Cinema: From engineering to Cannes

Cineman From engineerin

bender 88 (photo credit: )
bender 88
(photo credit: )
Lawrence Bender, the producer of Quentin Tarantino's latest film, Inglourious Basterds, may be a little jet-lagged - he arrived just a day before the interview - but he's excited to be here. The movie, which has just opened throughout the country, was directed by Tarantino, whose films Bender has produced since he was just starting out in the early '90s with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. "As a supporter of Israel and an American Jew, what a fantastic way this is to come to Israel" to present a film about a unit of American Jews fighting Nazis in France during World War II, starring Brad Pitt and Eli Roth. Part of the reason he is happy to be here, along with Tarantino and Christoph Waltz, one of the film's stars, is to show Americans "who only know Israel from seeing the conflict on TV, that Tel Aviv is one of the most fun cities in the world. The tech world and the nightlife and the people... Americans have no understanding of what life is actually like here." When he's asked if he has seen any recent Israeli movies, though, Bender says, "The truth is, I haven't seen any movies all year." The pace of production on Basterds was grueling, says Bender, because, "Quentin came to me with the script on July 3 [2008] and said he wants the movie to be at Cannes next year. I realized that to do that, we would have to start preproduction on the film the next day." It might have seemed like an unrealistic goal, but Bender says, "I had that feeling, 'I gotta make this movie.'" So a year of 100-hour work weeks followed. "I wanted to get to Cannes as much as he did. I had that sense of urgency. The pressure forces you to be creative within those boundaries." But they did make it to Cannes. The film won a Best Actor Award for Waltz's performance as an urbane Nazi and has grossed more than $200 million worldwide. One very unusual aspect of the film is that it has achieved its huge commercial success even though only about one-third of its dialogue is in English (the rest is in French and German with a couple of lines in Italian). It is difficult for most subtitled films to get mainstream distribution, let alone become big moneymakers. Bender is satisfied that "when audiences came out of the first screenings, people were Twittering about their favorite line, and a lot of the times, it was a subtitled line. Nobody was saying, 'I didn't like it, it was in a different language.' They were saying, 'Cool, man!" This isn't the first time Tarantino and Bender have broken the rules. Tarantino had written some scripts that had been directed by others, but was determined that he would direct his Reservoir Dogs screenplay. Although Tarantino was untried, "getting another director was never a possibility." Bender also refused to back down when the film's distributors asked Tarantino to cut an ultra-violent scene. "We were at Sundance with Reservoir Dogs, but we didn't win anything, which upset me. And we didn't get a distributor at that festival," says Bender. "Sundance had different kinds of movies then. A violent movie was not seen as something that should win a prize." But Bender was in a unique position to help Tarantino bring his dark vision to a mass audience. Raised in the Bronx, the son of divorced parents, he grew up seeing movies with his father, but didn't think about film as a career. Instead, he studied civil engineering at the University of Maine, where he recently received an award for his achievements. As a student, he became interested in dance, and became a dancer until he was sidelined by an injury. Next, he tried acting, but when he found himself "broker than broke" he began working as a production assistant and taking other jobs on movie sets. Then he began to think "about what I'd really like to do in movies" and the answer was clear: produce. Not long after that, he met Tarantino through a friend, read the Reservoir Dogs script, and the rest is independent-movie history. Asked what he thinks of the boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival for featuring a program of films about the White City (in honor of Tel Aviv's centennial), he doesn't mince words. "It's disgusting. It's ridiculous. Look, there are wonderful Iranian directors and people don't boycott their films because the government in Teheran is building a nuclear bomb."