Exclusive: Producer Brian Grazer on Tower Heist


For nearly thirty years, Brian Grazer has been one of Hollywood’s top producers, his long-time collaboration with director Ron Howard leading to the formation of Imagine Entertainment in the late ’80s and that partnership being responsible for huge box office blockbusters, Oscar-winning movies and some of the most popular television shows of the last decade.

Grazer and Imagine Entertainment’s hits include Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor, Jim Carey’s Liar Liar, and most of Ron Howard’s output including Parenthood, Apollo 13, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Da Vinci Code. Grazer’s also branched into television with shows like “Friday Night Lights,” “24” and “Arrested Development,” all of which now have plans to head to the big screen in the coming years.

Grazer has reteamed with Eddie Murphy to produce the ensemble heist comedy Tower Heist, co-starring Ben Stiller as Jason Kovaks, the building manager at a luxury New York City condo building who leads a group of disgruntled employees who have been robbed of their pension by one of the building’s residents, financial leader Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). After being tipped off by the federal agent on the case, played by Tea Leoni, Kovaks puts together a group that includes Michael Peña, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick and Gabourey Sidibe to find and steal the $20 million that Shaw has hidden in his penthouse condo.

ComingSoon.net got a brief sit-down with Grazer to talk about the film.

ComingSoon.net: So you’re back in New York City where most of the movie was shot. How did this first come about? Was it a script you found or something you came up with and developed?
Brian Grazer:
It was something I developed with Eddie Murphy. I’ve made six movies and one television series with Eddie Murphy, and four of those movies were based on his idea and this was one of his ideas for a movie. He had the idea that it would kind of be a comedy heist film, that it would sort of be in the spirit of “Taking of Pelham One Two Three” or “Hot Rock,” and that it would be about the haves and the have notes, how the blue collar gets ripped off and how they ultimately get even with The Man.

CS: Was this a fairly recent idea? Obviously it’s something that’s a lot more relevant now.
No, I mean I know it’s very much intersecting with the culture right now, but no, it was seven years ago that he had this idea.

CS: When you see the trailer, you think it’s going to be a lot like “Ocean’s 11” or other heist movies with ensemble casts, but there are some very serious moments and it doesn’t seem as jokey as other movies. Can you talk about you wanted to develop it so it wasn’t seen simply as another “Ocean” movies?
Well, basically, I had already produced one heist movie, it was called “Inside Man,” so we actually hired the writer who wrote “Inside Man” as our very first writer, because we wanted the intricacy of what was “Inside Man” or “The Usual Suspects.” We wanted it to have that kind of intricacy and red herrings to it and we felt that if we do that and we hire comic icons as the leads that they would convert what could be perceived as dramatic as something quite comedic, but we thought we should base it first in something that’s real, something that’s clever and characters that have real stakes.

CS: How did the cast come together? Did Eddie throw out Ben Stiller’s name or how did that come about?
No, no, no, I guess Brett and I both thought of Ben. Brett had known Ben for about 15 years and they’re friends, and I’ve always wanted to work with Ben. In fact, I had a Wes Anderson project that I was going to do with Ben and it just didn’t come about in a timely fashion that I thought, so Ben was very much on my mind and I had a relationship with him that I could talk to him. I was able to talk to him and Brett was able to close it.

CS: It’s surprising how little Eddie appears in the movie, because he only appears a couple times in the first half hour…
But he has a huge presence, doesn’t he? Look, in the very end, we could have done more with Eddie, but it was an ensemble piece and everybody gets to score in it. Matthew Broderick scores, Alan Alda is awesome, Michael Peña is great, Casey Affleck’s real fun and dry and smart. It’s one of those things where it was always going to be an ensemble piece, so it was just about balance.

CS: Was it always obvious once you had the script who would be perfect for each role?
Well, it wasn’t obvious, no. It was a process of back and forth and Tea had already worked with Ben before. “Should we do that again?” We examined and reexamined every choice. The idea of Matthew Broderick we didn’t know and on Casey, we didn’t know that Casey could or would do it until about a week before we started shooting.

