'21 Jump Street' Producer Neal H. Moritz Talks Tips for Surviving on Set

2012-10 BIZ Neal Moritz P IPAD
Austin Hargrave

"All the financial deals have gotten much tougher everywhere," says Moritz, photographed Feb. 23 in his West L.A. office, overlooking Los Angeles National Veterans Park. "Movies are being scrutinized a lot more than they ever have been in the past."

The Original Film principal discusses casting Channing Tatum with Jonah Hill in the buddy comedy, spending too much money on "The Green Lantern" and avoiding craft services on location.

This story originally appeared in the March 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

By the time the action sequel Fast Five roared through theaters this past summer, Neal H. Moritz's films had grossed more than $5 billion worldwide.

The producer, 52, who specializes in high-octane crowd-pleasers, isn't throttling back.

Moritz has five more big-budget studio pictures set for release during the next 18 months, beginning with Sony's 21 Jump Street -- a comedy remake of the 1980s TV show that opens March 16, four days after its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival -- and followed Aug. 3 by Sony's sci-fi remake Total Recall, starring Colin Farrell. Those could easily put another billion or two on his pile. His company, which has 17 employees, also has produced the TV series Prison Break, The Big C and the upcoming NBC comedy Save Me.

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Married with two young children, Moritz spoke with THR about what drives up budgets, factors that influence casting and which movies deserve sequels.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: The Fast franchise has grossed $1.6 billion worldwide in only 10 years. How far can it go?

Neal Moritz: We're working hard on the next two, and I think the sky's the limit. We're lucky that we are going to make a sequel to a movie that was really, really liked. A lot of times because a movie does a lot of business, they'll make a sequel, but the movie wasn't that well liked -- whereas going into Fast Six, Fast Five was probably the most liked of the films so far. And because of that, we have such goodwill that the upside is incredible. Plus, some of the new markets -- Russia, China, India -- are markets we're just starting to explode in. I'd love to make them forever.

THR: Is The Green Hornet an example of a movie that wasn't liked enough to warrant a sequel?

Moritz: The problem wasn't that. The movie did almost $250 million and was actually very well liked, but we made the movie for too much money. One, we made it in L.A. for certain reasons, and two, we decided to go to 3D -- that added another $10 million. If I had done it in a tax-rebate state and not done 3D, it would have been considered a huge financial success for the studio. So we're not making a sequel right now.

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THR: How do you decide which stars can make a movie viable in foreign markets?

Moritz: I look at all the numbers, but for me it's all about my gut. I wouldn't necessarily say that Colin Farrell has had the numbers to say, "OK, he's gonna be a huge star in Total Recall overseas," but there are so many other factors that I look at. I had a very good experience with Colin when we did S.W.A.T. back in the day, so for me [casting him in Recall] was a gamble well worth taking. If I've got a big franchise movie with a huge idea, I don't need as big an international actor becauseI know the visuals are something that are gonna sell it.

THR: Why do remakes instead of original concepts?

Moritz: I do whatever is interesting to me. A movie we're going to make later this year called Invertigo is a huge disaster movie based on a completely original concept. I think we go for established brands because they can cut through the clutter. 21 Jump Street was a brand that was known to people over the age of 25, but we felt we needed a combination of two guys that was a great pairing. Jonah [Hill] first became involved, and it was obvious to us that we needed a complete opposite to him -- and Channing [Tatum] was the guy we wanted.

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THR: Your father was an executive at American International Pictures, so you grew up in the business. Are your kids aware you make movies?

Moritz: They love that I make movies. They like to visit me on the set. It's funny: I read to my kids every night, and now my 9-year-old really wants me to read him scripts. Two nights ago, I was reading the new draft of Fast & Furious to him. I don't do the voices; I just read the script out loud. By the time he gets out of college, I would love for him to take over, but I don't know if I can do it for that long.


MY TIPS FOR SURVIVING ON LOCATION: Moritz, who spends at least 100 days a year on sets, shares his five essential custom tweaks to make it livable

  1. No Catering: I never eat catering. I want to know the best local restaurant closest to the set. I always ask the Teamsters. Shooting The Bounty Hunter in New York, we went to Piccola Venezia in Astoria, Queens. That's one of the best places I've ever been to.
  2. Take Walks: Whenever I can take a break on set, I'll walk the neighborhood. I just start to think. The fact that I get to make movies in all these places and get to see the world that way is the best part of making movies, honestly.
  3. Custom Chair: My chair gets shipped to wherever I am. I can't sit in those film chairs. It's got a hard back and a hard seat, and it's much more comfortable. It has all my devices -- my iPhone, my iPad, my computer -- and that becomes my office.
  4. Rough Company: The people I like hanging out with on the set are the Teamsters and the stuntmen. I like their attitude about life. Outdoorsmen, surfers, motorcycle riders, willing to go do crazy things and explore, and I love that.
  5. The Right Hotel: It's gotta have a great gym, room service at any time and be near a movie theater. Those are my demands. Like in Boston for R.I.P.D., I stayed at the St. Regis -- the Sports Club/LA is attached to it and the movie theater is next door.