Q&A with “Real Steel” producers Don Murphy and Susan Montford (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)
January 26, 2012 by Dennis Amith
With the release of “Real Steel” on Blu-ray and DVD on Jan. 24, 2011, J!-ENT will be featuring Q&A’s with the cast, the director and a few involved in the making of the film “Real Steel”. The first two Q&A’s featured actors Hugh Jackman and Anthony Mackie. And this third interview features “Real Steel” producers Don Murphy and Susan Montford.
DON MURPHY (Producer) was born in Hicksville, N.Y. He earned a B.S.B.A. at the Business School of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., although most of his time in D.C. was spent at the Biograph Theatre, Circle Theatre and American Film Institute watching the collected films of Kubrick and Polanski. His father helped him get a job as a copywriter during the summers at the now-defunct Diener Hauser Bates, an advertising firm that represented over 70% of the film studios at the same time. While there, Murphy worked on the campaigns for films like “Blow-Up,” “Under the Rainbow” and “Ragtime.”
After college, Murphy was accepted into graduate studies at the prestigious film school at the University of Southern California. There, he met future friends and filmmakers such as Bryan Singer, Michael Davis, Gary Fleder, Scott Rosenberg, Jay Roach, Jon Turteltaub, Dan Waters and Larry Karazewski. Soon after completing the program, Murphy partnered with fellow USC alum Jane Hamsher to produce motion pictures. Murphy knew Quentin Tarantino from a video rental store in the South Bay area, and this acquaintance led to their first alliance, “Natural Born Killers.” Two more followed: “Permanent Midnight” and “Apt Pupil.”
Murphy then produced “From Hell,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Bully.” In 1998, Murphy started Angryfilms with partner Susan Montford and went on to produce the high-profile “Transformers” trilogy and “Shoot ’Em Up.”
Angryfilms is currently working on multiple feature-film and television projects.
SUSAN MONTFORD (Producer) grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, where she acquired a B.A. from Gray’s School of Art. She became a practicing artist working with mixed media (sculpture, photography and video) and exhibited her work regularly with the Transmission Gallery, Street Level Photography Gallery and Women in Profile.
A childhood passion for cinema came to fruition when Montford was awarded several Film Council grants and produced and directed two short films, “Strangers” and “Hairpin,” which played in several international film festivals.
Montford then relocated to Los Angeles, where she has focused on screenwriting, directing and producing. In addition to “Real Steel,” she has produced “Shoot ’Em Up,” starring Clive Owen, and “Splice,” starring Adrien Brody. She wrote and directed “While She Was Out,” starring Kim Basinger.
She is also producing numerous upcoming films, including “At the Mountains of Madness” with Guillermo del Toro and “Gala Dali” with Roger Avary.
Currently, Montford is finishing writing a pilot for Fox TV Studios and a second feature that she will direct.
Q: What was the genesis of “Real Steel”?
Don Murphy: We’re always looking for projects that take place in a world that’s like ours, but different. One of our pet projects is the true story of a guy named Charles Beaumont, who wrote for “The Twilight Zone” and lived a great life until he died of old age at 37. One of his best friends was Richard Matheson, which was how we found out about his story “Steel.”
Susan Montford: We fell in love with “The Twilight Zone” episode “Steel” and the short story by Richard Matheson that it was adapted from. Then we found out that the film rights were available, optioned them and set the project up at DreamWorks.
Don Murphy: This project was a challenge, because the original script for “The Twilight Zone” episode was only 12 pages long. As we were figuring out how to adapt it and turn it into a feature film, we knew that we wanted to keep it in a near future where boxing is outlawed and a down-on-his-luck promoter of robot boxing gets one last chance at redemption. There was a lot of room for us to play after that, otherwise the movie would only have been ten minutes long.
Q: Shawn Levy is known for his comedies. As producers, what made it feel right to have him direct “Real Steel”?
Don Murphy: Susan and I both felt that the humanity between the father, Charlie, and the son, Max, was the key to “Real Steel” that gave the story its heart. At a certain point, the movie felt like it was going to get made and we started making a list of people we had worked with before. Steven Spielberg proposed Shawn [Levy] and our initial reaction was kind of like, “This is going to be a funny movie now? I don’t understand.” Then we sat down with Shawn and from the very first lunch it became clear that he was the one to direct the film. He didn’t want to talk about how cool the robots were going to be or how we were going to do them. That came later. All he wanted to talk about was the relationship between Charlie and Max. The relationship had a very deep resonance for him. We were also impressed with the job he did with the effects on “Night at the Museum.” He handled them beautifully.
Q: What is Hugh Jackman like to work with?
Don Murphy: The thing about Hugh is that his character, Charlie, is a bit of a jerk. We knew that if Hugh played him, the audience would like him anyway. Hugh is such a likeable actor that you’ve got a natural empathy and compassion for him no matter how difficult he’s being.
The other thing about Hugh is that he’s such a giver. He would come to the set every Friday with five hundred lottery tickets and give them out to the crew. He also handed out cigars if you wanted one. Hugh loves the whole process of filming. He’s one of those actors who sit on set taking everything in and watching everything. He never hides in his trailer trying to get away from everyone. He’s always game.
Q: One of the most memorable aspects of “The Twilight Zone” episode is Lee Marvin climbing into the robot suit to fight another robot. You know he’s going to be pummeled. Did you ever toy with that idea for “Real Steel”?
Don Murphy: The idea that anyone would climb inside one of those didn’t work. Having said that, we were waiting for a writer to give us the equivalent moment. For the first five years of development, we would get drafts of the script and be disappointed. It was very frustrating.
But then John [Gatins, screenwriter] and Shawn [Levy] put their first draft together. Susan was in her office and I was in mine. We were reading the script at the same time and ended up meeting in the hallway halfway. I think we were both on page 52. I said, “He’s going to win the fight by….” and we knew we had the moment. They nailed it.
Q: What was it like to shoot the movie in Detroit?
Susan Montford: It was absolutely the perfect place to make this movie. We used the old Ford auto plant and a lot of iconic locations. There were great people in Detroit, too. We had fantastic extras who were really happy to be working and gave it their all. It was a great experience for everyone.
REAL STEEL is Available on Blu-ray & DVD January 24th!
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