Robert Leiberman [Interview]

 

Hello Folks! And welcome to our grand finale for the month of September, right on the cusp of our Month of Horror. We have an absolutely stellar interview to share with you all from a man who actually could have easily been a target for our MoH as well, but we really wanted to get this one out to you ASAP. It’s legendary film and television director Robert Leiberman! Rob is an extremely passionate director with a real eye for how to make a project work. I first became aware of Leiberman’s work as he directed the third installment of one of my favorite sports movie franchise from the 90’s, when he made D3: The Might Ducks, which is hands down my favorite installment. I would then come to learn that Rob has worked on a plethora of other amazing projects, including the most recent retelling of the classic story The Dead Zone, famously penned by the great Stephen King.

One of the main reasons we wanted to get this out to you all ASAP was to let you all know that Robert has a GoFundMe page set up to support production of a short film entitled Suerte, which will be about the terrible conditions of, and the acts that created the madness that is happening at the U.S./Mexico border, and the horror that is children literally being left in cages to die. It’s absolutely god damned insane that this is happening, and having somebody like Rob volunteering his efforts to highlight the atrocities that are happening is aligned with what needs to happen to make some real change. So Folks, if you have a few spare extra dollars laying around, please give! Or simply just share the LINK to the GoFundMe to somebody, anybody, who you believe can help out.

With that Folks, please enjoy some wonderful words from the legend himself, Mr. Rob Leiberman!

 

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What inspired you to get into the world of entertainment? Was it an aspiration you can remember having since adolescences, or did you just happen to find yourself in this world one day?

From the youngest age, I always liked acting and performing, appearing in many school and youth productions. When I was eleven, my mother read that they were casting locally for the Siamese children for a traveling summer stock production of The King and I that was going to play the local tent theater, Melody Fair, that summer in Buffalo and asked me if I would like to audition. We ended up in a room crowded with young aspirants. When my name was called I went into a smoked filled room occupied by a cigar-chomping older man behind a large desk to whom I performed the audition song I had prepared How About You, a popular tune introduced in 1941 in the film Babes On Broadway, sung by Judy Garland. The lyrics, I may add, were highly inappropriate for a boy of 11. I got the part of the crown prince and did about ten performances over two weeks. I had been bitten. I knew that I had to end up in a career in show business.

I acted through my college years but slowly lost interest as I saw the role of the director as having the real creative control over the process. So, I began directing plays on the university level with an eye on directing film. The only problem was that the University at Buffalo did not offer a course of study in directing film so, under the aegis of a number of professors in the English and Drama departments, I went about creating my own independent study program which I pitched to the provost of the university and which led to me being the first graduate to receive a B.A. in Film Studies from that institution. Necessity is the mother of invention.

What was your very first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And were there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that still affect your work today?

My first paid gig was for the aforementioned production of The King and I. But, my first paid gig as a film director happened later. after living in Los Angeles for a number of years I got the opportunity to get a job as an assistant editor for a small boutique commercial company, which led to me becoming their editor and finally the opportunity to direct a small Kraft commercial, my very first of what would go on to be thousands. As the story goes, the owner of the company was asked to babysit me since this was my maiden voyage, but he was not happy being there. He was used to being the director on the set. I had designed an elaborate single shot to cover the entire thirty-second commercial and when the fateful moment came I yelled “ACTION” for the first time. I was thrilled as I watched my design flawlessly executed by the two professional actors and the professional crew. I felt that I had really arrived. When they were done I was beaming with pride of accomplishment. The owner/director approached me, leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Don’t you think you should say something.” I panicked. Had I missed some professional folkway or etiquette? I quickly searched my memory for what that missing statement could possibly be. I turned to him, “Like what?” He just screamed out on the top of his lungs, “like CUT!!!!!.” I never made that mistake again and for the next fifty years always thoroughly review every detail and nuance of every scene and shot I would go on to do, so I would never be embarrassed like that again.

In the early days of your career, I noticed a couple of credits for directing the legendary After School Specials. I am always intrigued to ask people about their experience working on these projects?

