LMU kicks off this year’s Hollywood Masters Series with the director of “Heat,” “The Insider” and “Last of the Mohicans”
By Michael Aushenker
During a week of record-breaking high temperatures, Loyola Marymount University School of Film & Television welcomed the man behind “Heat”: Michael Mann, director of the sleek 1990s thriller starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.
On Sept. 17, Mann kicked off the school’s second series of “Hollywood Masters” talks with industry A-listers.
These exclusive conversations with LMU Film & Television students are moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway, who last year sat down with Judd Apatow, William Friedkin, Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell and Sherry Lansing. This year, “Hollywood Masters” continues with James L. Brooks, Billy Bob Thornton, the Farrelly Brothers, and Academy Award-winners Hans Zimmer and Hilary Swank.
Supported by clips from “Last of the Mohicans,” “The Insider” and “Collateral,” Mann covered his Chicago upbringing and University of Wisconsin and London Film School education before delving into his rich career. A pair of cinema courses inspired Mann, now 71, to chase filmmaking. While studying in England, he cut his teeth documenting 1968’s Paris riots.
Mann’s early by-the-seat-of-his-pants moviemaking days came fraught with complications. While shooting the 1979 TV movie “The Jericho Mile” at the notorious Folsom Prison, Mann recalled the delicate diplomacy of casting prisoners from three rival gangs.
Despite the success of 1981’s “Thief,” Mann found difficulty developing a script he found called “The Gold Coast” until an opportunity allowed him to pitch it to TV. That Florida-set police drama, “Miami Vice,” became a 1980s cultural phenomenon. However, Mann relished making its NBC follow-up “Crime Story,” starring Dennis Ferrina, a policeman-turned-actor.
Of his penchant for relying on actual cops and criminals for the crime-themed material in “Jericho,” “Thief” and “Manhunter” (the first movie featuring Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter), “I sought them out. I was interested in doing the type of research that anthropologists do,” he said.
Mann easily convinced his financiers to cast up-and-coming Daniel Day-Lewis in 1992’s “Last of the Mohicans.” However, the “Lincoln” actor, self-conscious about a lack of athleticism, felt uncertain.
“I had to convince Dan that he could do it,” Mann recalled.
Regarding “Heat” — which famously first paired Pacino and DeNiro in the same movie within a tense, single scene comprised of close-ups and measured dialogue — Mann told Galloway he felt no pressure directing these icons, but fretted over getting their shared moment right.
“We knew it was a fairly important scene,” said Mann, who said he used three cameras and lifted the scene’s dialogue from “L.A. Takedown,” a 1989 TV movie-of-the-week he had written.
While discussing his 1999 whistle-blower saga “The Insider,” in which Christopher Plummer portrays “60 Minutes” journalist Mike Wallace, the filmmaker recalled how the real Wallace, irate about the project, nevertheless allowed Mann to record a phone conversation they shared. Wallace’s dialogue went into Plummer’s scenes.
“It’s not just accurate, it’s authentic,” Mann said.
(Wallace still disliked the final product.)
The one movie Mann would remake: his failed 1983 horror movie “The Keep,” whose special effects master had died during post-production.
Another juicy revelation: “Collateral,” Mann’s 2004 odyssey pairing Tom Cruise’s hit man with Jamie Foxx’s reluctant taxi driver, was originally tailored for Russell Crowe and Adam Sandler as “a badly written [stereotypical] Jewish cab driver.” Mann chose Foxx instead after they worked on his 2001 film, “Ali.”
“If you put [the original story] under the MRI, this thing has beautiful, beautiful bones,” said Mann, who revised the “Collateral”’ screenplay for Foxx. “It was gem-like that it all took place in one night.”
School of Film and TV Dean Steve Ujlaki said welcoming Mann to the stage was also a gem of a moment for LMU.
“He is a major, major filmmaker. We’re thrilled he is inaugurating our second season.”
The students also appreciated Mann’s visit. Film production major Morten Forland particularly enjoyed the afternoon’s sneak peak of “Blackhat,” a 2015 Mann release about a fugitive hacker infiltrating global financial systems.
“I’m excited to see what he does with it,” said the third-year graduate student from Bergen, Norway. “These are the people who are where you want to be one day.”