By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]
In the fifth of our series of interviews with the cast and creative team of BURN NOTICE, theTVaddict.com proudly presents a Q&A with the Executive Producer Jeff Freilich — who was kind enough to spend time with theTVaddict.com Senior Editor Amrie Cunningham [as well as numerous other media outlets] on a recent visit to the set.
Can you say your name for the tape?
We have the most remarkable hair and makeup department. Most people don’t recognize me on South Beach. It’s amazing, because in front of camera, I wear a Triple 0 and off camera I’m a 34 waist. The people in Miami just can work magic! So Jeff Freilich.
It is pretty amazing when you walk around this set and see what’s involved and all the people involved. Do you ever just take a moment and say “yeah, I put all this together” and how difficult is it to put all this together?
I only say that when there’s no blame attached. Miami really hasn’t seen a television series of this kind of scope since the days of Miami Vice. The only other show that stayed in Miami before this, between Miami Vice days and now was South Beach, which was a short-lived series. A lot of shows come here to shoot just to get beauty shots. Dexter shot its pilot here. They shot a few more episodes and then they moved to Los Angeles. CSI: Miami shot part of a season here. They come here a couple of times a year to pick up the look of Miami. That’s something that we can’t afford to do. We’re on a different budget than these shows. One of the disadvantages of shooting a show for cable television is that you’re working on budget that’s no more than 60% of the budget of a standard prime time network television show, so you have to be a little bit more creative in the way that you spend your money. We couldn’t afford to shoot in Los Angeles and come to Miami three times a year to get shots of Ocean Drive and the Brickell area. If you’re going to dive into Miami, we had to dive in with both feet. And the problem was that we also had to start shooting last season and this season right at the head of hurricane season. Ideally, if there had been no Writer’s Guild strike, we would have been starting to shoot at the end of January and we would have wrapped in June. We would have had much different weather. We would have had probably more consistent sunshine with lower temperatures which is much more conducive to doing this ambitious a series in only 7 days per episode. People just tend to get slow in the summer. It’s not because the crew isn’t really wonderful. It’s because you die, you kill yourself to get too much work done. Plus we also run the risk of heavy rain and other things which is why most of the series don’t shoot in Miami.
When this pilot was originally written, it was designed for Newark, NJ, and it was changed in part by USA’s influence to Miami to give it a better look, to make it a more inviting show as you’re flipping the dials, and I think what Matt’s conundrum was “I want a guy to be trapped in an uncomfortable place.” How do you ever make Miami an uncomfortable place to be trapped? Well now that we’ve been here for two summers in a row, we have the answer. [everyone laughs]
And we put Michael’s loft in an industrial section, the actual loft, and it does exist. That loft in the pilot was shot on location, in a writer’s loft along the Miami river in what was at one point maybe 10 years ago, to be considered a place where you didn’t want to walk when it got darker. Now it’s becoming, as a lot of urban neighborhoods are becoming it’s a revived kind of community and it’s invited a lot of artists in and there’s shops opening and urban renewal is changing everything. But at least when Michael looks out his window, he’s not looking at South Beach where anyone in the audience could go (sarcastically) “oh poor guy he has to look at that all day”. But what Miami has given us, originally when we came here, was kind of a, it was a work in progress when it came to the filming here. It’s a place where lots and lots and lots of really glossy looking commercials are shot, pieces of big movies are shot, pieces of television show, but nobody in the crew hadn’t really had a long term job for a really long time. People like Terry Miller, the producer of the show, or Elaine Keratsis, who is the production supervisor, none of those people really had this kind of ongoing work.
