet the ’70s is considered the golden age of film.
WINKLER: And it was.
GALLOWAY: Is that because they were letting filmmakers run wild?
WINKLER: Yes. Because what happens is: the studios were still very old-fashioned. They couldn’t operate within the constraints of the new audience that was out there. But still, when I was at MGM, Stanley Kubrick was making 2001, David Lean was making Dr. Zhivago. They still made some pretty great movies in the late ’60s. But in the ’70s, everything changed. By the ‘mid-’80s, it went the other way again, because of Heaven’s Gate. That threw all the studios into turmoil — one really, really over-budget, badly made movie could really determine the outcome of a studio.
GALLOWAY: There’s such a staggering change between the golden period of the ’70s, and this bleak run of the ’80s.
GALLOWAY: I’ve always blamed it on the success of Jaws and Star Wars, and I think you were very tangentially involved with Star Wars. Marcia Lucas was editing for you.
WINKLER: Oh, yeah.
GALLOWAY: And mentioned a “cockamamie” little film.
WINKLER: What happened is, our editor on New York, New York was Marcia Lucas, George Lucas’s wife at the time. And we were doing our sound mix at the old Sam Goldwyn studios over on Formosa, and Marcia came to me and said, “George has got this cockamamie movie he made in London, and he’s mixing it at Warner Brothers, but he’s run out of time. He’s over schedule, and they have another film coming in, so he’s got to get out.” And she said, “Could you let George come in at night? We finish mixing New York, New York sound, like, at 7:00. Could George come in at 7:30, and he’ll leave at 6:00 in the morning, and we can come in and do our film.” I couldn’t say no to her, although the studio was not happy about it, because the equipment in those days could wear out. Everything was on reels. It wasn’t digital.
GALLOWAY: Oh, right.
WINKLER: And there were breakdowns and all, but I couldn’t say no. So I said, “OK.”
GALLOWAY: Did you see the film while it was being edited?
WINKLER: Yeah, George showed Margo, my wife and I. We were literally the first people in the world to see Star Wars. The next day — true story — next day I ran out and I bought stock in 20th Century Fox.
WINKLER: Absolutely. Well, you knew it was so different and it was great.
GALLOWAY: So if it weren’t for you, the history of film might have changed. [LAUGHS]
WINKLER: I’m sure they would have found someplace else to mix it.
GALLOWAY: You made what I think is the last great film of the ’70s, though it wasn’t released until 1980. Let’s take a look at a clip from Raging Bull.
WINKLER: Nice family scene.
GALLOWAY: It’s such an amazing film. Robert De Niro had bought the rights to Jake LaMotta’s autobiography, and then brought it to you.
GALLOWAY: This had to be an incredibly tough film to get off the ground. Scorsese wasn’t interested in directing it at that point.
WINKLER: Initially, Bob was very, very anxious to do it, and he bought the book, gave it to me. We then — Bob Chartoff and I — paid for the rights to the book and hired Paul Schrader to write the screenplay. At the same time, Marty wanted very much to make The Last Temptation of Christ, so he asked me to buy the rights to the book, which I did, and then hired the same Paul Schrader to write The Last Temptation of Christ. So that was what was going on right after New York, New York.
GALLOWAY: How did you meet Scorsese?
WINKLER: There was a fellow that worked for me; his name is Gene Kirkwood. He’s still around, lovely guy. And he said to me, “There’s this young filmmaker in New York you should see.” So I was in New York and saw Mean Streets at the New York Film Festival. I thought it was just great, and as a matter of fact, there’s a scene in Mean Streets where just before the Bob De Niro character gets shot at, gets killed, he’s standing under a poster of Point Blank.
GALLOWAY: Your film.
