fbpx

IFH 624: How NOT to Lose Your Soul in Hollywood with Stephen Simon

Share:

NEW 2021 PODCAST COVER 400x400

Top Apple Filmmaking Podcast

12+ Million Downloads

In 1980, Stephen Simon produced the film Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer. In 1998, he produced What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Stephen Simon graduated from UCLA and Loyola Law School, entered the movie business in 1976, ran the film companies of legendary producers Ray Stark and Dino de Laurentiis, produced such films as Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come, co-founded The Spiritual Cinema Circle in 2004, and wrote the books The Force is With You and Bringing Back the Old Hollywood.

Please enjoy my conversation with Stephen Simon.

Stephen Simon 0:00
Around six o'clock in the morning got a panicked phone call from Harry Cohn saying give Sinatra the part. I don't want to hear anything else about this. This is beginning to sound a little bit like a movie that you may know of called The Godfather.

Alex Ferrari 0:15
This episode is brought to you by the Best Selling Book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur how to turn your independent film into a money making business. Learn more at filmbizbook.com I'd like to welcome to the show Stephen Simon. How you doin Stephen?

Stephen Simon 0:31
It was so easy doing this do this on Zoom. But anyway, it's good to talk to you, Alex. Thank you very much.

Alex Ferrari 0:42
Thank you so much for coming on the show my friend. I've I've been a fan of your work for many, many years. You've brought me much love and tears and spiritual enlightenment through the works that you've done over the years, and we're gonna get into the, into the weeds of your career. But my first question is, Why in God's green earth did you want to get into this insanity? That is the film industry? And how did you get it?

Stephen Simon 1:05
Well, first of all, thank you for the kind words. I was actually born into the industry. My dad was a writer, producer and a studio head at Columbia in the late 40s. He made movies like born yesterday with Judy Holliday that she won an Academy Award for and he was running Columbia Studios, as the Head of Production there, when he died very suddenly, at the age of 40 from a cerebral hemorrhage. My mother remarried another film producer. So we stayed in the industry. And I very early on in my life had an experience where I was saying to my mother and my stepfather, there's a man in my wall at night. And of course, they thought I was nuts. This is probably 1954 53. And that, Oh, are you scared? No, I'm not scared. You know, he's, he's really wonderful. I like him a lot. Well, it took me a long time to realize that was the spirit of my dad. Oh, wow. My dad constantly was encouraging me. And I know that I came to this life, to be a filmmaker, and to make films of a spiritual nature that would hopefully be uplifting. I mean, when I was a kid I loved It's A Wonderful Life. The ghosts and Mrs. Muir Lost Horizon, though those were my movies. So I knew I wanted to do this. I don't hold this against me, please. It's been a long time. I don't have to go to meetings anymore. But I was a lawyer for a short period of time. I know that that's not something that people like to usually admit, but I was, but I knew I was supposed to get into the film industry. I was surrounded by it. And one day I walked into a bookstore, the guy that was the clerk knew I loved books of that would be called at that point fantasy books. And he said, Well, there's great new book by Richard Matheson, who had written a lot of The Twilight Zone episodes and movies like I Am Legend and things like that. It was called Big Time return. And I read the book in one sitting, and I said, That's it. I gotta get into the industry. My, my dad's mentor, was a man named Ray Stark. And Ray was a major lead producer in the film industry, Funny Girl, funny lady and a whole bunch of big movies. And I went and big Ray for a job and said, I got to get this movie made Ray, I got to learn how to produce. So a longer story than that, but he hired me, the very first thing I did was call Richard Matheson's agent. We set up a meeting. And I said to him, Look, I don't know how long it's going to take this good movie I got into the business to make. And three years later, we produce somewhere in time, which was based on did time return. And then he gave me the galleys to what dreams may come. That took 20 years. That's a whole other story.

Alex Ferrari 4:00
We'll get and we'll get to that that amazing film in a minute. But before we get into somewhere, somewhere in time, is it true that Frank Sinatra was your godfather?

Stephen Simon 4:09
He was he was. So my dad was running Columbia, when he bought a book for them called From Here to Eternity to make into a film. And my dad was this is 1948 49. My dad was a big fan of Sinatra is what a lot of people don't know is that at that point, Frank's career had really gone into the toilet as he would say, because he had made a lot of bad movie choices. He hemorrhage his vocal cords and couldn't sing for a while. My father was a big fan. And he called him and he said, Hey, look, I got a part for you called Maggio. That's the character in From Here to Eternity. I think it'd be great for you. You want to read it and Frank was Yeah, absolutely. He read it. He called my dad He said I love this part. This is what I need to get back on track. My dad gave him the part. And then Harry Cohn, who headed the studio had Columbia at that time, called my father in and said, No, not Sinatra. You can have anybody but Sinatra. Is this story beginning to sound a little familiar, Alex, it should. It should. So my father said why and Harry wouldn't tell them why. But it was over a woman who I believe was Kim Novak. I think it was Kim Novak. I'm not 100% Sure. So my father said I can't You can't do this to me, Harry. I told the guy I'm the Head of Production, my word will be ruined and Harry Cohn in his inimitable kind way, said Who gives a damn about your your reputation? No. Just as an aside, Red Skelton once had a great comment about Harry Cohn. When Harry Cohn died, about 3000 people showed up for his funeral. And red said, See, give people what they want. They'll show up. Anyway, so my dad quit, went home. Around six o'clock in the morning, got a panicked phone call from Harry Cohn saying gives an actor the part. I don't want to hear anything else about this. If this is beginning to sound a little bit like a movie that you may know of called The Godfather. That's because it is it was based on that episode and know the horse's head was not cut off. Red Skelton told me the story long, much longer after this because red was my dad's best friend, my birth dad's best friend, right. But Harry owned a great resource who was poisoned in his stall. And there was a note under Harry's door saying your next. As far as I know, Frank knew nothing about that. And I never talked to Frank about that, because that was just not a subject that we wanted to deal with. But from that point forward, after my dad died, Frank became Uncle Frank. And there were always these great gifts from him. And when I was 18, I was called to his house to talk to him. And at that point, he told me the story about my father. And he said, your dad was a stand up guy. He really saved my career, Steven, I never got a chance to repay him. You now have to consider me your unofficial godfather. And we're gonna have some fun together. And I spent a few years traveling with him. And it was an extraordinary time. I often feel Alex like Forrest Gump. I just wound up being in the right place at the right time with a whole bunch of really fascinating people.

Alex Ferrari 7:40
That's an amazing story. So that so that whole story is that kind of basis of where that that scene in The Godfather came in Haratz. That is remarkable that the whole I love the Forrest Gump analogy, it seems as we continue with our conversation that will start to make more and more sense. Your your career is gone

Stephen Simon 8:03
Make sense to me, boy, you just be in the right place at the right time. And fascinating things happen. I've had a very, very lucky, fortunate life.

Alex Ferrari 8:11
So you've also worked with two you were working with two legends. One was Neil Simon. Another one was Dino DeLaurentis. You know, the legendary producer. So So first question, what was it like working with Neil? And did you get what kind of what kind of lessons did you learn from working with someone like Neil Simon.