I come in as an exec producer to set the production up in Miami and I hadn’t worked in television in 14 years, either. I just kind of disavowed TV altogether and made movies. It’s because television and anybody who works in television will tell you it’s a real grind. It is the same thing every day for 5, 6, 7 months. It’s very exciting in short stretches, but after a while, you really fight to come up with freshness. Because that’s what television needs. You want consistency in the series and you want freshness in a series. The actors get to the same point, and everybody involved in a creative aspect of the show. We shot there already, we told those stories before, we learned those quotes before, we’ve seen those cars before, we’ve had those extras before. How many times can that same girl go to the same club? You get to the point where you really start to struggle to find something that’s new, and we have somehow succeeded in doing this. We’d gone to locations recently that I had never seen in Miami. I’m sorry to be so long winded. It’s a Friday. It’s just one of those things and I tend to run on. To go back to answering your question, yeah, we came to this building a year ago and there was nothing here. It was going to be torn down. The Miami convention center was just the place where Jim Morrison exposed himself on stage years ago at a Doors concert and then went to jail. The hotels across the street where we put the guest stars and the directors, where the Eagles and Don Henley and a lot of other people. This was an iconic place which was on the border of being destroyed. We came in and talked to the film commission here. We turned this into a movie studio, and that’s something I’m very proud of, but I’m even more proud of the people who did it. I said let’s do it and a bunch of people actually did. It’s an ideal place to work. It’s also been home to Marley and Me, the picture with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.
I mean, we’ve created a movie community in Miami. We found practical locations. Madeline’s house exists in Miami. It’s a trip worth taking; it’s only about 20 minutes away. To see how these sets were recreated from the original, it’s really quite exciting. It’s seamless. Last year, we shot outside the real house, and inside this one and you’ll never know the difference, you can’t tell. With the loft, we’ve done the same thing. We’ve gradually built this building up. It’s incredibly fortunately located, right by the ocean. While we’re on a stage day, we shoot something that looks like we’ve gone to a location. We shoot along the water front here; we built a café, the Carlito Café. We have that in a corner of this building that they used to sell tickets out of. We’ve found a way to use all of the surrounding areas of Coconut Grove and it was the only way that we could possibly make the show look the way it looks for the amount of money that we have to spend on the show. The thing that I’m proudest of is that we make a show, that with a lot of shows that spend a lot of money, and I think it looks a lot better than shows on the air. If it weren’t Miami, the tone of the show, one of the things that people seem to like about it is that it has a lightness, a crispness. Aside from the fact that I’ve been blessed with a cast that can deliver those kinds of things, the look of Miami, the color, the architecture, the people, is a character of the show also. Miami is a true character.
The show would not have felt the same in Newark
Why do you say that? [everyone laughs] No, I totally agree. And it wouldn’t have been Newark, it would have been Toronto for Newark which is even more difficult to conceive of. I mean, I grew up in New York. I know what Newark looks like, it doesn’t look like Toronto.
And then how do you avoid not looking like The Sopranos after a while?
Although in the Sopranos, they didn’t shoot in Newark very often, they shot outside, in a rural area. One of the things I love about Matt is that he is very adept at being flexible and making broad changes that on a second read feel like they were naturally the right first choice. When I read the script that had then become the Miami script, and Matt had never been to Miami before, and it was only when matt and I and Chase Alexander came to Miami, we though, oh wow, this is Miami, let’s start changing things. And changes got made. We tried to make the show more Miami. Each trip down that the writers make to see more of the things that aren’t in the tourist books.
Why do so many productions leave Miami in the first place?
Well, because, originally, I think because of two things. I think that before and we helped do this, before there was a really cultivated community of crew that could work on episodic television, which is more than twice the daily work of a movie, so it takes that kind of a special person, it takes people who can have energy in this kind of climate for 14 or 15 hours a day, and that’s a hard investment. The other thing is that you’re not paid as much. A commercial grip is going to make 3 times what he makes in a day on a television show, so at first it wasn’t appealing to the top crew to work on a television show. But that’s not the primary reason. I think the primary reason has always been weather. I think that one hurricane wipes us out for a week and that’s unbelievably expensive. We’ve been very fortunate, we haven’t had that. But I think that the risk prevented a lot of production companies from committing. I think that a lot of people thing, boy, if you show them a lot of palm trees in Los Angeles, they’re going to think that it’s Miami. The fact that there’s no Deco architecture in the west side of LA is notwithstanding. I think that the other reason is that the cast on some shows just didn’t want to commit to uprooting themselves and moving to Miami. I think that a lot of production companies felt that the cost of transporting directors on a regular basis and certain crew people because you can’t get an entire crew in Miami. Our Director of Photography, Bill Wages is from Atlanta. One of our assistant directors is from Los Angeles. We have other people in the crew; one of our production designers is from Los Angeles. A lot of people have to be brought in, and I think that on paper, the first thought is that you have to fly so many people in Miami, and house them, and pay them per diem, that the cost of bringing them in kind of offsets the cost of the look of the location and it would be better to go shoot in Los Angeles, maybe. And pretend. I mean, God, they shot every picture for 50 years in Los Angeles, and made it look like every place in the world, why can’t you make it look like Miami?