WINKLER: And the gun in the poster is pointing at De Niro’s head. So I thought, there’s a guy making a film called Mean Streets, young filmmaker, and he’s using a poster from one of my early films. So we met, we had drinks, and we kind of hit it off. We liked each other. And then I had developed the screenplay by myself of New York, New York. I had hired a young writer to write it, because I was always interested in the Big Band era and the music of that period. And I had mentioned it to the columnist for Variety, Army Archerd —
WINKLER: I had mentioned it to Army. He put it in the column, that Irwin Winkler has this script called New York, New York, whose background is the Big Band era. And I got a call from Marty’s agent, saying, “Marty saw that item, and he’d be very interested in reading the script.” And that’s how we got together on New York, New York.
GALLOWAY: The irony is that you expected New York, New York to be a big hit, and this other little picture, Rocky, would not make money, and you cross-collateralized this.
GALLOWAY: Explain to the audience what that means.
WINKLER: In those days — it doesn’t happen much anymore— but in those days, when you had a relationship with the studio, they would cross-collateralize your picture, which meant that if you had two pictures and one was a big success and the other one was not, 50 percent of your profits from the successful film would go towards 50 percent of the loss on the picture that wasn’t successful. And if you did them in threes, it was even worse.
GALLOWAY: Then you never got any money.
WINKLER: Yeah. So we thought, “Well, this is great. We’re going to make a fortune on New York, New York.” So we had this little thing, Rocky. Hey, how much could it lose, you know? It’s only costing $1 million. Little did we know that Rocky would pay for [the other one]. Actually, it turned out we made money on New York, New York, because the song was such a big success. The song was never played on the radio or by disc jockeys for about two and a half three years after the film, and then Frank Sinatra made a version of it. And that became the great success.
GALLOWAY: Everybody today thinks it’s a Sinatra classic.
WINKLER: It was really Liza-written for Liza [Minnelli], by the way. Kander and Ebb wrote it for Liza.
GALLOWAY: Scorsese went through a hard time personally, almost died before you did Raging Bull. How did that affect the shoot and the film?
WINKLER: By the time we got to Raging Bull, he was fine. By the way, the only reason Raging Bull got made was because of Rocky. The studio wanted us to make Rocky II very badly, and we said the only way we would make it if you agree to finance Raging Bull. So Raging Bull would never have gotten made if not for Rocky II.
GALLOWAY: The studio was very concerned about it getting an X rating. What changes did you have to make to not get an X rating, to keep them happy?
WINKLER: We didn’t make any. The rating board accepted [it]. First of all, when we showed the film to the head of United Artists — and there were a lot of changes going on at the studio at the time — they had never seen any dailies, they had never seen a cut or anything. We had great control. So Marty and I took the film — we had mixed it in New York, and we mixed it in L.A. And the head of the studio, after the screening, got up, walked to the back of the room where Marty and I were standing, and he looked at Marty and he said, “Young man, you’re a genius,” and walked out. And we never heard from him again.
GALLOWAY: Things have changed.
WINKLER: Yeah. Oh, yeah. A lot.
GALLOWAY: What about shooting in black and white? Was that an issue?
WINKLER: Yes, but — you know, I was very, very entertained and educated the other night. On HBO, there was a documentary about Mike Nichols.
GALLOWAY: Becoming Mike Nichols.
WINKLER: Nichols tells the story about how he got Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? made in black and white. Jack Warner said the New York people don’t want it, and [Nichols] said, “What do you mean New York? It’s Warner Brothers, and you’re Warner, and you make the decisions.” And all of a sudden, Jack Warner said, “OK, make it in black and white.” And we almost had the same kind of [thing]. They said, “Why would you want to make it in black and white?” We said, “We really think we want to make it.” “Well, OK.”
But you have to understand, again, that’s what was going on in the late ’70s. The studios had no confidence in their own decision-making. So if you really put up enough of a stink about something, they kind of went, “OK, do it.”
GALLOWAY: Has the role of a producer changed as the studios have become more powerful again? I mean, today studios are once again dominant. It’s become a very corporate world. Marketing has become hugely important. How has that affected what you do?