Stephen Simon 8:30
So when I got my job with Ray start, when I begged my way into that job. Ray had a multi picture deal with Neil, who was at that time, the number one playwright in the world, he had had so many huge hits. And Ray had already made a couple of movies with him. And we were doing, I think we were starting to it was the a movie called The chief detective with Peter Falk in this great ensemble cast. And there was going to be a reading with the cast of the script one night Oh, never forget this a trader Vic's restaurant in Beverly Hills. And Ray said to me, we're going and I want you to sit next to Neil. And just watch Neil while he operates. And I said, Okay, so we have all these actors in a room who are in all of Neil Simon. And Neil says, Look, I just want you to read the script, guys. You don't have to, you don't have to act. You don't do anything. Just read the script. I need to know what it sounds like. So they started and I watched Neil make notes in his script in a big red pen. And he would make notes like, no big cross out, change it joke doesn't work. This is bad. This is good keep. And he did that all the way through the reading. And when it was over, he said to everybody, I really appreciate that. That's what I needed. I it's very clear to me, I've got to rewrite about half of this stuff. So I got to do a big rewrite on the script. We'll do another reading when I'm ready, but thank you, and he went away to Right. So when it was over, and it was just Neil and Ray and I said to him, Neil, how the heck do you do that? How can you keep objectivity? He said, Steven, a joke is only funny if other people laugh. If other people laugh, it doesn't matter what I think of it. It's not funny. I've got a I've got to make it work where people actually laugh, said, and I also have this device where when I'm doing my own rewrites, I pretend I have been hired to rewrite the work of somebody I don't like. And it's very easy for me to change the words. Now I was raised Jewish. Neil's Jewish Ray was Jewish. If you're Jewish, you get that attitude. Okay. So that was Neil, and it was fascinating watching him operate. And I still think at that time, Niels contract was the only writer in Hollywood that you could not change his work. His words without his permission. I think he was the only guy that had that. As far as I know. He may be the only guy that ever got that. But it was, again, it was just fascinating being in the presence of that kind of genius.

Alex Ferrari 11:13
I think I think Sorkin might have that. And I think Tarantino might have that at this point in the game. Be but but there's a short very short list, to say the least. Now you also got to work with Dino DiLaurentis, who was a legendary film producer. I mean, I'm sure you've got stories you could tell on air. And I'm sure you got stories you could tell off there. So what lessons did you learn as a producer for producer to producer? How, what lessons did you learn from him?

Stephen Simon 11:40
Oh, so many. Dino was a unique individual, you know, Dino almost single handedly launched the Italian film industry. Dino got his start in life, selling quote, holy water unquote, to American GI as during World War Two that he had basically just gotten out of the river. I mean, he I we used to get to work very early. He, which was great, because I'm an early bird as well. We used to get to the office at seven in the morning. And for the first hour, Dino would regale me with stories. And I, I almost felt like I should have been paying him. Because the stories were extraordinary about how he got started, how his films work. And you know, Dino pioneered selling off individual rights to films overseas. And that's how you get your film made. So he was the one that started all of that we would get a domestic deal. He sell it here in France and sell it here in Germany. And then eventually, this is a whole other story, which is a long story, which we won't go into. But eventually, we distributed a film outside the United States, which was Madonna's documentary, which we called outside the United States in Dino's inimitable way, which we called in bed with Madonna. And Madonna during that time, I had not met her but at that time, she was the most famous woman in the world. And she told Dino, she wanted to do a movie like The Sharon Stone movie. Basic Instinct, Basic Instinct. Thank you. That's what happens when you get to 76 you have those little brain freezes from time to time. And so Dino said to me, I've done the numbers, you got to find a really sexy script that she wants to do, you got to make it for $18 million. If you do, we can pre sell it for 23. And then we don't have to worry about anything else. And as your job. And I said, okay, and it scared the bejesus out of me. I had been through a very difficult divorce at that time, I had declared bankruptcy at that time, I had just gotten my job with Dino, which I did not want to lose. So I called Madonna's assistant and said, you know, this is going to be my position, I would really like to meet with her. And she was renting a house in the Hollywood Hills. And we set up the meeting for whatever it was. And I came in and she was in the living room sitting on the couch, and came up and shook my hand. She was very, very nice. And we sat on opposite sides. And she said, What can I do for you? And I said, I'm going to be really frank with you. You scare me to death. And she got this little smile. And she said, well tell me about that. And I told her, I said, I need this job. It's my job to keep this movie on schedule and on budget. If you don't like the way I say, Good morning, you can get me fired. I know that. I've been told I can be honest with you. I'm being honest with you. What is it going to take for me to make this work for you? And I'll never forget this as long as I live. She launched herself off the couch and I actually thought He was coming toward me to hit me, I actually thought she was going to slap me. And I stood up, and she gave me a big hug. And she said, Steven, if you're that honest with me about everything all the way through this, we are going to be great friends, because I want you at the end of the film, to say to everybody how professional I was. And because a lot of people have different ideas about me, and we're not going to have any problems, I promise you. And she was just an absolute delight to work with the entire way through, she kept her word. And Dino and I finally had a parting of the ways but working with him during those years was utterly fascinating, because I, I learned how to actually get movies financed in a very unconventional way. And he was one of the great giants of the industry. And I really loved him very dearly.

Alex Ferrari 15:53
And he was so he was he he started the whole pre selling

Stephen Simon 15:58
Dino originated all of that,

Alex Ferrari 16:01
Right! Because I mean, I know the Canon boys started taking that to the next level in the 80s when they just throw it

Stephen Simon 16:08
The next level. But you know, he was the one that he is the one that did it. And he made a lot of, you know, incredible films in Italy with Fellini. And he was, I think Dino may have had his name on three or 400 movies by the end of his career. I may be exaggerating that, but I don't think so. And as I said, he I was given the opportunity to work for two of the last great moguls Ray Stark, and Dino DiLaurentis. And I was, it was a gift to me. I much appreciated.

Alex Ferrari 16:39
And as a producer, you must have picked up a lot of tools in your toolbox along the way.

Stephen Simon 16:43
I sure did. I learned a lot of things that I wanted to do. And I learned a lot of things I didn't want to do.

Alex Ferrari 16:49
So that's fascinating, because I remember when body of evidence, which is that Madonna film came out. It wasn't I mean, it was you know, it wasn't a success. I mean, it wasn't success, but it wasn't like they wanted it to be this whole thing. I think there's just so much press about her and she was so so. But you know, she was so dividing and polarizing. So it was just a difficult.

Stephen Simon 17:09
While I tell you what happened with that. We previewed body of evidence. And the previews were really successful. This was I can't remember the time of the year, but it was maybe once before the film was going to be released maybe for four to six months. But But after the previews, but before the film came out, Madonna's sex book came out. Yes. And it changed a lot of the public perception of Madonna. And we went back and previewed it again. MGM released it domestically. And Laddie Alan Ladd, who was running MGM said, we need to test this again. And the tests were much different. And it was mostly because a lot of the audience had changed their attitude about Madonna. I have to tell you, though, recently, I got a phone call from somebody in England, saying that they were doing a special blu ray release of body of evidence because it's become quite a cult film in Europe, and is wildly successful. And I did some interviews with them. And I think that's going to be coming out sometime in the fall. So it did find its audience. I watched it recently again, and the level, the, the heat in that movie, The explicitness of that movie. And he or she and Willem together were really extraordinary. And I went, Whoa, man, I forgot it was that explicit. And anyway, it was a fun movie to work on. And she was great. Willem was great. It was a wonderful experience.

