Talks & Interviews — June 12, 2012 at 7:03 am

BZFilm talks to legendary producer Menahem Golan (exclusive)

Menahem Golan is…well, pretty much everything as far as movies go. He’s an integral part of cinema, and for me personally – a part of Hollywood that he no longer belongs to.

After completing his studies in theater direction, Golan staged plays in Israel. He gained experience as a filmmaker by working as an assistant to legendary Roger Corman. Golan never slowed down since.

Menahem Golan was in fact born Menahem Globus in Tiberias (Palestine, Israel) in May 1929. In his early years, he was a pilot for the fledgling Israeli Air Force, changing his surname to Golan for patriotic reasons in 1948, according to IMDB.

I am sure most of you seen at least one film which began with a “Golan/Globus Production” and “Cannon Group Inc.” titles. It all started in the 60s. Golan’s debut film in partnership with his younger cousin Yoram Globus was El Dorado (1963). The two cousins set up Noah Films to produce for the Israeli market.

The company was first recognized overseas when its production Sallah (1964) won an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and then won the Golden Globe in the same category in 1965. However, the cousins were desperate to break into the international market. And then came the “Cannon”…

In 1979 the pair bought control of a failing production company, The Cannon Group Inc., and it was this company that gave them international renown. Under their control, the Cannon Group grew from a small company making a few obscure pictures a year to a studio that produced 35 pictures in 1987 alone, becoming a large, independent, and international empire, with production, distribution, and exhibition interests across Europe.

However, by 1987, the money was starting to run out. Many of their movies were not making enough at the box office and they had taken on a lot of debt during their rapid growth, making more expensive pictures in the process. They were initially rescued by Warner Bros., which took distribution rights to Cannon’s better films, and also took an interest in some of its assets.

The end of Cannon came in 1989 when, virtually bankrupt the company was bought, and renamed Pathe Communications. Some sources say the last film Cannon produced was “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior” (1993), others say it was “Street Knight” (1993). Nonetheless, the once mighty Cannon Group was gone. Menahem Golan was not, however.

The interview with the great producer for BZFilm was actually a birthday present I made for myself (June 9th), and it turned out just great. Judging from our talk, one thing that Golan is not intending to do yet is slowing down. Below is an exclusive BZFilm interview with producer Menahem Golan.

Mr. Golan, believe it or not, some people have no idea what a “producer” does. How would you describe your duties as a producer?

I am going to give you an example. When a bridge is being built, an engineer and an architect are used. The architect is the director, and the engineer is the producer. The producer is the one who initiates the film, he sees the final result, he has to make a budget for it, and usually he does the budget together with the director.

The producer is the one supplying the director with everything necessary to make the film. He is the one behind the film, he also usually owns the film, and he does searching for distributior, he takes care of the financial side, he’s responsible for everything that happens in the film. The director on the other hand is an artist, who brings some of his ideas and images to the cinema. He gives the shape to the motion picture, which was written by a sceen writer.

As far as I know, you did not like the first “Expendables” film directed by Sylvester Stallone. Now the second film is coming up and it packs even more action stars than the first film, including those two you know well – Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris… what are your expectations?

I think the first “Expendables” was a very bad movie. Thank God, I was not involved in its production. That film made about $100 million at the box office internationally, but a big action picture usually makes a lot more. So, $100 million is not much, with so many stars. I disliked the film because they cast Schwarzenegger, who did absolutely nothing in the film, and he is a star by himself. But they only wanted to use his name.

I disliked the first film because it was just all about shooting, there were no clear motives, it was a very weak point in the film. I was bored. I saw the film in a theater in Praque. I went to the cinema to watch it, I wanted to leave, but decided to stay, but it was actually a boring film. I hope the second one will be better. The producers are all, unfortunately, my students. Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort. Lerner is just trying to get to the box office today. So, I hope the second “Expendables” will be better than the first one.

Let’s talk a little about “Spider-Man”. You once said that if you had produced Spider-Man back in the day, the “Cannon Group” would still exist today. How can you explain that?

Had I produced “Spider-Man”, the “Cannon Group” would still exist today, that is true because Spider-Man achieved big box office success. Even if you don’t do it well, it would have been a box office success, and that would kept Cannon Group above the board. The company was broken by big loans from banks. Banks did not want to support us anymore, and it was a big mess, you know.

I owned the rights for “Spider-Man” for seven years, but I never got to do it. The budget was too big for us to raise. We needed like $100 million, we couldn’t raise it, we were too small. So later we sold the rights to another company. I bought the rights for $400,000 and sold it for $1 million, so we made some money, and the finally the film was made. And it turned out to be good.

