David Mandel is the producer of the film Cold Turkey which stars Peter Bogdanovich, and Cheryl Hines. He also is the CEO of Young Gunner Films; here is a link to his website:
Q: What made you interested in filmmaking?
A: I just grew up loving movies. That and reading. But as I got to learn more about filmmaking, I discovered it was a collaborative process. I enjoyed writing (and still do), but it’s very solitary. And I love working with people: sharing ideas, solving problems, even arguing.
In a lot of ways it’s much more impressive when a really great film comes together, as opposed to a great novel. Of course, part of the problem is that making movies is never quite as enjoyable as watching them. But I don’t know of too many other jobs where you get paid to be creative and to work with an interesting set of talented people. And I really enjoy how challenging filmmaking is.
Q: What is Cold Turkey about?
A: In a nutshell: Family dysfunction. It’s about a wealthy family getting together for Thanksgiving. It’s the first time in 15 years that the patriarch (played by Peter Bogdanovich) and his three adult children (Sonya Walger, Alicia Witt and Ashton Holmes) have all been under the same roof. As they all chip away at each other psychologically, the careful lies they’ve been telling themselves start to crumble.
Q: What made you interested in producing it?
A: I’ve known Will Slocombe, the writer-director, for almost 20 years. And I’ve known Graham Ballou, the other producer, for almost 10. We’ve worked together before and so it was a really easy decision to work with them again!
Q: How did you go about getting the funding to produce it?
A: I didn’t really! Most of the funding was already there by the time Will and Graham asked me to come on board and help produce it. And thank god, financing is my least favorite part of being a producer.
We were on set during production, shooting a Kickstarter video to raise the finishing funds, when we heard that a couple of investors would come in and help us finish the film.
A: What makes it different from other dysfunctional family reunion films?
The story’s very personal to Will, it’s full of real characters that you don’t usually see on screen. The actors all really responded to the script and I think their performances really elevate it.
Q: Who are some of your filmmaking influences?
A: The Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, David Lynch. I don’t love all of their movies, but they’ve made a few of the ones I love most.
There’s something so specific yet universal to their films. Their characters, their dialogue, their directing.
I try to remind myself that even these guys – who I admire and would trade places with in a heartbeat – have made some not-so-great films. It’s really tempting to think they’re flawless and hit home runs each time, but it’s just not the case. Even Spielberg makes shit every now and again.
Q: What is your oddest on set story?
A: Haha, I’ve a bunch! I’ll go with one that doesn’t include brushes with the law.
I once had an actress come to set in the morning, walk straight up to me, and burst into tears. She fell on her knees and literally begged me not to make her work that day. In front of other cast members. It was surreal. For a second I felt like some sort of horrible monster.
Turns out she had a bad case of food poisoning.
Q: Do you think talent or connections are more important in the film industry?
A: Oof, that’s a tough one. Short answer: you’ve got to have a healthy dose of both. What good is talent if you’ve got no one to share it with, to collaborate, to learn from?
What good are connections if everyone is “talentless?”
“Talent” is a dangerous word. I used think talent meant you were naturally gifted at something, and therefore didn’t have to work hard at it. That’s a bad line of reasoning. You’ve got to work hard, especially in an industry this competitive. You’ve got to be willing to fail, and fortunately there are countless examples of filmmakers who didn’t succeed with their first, their second, etc. film. And again, film is great because it requires you to work with people. A talented person in this industry is not some genius who does it all himself; it’s someone who has a good team working alongside him.
I’ve gotten work because of friends and I’ve made great friends because I forced myself to work with strangers. I wouldn’t say I’m very “connected,” and yet I’ve still gotten to work on some great stuff.
Q: What would you change about the film industry?
A: Ha! How much time have you got?
There’s a really unfortunate strain of dishonesty that runs through most things. I’ve often had conversations where I just didn’t believe what the other person was saying. Most folks don’t like being the bearer of bad news or giving negative feedback. I think a lot of the cliche of Hollywood phoniness is a result of that behavior.
There’s a lot of fear and aversion to risk. It feels like there are a lot of norms and rules in place to keep people from trying new things, or just getting regular things done.
And lately it seems people in the industry are more interested in going to meetings, events, parties, conferences, and festivals – instead of actually making movies. The means have somehow become the ends.
How would I change those things? I don’t know. I think the best tactic is to just avoid those aspects of the industry. The good news is that every day it’s getting easier to make films without being a part of “the industry.”
Q: If you could pick a famous director to direct your life story who would it be?
A: Hands down: the Coen Brothers. I’d have to botch a crime or somehow be involved in an illegitimate activity gone wrong.
They’ve made three of my absolute favorite movies. And what’s so incredible about them is that they’ve created this body of work that spans so many different ideas and tastes. I’m a huge Big Lebowski fan. And if you randomly meet a fellow fan, it’s almost like reuniting with a lost member of your congregation. There’s an instant bond because you both quote the same lines, etc. And it’s incredibly annoying to any non-Lebowski fans around you.
But there are other people who love the Coen Brothers and can’t stand that movie. I’m not particularly big on Barton Fink, or Hudsucker Proxy, but I know people who have the same intense love of those films that I have for the Dude. And I think that’s a really impressive accomplishment.
I think if the Coens wrote and directed the story of my life, they’d probably have me say things that people generations from now would be quoting, and I really like the thought of that.
Hell, I’d give an arm just to be a supporting character in a Coen Brothers film!
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)