Alex Ferrari 18:43
So let's go to somewhere in time, which was your first producing credit. It is it is one of those films that just is a classic, it keeps going and going and going. And people love love that film was a young Christopher Reeve, a young Jane Seymour. I mean, this is this is post Superman, Christopher Reeve. So he was a big star in 1979 1980. I mean, he was a massive star at that time. What What were the lessons that they you learned to get that thing off the ground? How did you, you know, how did you? I mean, I know the world is so different now. But are there any universal lessons you learned during that process?

Stephen Simon 19:25
No. Again, I just I want to play in the right place. I wanted to be in the right place at the right time. I'll tell you the story because it's a fun story. So I had had really helped push through Smokey and the Bandit with universal for Ray Stark when I was working for Ray. I did not produce Smokey and the Bandit. A guy named Nord engelberg did I really had very little to do with that. But as an executive I helped to get through so universal was grateful. There was also a guy named Janos work wound up directing somewhere in time, who had come in and saved them on Jaws two, he replaced the original director on that. So Genoa and I got together. And he was saying, I want to make an old fashioned romantic movie like the ghost and Mrs. Muir, or something like that. And I said, Oh, here's the book. And he said, Yeah, we got to do this. So we went to Universal, to make a deal with them to develop the script. And as I know, there was a great guy named net 10, and running Ned. And laying the studio at that time. I know he did that as a gesture of gratitude to both Shinola and to myself, but I don't think that they ever really totally intended to make the movie. So in every movie, with every script, there is a moment of truth with the studio. And we had developed the script, we got called into Ned's office, we went into Ned's office, and Ned said, you know, I love you guys. Immediately, I knew that the biggest butt in the world was coming. And I he was about to say, and he admitted it later, he was about to say, but we just can't get behind this. And I just blurted out to him, What if we get Christopher Reeve I thought Janelle was going to kill me. And at that point, I felt like killing myself because this is January of 1980. Superman had opened in December of 1979. Chris was the biggest star in the world. At that point, there was no way we were gonna get him for a movie that we had budgeted at $5 million in the star at 500,000. So immediately, Ned said, you the Christopher Reeve, his first movie after Superman, you got a green light. And I immediately tried to backtrack and go with what about this? And he said, No. And I said, so what if we don't get Chris rubies? Don't come back, Steven. And I'm like, okay, so Joe, and I walk out. And he said, Why don't I get I'm going to call his agent. So I called his agent who I will not name. And his agent said, that little time travel thing you have, there's no chance he's going to do that. I'm getting offers like three or $4 million offers for him. Remember, this is 40 years ago. So that was a lot of money. That was huge. And I said, we got to give him the script. And he said, No, I'm not even gonna show it to him, because I'm telling you, he won't do it. So Chenoa said, what are we going to do? And I said, Well, I have a crazy idea. desperate people do desperate things. If you've been in LA, you're in LA. So you know that on Sunset Boulevard in West LA, they sell Maps to the Stars homes.

Alex Ferrari 22:36
No, you did it. No, you did not.

Stephen Simon 22:40
Oh, yes. We got it. We did. And I he was Did you notice like, This is humiliating? What are you doing? And I said, you know, what harm can it do? Let's look so you know, I know that a lot of that stuff is totally made up because it lets Bruce Willis is in the mowing lawn in front of his house. Right? I do you know, a Bruce Willis lives there. So Chris is listed somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. So I said, we're going he said, No, we're not. I said, we're going and he originally didn't want to get out of the car. So we go up to this and he's laughing and he says, You're gonna feel like the biggest idiot in the world. We knock on the door, and Chris answers the door. You got to be kidding. Now, Chris later said that my jaw went like. We were both shocked. And I think I got out something like, you know, I'm a producer. He's a director, we got a movie at Universal, but we're Cristobal me later, was the thing that intrigued him is when I said your agent won't show you the script. And he said, Okay, well, have you got a script, we ran to the car, gave him a script. He said, Give me your phone number. I'll call you tomorrow. So he called me and he said, Get your director come up to the house. We did. We walked in. He said, I've got two things to tell you. Number one, this is going to be my next movie. Oh, number two. Number two, I just fired my agent. His agent never spoke to me again, which I don't blame him for. And that's how we got Chris Reeve. I mean, it was just a fluke. And he later said to me that he had his agent had given him a script where he was supposed to play a Viking. And he's visions of me wearing one of those big helmets with all the horns and stuff. And when I saw this beautiful little love story, I said, this is what I want to do. And, you know, getting Jane Seymour was a whole other story that anyway, that's how we got the movie approved

Alex Ferrari 24:30
So what you're telling everybody to do is, if you're a young producer in Hollywood, you go get them and get them apps, and then go out the door of the actor

Stephen Simon 24:40
I mean, I didn't know what else to do. How are we going to find them if this Asian wouldn't help them? Again. I have been unbelievably lucky in my life, to be at the right place at the right time. And I feel very blessed by that. And it was an extraordinary shoot. The movie came out bombed Totally, with at the box office and with critics, it was devastating. I grew this beard 40 years ago, October of 1980. When the movie came out, I haven't shaved it since. And it took a long time. But the movie and I won't waste your time with how but the movie really wound up getting seen on cable TV and on the first page, LA called the z channel. And it built up an audience. And now there's a weekend devoted to it. At the Grand Hotel every October, the whole hotel, which is I think six or seven under rooms, is taken up by fans of the film, who come bringing trunks of 1912 clothing. They get dressed in costume all weekend. There are all kinds of events around the film, and it has become a wonderful little cult film, and I'm really proud that it's finally found its audience.

Alex Ferrari 25:56
Did you have you ever gone to that event?

Stephen Simon 25:58
Oh, yeah, I went a couple of times. Absolutely. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 26:01
Oh my god, that must. Yeah, cuz I remember the movie when it came out. I mean, I was I don't remember when it came out. But I remembered in my video store days, I was in the video stores, I worked at a video store from 87 to 9293, something like that. And, and I remember the box and it would always rent. Like it was always renting constantly. And I remember watching us it was such a beautiful film. Even in my high school days when I was a knucklehead. I really was still touched by the film. But it is one of those films that just got a cult following over the years and really found its audience. I mean, a lot of a lot of movies found their audience during the VHS boom and the cable boom, like because they were just being played. Like get Terminator was just played on loop on HBO for for a while.

Stephen Simon 26:52
HBO was one of the you know, when they first started, they couldn't afford to buy big hits. So they bought somewhere in time, and they showed it a lot. It is a movie that is for really people with a very romantic heart. And I have said to people, you cannot watch this movie with your head, you have to watch it with your heart. Because there are things in it like where did the watch come from originally, that we Richard Matheson finally came up with the right answer to that because people have seen the movie know that the old Elise gives the watch to the young Richard and says Richard goes back in time to the young Elise and leaves the watch there. And people were where the where did the Washington first start? Richard's answer was somewhere in time. So you know, it doesn't a lot of it doesn't make logical sense. And I understand that it is not a movie that you're supposed to watch. Here. You're supposed to watch it here. And people who are really have access to that part of themselves who are romantics really love that film. And then there are people who just think it is a slow, ridiculous 1940s millage melodrama, and frankly, I had that same experience with what dreams may come people either love it or hate it. And I personally would rather have people either love or hate a film that I've made then haven't be like Chinese food, which is a you know, it's okay, but I'm hungry again. Okay, I I'm thrilled that people who love it really love it. And people who don't I respect that. Everybody's got a right to their own taste and their own films.