WINKLER: We now have to forge a partnership with the studio, creatively. I think it started back when Jeff Katzenberg and Michael Eisner were running Disney. Jeff was running a picture business of Disney, where they took this moribund studio, which wasn’t doing anything, and really made it a success. But my understanding was, and I’m sure Jeff would probably contradict this, that he had a video playback in his office from the set of a movie they were shooting. And he would say, “I don’t think that setup is very good. We should move the camera.”
WINKLER: So what happened was, now the studios really, really take a great deal of license when it comes to the creative aspects of the film. However, with some filmmakers, whether it’s Scorsese, whether it’s Spielberg — and there are a number of them — [they] have a great deal of influence. And basically, the last two movies that I produced with Marty, The Wolf of Wall Street, and a film that’s coming out at the end of the year called Silence, Marty had complete control. But we did it through independent financing. They get released through a studio, but the money comes from an independent financer who has absolutely no input creatively at all. So that’s the change.
GALLOWAY: Why did it take so long to get Silence off the ground?
WINKLER: Frankly, budget. It was very, very expensive, and it was budgeted, because it takes place in 1670 in Japan. We got lucky and found out about Taipei, and in and around Taipei and Taiwan, we found great, great locations. The prices were very cheap, and we were able to make it for a price. And all the actors, Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, everybody worked for scale. Marty worked for scale, I worked for under scale. [LAUGHS] We gave back money.
WINKLER: No, we all really decided, we’re gonna put all the money into the picture, so nobody got paid. So that’s how we got that made.
GALLOWAY: And it’s being edited now?
WINKLER: Yeah. It’ll come out at the end of the year.
GALLOWAY: I want to talk about this other extraordinary picture you made with him, Goodfellas. Let’s look at one of the most famous sequences, the Copacabana sequence.
WINKLER: It’s a great scene, but by the way, at the end of the scene, when the camera pans over to Henny Youngman, he says, “Take my wife, please.” When we got a perfect take, he forgot his line. He’s been doing that joke for, like, 50 years. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: How many takes did you do?
WINKLER: It was a whole day. One day to light it and rehearse it, and one whole day to shoot. We did about 12, 13 takes.
GALLOWAY: How did it come about, because it wasn’t originally conceived as being one take?
WINKLER: That’s Marty’s genius. He wanted to basically tell the story of Henry Hill and what the mob can get you. The whole idea of Goodfellas is kind of interesting construction-wise, because what you have is a story about some terrible people, but you want to hang out with them, you want to be with them. They seem to lead this wonderful, wonderful life, until Joe Pesci shoots Spider and kills him. Then you say, wait a minute, these guys are not very nice. They kill each other. But until then, you want to be part of that crowd. And Marty wanted to show what they can do. People are waiting outside to get into this club, into the Copacabana, and here’s a guy that can walk through the back, paying off $20 bills, and it’s great. Everybody wants to be that guy, you know?
GALLOWAY: Yeah. When a producer is on the set like that, what is the conversation with the director? Are you saying, “Marty, we can’t do it in one shot, it’s too complicated”?
WINKLER: No. He told me what he wanted to do, we prepared it. But by Goodfellas, we had this kind of really very close relationship, and, you know, we trust each other.
GALLOWAY: How did the project come to you?
WINKLER: It didn’t quite come to me. I came to it. What happened was I was producing a film in Paris called ’Round Midnight. A jazz film. And we were living in Paris, and every Monday I would go to the W.H. Smith bookstore, on the Rue de Rivoli, because on Monday I would get the Sunday New York Times and all the magazines from New York, because I wanted some American flavors. And I picked up New York magazine, and it had an excerpt of a book called Wiseguys, written by Nick Pileggi. So I read the excerpt, and I said, “Geez, this would make a movie,” and I called the agent, Nick Pileggi’s agent, and I said I’d like to buy it. And he said, “Well, I’m co-selling it with the CAA,” and he put me in touch with the CAA agent. And he said to me, “Oh, by the way, Marty Scorsese I hear is interested in it.” So I called Marty. He was doing Color of Money with Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in Chicago, and I called him and I said, “I’m buying this book, Wiseguys. Are you interested?” He said, “Yeah,” and that’s how it came about.
