With Gravity looking like it is soaring at the box office today and the Harry Potter 8-pack of films successfully behind him, producer David Heyman is riding high. Of course, director Alfonso Cuaron and stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are getting the lion’s share of attention for the space drama, but Heyman is happy to give credit where credit is due. He actually was the one who brought Cuaron aboard for Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. “We had a great experience on Harry Potter“, he said in a recent interview at Chateau Marmont. ” I asked him to do it which was a big thing.” This time around it was Cuaron who asked Heyman to get involved on Gravity and produce it with him.
“When he asked me to do it I jumped — there was not a moment of hesitation” Heyman said. “One, it’s a lovely compliment that he asked, and as a producer it’s what we dream about. I knew it was going to be challenging. He’s always pushing, never settling. We finished the film early this year and we hadn’t done the mix. He looked at the film and he said ‘Damn’. He had an idea which was to take the spacecraft and flip it because it was coming in top-up. You’re in outer space, there’s not up and down, so if you flip it’s fine but it took 10 weeks. One shot, two minutes. But he’s always pushing and never settling. So I knew it was going to be extraordinary, but to actually now be here and feel the response is pretty great,” he said.
That’s an understatement. The film was rapturously received at all three big fall festivals — Venice, Telluride and Toronto — a decision Heyman said was easy to make considering Cuaron is the director of such films as Y Tu Mama Tambien, A Little Princess and Children Of Men. “I think Alfonso is a filmmaker where festivals are responsive because there’s real art to his direction. It’s beautiful, fluid motion and I think there was faith in that and I think Warners, to give them credit, took a big leap in making this film. You know a female-driven action movie, not inexpensive, with one character alone for most of the time. But they believe in the filmmaker. Then they poured money into it . For a year and a half we had nothing . We were trying to figure out how to do it, and then when Alfonso decided he wanted to change the shot around, that’s probably 100K , they said ‘sure, go ahead and do it’. And then putting it on the festival circuit, they just believed in it,” he said.
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And it’s obviously paying off. The film has become a critical smash — one of the best reviewed mainstream films of the year if not the best. It currently stands at 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with a 100% Fresh rating from top critics, and that is out of nearly 200 reviews. This bodes well for Warners’ upcoming Oscar campaign. One studio source said they expect at least 10 nominations including Best Picture, Actress, Director and of course across the board in below-the-line areas where the film is the odds-on favorite to actually win. This weekend is fast becoming the studio’s good-luck date. Two of its previous Best Picture winners — The Departed (2006) and last year’s winner Argo — opened on the exact same weekend. The studio is clearly showing its Oscar hand by slotting Gravity on the same Friday. There was very little Academy love thrown toward the eight Harry Potter films, so this has to make this British producer very happy.
Still, Heyman remains modest about the film’s response so far, particularly considering how difficult it was just to get so technically complex a film made. Critics are comparing it to groundbreakers like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix to name two. “It’s nothing that we could have predicted”, he said. “It’s not one of those things you go, ‘Oh yeah. We knew’.”
As for life post- Potter and Gravity, Heyman just started production on Paddington starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent and others. “It’s a good cast with a young director, Paul King, which I think is exciting,” he said. He’s also still developing an animated Beatles musical with director Jay Roach; he has the rights to 10 iconic Beatles songs. As for the just-announced new project Warners is doing with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling — a series of films “inspired” by Potter with the first called Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them — Heyman didn’t cough up a lot of info. Rowling will be screenwriter but will Heyman re-team? He was tight-lipped about it when I asked. “No comment”, he laughs. “You know these things. They’re so managed. It’s very exciting. You know what I love is that she didn’t need to do this. She’s doing it because she wanted to do it. I think that’s really just because she loves this universe. That’s why she came back to it. It’s her, and what she wants to do. I’m sure it’s going to be extraordinary”.
As for Heyman and what he loves to do? Making challenging movies. “I think there is less fear, but I think fear is a good thing. I get scared all of the time. If you get comfortable I don’t think that’s healthy. I learn from every film. I still love it and I want to work with great directors and actors. So has it gotten easier? I have more tools from which to to draw because I learn each time. But just like growing up, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Still a long way to go.”