Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks: This wacky mashugana film in Spain that’s not really happening. So I go back [laughing] to Morgan and I say, “Give me another $10 million, and I’ll give you more interest of, you know.” And for some reason they listened to me, which was a mistake on all our parts. They gave me another $10 million. Okay. Now…so this $5 million movie is costing $23 million and it’s being shot in Spain. Anyway, they finished the movie—Alan finished it—and there was some storyline and there were a couple of good performances. And there was something like a movie [laughing], it was very close to being a movie. So they brought it back and I needed another $2 million to finish it, for special effects or something. I needed another $2 million and somehow, I don’t know where I got it, but I got it. And now I gotta pay Morgan Guaranty back a lot of money. I’m broke. This film…people are coming to my house and my wife is saying, “Who are these people in our kitchen?” I said, “No, I’m just getting a little more insurance.” But really I’m getting a second mortgage on the house. I had two cars, I put them up. I mean, I’m practically ready to jump off a roof, you know?

Blake Harris: Yeah.

Mel Brooks: I mean a roof like the Empire State Building, I’m ready to go. Because I am legally broke and in debt for the first time in my life. Seriously in debt. I go to Alan Ladd. First of all, I stay up for 2-3 nights in a row without sleeping and I make a phony baloney trailer so it looks like Star Wars. It looks like the greatest thing—it looks like it’s going to be the greatest sci-fi picture ever made—a fairy tale in space. Irresistible! I make a 10-minute trailer. I take it to all the studios. I almost got Michael Eisner—where was he at the time? Paramount, and then went to Disney—and he said, “I’ll give you back the money.” He’s gonna give me back the $23 million, it’s gonna be his picture, you know? But [then-Paramount president of production Jeffrey] Katzenberg said “no.” So anyway, this movie is now, like, I hear the death knell. I hear a bell tolling late at night. I can’t sleep. Everything is mortgaged…I’m finished, I’m just finished.

Blake Harris: And what do you think about it creatively?

Mel Brooks: Creatively? Half of it is like pretty damn good, and half of it is like the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my whole life.

Blake Harris: Alright, alright.

Mel Brooks: Some of it…the best thing I could call it is adventuresome filmmaking, you know? An adventure in filmmaking. And I was going to title it Almost a Movie

Blake Harris: [laughing]

Solarbabies

Mel Brooks: Anyway, I go to Alan Ladd Jr., who was my savior and my god at 20th Century Fox. “Laddie.” Now Alan Ladd Jr. is in charge of MGM; he has a big fight with the bank at Fox or whatever, so then he goes and he takes over MGM. And he says, “Maybe we can save this.” He says, “I can’t give you that kind of money for this picture. There’s a board that would stop me immediately. But MGM is part of UPI or something—a foreign distribution network—and maybe UPI can give you enough money. Now all I really need is 10 million bucks to pay back Morgan Guaranty to get my house and my cars out of hock and everything. And the rest of it, my partners and I, I mean we’ll suffer whatever we have to suffer. But I don’t want such an enormous personal loss. So I show all these guys—the foreign department of all these guys—the trailer and I said I was going to go overseas and do personal publicity for it. Marketing and you know. And they stand and they cheer. And UPM, or UPI, I don’t know, they give me $14 million to own the picture. MGM foreign. They’re going to distribute it foreign, MGM is going to distribute it foreign and domestic, so MGM puts up the most; two-thirds or whatever, half, anyway, we got $14 million. So I’m only out, personally, about nine. So I kissed Laddie and I thanked him and I get all my stuff out of hock. Morgan Guaranty, I give them their money back. And I said I’ve learned a lesson. And when I wrote The Producers, I put the line in: There are two things a Broadway producer must know. It’s the rule of being a Broadway producer. Leo Bloom says to Max Bialystock. And what are those two rules, Mr. Bialystock? “One: never put your own money in the show. And two…what’s the second one? NEVER PUT YOUR OWN MONEY IN THE SHOW!!!!!!!”

Blake Harris: [laughing]

The Producers

Mel Brooks: And I broke that rule. But anyway, over time—I don’t know how and why, and I don’t know what miracle occurred—but [chuckling] over the past 25 years or something, that goddamned picture finally broke even.

Blake Harris: Oh my god.

Mel Brooks: So MGM actually, not only the Morgan Guaranty, but MGM got their money back and of course their end of the profit (because, you know, they charge 40 percent off the top of whatever comes in to distribute, their distribution fee is 40 percent, it’s amazing…).

Blake Harris: Right, yeah.

Mel Brooks: So they really made money on it and finally I was paid enough to get even. Partners and everything. It is a fucking miracle picture. It’s like…if I did it as a movie, as a comedy, nobody would believe it.

Blake Harris: I want to see that as a movie!

Mel Brooks: So you’re getting an amazing story.

Solarbabies

Blake Harris: Well, one question I had. You know, Alan [Johnson] is of course a great choreographer and he had directed a movie, but a sci-fi movie is a different kind of beast. Why did you—

Mel Brooks: —Because I was lazy. And I didn’t want to go to Spain.

Blake Harris: Ha, yeah.

Mel Brooks: I thought: I’ve got other fish to fry. $5 million? We can do this, we can knock this off. It’s not much. What the hell? I’m only putting in about a million and a half of my own personal money, you know, I’ve got partners. It’s like…not really paying attention to the utter reality, you know? But it was a great lesson. It was like 20-25 years ago, however many years ago, and since then I have been successful because it made be aware of everything that I was doing. With every other movie that I ever did. And I have been…I’ve never lost a penny since. I’ve never really failed since. I’ve never broke the bank and took, you know, a billion dollars, but I’ve really done very well ever since. Because it was an incredible lesson in diligence. A lesson in diligence: You must pay attention to the finances of what you’re doing. Not just the artistic. Because, until then, I was only focused on the art of the film—making sure that worked—I didn’t give a shit about the money. But then, when my house and my cars and my life…so ever since then, I’ve been diligent and paid a lot of respect to how things are funded; who put money in and how to get their money back, you know?

Blake Harris: That is amazing story. And I’ll let you go…

Mel Brooks: That’s the story. And you can’t get a better story!

Blake Harris: I know I can’t!

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