GALLOWAY: There was some resistance from the studio to casting Ray Liotta, who today seems —
WINKLER: — perfect, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Born for that part.
WINKLER: Well, not only there was the studio: I didn’t want him.
GALLOWAY: Who did you want?
WINKLER: Anybody but.
WINKLER: I really hesitated. I really thought he was not the right guy, and Marty said, “I really want him,” and I kept putting it off, putting it off. I said, “Why don’t you check out this guy?” I don’t remember who, but check out [someone], and he would check him out and he would say, “I still want Ray Liotta,” and I said, “Nah, let’s find somebody else.” I just kept putting it off. And my wife and I were having dinner with actually my dear friend who passed away, Dick Zanuck, out in a restaurant in Marina del Rey, and sitting in the restaurant was Ray Liotta. And he came over to me. He said, “Can I talk to you for a few minutes?” So I excused myself, and I got up and we walked outside. And he said, “Look, I know you don’t want me for the role,” and then he spent, like, 15 minutes telling me why he can do it, and he convinced me. And the next morning I called up Marty and I said, “You’re absolutely right, he’s perfect for the role.”
GALLOWAY: What did he say?
WINKLER: I don’t remember what he said, but he convinced me.
GALLOWAY: You just sued Warner Brothers over the profits of Goodfellas.
WINKLER: I’m suing them now, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Does that affect your relationship with them, or is it just understood, well, this is business-as-usual?
WINKLER: No, I’m not happy with them. They really cheated me.
GALLOWAY: So do you then take your movie projects to other studios?
WINKLER: No, no, we just did Creed with them. We kind of separate the production from the lawyers. And they’re very litigious and I hire litigious attorneys as well.
GALLOWAY: Right. Hope you win. [LAUGHS]
WINKLER: I hope so too. Well, just if you’re curious about what my claim is —
WINKLER: I had a contract that said 100 percent of video sales goes into the pot that we share. And they had a clause in the contract that said if they license it to a third party, whatever that third party reports to them is what goes into the pot. So what they did is they licensed it to a company called Warner Home Video.
GALLOWAY: Oh. [LAUGHS]
WINKLER: And Warner Home Video took 80 percent and reported 20 percent. They said, ‘Well, that’s all we got.’ But all the employees of Warner Home Video were hired by Warner Bros. The profits went to Warner Bros… so it’s obvious, you know, they cheated.
GALLOWAY: So studio accounting is still —
WINKLER: Yeah, it’s still going on.
GALLOWAY: You made this extraordinary move in your very late 50s, around the age of 60, of actually directing yourself. And you’ve directed several films.
GALLOWAY: Seven at this point. I want to show a clip from one of them, which I find particularly interesting, which you did about the McCarthy era and the blacklist. Let’s take a look at a clip from Guilty by Suspicion.
GALLOWAY: What made you decide you wanted to direct?
WINKLER: I had done a few films as a producer that I wasn’t happy with — I thought the scripts were quite good and the director didn’t do as good as a job as I thought he could have. And I decided to take a shot and do it on my own. And this all came out of ’Round Midnight in Paris. We were shooting and we had in the cast an expatriate American director as a nightclub owner in Paris. And he started telling me stories about the blacklist. I had no idea about the blacklist, and I started doing research, and I got interested in it. Then we hired Abe Polonsky, who was a blacklisted writer/director, to write a script. I was very, very unhappy with the script. I then wrote a script on my own, which is what this film is, and I had a lot of encouragement from, actually, the first female head of a studio, Dawn Steel, who was a very good friend of mine. She was heading Columbia at the time. And I started writing the script, and I gave it to her, and she said: “This is really good. Do you want to direct it?” And I said, “You know what? Yes.” And then Marty read it, and he encouraged me to direct it. So I had encouragement from a lot of friends.
