James Caan Talks New Web Venture, Sonny Corleone and Jon Favreau
By Mike Ryan Posted Apr 28th 2010 03:50PM
OpenFilm.com. Caan -- along with Robert Duvall, Mark Rydell and his son Scott (pictured, left, with "Jimmy") -- has founded, and sits on the advisory board of, the new online independent film site, which hopes to discover young and talented filmmakers. A board that will award a million dollars annually to new filmmakers. Caan took the time to chat with PopEater about his new project, the prospects of him joining Twitter (slim ... "I'd rather pick up the phone," he jokes) and a massive discussion about the current state of movies, what he thinks of certain directors and what inspired his legendary performance as Sonny Corleone in 'The Godfather.' (Hint: It's not what you think.)
How are you doing, sir?
Sir? That's right! Do I owe you money? James is not good, either, because I always feel like getting someone's car when they say James. So, Jimmy would be great. Or, "Your Holiness," one of the two.
Fair enough. How, in general, do you feel the Internet has changed film-making?
Well, you know what? To be quite honest, before I got involved in this, I was one of these Internet neophytes. I had no idea, whatsoever. I got to the point where my kids taught me how to play solitaire and I thought I was a genius. It's certainly the wave of the future. I know I can't watch a lot of stuff on a computer. You know what I mean? It's uncomfortable unless I'm on a plane. These guys are currently working on a wireless thing that takes it from the computer to the television -- you know, with the technology we have now -- then, I think, it will be huge.
I know that the business, the way it is now, is not in great shape. I think the days of movie stars making a lot of money are over. For several reasons: Once the movie-makers, like the Warners and the Disneys and all those guys, who they might have called bastards and this and that -- they made movies for a living. They weren't Viacom and Sony. That may not sound like much, but movie-makers, we made movies in the '70s and '80s that were not only for 14-year-olds but [also] for the baby boomers. I know going to the movies used to be a habit. And now people don't go to "the movies" -- they go to "a movie." There's a difference. There's less and less reason to leave your house.
Before Open Film started, I was trying to put together a company called Boomer Films. I was trying to target the baby boomer market, which is the largest market out there and the market with the most disposable income ... everything is targeted toward the 14-year-olds or the 20-year-olds because they see it three times. I'm not knocking it, there's room for it, some of them are really great. Those pictures that I was fortunate enough to be a part of, that were about character, story ... I mean, like 'Avatar' -- actors just get in the way.
Do you think the problem rests with this magical 18-49 demographic that advertisers cherish so much? The baby boomers are certainly not targeted.
I think it's silly. They easily, like I said, have the most disposable income. And I think people still want to go out. I remember that my mom and dad would go to the movies like Tuesday and Saturday, it didn't matter what was playing. But you never saw real crap, you just went to the movies. It was a hobby. I think we've come a long way from that; there's no reason to leave the house.
Do you feel there's people that have been in the film industry for a while that just reject anything that's on the Internet?
The people I know don't sit at home and watch the Internet. I really haven't heard much, pro or con, about watching movies or shorts. I know there are a couple of Web sites that have series now, right? I haven't seen them. So, I can't really answer that question. I've just never been in the middle of those conversations. But I do know the movie business needs a little boost right now. Like my son, for example, Scott, he still has this enthusiastic thing about making films. Heartfelt films, character driven, story driven, well shot -- and there's no role for him. He won two critics awards, one at a film festival -- and we couldn't get [the movie] out. Certainly the Internet, for people like that, is a huge plus.
I'm lucky, I live in New York and can see any film I want. I know friends back in St. Louis that basically only have the option of seeing 'Clash of the Titans.' twenty times.
Yeah! I guess, basically, it's a monopoly. Like, "Okay, you want 'Avatar'? We'll give you 'Avatar,' but you have to put these other two pictures in." With those theaters, it's impossible to get in there.
You're handing out $250,000 a quarter for winning entries submitted. What are you looking for in those films?
Not to be boring ... but, "good" -- something good. Certainly we're not accepting any home movies, so there's a standard that you have to pass. What we're looking for, maybe, is a short that can be turned into a full-length feature -- quality stuff.
Not that I have anything against 'Avatar' or the green screen, they have their place -- there's just not enough room. I don't know how old you are -- I have ties older than you, but you know what I'm saying. I had the luxury of working with the best actors and directors ... and that luxury's kind of gone. Even the big guys, their choices are slimmer and slimmer. The really good actors: the Johnny Depps, all those good actors, it's just so limited. The studios aren't coming out with it.