Alex Ferrari 28:34
Now, you also got to work with a young actor on a film called all the right moves. Young Young man, Mr. Tom Cruise. When that first came when he was, was that pre Risky Business or post risky business, I don't remember

Stephen Simon 28:51
We hired Tom. Right before he went to Chicago to star in risky business.

Alex Ferrari 29:00
Very shrewd, again, right place at the right time forest.

Stephen Simon 29:03
Right place. He literally left the shoot in Chicago after they wrapped Risky Business and came to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where we shot all the right moves. So I remember at that point. It was obvious when you sat in a room with Tom. I mean, I think I'd only seen him in a tap app, I think. And he was in some other movie that was abroad comedy about going to one or something i

Alex Ferrari 29:31
Oh, god. Yeah, sure thing. I think the sure thing or yeah, all the right moves at none. All right. I know what you're talking about. It's a really bad

Stephen Simon 29:40
And there was he had the most amazing presence. I think Tom was 21 at that time, 20 or 21. And it was so obvious that he was the guy that we wanted to hire. And I remember we had a big argument with Fox at that point, because we were offering him 102 $25,000 to star in the film, which I think Tom makes per minute now?

Alex Ferrari 30:05
Per minute pretty much.

Stephen Simon 30:09
Like, you know, that was an amazing shoot. And again, the film was not a big hit at the box office, but definitely caught on later. As a friend of mine once said to me, Stephen, your career has been a study in your before your time. And he's and my friend said to me, do you know what that also means? And I said what he said it means now you're wrong. Okay, well, as long as people catch up with it, you know, Kevin Costner had this great saying about, you can't really tell about your film when it first comes out. But if three or four years after it comes out, a couple of people are talking in a living room and somebody says, Oh, have you ever seen this film? I got to show you this film you then you know, you've made a successful film. And fortunately, with the films that I've been involved with, other than Bill and Ted, these were not big commercial successes, the films that I did, but they found a life later on.

Alex Ferrari 31:14
And I mean, and I've had the pleasure of talking to one of one of those films that Kevin did, which is Waterworld, which was obviously panned, and it became one of universals biggest IPs, ever, and it's made so much money over the years, and it's found their audience. You know, you just don't know when it comes out. And it could be 10 years later. I mean, I'm sure you know, the movie the room. That's the worst movie ever made. And what happened to that, like, it became this whole movie of being a movie that's so bad. Transit, I always say it's so bad. It's now good. So it's those things. Now, you didn't mention Bill and Ted. And I have to tell you, before we get into your Bill and Ted's story, which I know because we spoke about it already. But for the audience, I just want to let you know what Bill and Ted meant to me. And I was working at the video store in 89. When it was released. It was one of three releases of that week. I never forgot, because I could watch everything that came out weekly. Not like today, you got 50,000 movies a minute coming out. And I had just broken up with a girlfriend and I was depressed and I was down. And then I saw this thing with this ridiculous cover. I'm like, Who is this piano? Wow, I can't even say his name. And they're in a phone booth. And let me take it home. Because I didn't even see the trailer because there was no YouTube to see trailers at that time unless you you caught it at the theater. And I took it home and the amount of laughter and joy that I got from that I started off absolutely depressed. And I finished that movie. On a high I was so happy and I just and I recommend it to everybody that walked into the video store. It is one of those films that just I mean, just connected with me. It's such a such a way. And I think it's connected obviously with an audience, because there's so much love behind their stupidity. Characters are so endearing and so loving. And yeah, they're buffoons, and yeah, they're kinda like, what they're ridiculous. But so crates, and, you know, the salad dressing, dude. And like, it's just, it's just so it was so wonderful. So please, I want to first of all say thank you for bringing that into the world because God knows we needed a little laughter. And secondly, tell this insane story of how you got involved with pullin. Ted's Excellent Adventure. Yeah, and

Stephen Simon 33:46
I want to say very clearly that I did not produce Bill and Ted. I'm one of the executive producers on it, I take no credit for producing that movie in any way. It was done by Robert cord, and Scott Kruth, and Ted field at Interscope, I only was instrumental in saving it from being thrown away, and getting it sold. And then I took another job, another executive job. So all of the credit for what happened in that film really does not belong to me, it belongs to those other producers. Richard Matheson, who was my mentor, who wrote somewhere in time, and what dreams may come the books and he wrote the script for somewhere in time, had a son and Christian, who was writing scripts when we were prepping somewhere in time and what dreams may come? No, because it was before what readers might call it was somewhere in time. And Richard asked me to read a couple of the scripts, and they were very, very odd. really odd, but they had an incredibly dark, funny sense of humor. And Richard said to me, what do you think? And I said, Well, I don't think this is going to get done. But if he could find somebody that's commercial, to work with him, maybe it would work well. He found a guy named Ed Solomon, who had been working on Laverne and Shirley and some other things. And they came up with Bill and Ted. And Richard called me one day and said, well, they wrote the script called Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. And their agents said that they don't want to distribute it around town because they think it will ruin their career that no one will buy it, no one will make it It's so dumb and blah, blah, blah. And we said, Would you read it? And I said, Yeah, so I read it. And I was howling, just reading it. And I'm like, I don't know what's wrong with them. But I think I know where I can sell this. And a good friend of mine at that time, Robert cord, who had been a, an executive at both Columbia and Fox when I was both at Columbia and Fox, and was my executive on all the right moves, had just taken over a production company called Interscope. And I called Robert, and he was they were looking for material. And I said, I think you're gonna laugh your ass off. And the next day, he called, he said, we want this. And so the guys went met with him. I wasn't even in that meeting, from what I understand. They did as good a Bill and Ted is Keanu and Alex did later on. And they made the movie. And that was my only involvement. So I don't want to take credit for any of the creative things that happened for the casting or anything else. That was really Robert cord, Scott group and Ted field. But I was very glad that I could be instrumental in getting it started.

Alex Ferrari 36:25
I mean, you again, in your Forrest Gump ways, you fell into helping put out into the world Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I mean, again, without you, the movie might have been lost to time, somewhere in time, if you will. It could have been lost and not never seen the light of day, and maybe that would have affected the pianos career and Alex winters career, who knows, but that one that one motion, set other things in motion. So let's just say you're responsible for John Wick and the matrix, I'm just gonna throw it out there. You are, personally when I'm joking, but no, but But thank you, but thank you for bringing into the world because I felt like I told you, it brought me so much laughter. And so it's a very, very, and then the Bogus Journey went to it. And I even saw the new one that they just released, as well. And it was nice to see the boys back. Doing their thing. It was fantastic. Now, I mean, over the years, you've read, probably 1000s of scripts, and over the course of your career, is are there mistakes that you see screenwriters make again and again, that you're just like, Oh, God, I just wish I wish they would just understand don't do this?

