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Goldmann driven daffy by Looney Tunes film

Saturday, November 22, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh native Bernie Goldmann was president of production for the company that made "The Matrix." He made live-action films for Disney in the 1990s, when the studio's animated features got all the glory. He has just finished making a movie with Angelina Jolie.

"Looney Tunes" producer Bernie Goldman, left, attended last month's Entertainment Summit in Pittsburgh and met with the summit's co-founder Carl Kurlander. . (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

But Goldmann can tell you what real pressure is. He knows what it's like to go Looney Tunes.

"You don't want to make a mistake with Bugs and Daffy. I feel like there's a greater weight that you're carrying because I'm such a big fan of these characters from when I was a kid. To put out a bad Looney Tunes movie would just have been horrible," he said over the phone from his office in Los Angeles.

Goldmann produced "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," a combination of live action and animation that matches Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam and their cartoon associates with flesh-and-blood actors Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman and Steve Martin. It opened last week and ranked fifth at the box office.

He wanted to avoid the kind of problems he saw in the 1996 Looney Tunes movie "Space Jam," which he did not produce.

"They made all of the Looney Tunes pals, which destroyed the relationships in a way. It's pretty simple, the antagonist-protagonist relationship."

But even when the characters are squabbling, it helps to keep in mind that they were designed to appear in seven-minute shorts, not full-length movies.

"Bugs is somebody who doesn't really change in the course of any short or any movie," Goldmann said. "Daffy is a character that can change, which is one of several reasons why he's at the center of the movie. ... Daffy has a lot of very human characteristics -- a lot of our worst characteristics -- but he's got a good heart, ultimately."

So what does a producer do?

"I was the first person on this movie and I'm the last person off the movie," Goldmann said. He attended the first story meetings. He was involved in casting. He chose director Joe Dante and worked with him in planning the film.

"And then you're there every day on the set, talking to Joe about performance and making sure we have the coverage that we need and that we're getting things done in a timely fashion. Luckily, on this movie we were able to stay within our budget parameters.

"The post-production on this movie was huge. We had 1,400 visual-effects shots. I think 700 involved putting animated characters into them. So it was overwhelming in terms of being able to do that. And with every animated movie you do some rewriting.

"My past few months have really been about getting the studio behind it and selling the movie -- working with the marketing people, looking at the ads, getting them to spend as much money as we can get them to spend. Warner Bros. has been incredibly supportive."

It wasn't exactly Goldmann's dream job when he was growing up in Pittsburgh.

"I guess I was pretty naive about it, and it was a different time. Hollywood was more of a mystery. I didn't know there were producers, writers and directors."

He graduated from Allderdice High School in 1979 -- a year behind "Chicago" director Rob Marshall, a couple years ahead of "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua.

"I became sort of interested in journalism -- I thought, this could be interesting -- but I got to school and I decided, it wasn't that interesting. But I did get interested in photography and filmmaking at Ithaca College."

He started making movies and, after graduation, moved to Los Angeles to work on movies.

Goldmann is one of the former Pittsburghers in the movie business who came home last month for the Steeltown Entertainment Summit.

He forged another hometown link just recently. He will produce a movie called "Labor Pains" for Warner Bros. that was co-written by Stacy Kramer, a Mt. Lebanon native who produced the 1999 dark comedy "Jawbreaker."

He just finished producing another movie, a thriller called "Taking Lives" starring Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and Kiefer Sutherland. The movie is slated for a February release. The production schedule overlapped some of his duties on the "Looney Tunes" movie.

"We had Mondays and Tuesdays off on 'Taking Lives,' so I would fly back to L.A. and work on 'Looney Tunes' for a couple of days and go back to Montreal. I have a lot of Air Canada miles."

Goldmann had nothing but praise for Jolie's professionalism on the set.

"She is an incredibly dedicated actress, she was constantly on time if not early, she worked extra hard. She maybe cared more than anybody about how good the movie was going to be, and not just about her character. She was a real pleasant addition to the movie.

"It was nice to experience it. Making movies sometimes isn't very easy."


Post-Gazette Movie editor Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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