The Fight Continues: Rob Reiner on VOD and the Proposition 8 Movie

Why his new movie, The Magic of Belle Isle, has been saved by digital distribution, and an update on his upcoming gay marriage movie.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The director of blockbusters like A Few Good Men and Misery is joining the VOD movement. Rob Reiner’s latest film, The Magic of Belle Isle, premiered last month on demand before it opens in select theaters July 6. The film stars Morgan Freeman as a paraplegic writer who comes to the island for some privacy, but gets inspiration from the local children. We got to talk business with Reiner, and politics when it comes to the Proposition 8 movie he’s directing (we spoke to Dustin Lance Black about the script too.) But we weren’t going to talk to Marty DiBergi without asking about This Is Spinal Tap and his other classic movies.


CraveOnline: Are you invigorated by the opportunity to reach more of an audience on VOD?

Rob Reiner: Yes, I am. And I think that Magnolia is very smart in the way they release these kinds of films. It doesn’t work for every film but a small film like this and the way they’re distributing it is to put it on VOD, then it goes in the theaters and that hopefully fuels the VOD even more. I think we’re going to wind up with a lot more people seeing the film than if it had just come out in the theater first. It’s such a small film, such a small budget that to spend tons of money, you would never make your money back. This way I think they maximize the kind of revenue we can get from a film like this and I think it’s perfect.


As a filmmaker to see these avenues like VOD and downloads, does that invigorate the market when you don’t need a big ad buy for everything?

Right, and I think what’s nice is since the studios are only making two types of films now – they’re only making these huge blockbuster CGI comic book superhero movies and sequels, then these R-rated raunchy comedies – if you want to make a character driven film, if you want to make a smaller art kind of film, there are avenues you can take to get them made and they will get seen. Yeah, I’m thrilled. I think in time you’re going to see day and date. Even with bigger films, you’re going to see day and date releases.


There’s a statistic that studios are making fewer movies than before, but it seems like all the other avenues are more than making up the difference. Are there more movies than ever now?

I think that’s accurate, absolutely.


Is there a danger that the industry could collapse on itself because people can only watch so many movies?

I think it’s like water. It’ll seek its level. There’ll be as many or as few made as need to be made. We’re living in a very targeted, fragmented media society. When you look at 500 channels and you look at all these ways to access, whether it’s on video on demand or it’s on Netflix or Apple TV or Amazon. There’s all kinds of ways to get things and I think it’s harder to break through. It’s harder to find the audience but I think that’s why a company like Magnolia has some expertise on that. They have a little bit of an understanding of how to do that. Plus they own the Landmark theaters which is the kind of theater that this kind of film should play in.


Now I’m a movie buff and I like to see everything, but a lot of people don’t even go to the movies. So like you said they’ve got the CGI blockbusters and the raunchy comedies covered. Wouldn’t it make sense for Hollywood to make different things to attract the people who don’t generally go to the movies?

Yes, and by the way, I think there’s a huge audience for people of my generation who were brought up on only going to the movies. Not sitting in a movie texting, not playing a video game, basically with a greater attention span. We proved that with Bucket List. We made a movie about two old guys dying of cancer that nobody wanted and it did over $200 million. So there’s definitely an audience out there. We used to make the joke that that movie had 100% desire to see with the audience that had a 40% ability to get to the theater, but we did get them to the theater. They don’t come first week often, and that’s why studios don’t want it because the terms are good, they want to make that big chunk of money in the first weekend and that’s what sets the tone. These films need to be nurtured a little bit so that’s why you need companies like Magnolia who know how to distribute these kinds of films that can nurture a film like this so eventually it does get to an audience. I wish that we had had Magnolia when we did Flipped. Flipped got completely lost. That to me is one of the best films I’ve ever made and nobody ever saw it because it was a big ad buy right away. There’s nobody in it. There’s no stars in it and it just craters. So this way at least there’s a chance for people to see this thing.


Where are things with the Prop 8 movie?

We’re developing it now. Lance Black has just finished an outline and he’s going to start writing the screenplay and eventually hopefully we can get that going.


You did a civil rights movie with Ghosts of Mississippi. Is it different to make one while the issue is still happening?