At first, I was a commercial director but longed to direct dramatic pieces. I tried to get features made to no avail and to get a job directing episodic television you needed TV credits which I had none. So, assessing this dilemma I became aware that directing these low budget After School Specials could be an opportunity to direct dramas with only my award-winning commercial as credits. I immediately started to call on and lobby all the producer/suppliers of those independently contracted films for ABC. It took me well over a year of cajoling at meetings and lunches before a producer named Martin Tahse finally gave me my first break to direct one. These were extremely low budget productions, $200,000 all in, delivered with titles and music. We shot them in ten days, which is why they looked for young, hungry, aggressive, talented directors. The first one was Gaucho, the story of a young boy of Puerto Rican descent who has to navigate the hard streets of Brooklyn. I was thrilled to shoot the exteriors on the old MGM backlot where the steamboat from the film Showboat still sat in a man-made lake. It was very well received, so I got to do another, A Homerun For Love, a period piece that took place in 1946 New Jersey. What a challenge on this budget. Both films took place on the east coast which I had to somehow create with little money on the west coast. I grew as a director immensely on those two projects which led to my first MOW, Fighting Back: The Story of Rocky Bleier and then the MOW, Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy and then to my first feature film, Table For Five starring Jon Voight.

In 1996 you wrote and directed the third, and my personal favorite, installment of The Mighty Ducks franchise. What drew you to work in the Mighty Ducks universe? And how was your experience working in such a memorable franchise?

The truth is that after my film Fire In The Sky, despite good reviews, bombed at the box office, I was unable to get considered to direct another feature for over a year. So, when my manager got me a meeting to direct the third edition of The Mighty Ducks films, I jumped at the opportunity. I had a great meeting at Disney. I told them that I had no designs on reinventing a successful franchise, that my proposal was to paint the existing franchise on the outside of a balloon and then just inflate it by a couple of breaths, bigger and funnier. That evidently sold them because they hired me and I spent most of that year in Minneapolis filming. The whole experience was sensational and it went on to be my highest-grossing film. Michael Eisner, then CEO and President of Disney, confided in me that he thought D3 was the best directed of the trilogy. I was honored.

 

 

You are also the genius that brought the best versions of Stephen King’s legendary work of art known as The Dead Zone to film and television. I truly love what you did with these projects, especially the choice of Anthony Michael Hall as the lead. So what drew you to this particular edition of the King universe? What made you want to step into this world?

I always loved the original material so when I read this version which updated WWII references to the Vietnam War, I knew I wanted to do it. When I met with the producers and Lionsgate I told them that this project played right into my sweet-spot, the intersection between macabre, humor and heart. It got me the job. Side story: Usually when a pilot is made and passed on, it is thrown in the trash never to be revisited. But, in this case, the William Morris Agency felt my pilot was so strong that when UPN, the original network that had ordered it, passed on it, they kept it alive and kept selling it for an entire year until the USA network finally ordered it to series and it became their signature network franchise. It was a big hit that stayed on the air for seven years and I went on to executive produce and direct half of the episodes in season one. I am very proud of my work on that series. BTW, Anthony Michael Hall was already attached when I interviewed. He was fantastic in the role and a great guy.

 

You have directed several episodes for many of the biggest television series for quite some time. So with that in mind, what project have you worked on that you can remember having the most memorable craft services? Anything particular trays you still remember fondly?

Besides, The Dead Zone, which I actually had a hand in ordering the food and which was out of this world, X-Files had great craft service and on Friday at the wrap, the gaffer would pour martinis for everyone.

 

Rob Leiberman on the set of “Private Eyes”

 

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I have been writing four features which I will go out with in the coming year. Two are horror movies, one is a high concept comedy and the third a small personal film. I have also written a short, Suerte (Lucky), which is crowd funded and which I intend to shoot next year in Cabo San Lucas. It highlights the atrocity of separating children from their families at the border as seen through the eyes of an eight-year-old Honduran boy and a ten-year-old Mexican boy who befriends him in custody. If any of your readers would like to support this effort they can go to my GoFundMe page.

 

What was the last thing that made you smile?

My wife loves pugs because our daughter has the most adorable pug, Frankie. Last night, trying to convince me that we should get one, she showed me a picture of the cutest little white pug. She wins. LOL.

 

 

 

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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