GALLOWAY: I thought the issue with Polonsky was, he was adamant that the De Niro character, who is a blacklisted writer, be a communist, and you didn’t want him to be a communist.
WINKLER: Exactly, exactly.
GALLOWAY: Why was that so important?
WINKLER: I felt that the people that suffered from the blacklist didn’t necessarily have to be communist, that basically if you were in a room with communists, that was enough for you to be called before the committee [the House Un-American Activities Committee] and for them to say, “Who was in that room with you?” whether you were a waiter or a guest. And if you named those people, they were blacklisted, and they lost their livelihood. So I thought it was more important to tell the story about somebody who was basically an innocent, and then because he won’t betray friends who might have been innocent of anything — of everything— got blacklisted himself. Also, Polonsky just felt that the character had to be greater than thou. His picture of the De Niro character was one who is just a god, and I didn’t feel that that’s what I wanted to do either. And he was thinking about himself, really.
GALLOWAY: Do you think there could ever be another blacklist in America?
WINKLER: I think there — yes. I think Donald Trump is very capable of having a blacklist of anybody he doesn’t like.
GALLOWAY: What was the hardest thing for you about transitioning to directing?
WINKLER: The physicality is trying. I think, probably, the disappointment. When you devote yourself for a year, year and a half, to doing one thing, and it becomes your obsession, and also your escape from reality, and then if it’s (a) not well received, (b) unsuccessful, because it’s not well received — usually, the downside initially is very, very debilitating.
GALLOWAY: You mean emotionally debilitating?
WINKLER: Yeah, yeah. In the long run, you find you made something out of nothing, and it’s always there, just like you see this scene, and as I’m watching the scene, I remember I was producing Music Box at the time, and I was in Budapest. We were shooting the ending, and [I was] sitting at the airport in Budapest, waiting for a plane, when I wrote that suicide scene. I don’t feel the same way about the films I produced. There is a different ownership or authorship with the films that you direct than the ones you produce. It’s very easy to look at that great scene that Marty shot in Goodfellas, or the one that we saw here in Raging Bull, but they’re Marty’s scenes. This scene that you just saw, that’s my scene. So there is that difference.
GALLOWAY: It’s much more personal.
WINKLER: It’s ownership, really. It’s authorship.
GALLOWAY: You mentioned Music Box, which you did with Joe Eszterhas. You both walked away from Basic Instinct at one point. Why was that?
WINKLER: I stayed away. He came back.
GALLOWAY: Right, yes.
WINKLER: What happened was, I had just directed and written Guilty by Suspicion, and I was exhilarated from the process. For your first film to have Robert De Niro and Annette Bening, that’s pretty damn good. And Marty Scorsese playing the film director. And then while the editor was putting together a first cut, I went off on holiday. Joe and I had had some success both with Betrayed and with Music Box, and he sent me this script. I had no intention of reading it. I didn’t want to be a producer again. And then my wife read it and said, “You know, this is a pretty good script. You should read it.” And I liked it, and I said, “OK,” I would do it. And then I couldn’t stand Paul Verhoeven. I thought he was really a jerk.
WINKLER: We had a meeting at my house, and he said to me, “What I want to do with this movie is show nudity, sexual acts that you’ve never seen on the screen before.” And I said, “Excuse me, I’m going up to my bedroom, and I’m going to take a shower, because I feel dirty. And when I come down, I expect you to be gone.” And that’s how I left the film.
GALLOWAY: Wow. Was he gone?
WINKLER: Yeah, oh, yeah. [LAUGHS] Never saw him again.
GALLOWAY: You said I didn’t want to produce any more. Why not?
