M Magazine — Producer-director McG, who flew in from New York a few hours earlier, is giving a tour of his Wonderland Sound & Vision headquarters off Sunset Blvd.
Later in the afternoon, he’ll head over to 20th Century Fox to discuss the release date of “This Means War”, his latest directing project starring Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine.
A fireball of energy and enthusiasm, he makes the rounds through the building, introducing his staff and pointing out a bunch of memorabilia and credits hanging on the wall. Arriving in his office, he plops down in a Club chair and starts talking about his roots in Newport Beach, his relationship with Mark McGrath and how his early fear of flying forced him out of the band and behind the mixing console.
Since he parlayed his music videos (Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth, Barenaked Ladies) and commercial ad work (Gap, Coca-Cola) into feature filmmaking and television producing, McG has shed his reactionary rock & roll dreadlocks and morphed into a focused businessman and content creator who wants to take Wonderland to the next level.
Was it tough crossing the bridge from making music videos to directing feature films?
There were a bunch of us [Michael Bay, David Fincher, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze] who came from making music videos and commercials, which was regarded as a big negative. We’ve heard it all: you guys don’t know anything about character development, dialogue, etc.; it was like having a big albatross around your neck.
Your biggest break thus far?
Prior to “Charlie’s Angels”, I had a meeting with Amy Pascal at Sony Pictures Entertainment about another film. She asked me all these specifics like: Where are we going to be after the first act? How would you make it funnier? In what manner are you going to shoot the film? And I responded with ‘I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out and it’ll be great.’ She threw me right out on my ass and told me not to come back until I was ready to talk about the film as a serious filmmaker. I was shocked, and I told myself that would never happen again.
When I finally got to meet Drew Barrymore to talk about “Charlie’s Angels”, I pitched the movie from the opening to the end. Drew was really excited and said, ‘We need to talk to Amy Pascal.’ So we go in and I pitched the movie from start to finish again. Amy still didn’t want to hire me, but Drew wrapped her arms around me and said ‘Look if he doesn’t direct it, I’m not doing it.’
Is it tough to keep your eye on the business end while directing?
I was lucky because I had some good training early on. There’s this big tough guy who controls the money at Sony named Gary Martin [president of Sony Pictures Studio Operations]. He wasn’t a big fan of me being hired to direct “Charlie’s Angels.” I had to earn his respect. He told me: ‘You don’t get any overtime. If you have one minute of overtime, we’ll throw you off this movie.’ His message was crystal clear. We shot for a 100 days and we never had any overtime. Since that point, I’ve been able to build a reputation of being able to finish shooting on schedule and on budget.
How has the marketing strategy changed in this age of social networking and smart phones?
The days of throwing money at a movie to try to trick us into paying to go see it are gone forever, especially when there’s a kid on the corner with a Blackberry sending out messages about how it’s really terrible. There’s too much communication getting out, and that’s the trusted word. But if you receive a message from your buddy saying the “Hangover” is a funny movie, guess what? You’re going.
You’re like a cheerleader on the set.
The funny thing is that I have no interest in enthusiasm. I’d rather be known as someone who’s prepared, intelligent, comes with an original point of view and has a specific film style.
What’s the next step for Wonderland?
We want to be more aggressive about owning our material because for the last 10 years I’ve been making content for the other guys. We make our fees, we do well and there are no complaints, but at the end of the day we don’t own any of our own material. At this point I’m willing to take a chance and pay for our own material—betting on ourselves.
Any idea on when “This Means War” will be out?
It could be August or it might have to wait until the holidays. Fox is very excited about the film and we want to make sure we have a weekend where we’re likely to do as much business as we can do.