CS: Tea and Ben are great together as are Ben with Alan Alda, just great chemistry, so did you work on developing those dynamics once they were all signed on?
Pretty much, yeah. It was just further development actually, but these are tremendous actors so what they were able to do was with the very seeds and essence of their character, they’re smart enough and talented enough to expand upon it themselves so there was some improv. The writer Jeff Nathanson was on the set, and that was a good thing. It just kind of all seemed to work. If you think it worked than it worked out.

CS: New York is a chaotic place to make a movie but you picked a very busy area of town as well as a busy time. I assume that was actually Columbus Circle and the Thanksgiving Day Parade in the movie?
It was. The Thanksgiving Day’s Parade was shot right here on Columbus Circle, and look, the city is a very cooperative city and as busy as it is, they make it work for you. Ray Kelly, the police chief, he’s great; Mayor Bloomberg is fantastic. They pretty much organized the city so it is cooperative and it can work as busy as it is. My first two movies, “Night Shift” and “Splash” were shot here in New York, and in fact, it was in Columbus Circle that we shot part of the chase (for “Splash.”)

CS: I guess the more movies you shoot here, the easier it is to navigate the system, because you already know the ins and outs.
You know the people. A lot of these people that run the city council and things like that are still here. There’s a certain genetics that lives within the city that you can tap into, plus you’re right. I know many of the streets and I know the possibilities of shooting (here). “American Gangster” I shot here, “Beautiful Mind” I shot some stuff here. I have shot a lot of movies… “Inside Man” was all here on Wall Street, so I’ve made a lot of movies here in New York.

CS: Have you found that it’s changed a lot making movies here, either for the better or worse? Or is it easier now?
It’s probably changed for the better actually. There was a period where it was a little hard, but it was never hard for me. I was always able to do it actually.

CS: I don’t know if there is an actual Guinness record for this but as a producer, you seem to have the most amount of movies in some stage of development. Maybe between you and Neal Moritz, so how many movies do you have in active development at any given time?
Probably 15 I’m really focused on right now.

CS: But you tend to have two or three in production?
Yeah, and I produce television at the same time. I produced “24” for eight years; I produced “Friday Night Lights” for five. I’m going to make a “Friday Night Lights” movie, I’m going to make a “24” movie. I’m going to try to do “Arrested Development” as a film.

CS: The “Friday Night Lights” phenomenon is pretty amazing because it started as a movie, then went to TV and only started picking up in its fifth and final season, so is that movie going to be tied to the TV show and is any of it still tied to the movie?
It’s all tied to the TV series. There’ll be some stuff from the original movie but it’s mostly a movie about the television series.

CS: There’s been a lot of talk about an “Arrested Development” movie and recently, Mitch said he wants to do another season. How would that work? Would that be back on FOX?
I can’t say because it hasn’t yet been announced but we’re going to do a limited series, like ten episodes, and then we’re going to do the movie.

CS: I was a little bummed that “The Playboy Club” got cancelled as I was enjoying that.
“The Playboy Club” is just a great world.

CS: Were there any other shows that might show up down the road?
I got the Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers are doing a TV series with me. They’ve never done one but they’ll be involved; they won’t go to a lot of network meetings – they’ll try to stay out of the malaise of the bureaucracy, but they’ll work creatively on the show.

CS: That will be really interesting to see the group of writers they put together in the writers’ room. What about some of these other movies that you’ve been developing?
Well, I have “J. Edgar” coming out about a week after “Tower Heist,” in limited on the 9th, and a little bit wider on the 11th, and as every other active producer, I have many other things I’m working on. I’m working with Ron on this Formula One movie called “Rush” and I expect that we’ll make “Dark Tower” and we’re excited about our partnership with Universal.

CS: I also wanted to ask about “The Lost Symbol” because I really liked that book.
Oh, I’m going to make “The Lost Symbol.” I think we’re thinking (the director) is going to be Mark Romanek.

CS: I know a lot of people didn’t like the book after “The Da Vinci Code” but I really dug it.
They do so well. The first one did a billion, 200 million dollars in total revenues and the second one, just a worldwide gross, did 500 million, so people like them.

CS: At one point you were going to do a remake of “Bride of Frankenstein.”
I think we’re going to put that one hold for a short a while.

CS: I spoke to Neil Burger not too long ago and he seems to be busy with other things.
Yeah, he’s a really good director.

Tower Heist opens nationwide on Friday, November 4.