It used to annoy me and I never knew why. I used to go to see a film and it would say -- and I'd go like an ordinary guy -- but every time I saw, "A film by so and so," it used to piss me off ... and I couldn't figure out why. Well, pretty soon I realized... and I've run into some of them and actually brought this up in front of a couple of big names, and they agreed with me that, in fact, one of their first pictures that was big, just for example, lets say 'Star Wars,' I'm not talking about 'Star Wars,' but that type of picture -- they'd hire absolutely mediocre actors because they didn't want them to distract from the director, the spaceships and the sword fighting. So they hired people that were just okay, but they didn't dominate and take away from the directors vision of all the green-screen nonsense.
Then there's also the directors -- and I'm not going to mention names -- who are put in charge of a project because the studio thinks they can control them. There are only a few younger directors that can stand up to a studio. One I'm thinking of is Jon Favreau -- it seems he has some clout with the 'Iron Man' franchise and can do it his way. You worked with him, is he a guy you respect as a director?
[Pauses] You know, that's a tough one. Because I did 'Elf' with him. I know [that] him and Will didn't get along too well. You know, I got along fine with him. But I don't look at 'Iron Man' ... that doesn't shake me up. And he had a great actor; he was smart enough for that, to get [Robert] Downey -- which made a huge difference. I haven't seen him do anything that's really earthshaking. I haven't seen him do 'The Hurt Locker.' Or, you know what I mean, like my pictures that I remember, even Mark Rydell's 'Cinderella Liberty,' or those really heartfelt stories where all of a sudden you're laughing and all of a sudden you're crying.
What young directors today do you think have the most talent?
I worked with James Gray -- he's a younger director. I did a picture called 'The Yards' with him. Harvey Weinstein kind of got in the way of it. I found him to be really bright and exciting. And there's a lot of them I don't know because I haven't got to meet with them because I'm an older guy now. [Laughs] Certainly -- and she's not young either -- Kathryn Bigelow. She did an unbelievable job. She's not young, but she's young with her concepts. I was happy that it won because I was hoping it would stimulate the independent world.
[With Open Film] there's so many talented people, we get feedback and we give stuff back to them. It's just a good relationship when you find those right guys -- to pick their brains. Because everyone's getting better. I just hope they get the opportunities that I had, to work with the Francis Coppolas of the world, the Duvalls (pictured, right), the Pacinos, all of those good actors that I had the good fortune of working with. And Brando, of course.
You just mentioned the cast of 'The Godfather.' You also do a lot of comedies. Is it harder to play Sonny Corleone or is it harder to play Frank Vitale from a film like 'Mickey Blue Eyes'?
It all depends. Listen, I had a great director in Francis. Not such a great director in 'Mickey Blue Eyes.' I love comedy, personally. I love to do comedy because, most people, if they're aren't twelve people dead by page nine, they don't send the script to me. There's always, "Well, Jimmy, I didn't know you could sing and dance." S**t, no one ever asked me. But, you know, "good" is the answer. For me, Sonny was one of the most fun, vibrant characters. I had so much fun because I just busted everybody's chops from morning until night -- it didn't matter who it was.
One night, I was stuck, this is a true story, we did this first scene in the Genco Olive Oil company -- the very first scene -- and I interrupt ... and Brando says to never talk about the family business in front of anybody. I was so lost that day, I was just fumbling. I was kind of friendly with Don Rickles, I used to follow him around, he used to make me laugh. You know, I was the young kid around Don Adams. And one night I was shaving and, I swear to you, it was like a lightning bolt, Don Rickles came into my head, I don't know why. I came in the next morning, and for whatever reason, I walked in and start busting everyone's balls. "Francis, why don't you change the God damned suit? What? You want money for a cleaner? You're wearing that same God damned corduroy suit." And it just gave me a whole essence, and I was basically Don Rickles. And I could have done Hamlet like Sonny, after awhile. He let me improvise and jump around -- there's so much stuff that just came out of that.
The truth is, I swear to you, I can tell -- and I'm sure you can -- you can tell, subconsciously, if the people that are working on a movie are enjoying it or their enjoying each other. I think that comes off the screen. So on 'The Godfather,' we all liked each other and had respect for each other. It was fun. The pictures I have the best time doing are the best pictures I make. It's the same thing with great actors. I've found in my life that the best actors are the easiest ones to get along with. It's all those a**holes, all about themselves and their make-up and their bulls**t -- the trailers, this and that. That's all diversionary tactics. The reason they do that is because they really have nothing to offer and they don't want people to see they have nothing to offer, so it's a diversionary tactic -- lets talk about my hair today. And it's true: The most talented people are the nicest.
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