By Robin E. Simmons
Randall Emmett produced 2 GUNS, the top new movie of last weekend. If his name is not yet familiar, it will be. Barely into his 40s, he has, by my count, produced close to 80 films. That’s an incredible achievement — more movies than Jerry Bruckheimer! And Emmett has four more films that will open before year’s end (among them ESCAPE PLAN and the much anticipated LONE SURVIVOR).
Emmett is a hands-on producer from concept to premier. Besides being a prolific filmmaker, he is also well-liked. That alone is remarkable in the biz. Other producers I know love the art of the deal above the subject of the film. Not so with Emmett – he truly loves film and makes movies he wants to see. Luckily, his cinematic tastes more often than not resonate with the movie-going audience. Randall Emmett and his wife, actor Ambyr Childers have a home in the CV. They have a young daughter and another on the way.
Emmett and I spoke by phone while he was between flights crossing the country to promote 2 GUNS, now showing at Cinemas Palme d’Or
Robin Simmons: Do you remember the first movie you ever saw in a theater?
Randall Emmett: I don’t remember the very fist movie I ever saw in a theater, but I vividly remember seeing WALL STREET, SCARFACE and THE GOLDFATHER while very young. They had a big impact on me. I remember seeing the movies of the 80s like BREAKFAST CLUB.
Robin: You were a movie buff when you were a kid?
Randall: I was. We lived in a suburb of Miami. I remember me and my friends dressing up like Wall Street brokers. Suits and suspenders like in the movie.
Robin: Movies that took me to another world had the strongest visceral impact when I was a kid…
Randall: I couldn’t agree more. Even musicals! I saw the old 42nd STREET when I was growing up. I was blown away by these fantastic worlds that were so far removed from my own real life growing up in a regular suburb of Miami. It definitely transported me and encouraged my creativity.
Robin: Someone told me you were a child actor.
Randall: When I was maybe seven or eight, I was in a local kids acting group. Later, I got into a school of theater arts and on weekends was making short films with my friends. Whenever I was on commercials or a movie set, I never wanted to leave. There were child labor laws and I had to leave, but for me there was — and still is — is a kind of a magic on a set. The trailers, the crews and so on, I just did not want to go home.
Robin: I used to tell friends I wanted to live on Warner’s back lot.
Randall: Ha. I understand the attraction. I wanted to live on Universal’s (back lot). And Paramount’s back lot and those remnants of the vintage sound stages. It impacted me. When I was a kid, my folks would laugh and say, “Our son could be an extra on a movie set and be there for 20 hours and still not want to leave.” The place and the process mesmerized me.
After high school I went to New York and try another year of acting. Then I worked on a movie as a PA and realized I would never really make it as an actor. I enrolled in the New York’s Tisch School of the Visual Arts and found a love of producing.
But I still ask people I know about those “golden days of Hollywood,” I’m still mesmerized.
Robin: I worked on the old Columbia Studios and my office was part of Rita Hayworth’s old dressing room. Sometimes I’d still be working late at night, and I’d feel a presence. It gave me chills.
Randall: I don’t find that surprising. On old sound stages I too feel something. It permeates the atmosphere. Maybe it’s just a love of movies throughout the ages that remains behind?
Robin: Do you remember the first movie you produced?
Randall: Oh yes. I did a movie when I was in film school in New York for $24,000. It was called EYES BEYOND SEEING (about an inmate in a mental institution who thinks he’s Jesus and his impact on fellow patients and staff). I was twenty-two. My first Hollywood feature, so to speak, was SPEEDWAY JUNKY. I did it in LA for about $2 million. I was twenty-seven. There was a learning curve and I was new to everything. Both those movies had a tremendous impact on my life and career because it showed me I could do something.
Robin: What drives you to make a movie? Is it the subject? The deal? People attached? Or making big bucks?
Randall: (Laughs) I think it’s gotta be the subject matter first. At this point in my career I have to love the material. And then I have to love the actors and the filmmaker. And then of course I have to remove myself a bit and look at it as a business perception. It’s the combination of all these things. But I definitely want to believe in the story I’m telling. Is it really entertaining? Is it based on a true story like LONE SURVIVOR coming out later this year? There are so many different variables but most of all I have to believe in the movie itself and personally would want to go see this movie as an ordinary filmgoer on the first weekend. I really wanted to see 2 GUNS. I love Denzel – I’d serve him coffee. He’s one of the greats I look up to. And Mark Wahlberg is one of my favorite actors as well. I like to think I’m representative of the general movie-going public. I want to be part of the experience.
Robin: I know producers who couldn’t care less about the subject of the movie. It’s the deal that matters most.
Randall: Here’s the thing. At the end of the day, you’re making a movie to be seen. I’m very emotionally connected to the movies I make. I put my heart and soul in it. My hope is that an audience will connect in the same way.
Robin: Have you thought about some of this summer’s big budget tent-pole movies that weren’t received with great critical reviews and were also disappointments at the box office?
Randall: Yes. Some great stuff and some not so great. The summer’s crowded and I don’t know what went on in the studios. I’m sure they thought about it, but that’s above my pay grade. Ha!
Robin: I notice a lot of producers on 2 GUNS. Nineteen or twenty?
Randall: They basically helped finance my movie.
Robin: Do you have final say on your movies?
Randall: It depends on the director. But we usually leave final say to the studio that’s distributing it since we are partners. We had Baltasar Kormákur for 2 GUNS. He’s so good. But let me say something, even if I have final cut, I’ve never had to enforce it, because for me it’s always been a collaborative effort. When a moves ceases to be a collaborative effort, that’s when problems arise. I always know the tone of the movie and make sure everyone’s on the same page before we start.
Randall Emmett talks to Mark Wahlberg on the set of “2 GUNS”
Robin: Ever come to blows over creative differences?
Randall: I’ve been lucky with excellent relations with my filmmakers. Maybe that will change one day, who knows. But I’ve heard of such stories. Baltasar is directing EVEREST for me in November. It’s about the tragic Everest expedition in 1996. The Krakauer expedition. We’re shooting in the Italian Alps and Nepal among other places. We’ll do some studio stuff in London. It’s an incredibly dramatic story on the roof of the world.
Robin: Where was 2 GUNS shot?
Randall: The majority in New Orleans. Some in New Mexico.
Robin: Denzel Washington’s long career is amazing. He retains the good will of the public.
Randall: Making this movie with Denzel was such a treat on every level. I learned so much about acting. He’s such a pro. So generous.
Robin: Do you get a lot of unsolicited material?
Randall: We do. We try to stick with our agency, but I have made movies from unsolicited submissions. We try and read everything we get access too just because you never know where you’ll find a script that may be that gem in the rock.
Robin: What’s coming up for you?
Randall: I’m excited about LONE SURVIVOR (harrowing true story of SEAL Team 10 and the failed mission to capture or kill a Taliban leader), THE FROZEN GROUND (Nic Cage is an Alaskan State trooper partners with a woman who escaped a serial killer to bring the killer to justice), ESCAPE PLAN (a big action thriller with Stallone and Schwarzenegger).
Robin: Any dream projects?
Randall: Yes. One of them is happening next year. I never dreamed I’d produce a Martin Scorsese movie. SILENCE is a story he’s been nurturing for decades. In the 17th century two Jesuit priests face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and to spread the gospel of Christianity. It’s really about one of the priests questioning his faith — and God’s silence — in the face of human suffering.