Stephen Simon 37:42
Well, it depends on the genre that they're writing in. And it also depends on whether it's their first script, because most writers in their first script, write something that's autobiographical, in some way or another. And it's very hard to let go of it. I think that the biggest thing that I find in working with writers, which I still do, is that they have to understand what they're what they're going for. And that it is called show business. There's a business side, and there's a show side, but they have to find a way of melding. And you can't cross that kind those kinds of wires. And you have to really accept that the biggest issue that I have with screenwriters often is that they don't take the Neil Simon advice. They aren't open to criticism, to saying this doesn't work. You know, you've got to redo this, this is why this doesn't work. I always say this is why I don't think it works. Because the film industry, as William Goldman said in his famous book adventures in the screen, frayed, which is one of the greatest books ever written about the movie industry. He had an incredible quote, which is nobody knows anything. And there's a lot of truth in that. So I tried to give a lot of leeway to writers, it's very important for writers to have a structure first, if you're gonna build a house, you got to build the foundation. And then you build the walls and you know, you work inward and you do all of that stuff. You have to have a foundation. I insist when I work with writers, if it's from scratch, that they do a very detailed outline first, so that they know where they're going, which also alleviates the problem of sitting in front of an open computer saying okay, now what do I do? You know, there was that wonderful movie and I and you'll remember the name of it I don't right now I think was called something orchid with and it was It was

Alex Ferrari 39:52
Wild orchid? Wild. I think it was wild orchid where, you know, you're thinking adaptation. Adaptation.

Stephen Simon 39:59
That's it. Thanks. I think that's it. I think Wild Orchid was Mickey Rourke. Correct? Correct, right. So, in adaptation, there's this wonderful scene that several scenes where he sits down to write and it says I need a muffin. And he gets up and he gets a muffin and stuff like that, which is, you know, and one of the great things that I learned from a couple of writers is always end your day in the middle of a sentence. And your writing day in the middle of a sentence. So when you come back the next day, you know where to start. And if you have a proper outline, then you just have to connect the dots. Ron bass was a very good friend of mine in LA. And you know, Ron won the Academy Award for Rain Man and has written, I think, 2025 30 movies that have gotten made. And Ron used to have a crew of young women working for him, who he didn't like it when we his friends did this, but we call them the Ron nets. And they would out help him outline all because he he was making a fortune, and turning out these incredible scripts, they would help him outline everything he was going to do in a script. So before Ron sat down to write it, he gave them the basic ideas of things in the characters, and then they would help him put the structure together. And then Ron would refine it. And he would know this scene is going to take two pages, this scene is going to take two and a half pages, he was always incredibly organized. And it's very important to do that, as a writer, you need to be organized, you need to know where you're going. And then you need to have the ability to say, okay, maybe you're right, maybe I could do that differently. And everyone else has, you know, their own quirks and everything else. But for me, it's a lot of fun. The only type of work I do with writers now is on films that would be uplifting. That for me, need to have some kind of a spiritual side, it doesn't mean it has to be openly spiritual. And I don't mean religious, I mean, spiritual, there's a difference. You can be very spiritual and not be tied to any particular religion. You can obviously be religious and very spiritual, but I'm talking about having some kind of a sense that this is going to make people feel better about who they are about their lives, which we desperately need now, oh, my goodness, do we desperately need that? You know, Bill, Maher said, a year or two ago, in a in a rant about the movie industry? He said, Do you think that maybe you guys could make a movie every once in a while, that doesn't make me want to take a bath with a toaster.

Alex Ferrari 42:37
Right! It's a great line. Remember that line.

Stephen Simon 42:39
During the pandemic, that was very true. Well, now we're out of that. And I think people are really looking for hope. Again, they're looking to feel better. Again, it's so hard to do that when you look out in the world. And you see all the conflict and all the anger and things like that. And so at this stage of my life, I really just want to work on things that I think will be positive. And we'll make people feel better when they walk out of the theater. So I'm kind of picky about that. But at this stage of my life, that's the only thing I want to do. And I want to help people get work out into the world.

Alex Ferrari 43:13
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, as a producer, you've done a lot of big movies and all sorts of different movies in the studio system and outside. Is there a day that you feel that the entire you felt that the entire production was coming crashing down around you? I know, that feels like every day. But was there one day or one film in a day in the film that you were just like, I don't know how we're gonna get over this, like, how are we going to continue? What was that thing? And how did you overcome it?

Stephen Simon 43:44
There were a few of those. I can't go into the details of this, because I don't think it would be appropriate at this point. Because some of the people that were involved in this in a very significant way are no longer with us. Okay, and I don't think I should do that. But I so I'm not going to specify the film. But we did have an idea. I was working on a film that we had to shut down production in the middle of the day. We had an amazing crisis with the cast, and with the director and with extras in the film, and I had to call the studio to get permission to shut it down. The people involved making the we're not going to be specific but some of the people who are making the film are very unhappy with me. I actually thought I was gonna get fired. And I it's only because the person who was actually running the financing entity knew how long it had taken me to get What Dreams May Come May because it took me 20 years and there was no way in the world that he was going to let me be fired but I I thought the movie might not continue and I thought I probably wouldn't continue. So I definitely remember that I worked on a film many, many years ago in which there was a horrible accident. And actually, somebody wound up getting killed. Wow. And somebody wound up being in a wheelchair for life that haunts me to this day. So yeah, I definitely had definitely had those moments where I thought all is lost.

Alex Ferrari 45:29
And did you and like that day that you had to shut down the production? How did you get that over? Like, how did you overcome that? Like, how did you get that? Well, how do you rally back the entire crew in the cast and get that engine up again,

Stephen Simon 45:43
You know, we dealt with it. Fortunately, we were dealing with very, very professional people. And it was rough. It definitely drove a wedge, between me and one member of the cast in particular, that never really totally got healed. It was a really, really challenging thing. But you know, people who work on film are, in general, are incredibly hard working professional people. And the idea that the show must go on is deeply, deeply ingrained, particularly in the crews, you know, the grips, and the electricians are the hardest working people on sets, as I think everybody knows. And they have an incredible work ethic, you know, this is what we're here to do. And everyone got together and the movie moved on from that. But it always stayed in my mind, it stayed in my heart. And it's something that I regret, and I wish I'd been able to do something differently. I don't regret that I shut the film down, I had to in the studio agree that I had to. But I regret that that happened. And even now thinking back on it, it was a it was a pretty rough moment. But unfortunately, I didn't have too many of those. Thank

Alex Ferrari 47:01
God for that. But you know, this is this is a lesson for people listening. If you're a filmmaker, it's sometimes you got to make these tough choices, you got to either continue down the path and by destroy the film, or stop, reassess, and start up again. And that's, that's a brave, two brave move. It's a brave move. But it's a lot of times it's something that needs to be done.