WINKLER: I was, as I said, exhilarated by the process of directing. I really liked it a lot. It was a wonderful experience. My film was equally wonderful. It was Night and the City, again with a great, great cast. Barry [Primus] was in that one as well. I really liked doing it, but I never could quite get away from producing. There was always something about it that I found comfortable. I found I was very capable of doing it, and it always came around; even while I was directing, I ended up producing some films. But I always had good people working. I had a partner for 17 years by the name of Rob Cowan, who was my co-producer, and he was great, great. And for the last six or seven years, I have two sons — Charles, who is here, and David — who have been producing with me. So when it came to Creed, Charles spent his time in Philadelphia, really nurturing Ryan Coogler, because Charles directed a great deal in his time, too.
GALLOWAY: Let’s take a look at a clip from Creed, our final clip.
GALLOWAY: Stallone, you must know pretty well at this point.
WINKLER: Yeah, 40 years’ worth.
GALLOWAY: What would surprise us about him?
WINKLER: I don’t know if it surprises anybody any more, but I guess people either don’t realize or forget that he is an extraordinarily talented man in many, many ways, almost a renaissance man. He’s a wonderful painter, a real artist. He wrote all these scripts. He directed a whole bunch of movies. He’s an Academy Award best actor nominee from 40 years ago, and I think he was underappreciated because of all the action films he’d done. But the truth of the matter is it isn’t easy to do all those action films either. And there’s a lot of acting there, but it’s not considered serious, just the way most comics are not considered serious actors as well, and that’s certainly an art. I think what people would be most surprised about really is his ability to act, and he really is good at it.
GALLOWAY: You haven’t done many action films.
WINKLER: No, mostly dramas interest me. The closest we came to an action film, I guess, is The Mechanic, which we did with Charlie Bronson, and we re-did. But mostly dramas attract me. I haven’t done many comedies either, by the way.
GALLOWAY: Is it harder to get the dramas off the ground today?
WINKLER: It’s always been hard. It’s always been hard. Is it harder now? Probably.
GALLOWAY: Do you still like the film business?
WINKLER: Yeah. I like it when it works. I’m disappointed when it doesn’t.
GALLOWAY: What do you like?
WINKLER: I got a great deal of enjoyment out of working on The Wolf of Wall Street with Marty. It was a wonderful set. DiCaprio was just wonderful to work with, and going on the set every day with Marty is literally a joy. I mean, it’s really, really fun. And I felt the same way about Silence. Schlepping to Taipei sounds like a schlep, but once you get there, again, [there’s] the excitement of being on a set like that, and with not that much responsibility, because if it doesn’t work, it isn’t your problem. [LAUGHS] I still get a kick out of that, and Creed was kind of special, inasmuch as we had a young man who was basically inexperienced, dealing with a great, great big star, who knew the franchise better than anyone else, and nurturing that aspect of Ryan Coogler, who is very, very tough — yes, this 27-year-old young man knew what he wanted and got his way every time, to his credit and our credit, because he came out so good.
GALLOWAY: How do you mean, tough?
WINKLER: Charles will tell you, who was on the set. That scene where he did the fight in one shot and the continuous Steadicam shot: we argued with them. Charles was on the set saying, “Do some coverage, do some coverage, even just at the end.” “No.” And he believed in it, and he was right.
GALLOWAY: How did you do that shot? Was it at all digital?
WINKLER: No, no. It’s all shot with a Steadicam.
GALLOWAY: That’s extraordinary… What’s been your toughest moment as a producer?
WINKLER: Toughest moment was Goodfellas, when we previewed the film to a recruited audience out in Woodland Hills and we had 42 walkouts in the first scene, when Joe was putting that big knife in the corpse.
GALLOWAY: The corpse in the car.
WINKLER: Yeah. Forty-two people walked out of there. It was a disaster. And by the time the picture was over, the theater was empty. People just left in droves.
GALLOWAY: I thought Scorsese didn’t like to test his films.
