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An Interview With Stuart Cornfeld

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Stuart Cornfeld, producer of over thirty movies, including: Tropic Thunder, The Elephant Man, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and Zoolander. Currently producing in New York, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, to be released in 2013. In production with Red Hour Entertainment, and directed by Ben Stiller. Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig and Adam Scott.

"I think, real f*cking life is a hundred billion times more creative than anything that we can invent" -- Stuart Cornfeld

M: Tell me what got you started as a producer in the movie business?

S: I mean really it was one of those things where I always liked movies, and at a certain point I didn't know what I was going to do after college, and I just knew about this place the American Film Institute. So, I went up there and I volunteered to work on a student film and I really connected with the experience and ended up getting into the school.

M: And then?

S: Once I was there they had a directing workshop for women, and Anne Bancroft was one of the women in the workshop. I worked with her, and then she introduced me to Mel Brooks.

M: And that's where you took off?

S: Yeah, so I was very lucky to kind of have a mentor to help me along the way.

M: And how did you go from working with Mel Brooks, to David Lynch and now Ben Stiller?

S: I mean David you know is a unique filmmaker who has this universe that he has access to and that not many other people do, and can bring back fairly clear representations of it. And you know Ben is just a really, smart creative guy who puts in a lot of work and is insanely talented.

M: And what film shaped your work?

S: Did you ever see the Cocteau movie, Beauty and the Beast? There are elements of the outsider type of story and that type of transformative experience in The Elephant Man, and there are elements of that in The Fly. Where something you think that is initially hideously ugly or repellant you end up appreciating as something that is really beautiful and interesting. And that's my thing.

M: And what do you see as the future of movies?

S: Well, I think technology is changing a lot of what people want from the media. I don't know how much longer people are going to want a three-act structure with a cathartic ending. I mean, it may be something between video games and serialized television shows, where you can either have a super immediate experience or an extended kind of dramatic soap opera experience, and an hour and a half story may be of less interest.

M: Do you think something new and inventive is happening on the Internet?

S: Yeah, I think that technology is going to make it tougher to get people to pay money to go someplace and to sit down for two hours. And you know movies take a lot of money, so you know I am not very optimistic about the movie industry. I think storytelling will become more gaming and television.

M: And tell me about the digital branch you are launching at Red Hour Films?

S: It's great -- it's run by Mike Rosenstein, and it means doing things for less money -- which means the process of getting it made is not as burdensome or difficult -- and the people we are working with are amazing.

M: Is it a different audience?

S: No, I think it's the same; basically everyone wants to be laughing. Their expectations of what they want may change -- they may want entertainment in a six-minute clip rather than an hour and a half movie. I mean I think that's what is going to happen in the future of entertainment.

M: And what are you most interested in right now outside of movies?

S: You know I like real life. I just like what happens -- I mean that's obvious. I like interesting stories you know -- compelling narratives. I read the obituaries everyday -- and it's just really amazing when you see the amount of permutations of what people's lives become and what they are able to do with them.

M: And what led you to the your new movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?

S
: It was a good script. I mean everyone has fantasies, and it's a movie that deals with people being in the moment rather than being lost in their daydreams. I think everybody wants to be leading a life that is larger than what they are leading -- and everyone would rather be doing something heroic and dramatic and special and worthy of note rather than riding on the subway to work. I mean, if you're lucky enough to be in a real life that you are interested by, and engaged in, and entertained by, and that's sort of a positive experience for you -- then you know you've lucked out.

M: Do you think real life is more interesting than your creative vision?

S: A thousand times -- a thousand times -- for me absolutely -- there's nothing that beats the number of insane permutations that exist out there -- your little guy who you interviewed who doesn't have any arms and is playing drums in Union Square -- that to me is more interesting than our daydreams of anything we know. So yeah, I think, real f*cking life is a hundred billion times more interesting.

M: In twenty years what do you want to be doing?

S: In twenty years? You know, I was on the subway the other day, and I was looking at everyone with their smartphones and with their headsets on, and I really think you know ten years ago if you were going to say, "What is a subway going to look like?" that no one would ever come up with that. So you don't know what's going to happen -- I mean minds greater than yours are working on what the future is going to be... so why try to reinvent it?