It is different and we’ve talked about how it would end, depending on whether or not the Supreme Court takes the case, depending on what happens at the Supreme court and how wide or narrow the ruling is at the Supreme Court it will affect how we end the movie, because what we would love to see is the couple be able to get married at the end of the movie just like in real life. But if it isn’t, then we’ll say, “The fight continues.”


Movies show how people have fought against freeing slaves, against integration or against women’s suffrage. Why can’t people see that it’s the same thing in every generation’s issue?

I think they eventually do see it’s the same thing. The weird thing is that this country in fits and starts always winds up doing the right thing. They don’t do it necessarily initially. They backtrack. They do the wrong thing but eventually when it comes to expanding people’s rights, this country’s always wound up eventually doing the right thing. Now, with African-Americans, a lot of blood was shed in the Civil War and then in the Civil Rights movement. A lot of blood was shed. In the gay movement and gay marriage, a lot of blood is being shed personally by gay people who are killing themselves because they don’t feel accepted. So it definitely goes through a process but as things go on, and I’ve said this many times, we’re going to look back at this time and go, “What was the big deal? Why were we so concerned about gay people getting married? Why was that bothering us?” I think that will be said, and not right away, but eventually that’ll be said just like now we say, “You mean women couldn’t vote? Why was that a big deal? Blacks couldn’t marry whites? Blacks couldn’t vote?” Nobody thinks about that now and at the time people were willing to die over it.


You would hope someone who’s afraid of gay marriage would see the parallels to past issues.

Yes, but they don’t. People have prejudice and the definition of blind is blind. You can’t say to a blind person, “Why can’t you see this?” If you’re blind, that definition is that you can’t see it, you’re blind. So it takes a process of opening people’s eyes. It’s education. It’s things like what we’re doing with the play 8 and getting people to understand what are the issues, what’s involved here. When people realize it’s not going to threaten their marriage, it’s not going to hurt children in any way who are going to be raised by gay couples. Once people understand and realize that, it all dissipates. Right now we’re in a great place because we have over 50% of the people in this country in favor of gay marriage while we’re trying this case. When Loving V. Virginia was in 1967, blacks and whites were not allowed to get married. It was against the law, against federal law. It was against the law and states wouldn’t allow it. They challenged this and they won. 70% of the public was against the idea of blacks and whites getting married, and yet the Supreme Court voted 9-9-nothing. Now we’ll see what happens here.


Is 8 the title of the movie too?

8 is the title of the play. We don’t know if that’s going to be the title of the movie. It probably will be.


Spinal Tap was a spoof of heavy metal singers. How would you spoof current musicians like LMFAO?

Oh my God, LMFAO. What’s the guy’s name, RedFoo? That’s the guy’s name. I think that’s Berry Gordy’s son. We’d have a lot of fun with that one.


Talk about making movies about kids that adults like?

You know, Flipped was certainly that. Stand By Me is certainly that. I like to try to make movies that both kids and adults will like. Princess Bride was like that and you try to make a movie that’ll cut across all the ages.


Is there a specific point of view you take that pulls that off?

Well, I think it is not treating the kids like little kids, treating them seriously. I’ve always tried to do that. Even with a picture like The Sure Thing, I wanted to treat teenagers and young adults as real people and having real feelings, even though they can be silly at times. They also have those real feelings so it’s just treating them with a little bit of dignity.


How about stories about storytellers like Stand By Me and Misery also?

Well, that I’m always going back to. You’ve got Misery, you’ve got Stand By Me, you’ve got this one, Belle Isle. You even have Alex & Emma. I always go back to the writing process, the creative process and I’m fascinated by it. What comes from a writer’s mind onto the page and then onto the screen, that’s a fascinating process to me.


What brought you back into the writing process for this movie and Flipped?

Flipped, when I read it, I said, “I know what to do with this.” And rather than hire a writer, it was a book that we optioned and I just said, “I’ll do this. I can do this.” So I did it with my partner Andy but we work on every single script. On every film that we’ve done we work on it at some point.


Did you know when you made A Few Good Men that “You can’t handle the truth” was going to be the line?

No, you never know what’s going to be. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a few. “I’ll have what she’s having.” “My Name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my…” That, “You can’t handle the truth.” “This goes to 11.” Those kinds of things. I’ve been lucky to have some things that people remember but I think it only works if your film has a longevity. If the film has a longevity then people remember the things that are in the film.