Gary Foster

Gary Foster is the producer of
The Score, Tin Cup, Sleepless in Seattle. The son of prolific film producer David Foster (The Core, The Thing, McCabe & Mrs. Miller), Gary Foster studied at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television before making his mark as a producer on such films as Short Circuit 2, Gloria, and Just Cause. Darren Rea spoke with him as his latest movie, Daredevil, was due for release on DVD and video...

Darren Rea: How much of an influence was your father on your choice of career?

Gary Foster: I would say some indirectly and some directly. Obviously, growing up around it I realised it was an exciting thing. My parents were very smart and very traditional in the way they raised me. Even though we had access to things and met interesting people, we had a relatively normal upbringing, which I think was a good thing. But when I left college I was more interested in the sports business than the film business. I spent a year or so doing that and then suddenly realised that, as much as I loved sports, the movie business thing had hit me like the flu and I decided that was what I was going to do.

My dad has always been a great confidant. He's a mentor and if I could have the kind of career he's had I'd be a happy man.

DR: Did he try to dissuade you from a career in the movie industry? And did he give you any good advice?

GF: He was very good at being honest about the good and the bad parts of the industry. This is not an easy business, especially in the current climate. There was a time when producers were king, but that's not the case right now. And we have to work really hard to let people know how valuable our properties are and what what we bring to the table. In every aspect of this business people are working hard - we are all free agents in some way.

My father used to use the term "being tastefully aggressive" and I took it to heart. But, at the end of the day, I am here because I chose to be here, not because I thought it was something I was destined to do because of my family connection. But it was something that I really loved and felt strongly about. It's always nice to have someone there when you are facing a situation that you don't know how to deal with - someone you can trust to give you advice.

DR: Do you think, in your early career, the fact you were your father's son opened more doors? Or did you find it was more of a hinder than a help?

GF: His position was very clear. If I wanted him to make a phone call to try to open a door or to gain access to somebody, he would be glad to do it. But that was as far as he would go. And frankly I wanted it that way. I'm a pretty competitive person and If I was going to have any success the last thing I would want was for anyone to claim nepotism, or say: "it's only because he is the son of..." So I was probably harder on myself than anyone was on me.

There were a lot of doors I didn't ask him to open. I just did what I had to do. At the end of the day someone is going to judge you on your ability to do the job and you are either going to do it well or you won't. I just wanted to be a bull in a china shop and do my own thing [laughs].

DR: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment as a producer?

GF: The DVD of Daredevil [laughs]

DR: I suppose you have to say that?

GF: [Laughs] Yeah! But, I am proud of that. I'm proud of a number of things. I'm proud of seeing Sleepless in Seattle progress from a little known script into the movie it became. I'm very proud of Daredevil too. It was the biggest and most complicated movie that I've produced and it was not an easy road getting that movie made. But, when we finally got there and it worked, that was a great feeling.

The other highlight I would add to that list is when I was able to put Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando and Edward Norton together for The Score. That was a cast that will never happen again and it was exciting to be around that much talent.

DR: Before you became involved with Daredevil were you a comic book fan?

GF: No, I wasn't. My partner on the movie Mark Steven Johnson [pictured right], who wrote and directed the movie, was a huge, passionate Daredevil fan. About seven years ago he dropped a bunch of comic books on my desk and said: "You should read these because I am going to make this movie".

I had not grown up reading comic books, so I was a little prejudice. They didn't really interest me, but I started reading Daredevil and I eventually read every Daredevil book that there is and I was amazed at how complex it was. I was expecting "Wow! Bam! Zap!" and in reality it was very dimensional and character driven. After reading it I realised why Mark was so passionate about it - it got me exited too.

DR: What were the main problems that you faced translating Daredevil from the comic books to the big screen?

GF: In terms of the script, the big tightrope we had to walk was making sure we told a story that worked for an audience that had no idea that the character came from a comic book, while at the same time respecting the people who were passionate about the comic - never betraying their loyalties. I'm the non-comic book geek, so I tended to say things like: "Ok. I know you want to do this in the script because it's in the book and it's a Frank Miller thing... but it doesn't really add to the film." So, I would make an argument if I felt that I needed to.

