Fresh with an injection of $170 million in Castle Rock financing with a lead equity investment from Derrick Rossi — the stem cell biologist who is co-founder of the Moderna vaccine — Rob Reiner is here at the Cannes Market for myriad reasons. One of them is to shoot Sharon Stone in Cannes this week, as part of the documentary film Albert Brooks: Defending My Life.
Reiner’s in a renaissance, with his breakout film This is Spinal Tap airing on the beach on the Croisette this week, as he takes meetings to create territorial deals for Spinal Tap II, a sequel to the stories rock mockumentary that re-launches Castle Rock, and which CAA Media Finance is selling along with the distribution rights to the original film. The plan is for a theatrical release to coincide with the film’s 40th anniversary. Reiner said he hasn’t shopped his Albert Brooks film, but will do so after he’s shooting. It’s not the only documentary/mockumentary on his slate, as the activist and his wife and Castle Rock partner Michelle are co-financing The Power Worshipers, which Dan Partland is directing.
“It’s the rise of White Christian Nationalism in the country over the last many decades, culminating in what we see now in the stacking of the Supreme Court, Roe V Wade being overturned, all this stuff,” Reiner told Deadline, noting that the tragic murder of 10 Black shoppers and a security guard in a Buffalo supermarket days ago is just part of the polarizing byproduct. “That’s part of it, this white replacement theory. This is an ongoing thing. We want this to be out in October as we want people to understand the trajectory, so we’ll probably have to fold this in somehow.”
As for the Albert Brooks docu, Reiner said he mainly wants people to understand what a seminal comic genius his close friend is.
“My dear friend Albert Brooks I met in high school, and we’ve been best friends for a long time,” he said. “The only thing we did together was The Muse, where I had a little thing. I’m interviewing Sharon Stone here on Friday, she was the star with him. I did The Tonight Show and he came on. We’ve always been close. Years ago, a movie called My Dinner with Andre came out. I saw that and said, I’ll do my lunch with Albert, and just sit and talk with you. Albert, just talking, is the funniest person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s a genius. I’ve always said, the two funniest people I’ve ever met are Brooks, Albert, and Mel Brooks, who was my dad’s best friend. People don’t know how funny Albert is. They see his films and know he’s brilliant, but I wanted more. He always said, nah, I don’t want to do it. Finally, he said okay. We sat together at a restaurant and talked, and that will be the centerpiece. We’ll have clips of his work, and I’ve already interviewed a ton of people, from Larry David to Conan O’Brien, Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman, Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow, Jim Brooks,. I want people to really understand the brilliance of this guy, he’s one of a kind. Nobody has done pictures like he has, and I want him to get his due., first thing I said to him was, I’m in awe of you and I’ve always looked up to you. I think that you’re in a league by yourself. We’re in the midst of telling the story, hopefully we’ll have Wanda Sykes and Chris Rock.”
Mockumentary ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ To Be Sold With Sequel In Cannes Market
It hasn’t been easy, shooting around the lingering Covid situation.
“We had two people we have to go back and get. We had Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Jon Stewart, we were going to shoot them in New York,” Reiner said. “Day before we were going to shoot Neil, he said his son got Covid. Protocols at SAG say, you can’t do it. The day we were shooting Jon, we were all set up and I’m sitting with Jon and you have to test, and he tested positive. We had to shut the thing down. We’ll go back and get them. I’d love to get David Letterman and Bo Burnham.”
In its heyday, Castle Rock was a preeminent boutique that was bought by Ted Turner, who later sold it to Warner Bros. Its list of his pictures constituted a run of quality somewhat reminiscent of what Marvel’s Kevin Feige put together, especially if you factor in the outsized GOAT-level success of Seinfeld. Many of those hit Castle Rock films Reiner directed, and the catalogue of hits included When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, City Slickers, In The Line of Fire, Malice, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Princess Bride, Dolores Claiborne, The American President, Waiting For Guffman and others. Reiner is bringing back the company when there aren’t really any auterish companies like that anymore, and he acknowledges the challenges but hopes that the kind of surprise gems that became hits are still possible, even though there is more emphasis now on predicting audience behavior patterns than relying on the instincts of storytellers. Less ridigity among executives back then allowed Reiner to transition from an actor best known for All in the Family, to an A list filmmaker. That transition was made possible by Stand By Me, the adaptation of the Stephen King novella that predated the formation of Castle Rock, but which cemented a relationship with Reiner and the company with the bestselling author that resulted in seven movies. Stand By Me nearly fell apart, back when executives were relying on their guts, and not algorithms.
“We were ready to shoot Stand By Me, and two days before we started, Embassy was sold to Coca Cola, Columbia, and they said they didn’t want to have anything to do with the picture,” Reiner recalled. “We were two days away, cast and crew up in Oregon ready to go. Norman [Lear], god love him, he stepped in and said, I’ll finance the thing. Then, we finished and had a completed film, the whole film ready, and we took it to every studio and they all turned it down. All of them. They watched the film. Because, who’s going to see a movie about four 12-year old boys, going to see a dead body? They were still thinking in terms of quadrants, and which audience quadrant would take to it? Weirdly, the last place we went was Columbia, which had turned it down but had a new head of studio, Guy McElwaine. He watched it with a couple of friends and said, “I cried. It reminded me of my friends when I was 12 years old.” And he bought it. Those kind of serendipitous things, I don’t know if that will ever happen again. We’re too in the weeds with algorithms and followers to be able to get those surprises. That’s why Castle Rock means so much to me. I may make failures, things that don’t work, but at least I’m going to do something that might connect with people on an emotional level.