Stephen Simon 47:22
And I would also say to people who are, who want to be producers, or maybe our producers, I had, and it didn't stand me in great stead with studios. And I understand why I don't blame them. I did my, my loyalty on a film was always to the director. I always saw my job as being able to help the director put the vision on screen that the director wanted to put on screen. And I became very good friends. With all of our directors, I mean, you should know, it's working eyes. You know, he's retired now in France. And there's, you know, I think is in his early 80s. And you know, and I still stay in touch. Until his tragic passing, I stayed in touch with Michael Chapman all the time on all the right moves. Then toward who directed What Dreams May Come is a dear dear friend of mine, we talk all the time. And I wanted to have friendships with these people because I saw that as my job now. The studio will tell you, it's your job to do with the studio want you to do. And I respect that. I respect that. But the films that I'm the most proud of somewhere in time, and what dreams may come in particular, because those are the films that I feel I came to this life to make other films I made because I needed to make a living. And I'm still proud of them. Very proud of them. There are a couple of them not so proud of but we won't go into those. Most of them I'm very proud of. And I'm glad that I got involved. But to me, a producer's job is to nurture the director unless the director really goes off the rails and then you you know, you've got to try to do something that bring them back. Fortunately, that never happened with me. I never had a director go off the rails. And it was an a fantastic career. I don't do it anymore. I don't produce films anymore. 76 years old. I've been out of Hollywood for 20 years. I moved to Oregon 20 years ago, wrote a couple of books founded the spiritual cinema circle which we operated for 16 years and distributing really uplifting material to people. So the only way I keep my hand in now is through my mentoring program. Which people can take a look at if you're interested at the old hollywood.com Th e or Weldy hollywood.com. It is a rigorous program I spend 20 to 25 hours a month. I'm working with directly with the writers, one time with a producer who wound up getting our film made. And it is something that if people are interested in, you should take a look at that page. And if you're interested fill in the questionnaire that will come to me. And then you know, we can have a conversation about it. But I don't work with that many people at a time. It's only usually two or three. And if people are interested, we they can do that. And if not, I hope you enjoy the films that I made in the past.

Alex Ferrari 50:32
Which brings me to one of my favorite films that you've produced ever, which is what dreams may come. And that film, I just recently saw it when I knew you were going to come back on the show, or come on the show. I said, I'm gonna go watch it again. I haven't seen it in a while. And it still holds up so beautifully. It's actually probably deep. It hit me harder now than it did when I, you know, many years ago when I saw and it's just one of those films that that sticks, at least it sticks to my bones, it sticks it sticks hard. And even more so now because of Robins passing all those years ago. And how, what a powerful message that whole movie was, and Robin Williams and everything how did you get that film, which wasn't a cheap film to make, by the way, it was a it was a from what I understand it was a fairly expensive film

Stephen Simon 51:22
$80 $85 million.

Alex Ferrari 51:26
Right. So I know Robin was the the catalyst for getting that movie made. But how did Robin get involved? How did you get this to Robin? How did you get the whole thing?

Stephen Simon 51:34
Alright, so we literally don't have enough time to tell that story. That whole story because that was literally 20 years of my life. Wow, Richard gave me Richard Mathis gave me the galleys for what dreams may come when we were prepping somewhere in time. She's nicely 80. And the film didn't get shot until 1997 and 98. The adventures we went through with that were pretty extraordinary. Almost every well known director in the film industry turned it down. One in particular wanted to do it but we couldn't come to an agreement about where it was going to be done, which was a whole other story that I don't want to waste time with now. We finally thought we had a green light at Fox in the mid 80s with a wonderful director named Wolfgang Petersen. That fell through the regime changed and everything got changed. And it just took forever, forever and ever and ever. For me to find the right person to do it. I'll tell you what the catalyst was. When I was running Dino's company. We hired Ron bass to write an original script. I've never told this story on a podcast or in public before, so I'm going to tell it now. And it is it's an amazing Hollywood story. So we hired Ron to write the script. Ron is the the most professional writer you can possibly imagine. And a great man, a great man. We had known each other for a very long time when Ron was a lawyer before we even started writing. We knew each other and we're friends. So we hired Ron to write this script Dino did not like the first draft at all. And and I said, Well, we'll have Ron Ian, tell them what you want. Ron will make whatever changes you want them to make? Because that's what he is. And Dena was like, No, this isn't a movie sold us. And you know, I want to get our money back. I don't want to move forward. We can't do that Dino. I mean, we've made a commitment. And Ron came in Dino. And Ron was wonderful. Dino did not want to go forward. And I sided with Ron. And it was a painful moment. But there was no way we could not do that. And when Ron left the office, Dino fired me. And he had every reason to fire me. He was right in firing me. Because I was there to support him. And I I understand why he fired me. Ron felt terrible about it. And tried to make it right. But it didn't work out. Fade out a few months later, Ron calls me to find out how I'm doing. And he said, Is there anything I can do? And I said, Yeah, I've finally come to a point in the development of what dreams may come that I believe and I need to talk to the writer of Richard Matheson about this run. But I need a major writer like you to come in and do a rewrite on this. And I would really appreciate it if you would take this over. And he was like, Steven, nobody. Nobody's going to set that movie Up. If he had read the book because there's a friend of mine, he says it's an incredible book. And I'm sure we can make it into an incredible movie. But my God, there's so many issues. And I said, I really want you to do this. I went to Richard Matheson, I told him what I wanted to do. He gave me the permission to do it. And one said, okay, look, I'll give you one pitch. One pitch, we'll do one pitch. And I said, Okay, so we went to MGM, Mike Marcos, who was running the studio at that time, David Ladd was one of the executives there. Everyone wanted to be in business with Ron. As we're driving to the meeting, I said to Ron, Ron, what are we going to do about the suicide? And because it was always the biggest problem in the book, right in the book, in the book of what dreams may come. And he committed suicide while the children are still alive.

Chris has died. Annie in grief, takes her own life, leaving two children parentless and orphans. And I knew we all knew that we could not do that. It doesn't work. And he said, I haven't even thought about it. And there were Believe me, they're not even going to ask. Okay, so I don't have an answer to the question. So we go into the meeting, Ron is doing his thing, which was, you could have sold tickets to watch Ron pitch he was it was a lesson in genius. And we get to the end of it. And of course, Mike Marcus says this is fantastic, Ron, this sounds great. Steven, I know it's taking you forever to do this. Ron, I just have one question. What are you going to do about the suicide? And I thought, Oh, should David said to me, but my face just drained of blood at that point. And next to me sitting on the couch, Ron just instinctively says, you know, I think I know what to do about that. We'll have the kids die. We'll have the kids die earlier. And that's why Annie tries to take her life. And Chris, and her love for Chris is what stops her from doing that. So Chris won't die first, the children will before the movie will show that in flashback. And he said now that I'm thinking about it, when they get into the afterlife, they can be anybody. We can change their appearance, they can be anybody. And we'll do that he'll have great reunions with his kids. And we'll understand why she took her life because now her kids and her husband have died. There's no way in the world that people won't understand it. And we wound up making some adjustments to that. But Mike said, That's brilliant. You got to deal. And we walked out of the office. And I looked at Ron and Ron, you can see my hand shaking. And I said, what, how? Where did that come from? And he was pale as it goes to? And he said, I have no idea where that came from? I have no idea. It just came out? Well, I think we do know where it came from the universe stepped in and said, you know, Steven, aka Forrest, you may not be the smartest guy in the whole world. And you're certainly not the quickest guy in the whole world. But we're going to give you a little boost here. The cap on that story is that we're walking out of MGM, and Ron who knew everybody, there was one guy sitting in the waiting room. As you as you once said to me, the the water bottle tour the water bottle? Yes, yes. Yeah. He was sitting for a meeting with somebody else. And I just casually said to Ron, who is that? And he said, That's a director from New Zealand and Vincent ward. And I looked him up later, and Vincent eventually became the director for what dreams may come. So for people who believe in coincidence, okay, fine. I don't believe that was a coincidence. I don't believe that was an accident. I believe that movie was had found it's time to get made. And universe, our angels, our guides, whatever you want to say, stepped in and gave us the answer to the biggest problem in the book. And then we went forward. We gave the script to Robin, who had just made the movie that he got the Academy Award for Goodwill. Yeah, Goodwill Hunting. And he was looking to do something like this. We thought we offered him the script. We got a phone call that the director and I were supposed to come meet him in San Francisco, which we did. Robin walked into the meeting and he said, Well, this is going to be my next movie guys. But I want to tell you There's a little bit of a twist here, I'm gonna play every part in the movie.

