Deadline’s Mike Fleming just caught up to one of The Social Network producers, Mike De Luca, at the Vanity Fair Oscar party: ”We released the movie at the time we felt it was most appropriate, and it performed beyond out expectations. Maybe it wasn’t pleasing as The King’s Speech to Oscar voters. And historically there is a disconnect between the critics and those voters. But the emotional complexity is what I love about The Social Network. I did take comfort in Steven Spielberg’s reminder of the great films that didn’t win Best Picture.”
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Michael De Luca was the Brooklyn kid who rose from an entry level New Line job to become one of Hollywood’s youngest ever production presidents at 27. He set the tone for the rock and roll days of Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne’s indie, a then ballsy company that took bold creative gambles that culminated in saying yes to Peter Jackson’s turnaround trilogy The Lord of the Rings when nobody else would. Rarely was a twenty-something given the latitude De Luca got to gamble on unproven filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights and Magnolia), David Fincher (Seven) and Jay Roach (Austin Powers). In success, De Luca infused the place with swagger and cut his own bad boy swath with several well-publicized misdeeds. He also steered slates of films that reflected his fan boy pop culture sensibility, including American History X, Blade, The Wedding Singer, Pleasantville, Menace 2 Society, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber. When the hits stopped coming, he was sacked by Shaye, brashly turned down a rich pre-negotiated producing deal and left the nest.
It took awhile, but De Luca is on a roll, again. He’s in the middle of this year’s Oscar conversation and this year has 6 films that either wrapped or are in production. With Scott Rudin and Dana Brunetti, De Luca produced Fincher’s The Social Network, (Seven’s serial killer Kevin Spacey is exec producer); the Jonah Hill comedy The Sitter just got underway in New York and Ghost Rider 2 with Nicolas Cage is starting in Romania; and the Brad Pitt-starrer Moneyball, Fright Night, Drive Angry and Butter are completed.
Who better than De Luca to contrast today’s conservative studio filmmaking from the rock and roll days of New Line, a company gambled and won big, and occasionally lost just as large when: Adam Sandler insisted on contorting his face and torso to play Satan’s spawn Little Nicky; Geena Davis and Renny Harlin pushed back the start of Long Kiss Goodnight (after New Line paid Shane Black a spec record $4 million) just long enough to squeeze in the momentum-killing Carolco pirate flop Cutthroat Island, which doomed New Line’s followup; or when the Warren Beatty-starrer Town and Country kept shooting and shooting, until there were enough overruns and mediocrity to give it historic flop stature; enduring the eccentricities of late life Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Deadline New York: Everybody uses Facebook. Just because you eat sausage doesn’t mean you want to see it made. How did you and your cohorts know anybody would care about The Social Network?
De Luca: The film traffics in a human condition that could apply to any young person being told, ‘Stay in this box, do it our way.’ There’s an inclination to rebel and say, ‘Not only am I going to do it my way, I’m going to burn your house down while I’m doing it, just because you tried to hold me back.’ There are other underlying things powering the story, like the basic human need to belong, how painful it is to feel alienated, and the jealousy that erupts among close friends when it looks like one is pulling away.