The stars of the silver screen may shine the brightest, but it is those people behind the scenes who are truly the glue for the movies we love so much, and when you get the chance to talk to a veteran producer to get some behind the scenes insight. With the recent release of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” on Blu-Ray I got the chance to talk to veteran producer Mace Neufeld about the magic of the Jack Ryan movies, some tricks of the trade and what has surprised him during his 40 year career as a producer in Hollywood.
Dave Voigt: This is the fifth Jack Ryan movie that you’ve served on as a producer, what is it about these stories that not only draws you in to make the films but audiences to keep watching them?
Mace Neufeld: Well first off, I do like these kinds of stories and if they are successful, I keep producing them, it’s about that simple.
What is it that you look for in a script when you are making a movie?
MN: Well the character of Jack Ryan is just one that is so different and has always stood out from the James Bond and the Jason Bourne types. He’s what the CIA used to call a “Water Walker” the kind of guy who can jump over all sorts of obstacles to a conclusion which is usually right, even though most people think they are wrong while they are doing it. I also like how he is a bit of a fish out of water in each of the films and still manages to come through. Those elements of the Ryan character really attract me and I have always found the world of intelligence to be incredibly interesting. People keep writing about it and it really is a great subject for film.
All these types of movies are usually location shoots, how do you as a producer really manage the logistics of it all?
MN: It really comes down to just trying to find the best people possible for the job. Ideally it’s people who I’ve worked with before but that isn’t always the easiest thing to accomplish. Especially consecutively considering the big gap of years between “Sum of All Fears” and this new one as some people just weren’t available. However we shot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” in New York for four days, Moscow for two days and the balance of it was actually in England, Liverpool and London which doubled for Russia at times. At the end of the day we came out on schedule and on budget, and Kenneth Branagh was just such a great director and so focused, especially with the actors because he is such a great actor himself, and watching him direct himself was so interesting. Kenneth has a colleague who he has worked with before, and will have him basically sit by the monitor and deliver a line of dialogue in about 10-15 different ways just so has a lot of choices and someone to give him feedback when he puts it all together. It’s quite a hat trick that he does and it’s amazing to watch.
Kenneth was such an interesting choice as well because these stories aren’t just straight action movies and they have such layers of drama and intrigue to them as well.
MN: Oh yeah, and I mean the big question was truly how much action could he handle? However he had done “Thor” previously which was also quite successful and follow this with “Cinderella” for Disney which they are apparently over the moon about so I would love to do another movie with him one day and catch him when he’s available.
You’ve also produced a couple of my favorite comedies of all time; “The Frisco Kid” & “Transylvania 6-5000”. Do you have a preference between action or comedy or is it truly a question of just being the right script, the right story at the right time?
MN: That’s it, I really don’t have a preference because I truly love comedy. However comedy can be very hard to do, and often times it just doesn’t travel as well as you would hope around the world but that being said if I can help develop a really good comedy script that is something that I would really look forward to. Before I was a full time producer, I was also a manager and I represented some of the great comedy people and writers like Gabe Kaplan, Don Adams and Don Knotts. However it is hard, there are fewer and fewer directors who genuinely good at comedy and just more and more are adapt at drama.
Looking back at your career what is the one project that either positively or negatively surprised you the most?
MN: Well in a good way, I would say it would have to be “The Omen” back in 1975 which was the first movie I worked on because we made it released it and it was in the black and profitable by the end of the opening weekend! At the time, I really didn’t understand how rare that actually was, so I gave up my partnership in the management company and just decided to do this full time because I thought that this was great…but of course it wasn’t and I learned pretty quickly. Another surprise would be a movie you mentioned “The Frisco Kid”. I remember calling my wife from Colorado when we were shooting with Gene (Wilder) and Harrison (Ford) and just said that I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this because I am having so much fun! Now I’m still doing it and I am still having fun, two months away from turning 86.
At the end of the day, is there any way pick a favorite project that you’ve worked on?
MN: (Laughs) I am asked that question quite a bit and there’s a few answers to be fair. Obviously “The Omen”, plus I am very proud of “The Hunt For Red October” which spawned all these franchises which is amazing. We made it in 1990 and it came up on TV the other day, and I found myself watching it because it doesn’t look or feel dated and it still holds up.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital Download and On Demand from all major providers.