WINKLER: Studios don’t don’t care whether you like it or not. You don’t have much of a choice. We didn’t test Raging Bull, but we tested New York, New York, and that was one of the great disappointments. What happened was in New York, New York, we took it up to San Francisco to test, and Liza Minnelli came up and so did Bob De Niro, and as the audience was walking in they spotted both De Niro and Liza. So the film got an incredible rousing send-off, and we thought we had the biggest hit in the world. As it turned out, they were just fans and the picture never really did great business.
GALLOWAY: With Goodfellas, did you do anything in the editing after that?
WINKLER: No, we did a great producing job then. What happened was the studio wanted to really cut the film to ribbons. And Marty was great, and he would say, “You know, that’s not a bad idea, let me try that.” And they would come up with the most [absurd things]: “Take out the shooting of Spider, that’s too violent,” which was the whole focal point of the movie. “Take this out, take that out.” And Marty would say, “Well, I’ll think about that. Let me try that. That’s not a bad idea.” And we played this game basically for nine months, and then we turned over the film, they had a release date, they were too late, they couldn’t do anything, and it was gone.
WINKLER: So it was a really, really manipulative job on our part. It’s part of producing, by the way. That’s part of it.
GALLOWAY: We’re going to take questions. Just before we do, for the younger people here, what single piece of advice would you give them if they want to become a producer?
WINKLER: Read a lot. Really, really. It’s about literature, it’s about knowing how to understand character, how to really know what a story is. And anybody can become a producer if they have a really, really good script. That’s really the secret of it all, a good script.
QUESTION: You’ve been in the film industry for so long, and obviously continue to work, and so you’ve seen the rise in quality of television. Is that something that you’re interested in producing?
WINKLER: Some of the television that I’ve seen lately is a lot better than the movies I’ve seen. I really am very, very impressed with what goes into television. We have tried to get into television, and have not had any success at all. As much as the studios have control in films, the networks have much more control in television. The process of getting anything made in television requires an immense amount of experience and influence, so that your vision can have a say. They are very, very demanding about what they want, especially the broadcast networks, where they have basically a formula. You know, the teaser in the beginning is somebody gets killed, usually it’s a pretty girl, and then the first act is who did it? The second act is, we found out who is doing it, and the third act is: that was the wrong person, and now we found out who really did it. That’s television. And I’ve never been able to get beyond that, but yet there’s Homeland, there’s great, great television. I’m watching this Billions show — I don’t know if you’ve seen it — which is terrific. And some people really know how to get it done. I haven’t figured it out yet.
QUESTION: I was hoping you could talk about your experience working on The Wolf of Wall Street. Specifically, what was your creative role in deciding what parts of the true story were put into the movie and what parts were left out and changed?
WINKLER: I think my principal creative role in Wolf of Wall Street is really spending time with Marty, and I wouldn’t say convincing, but I would say influencing him into doing it. He was a bit hesitant about doing it; he’s hesitant about doing most things and careful about it. He thought it was a bit too much like Goodfellas, which I said is not a bad thing.
GALLOWAY: Right. [LAUGHS]
WINKLER: And I think I had a bit to do with the scene you saw here from Raging Bull. It is reflected somewhat in The Wolf of Wall Street, in the scene where Leo chases after Margot Robbie and belts her out. That’s a version of this. And I think I was kind of influential to some extent there. But, you know what, it’s the process. You look at a four-hour cut, and you say to Marty Scorsese, “We’ve got to take an hour out.” And that whole process of getting it done, there’s not one day you can say, “Well, that was me.” It’s not that way. It’s just the process of being influential and being helpful when you can be, and some time probably the director will tell you you’re being obstructive to what the director wants to do. It’s a balance of finding your way.
GALLOWAY: Contractually, he’s a final cut director. Does he have to bring it in within two hours and 30 minutes or something to get that final cut?