Was he serious? No, thank God. No. But at that point, we would say, okay, because we needed a star of his stature and with the visual effects in the film, which, again, I had nothing to do with that was certainly Vincent and our production designer and the great effects people who won an Academy Award for it was stunning. That was an amazing experience watching that all of that happen. And it was not an easy shoot, because it's, it's not an easy movie. It is not an easy movie. And there were I'll tell you one great story from it. And we were prepping the movie. Do you remember the scene when Robin finally is getting closer to Annabella? And he gets to this place where he walks over this sea of faces? Yes. I was gonna ask you about that. All right. So I'm someone in the art department. And I will not name who it was. Because to this day, Vincent doesn't know who it is. And I was sworn to secrecy. But someone in the art department came to me and said, Have you seen the sketches for this? And I said, No. So he showed me the sketches. And I was like, No way are we doing that? So I went to Vincent. Vincent and I had a fabulous relationship. We had many arguments, but they were never personal. It was always about the film. And we never got angry at each other. We just got angry over the about what we were arguing about. So I said, Vincent, this is a love story. Okay, that's gonna scare the crap out of people. You know that it's just a bridge too far. We can't do that kind of thing. So we got into this big argument. I later found out we were in the production office of that time, up in San Francisco, where we were prepping. And I think it was in Oakland, we had the office actually. We learned that the production assistants and everybody went out in the parking lot. Because the producer director sounded like they were gonna kill each other to yelling at each other back and forth. And finally, Vincent says to me, Steven, this is a movie about a man who goes to hell to save his wife soul, he does not go through heck. And I cracked up. Both wound up rolling on the floor crying, laughing so hard. Needless to say he won the argument. When we preview that film. You know, when you do preview cards, people are asked to note among other things, what their favorite scene is, and what their least favorite scene is. That scene got the most votes in every preview for both favorite scene and least favorite scene. And at that point, I knew that Denson had been right all along that we needed to do that. He was totally right. I was totally wrong. But no, it's not about a man who goes through Heck, he does go through hell.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:08
But in that scene, there is a cameo by a young director, if I'm not mistaken, Verner Hertzog. Oh, yeah, it's in that seat. Like I remember like, as I was watching the movie, like a week or two ago, I see Robin Williams and I hear this voice which is so distinctive. And then as I'm watching the credits, I'm like, that was Werner Verner. Hertzog like what?

Stephen Simon 1:03:33
Actually, you know what, you're right. I'd actually forgotten that Werner was a good friend of incense and, and did that as a favor to Vince. And Vincent was a huge fan of Werner in his work. I had completely forgotten that that was the case. You're right.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:48
Yeah. And so that's how we did it was just like a favor. Okay. You want to come in and just do a quick line? Yes. It's amazing.

Stephen Simon 1:03:57
You know, Max von Sydow played the tracker. Oh, and what an incredible actor, an incredible gentleman, my goodness, you know, the old actors, and they, they had such a strong sense of professionalism and style. So he's hired to do that his first scene is in the library sequence where he is on wires in this big heavy overcoat. And I hadn't even know. So I went into the set to find them, and he's up there hanging by these wires, and yellow up at a max. I'm Stephen Simon. I'm the producer of the movie. And he looked down to me very drolly and said, thanks so much for hiring me. Ah, he was a great great, great, great guy. It wasn't that was a fascinating shoot, but a very challenging one because of the subject matter. A very, very challenging one. So when Robin went up to do the eulogy Hmm. Oh is in the church, with those two coffins in front of him, a lot of our crew would not go into that set. Because they were so spooked by it. When Robin went up to do that he took pictures of his own kids up to the podium and had them in front of him while he was doing that scene, and it, it shows, because it's such an incredibly powerful, but an incredibly painful scene. That's it. The movie is not a light comedy, that's for sure.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:32
No, it's not a light comedy at all. And there are some, you know, humorous moments in the movie, but, but generally, definitely not a comedy. And I wanted to ask you about Robin, because, you know, obviously Robin is a legend. And I've heard many I know many people who've worked with Robin over the years. And you know, Robin is he has that energy that was just non stop. And he would, even in dramatic scenes in dramatic films like Goodwill Hunting, he would, before the camera rolled, he's cracking the entire room up, because he had to because that was his mission and life. And and then the second the election, boom, he's in character, I think when our photo was like that, he would be I mean, I've seen some behind the scenes, he was literally on second yells action. He's into this. And he just goes right into his thing. What was it like on set with Robin Williams on that film, because, again, it's a heavy movie,

Stephen Simon 1:06:29
It was not like that on our show. Robin was, you know, Robin was always incredibly kind and generous to everybody. He was always very respectful of the crew and the other actors and things like that. But this was a really heavy lift for the actors, I mean, a very heavy lift. And Robin was very much in character for most of it. And so many of those scenes are such heart rending heart rending scenes, that there wasn't that I mean, there was banter, and there was they had fun at times. But mostly Robin was really Robin and Cuba and Annabella were very much into their roles. And their roles were very emotionally draining for all of them. So there wasn't as much of that on our film, as I understand there were on other films with Robin.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:21
Well, it is again, thank you for bringing that into the world because it was one of those films that has definitely.

Stephen Simon 1:07:26
I'm very, very, very, very proud of that movie. I'm very proud of that movie for just for what it took to get it done for the messages within it. That life continues after life. And you know, it's something I'm incredibly proud of. And I'm really glad that it is also lasted the test of time and that people still watch it people still buy it, and I hope they will it is not for everybody. I understand that. But it it's a powerful film.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:03
No it is. And it's not a light film. It's a heavy film. Very beautiful, beautiful ending, wonderful ending. It's so touching. And but it you you literally go through heck to get to.

Stephen Simon 1:08:19
Yeah, no, you definitely do. And again, I give all the credit on that. Really 90% of that credit goes to Vincent, because just having the Kahunas to take on that movie. And to say, okay, I can do this, we're going to spend most of the movie in an afterlife setting. He changed a bunch of the characters, he made Annie into this museum curator, art museum curator so that we could tie into the paintings more. It was Vincent's idea that when Robin came in to the afterlife, it would be in a world of wet paint. And he would be the only human in it. I remember saying, Vincent, that's just beyond brilliant. Can we do that? And he said, Yeah, of course we can do that. And I said, Do you know how he said hello. But we'll figure it out. And he was right. They figured it out. I mean, it was it was really cutting edge stuff that the effects guys did on that film. And it made it really, really beautiful. I mean, truly beautiful. And, you know, robins line with the Dalmatian? In the beginning. You know, I screwed up. I'm in dog heaven. That was in the script. But Robin really, Robin really gave it his own twist. And the same thing with the line at the end. You know, I could find you and I found you in hell, I can find you in Jersey. You know that. That is Robin Williams stuff. And again, I'm very, very proud of that movie. And I'm glad that touched you and moved you.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:50
Absolutely. It's one of those films that just, it always sits in the back of my head is it's on my top 10 of all time. It's just one of those films that just there aren't movies made. like that, at that level, at that budget level with that kind of caliber of actor, and people behind the scenes as well, it's just not movie that gets made. And less lesser now, I mean, a movie like that would never get made.