“We did seven movies with Stephen King,” he said. “This was a relationship we had with Stephen and it came before Castle Rock because he loved [Stand By Me] We screened it for him alone. He came back to talk after taking some time [to compose himself], and said, ‘this is the best movie made on anything I’ve ever written.’ Then he said, ‘but that’s not saying much. Because they hadn’t been good, a lot of them. He said, every now and then I look at something and go, why didn’t I think of that? In the movie, we had Gordie [Wil Wheaton] pick up the gun and stare down the bullies, and in the book he had Chris [River Phoenix] pick up the gun. I said, this is about Gordie’s journey to feel good about himself, that’s what we needed to do. He said, why didn’t I think of that?”
Then, Andy Scheinman, my Castle Rock partner, picks up Misery in the airport, in paperback and reads it and says, this is great. I’m sure somebody’s optioned it because it’s in paperback and it’s Stephen King,” Reiner said. “We found out he hadn’t optioned it, because it was a very personal book to him. All about writer’s block and demons, do I keep writing for the audience or myself. He wrote under Richard Bachman when he wanted to do different things. This was his artistic torment, with fans wanting to kill him if he wanted to do anything over then Misery. He didn’t want to give it to anyone because it was so personal. When we approached him, he said, tell you what. If Rob will either produce it or direct it, I’ll let you guys have it. For a dollar. He optioned it for a dollar. Every other project we did with him was for a dollar, against a backend. We did a lot of good Stephen King pictures. That was the relationship we had with him and we made seven movies with him.”
A similar thing happened with Seinfeld, on which Castle Rock was the deficit financier. Jerry Seinfeld’s famous sitcom came about following a rejection for the lead in another sitcom.
“We did a series that lasted 13 weeks,” he said. “It was called Past Imperfect. Jerry came in to read for it. He was funny but he wasn’t an actor, and Howie Mandel wound up playing the part. He had done some things as an actor. George Shapiro, who managed Jerry said, well Jerry has an idea would you guys want to develop it with him and Larry David. That’s how that came about, Jerry not getting that other role. George said, we want to do something that was in keeping with him., He didn’t have to become another character, he could just be himself.”
Reiner said that even in its low rated early days, he and his Castle Rock partners could see the potential, but perhaps the most helpful thing he did was berate the late NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff, who was leaning toward a quick hook.
“I went in and screamed at Brandon Tartikoff,” Reiner recalled. “It was pretty crazy. I was younger then and I said, “you’ve got the best show that has ever been on television. How dare you even think about canceling it?” We didn’t know it would be that successful, but we knew it was the best you could get. He had only done 9 or 13 shows and they were going to drop it. [Brandon] said, “I don’t want a show about nothing. What kind of show is this? They are going to sit and wait for a table in a Chinese restaurant? That’s the show?” I said, “No, no! There will be stories. I promise you. You have to do this. I was able to help convince him to pick it up.”
It became by far the most profitable thing Castle Rock ever did. “It’s the most profitable thing anyone did, ever,” Reiner said. “It’s the most financially successful show in the history of television.”
Reiner knows it will be hard to replicate the success of that company, but once again, it provides a mechanism for him to make whatever he wants to.
“For me, it was the best situation that I as a filmmaker ever had,” he said. “The freedom to make any film I wanted; we had a voting thing, five of us, Marty Shafer, Alan Horn, Andy Scheinman, Glenn Padnick and me. We each had a vote on whether a picture would go ahead. We made over 125 films, so usually we had a consensus, but if it was my film, I got four votes. So I could get at least a tie and basically it meant I made what I wanted. Now, we have five people who decide, but basically if I want to do it, I will go do it.”
Despite the current fractious situation facing feature filmmakers, Reiner hopes there remains room for those ingrained with good storytelling. The son of the iconic Carl Reiner, Rob grew up steeped in the best of the craft.
“It was a tremendous influence, I had this front row seat, looking through the slats in the bannister upstairs, looking at the funniest people,” he said “Anyone you laughed at in the second half of the 20th Century, whether it was Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Norman Lear, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Mel Tolkin, Joe Stein who wrote Fiddler on the Roof. These were the people I saw.
The algorithm is really just an offshoot of what they used to call Q ratings, used to predict if they’re going to resonate. Now it’s how many followers do they have on social media. It’s difficult. I am a storyteller, we are storytellers, and I still believe there’s a way to get a good story out there, and that people will eventually find it, somehow. The movie business, we don’t know how it’s going to shake out post Covid. People’s habits change. They are more than happy to watch television or one of the platforms. To a filmmaker, it’s kind of heartbreaking because it means you pause the thing, you go to the bathroom, get something to eat, you check your phone, you come back later. When I read the biography of Frank Capra, he said, “if you’re going to ask people to sit in the dark for two hours, and be quiet, you’d better put something up to that’s worth paying attention to.” Now, they don’t pay attention to anything. It’s hard to do, but you have to just keep doing the stories you think are good and hope they will find an audience.”
We discuss how Mickey Mantle hung around too long and regretted not quitting before his lifetime batting average dipped below .300. Reiner’s got at least three narrative features he wants to direct, but is mindful of needing to keep up the batting average of Castle Rock, both iterations.
“I am aware that Mickey dipped to .298,” Reiner said. “I’m older, no question. My wife Michelle always says, ‘look at Clint Eastwood! I don’t know that I’ll be directing into my 90s but I have at least two I know I want to make and one more that I have been thinking about a long time. So I’ll keep going until I can’t do it anymore.”
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