WINKLER: Not really. He’s Marty Scorsese. There are a few directors — I’m sure [Christopher] Nolan has the same thing with Warner Brothers. Probably, you know, Todd Phillips, when he made the Hangovers, had complete control. There are those examples. I’m sure Ridley Scott has complete control over what he does. There are some directors that have that kind of control.
GALLOWAY: Who have you not worked with that you would have loved to work with?
WINKLER: Ridley Scott, who I think is terrific. I would have liked to have done another film with Sydney Pollack. I think he was one of the most unsung directors of the last 30 or 40 years. Sydney Pollack made probably one of the best comedies in Tootsie. He made certainly the best spy film in Three Days of the Condor. He made the great love story in Out of Africa. And as far as a drama is concerned, They Shoot Horses was as good as they come. And Sydney, I would have liked to direct — though it turned out that we made a good picture, or the director was great — The Right Stuff. I wanted Sydney to do The Right Stuff. He was a pilot, and I tried to talk him into it, and I couldn’t get him to do it. But Phil Kaufman ended up doing a great, great job.
QUESTION: Thank you for being here. It’s a huge honor. I wanted to ask you: all your films have been such blockbusters, when you’re reading a script, what is it about that script that tells you that this is going to be a hit? Is there a certain pattern that you look for or certain elements in that script?
WINKLER: Well, first of all, I have to correct you, not every film was a blockbuster, by any stretch of the imagination.
GALLOWAY: [LAUGHS] I had a feeling you’d say that.
WINKLER: There were more failures in there than successes, believe me. Some of them look good 20 or 30 years later, but not all of them, believe me. No, just a story that moves me in some way. I can’t really be more specific than that. But usually I can tell within 20 pages whether I want to go on and the script interests me. When I went to NYU, as a young man, I was very influenced by the middle 1900s writers in American literature, the John Dos Passos, the Steinbecks, the Hemingways, that whole group of writers. And I found all of them very emotional, basically. Faulkner. They were emotional writers. And although I think we did a fine job with the Tom Wolfe, with The Right Stuff, it’s harder for me to grasp into the sense of realism that some of the writers have. So when I pick up a script and it moves me, that’s when I know it’s something I’d be interested in doing.
GALLOWAY: Is there any script you passed on that you really regret?
WINKLER: [LAUGHS] A friend of mine was living in London, and he asked me to help get him a job. And I helped him get a job as a vice president at Columbia Pictures back in the ’70s. And I got two manuscripts that came in, and I gave them to my friend, who is now a top executive at a studio, and I got him the job. And I said, “These are two films I want to do,” and he turned them both down. So that I regret. I regret I got him the job, because one of them was Jaws, and the other one was The Towering Inferno.
GALLOWAY: Oh, no. Wow.
WINKLER: So, yes, I regret I got him the job. I don’t regret anything else.
GALLOWAY: He does. He regrets saying no.
QUESTION: You’ve produced an incredible number of films, but you’ve remade only a select few, like The Gambler and The Mechanic. My question is, what is it that compels you to remake a film that you’ve already done, and do you agree with the opinion, or belief, I suppose, that remakes are never quite the same as the original, nor as good?
WINKLER: That’s a good question, because you’re right, most of them aren’t as good, which is probably why we don’t do more them. The Gambler is a good case in point. The original, written by Jim Toback, and staring Jimmy Caan, directed by an Englishman by the name of Karel Reisz, I thought was a terrific film. And the script of The Gambler that Mark Wahlberg did, that was absolutely wonderful. I don’t know if it was as good as the original, because I think the original was original. Times change, some of the ideas in the original script don’t quite translate into modern sensibility. Again, I think there was a certain attitude in the ’70s that existed. But by the same token, we’ve done seven Rockys, all of them successful. So sometimes, more so when the character is somebody people are interested in, you can carry on, but very often you can’t. I can’t see remaking Raging Bull. There are some that just don’t allow themselves to be remade. But if the character is interesting, then there’s a shot. Then there’s a shot.