Stephen Simon 1:10:17
The movie did not make money. I mean, the movie wound up losing money because it did not do as well at the box office as it needed to do. But it reached the audience that it reached that that I knew would touch it. And, you know, that's why I saw again, my role as a producer differently. And and frankly, it did not. It did not augur well for a long term career for me in producing, because I was really focused on making these spiritual films and getting this love after life concept in front of people to make people realize that it does go on that after light, there is more. And I know we'll talk about this in another time, that wound up happening in my life, turned with my wife, and she wanted to transitioning in her sleep, it was a big surprise, she was only 54. And when that happened, she and I had always talked about these things that we would find a way to communicate, we always thought I would go first because I was significantly older. But it happened with her. And six weeks later, she started to communicate with me. And we wrote a book together called What dreams had what dreams have come. And it's again, it's a book that I wrote with her after she crossed over. So there are people that think that I am several egg rolls short of a combination plate

Alex Ferrari 1:11:57
the cheese the cheese the cheese slid off the cracker sir. As they say.

Stephen Simon 1:12:04
Absolutely. And that's okay with me. Because I know in my heart that this is real, it continues to this day, and it has sustained me. And I really feel that my primary role in life has been to bring these kinds of concepts on to film, whether they wind up being mainstream concepts or not. And they weren't. And they don't have to be, I've never been in my heart, what I would call a mainstream producer. That has not been my goal, it should have been. And my career was shorter because of that. But I don't regret that in any way. Because I'm really, really, really proud of what we did.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:43
Now, Steven, I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Stephen Simon 1:12:50
Don't be the first thing I would say is don't be so committed to having your film play in a theater. Because then that has been the case for years. That was the case before the pandemic, so hard for all kinds of reasons to get a movie made at all. And then to get it in wide distribution in theaters, it's really like going through the eye of the needle. And because of the pandemic, that's even been more magnified. And there are so many great venues now. like Amazon, like Hulu, like Showtime, like HBO, Apple TV, whatever it might be, he caught HBO, Max, all those things. And particularly with the longer forms now of doing series, writers have an opportunity to really develop characters in a way that you can't do on a two hour film. And also, there is such a huge voluminous need for material, that if you're not focused on getting your movie in a theater, and you're not writing, you don't have a right to a Marvel comic character, or you're not doing a sequel to a very, you know, to other big movies. It is very hard to get movies made and shown in theaters today for all kinds of reasons. So that's the first thing I would say which is right for the audience that you think will be right for this and don't worry about what the distribution mechanism will be. Because there was a wonderful producer whose name I cannot come up with right now that one said, if you write a great script, you can throw it out of your car on the San Diego freeway, and the right producer will find it. If you have the right idea, you will find a way to get it done. As long as you're persistent and that's the other thing. You can't give up Sometimes it's your third, fourth, fifth or sixth script that you wind up selling. And even that may not get made, and it may not get made in the way you want it to get made. But you keep moving forward, if you believe in yourself. And this is what you do, if it's in your heart, if you want to be in the film industry, because you think it would be a really cool way to make a lot of money. I will tell you, it isn't. If you think it will be a way for you to feel better about yourself or something else. Or however you may look at it, if you're not getting in for the sole reason. That is is the way you need to express yourself. And you cannot imagine yourself in any other life than that. That is what you when you do that, I'm telling you, you're gonna get your opportunity at some point or another, if you hang in there long enough, you will get an opportunity. But you have to live it, love it, breathe it, and be willing to give up a whole lot of different things in your life to get your film made, eventually, you'll get your chance to do it. And, you know, there are other things that I would say those would be the two things, which is never give up. And don't be in love with the thought of your movie getting into a movie theater. You know, I know a lot of love with the idea of sitting in a movie theater and being surrounded by that very hard to get that done nowadays. And I would say don't focus on that.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:30
Or if you want to do that rent, rent the theater yourself, and then you have that experience. Absolutely, absolutely no question. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Stephen Simon 1:16:44
I could say the thing that took me the longest to learn, I never learned which and that is I never understood the technical aspects of the film industry. I I directed a couple of small films the the adaptation of conversations with God. And I never could figure out anything about the technical aspect of camera lenses. It just somehow wouldn't compute in my brain. I had no concept of lighting. I hired a wonderful cinematographer that did all that. In editing, I had great editors, thank God because I just didn't understand how I would put certain things together and how they would technically do some of the things that they did. To put this shortly. I am a tech moron. And I never learned that stuff. And I think it's important for producers to understand a lot of that stuff today, particularly today. That stuff I never learned. So I think the thing that took me the longest to learn, I have never learned and at this age, I probably never will.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:47
Fair enough, sir. Fair enough. And finally, three of your favorite films of all time.

Stephen Simon 1:17:54
Lost Horizon, the original one the 1931. That Frank Capra version, and the godfather.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:02
Not a bad list at all, my friend. Stephen, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Stephen Simon 1:18:07
See if there was a three a yes. If it was a three a. And I'm not having excluding movies that I was involved with. If there was a three, it would be Avatar.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:16
Real Yeah, Avatar. Yeah.

Stephen Simon 1:18:19
Because what he did with that film, and that's why I cannot wait to see the sequels. That was a game changer. extraordinaire. I have never experienced anything like that in a movie theater. To me. That is what movie theaters and IMAX and 3d were created to be. I thought that was more than a film. It was an absolutely awesome experience. So I would put I would put avatar right up there as create.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:47
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now Stephen, again, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your your knowledge, your experiences, your amazing stories on the show and and thank you for putting all this amazing work out over the years to to hopefully uplift society a bit. So I appreciate you my friend. Thank you again.

Stephen Simon 1:19:06
You're welcome, Alex, thank you for doing this. This has been really great fun. Thank you for putting up because you learn before we started this interview how technically idiotic and inept I am. How do you get onto a zoom call? It's anyway thank you for being patient. I really enjoyed doing this and I look forward to doing more.

LINKS

SPONSORS

  1. Need Distribution for Your Film? – Check This Out!
  2. Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  3. Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook

Share:

FEATURED EPISODES

Where Hollywood Comes to Talk

Oliver Stone

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)

Edward Burns

Writer/Director/Actor
(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)

Richard Linklater

Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)

Eric Roth
HIGHLIGHT GUESTS SML - BILLY CRYSTAL

Oscar® Winning Screenwriter
(Forrest Gump, Dune)

Emmy® Winning Writer & Actor
(City Slickers, Analyze This)

HIGHLIGHT GUESTS SML - EDGAR WRIGHT
Jason Blum

Writer/Director
(Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver)

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Get Out, Whiplash)

Chris Moore sml
HIGHLIGHT GUESTS SML - ALBERT HUGHES

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Good Will Hunting, American Pie)

Writer/Director
(Menace II Society, Book of Eli)

HIGHLIGHT GUESTS SML - EDWARD ZWICK
Marta Kauffman sml

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Last Samurai, Blood Diamond)

Emmy® Winning Writer & Showrunner
(Friends, Grace and Frankie)

Free Training of The Week

FREE LOWER - SUZANNE

How to Produce a Profitable Low Budget Feature Film

By Suzanne Lyons

Join veteran producer Suzanne Lyons as she shows you the three key secrets to produce a successful and profitable independent film.