We had a really good core group of people working on the project and we'd always remember that there were a lot of people out there who had no idea who Matt Murdock was - and you can't forget that. So as far as designing the story and the script, they were the challenges.

In terms of making the movie, this sounds like a total plug but I mean this honestly, there are some great features on the DVD that talk about how hard it is to make a movie. Originally Daredevil was going to be a $50m movie and it turned out to be a lot bigger because Spiderman was released and everyone realised we had to compete at a certain level but we had nowhere near the resources they had to make that movie - or even the resources that the makers of X-Men 2 or The Hulk were afforded. So there were a lot of deals we had to make and a lot of rolling up our sleeves and trying ways to get great visuals without spending money that we didn't have.

It was trying but, at the end of the day, extremely satisfying because we pulled off something that I don't think anybody thought we could for the money we had. And if you go thorough and listen to some of the documentaries on the DVD there is a lot of honesty about what we had to go through to get the movie made. I think it's something to be proud of when you consider that we took 540 visual effects shots for about the same cost of around 10 Spiderman shots. A lot of thanks has to go to the visual effects houses who understood what we were up against and were willing to take some risks.

DR: I understand that you do a commentary on the DVD. How did you go about preparing for that? Was it something that you prepared for?

GF: Mark and I did a commentary together. We just sat down and watched the movie and went for it. When you have lived with something for as long as we had with Daredevil it's pretty easy to look at almost every frame and have a story to tell. There are some pretty bluntly honest remarks on there too, which I think are fun. I can't judge my own work, but hopefully we were informative and entertaining at the same time [laughs].

DR: Would you be involved with another comic book adaptation, or do you think one is enough?

GF: We are currently in the process of putting together Ghost Rider with Nick Cage which will start shooting in January. We are also going to be doing Elektra in May.

DR: If you could be any superhero which would best describe you?

GF: God... that's a tough one. I don't know. I'll have to pick somebody in the Marvel Universe. I think being Spiderman would be fun. To be young, in love and have the ability to run New York, that would be kinda fun [laughs].

DR: What's the most challenging thing about your profession at the moment?

GF: The hardest thing is finding good material and competing for the limited budgets that are out there to finance movies. Movies are more expensive and they are making fewer of them. So, it's pretty competitive out there to try and be one of those 15 movies that 20th Century Fox is going to make next year. Your passion and salesmanship only goes so far - ultimately they are going to judge it based on the material and it's ability to attract 'talent'. It's really hard to get good scripts.

DR: How much has the introduction of DVD gone towards revitalising the movie industry?

GF: I think that DVD movies are becoming an increasingly important part of the marketplace. And as well as we did with Daredevil at the box office, more people around the world will see this movie on DVD than did on the big screen. It gives you an access that you wouldn't have had in the past.

What I love about them is not only that you can see the movie at home in digital quality, but that you get a whole bunch of cool extras and you can learn how the movie was made, the people involved and there is the added fun of searching for Easter Eggs. It's a fun, interactive experience.

DR: Was that not a nightmare for you though? You've put the movie together, it's been a success at the box office and now you have to provide more content for the DVD release.

GF: No! I loved it. Mark and I are huge DVD devotees, so we started meeting the guys at Fox and the producers of the DVD while we were shooting the movie. We gave Mark's assistant a digital video camera while we were filming Daredevil and told him to shoot everything.

We wanted the DVD to show everything. We've got footage of Ben Affleck being plastered for his mould [pictured] and loads of other things we though would be interesting. That was something we thought of from the beginning and we had fun making it. Because the industry is becoming more competitive we wanted to be considered one of the best DVDs.

DR: You mentioned earlier that producing was not a career that you had originally intended to follow. So if you weren't producing now, what would your ideal job be?

GF: If I wasn't a producer right now I'd still want to be sitting in a booth announcing a football game. That's my dream. I would love to be one of those guys that spends their weekends watching a sporting event and trying to describe it.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to David Cox at DSA

Daredevil is available to buy from 20th Century Fox from 14 July 2003 RRP £19.99 (DVD) £14.99 (Video)

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