Continuing on Spider-Man, let’s assume you had a chance to make “Spider-man” with your own vision. I am not sure if you knew that, but there was a special comic book put out by Marvel Comics dealing with the issue of child sexual abuse, and it was disclosed in that comic that Peter Parker was sexually abused by an older boy (this was prior to his becoming Spider-Man)…and naturally, this was not in the released Spider-Man film. Would you have kept this in your film?

You cannot bring such things to a film, because “Spider-Man” is also for children, and things like that is a taboo. I would definitely not use something like that in my film.

Israeli film industry has taken a step forward, and speaking of action and martial arts movies – director by the name of Isaac Florentine directed  “Undisputed 2” and later “Undisputed 3” – films that quickly became hits among martial arts fans. What is your opinion on Florentine’s work ?

Florentine is my student (laughs), he was my assistant in two movies before he became a director. He became a good director, an expert in martial arts. I believe he kind of followed me, and when we did films with Van Damme, those were full of martial arts, I think he followed them. Clever man, I liked him, very good guy, he became really good at his craft.

What in your opinion, modern Israeli cinema needs to improve to become better?

I am for a complete revolution in the system of promotion and helping films with money. It reminds me of Russia in its communist days. A committee decides on the quality of the film and gives money for it. Before that , in the 60s, 70s, 80s, we had a system which I called “as many legs go into the cinema, that much support you get”, meaning there was a tend to sell text-only tickets, and this money (according to the number of people who came to the cinema) was the support they used to give to the producers and directors. I dont believe in the system today, and I wish they changed it. I dont think there should be a committee that gets the final word on whether a film gets the financial support or not. I want the money to come from the theaters, not from the government.

How internet can be used today as a promotion and marketing tool for a film? Would you use it for your film promotion today?

I did not do it yet, but I will in my next film. Internet today is very popular, its a great tool to publicize, to get your film recognized.

You are said to enjoy European cinema more than the American one. Why so? And also, what is your opinion on Asian cinema?

First of all, European films are done, mostly, with a lower budget. Second thing – they have ideas, they have good stories. If a film has a good story, it doesn’t need to have great special effects. The U.S. is making these big-budget movies, and these movies look big, they have the special effects, yet those stories are weak. They do not take care of the characters or ideas. They want to shock you with special effects. “Avatar” is one example, and you know how much money it made. As for Asian cinema – South Korean movies are beautiful, they exploit drama and love, some of their films are quite sad, but still beautiful. I like them.

Some of your interviews mention your film “Summer in Badenheim”, which has never been made, and its absent from the list of films you worked on. Why this project was never made?

I lost the rights, unfortunately. I have two projects in mind, I don’t know which one will come first, I will know in a couple of months. One is a part of “King Solomon’s Mines”, which is called “Quatermain and the Jewel of the East”, its quite an expensive movie for me, and I am working on the financing now.

The second project is “The Golem”, the Golem of Praque. This film requires a lot of special effects, and I am not an expert in that, so i have to use the U.S. special effects people. But the story for the film, the script, is very strong. It deals with Kabbala (religious philosophical system). The film starts in modern New York where people are developing human brain from genes, just like they did with sheep Dolly, you know. They’re trying to achieve what God is doing, by breaking the rules, trying to create a human brain. It becomes huge, and they cannot control it, they actually send the star of the movie to Praque for answers.

 You said you never made films about war and politics, was the reason for that because you thought those films would be wrongly accepted or misunderstood?

Well, I live in a country that is in wars all the time. The only movie that I did that does have some of that is “Operation Thunderbolt”, which was nominated for Oscars. This was the only movie where I tell a little about the topics of terror and politics. I am doing entertaining movies, I want people to go to movies for emotions, for laughs and cries. People like my movies. In Israel, we sold every one of my movies the beginning, it was amazing. The population in Israel at that time was 2 million, now its 7 million. The ticket buyers were almost a million, meaning almost everyone went to the cinema, that was great.

In 1979 me and Yoram Globus went to America and bought Cannon, which became the largest most important indepent film company in the next 10 years. Our shares went up from 20 cents to $46. It was a public company, it was a big success. Until we started having problems with banks.

You now live in Israel, why did you leave the United States?

After the breakdown of Cannon, I felt very miserable and lonely, so i decided to leave Hollywood. My family wanted to come back to Israel, so I we did, and I started making movies here. You know I made quite a lot of movies in Russia. There were times when we could do low-budget movies in Russia at that time, but today its impossible.

You are known and respected all over the world. As of now, do you personally see anyone who could become the next Menahem Golan?

(laughs) Actually I dont think this way, I dont look for another man, I just want to continue making movies.

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