Inglourious Basterds Producer Lawrence Bender: The Interview
The word "superproducer" doesn't quite suit Lawrence Bender, as Quentin Tarantino's cinematic wingman just doesn't possess the bluster and braggadocio of some of his higher-profile contemporaries. But with the staggering blockbuster success of Inglourious Basterds -- closing in on $300 million worldwide -- he might have to start getting used to hearing it. Movieline talked to Bender about how he delivered the great American auteur's decade's-end masterpiece on a breakneck schedule that would have annihilated lesser men.
Let's go backwards a bit to when the script for Inglourious Basterds leaked. How did it leak, and did that help or hinder the process?
We have different points of view on this amongst us. In terms of the leak, we didn't leak it on purpose. When it comes to Quentin, I'm incredibly protective, and I was really unhappy. I was actually pissed off. You try to keep it confidential. We numbered the script and didn't go that wide with it, but we gave it to enough agencies that somebody leaked it. But we went into production so fast, that it just became part of the buzz. When you're producing movies, you're thinking about making movies; you're not trying to do damage or buzz control. But the funny thing is that when I told Quentin, I thought he'd be upset. But he laughed. He said, "So people are going to read the script. That's not a bad thing." He had a very different kind of take on it. It didn't bother him one bit.
How difficult was it to raise financing for it?
Here's how it worked: Quentin, Harvey [Weinstein] and myself have a long-standing relationship. Harvey has always said that Quentin built the House of Miramax. So Harvey has always been there for Quentin, and was always going to be a part of the movie. But because he transitioned out of Disney, we felt like we wanted to bring another partner, so that we could have the best of Harvey, but also benefit from a strong overseas partner. In this case, it was Universal. [Recently deposed Universal co-chair] David Linde -- who Quentin and I have known for many, many years, and who actually worked for Harvey a long time ago -- just really connected with Quentin.
It all that happened very quickly. To give you a feel, from the day Quentin and I met -- he finished the script July 2nd and 13 weeks later, we were shooting. That's a really rigorous production schedule.
In the spectrum of all the films you've done with Quentin, was this the most intense and rushed?
By far the most intense. We moved to Berlin two weeks after he handed me the script, where we stayed for six-and-a-half months. It would end up being the coldest winter in Germany in 30 years. We hadn't closed our deals with Universal or the Weinsteins, but we were very close. Not to just throw out credit, but we could really never have done it without our agent and lawyer, Mike Simpson at WME and Carlos Goodman. A contract is a really big document, and we were still crossing ts and dotting is when we boarded that plane for Germany.
And all the while, Quentin had also been speaking to [CAA head] Brian Lourd, telling him he was writing the script with the singular idea of Brad Pitt in mind. Of course, you never know if any actor is going to like your script, and if they do like it if they'll be available when you want to go. So we were on pins and needles.
Did you have a backup plan if he said no?
There was no backup plan. So Quentin got on a plane the next week to the South of France to meet with Brad, and he came back with good news, basically. Within days after meeting, we had casting directors in France, Berlin and here in the U.S. I hired my line producer, our production designer, and sent out scouts so we could look at locations when we landed. One of the reasons I went to Germany was not just for the look but for the tax rebate. We shot at the Studio Babelsberg, which is a very old production facility where Goebbels shot a great deal of his movies.
What other difficulties did you run into?
Day one, we land in Berlin on a Thursday afternoon, and Harvey met us at the Babelsberg studio for a meeting to go over different things -- looking over location photos, trying to map out a plan of action. Friday morning we were scouting, and Saturday we started casting the German actors. And we had what I thought was a pretty good day. We cast Daniel Bruël as Zoller, and Stiglitz, who was Til Schweiger. But Quentin was feeling kind of, I don't know, off -- and I couldn't figure out why.
The next morning, he called us all to his room, and he said, "I might have written a part that can't be cast." And that was Col. Landa. We saw all these great actors, but Quentin said, "These are great actors, but this character doesn't only need to be a great actor but also needs to be able to speak my dialogue in three different languages." And everyone who came in could do one language, but not the other, and there was a poetry missing. And I think he planned to pack up and go home.
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