One of the reasons I wanted to shoot in Miami is that I think that all the reasons you don’t want to shoot here are good reasons to shoot here, for example. If Jeff Donovan were walking around 65 degree, sunny weather in Santa Monica and playing it for Miami, he would have a very different rhythm to his step. Everybody in the show would have a different feel. Miami has its own pulse, just like New York does, just like Los Angeles does, if Los Angeles does. There are days when it doesn’t have one at all. In New York, the pulse is like twice the pace of Miami for example and extras look different on the streets of New York and the same goes for Miami. You really need to shoot in a place, and I’ve always been a believer of going to the actual location to shoot whatever, in order to get the flavor of that location. The other thing is that the architecture in Miami is kind of singular. A show like Miami Vice, which did repeat business in Miami, it was the first show, recognized that and in a way, Miami Vice put Miami on the map. A lot of you are kind of too young to remember what in 1986 was revolutionary on television. When you saw South Beach lit up with wet streets and two guys driving around in hot sports cars with white linen blazers and t-shirts underneath, it created a look that became a style that then had ramifications on almost everything else that was on television. People for a while talked about ‘we want another Miami Vice’ but what does that mean? That meant style that we hadn’t seen before on television. It was a lot of blue sky and beaches, and pretty women, and pretty cars and pretty buildings. Miami Vice had a good run on TV and then it was like, well what else can shoot in Miami. Miami Vice kind of defined Miami in a way that ruined it for other TV shows. This is the anti-Miami Vice. Burn Notice is the other side. It’s not about flashy, it’s about a guy who’s trying to get out of what seems to be a beautiful place. And it’s that irony that kind of attracted me to the show.
Do you work full time out of Miami? I know Matt flies back and forth.
I am here because the California penal institution that I was let out of made me come here. [everyone laughs] No I am here all the time. I come out here at the beginning of the season.
Next season, will you be doing January to June? I’m already assuming that there’s going to be another season.
I would say February to June or July, yes. That’s what I’d like to do. One of the reasons why, it’s an astronomical reason. If we start shooting April 25, as we did this year, and we wrap in October, we are here for the longest days of the year. Which means, we’re not going to see any of the night life in Miami, which is Miami. Miami is a sleepy town during the day. It’s a town where people sit at cafes and get drunk and get ready for the evening, or they sit on the beach, or in their cold office. They’re not in the streets and it’s not as colorful. Miami on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, you go around South Beach or you go around the Brickell area, or you go around other parts of Miami. You go to Lincoln Road, which is kind of Miami’s answer to the Santa Monica promenade and you can’t walk down the street without bumping into thousands of people. Because it’s cooler and everything’s open late, and that’s a side of the city that we haven’t gotten to see and that’s a side of the city that we all want to see. So I think that if we were able to shoot in February, March, April, before the clocks change, when it becomes night at 5:00, then we’re going to get half night, half day, and it’s not going to be as hot, and things will move a little quicker, and what’s amazing, and I don’t know how we did this, but we actually cast a lead actor who in a full suit does not sweat when it’s 95 degrees. I hate Jeff Donovan for that. He’s amazing. It’s so in character. Michael Westen doesn’t sweat about anything except talking to his mother [everyone laughs]. And when he walks down the streets of Miami wearing an Armani suit and a tie and it’s 95 degrees and 90% humidity, he’s the only person who’s dry on that street. It’s remarkable. Imagine what he’d look like at night. He would glow [everyone laughs].
You said you haven’t done TV in 14 years. Why is that? This is kind of a three part questions. Why haven’t you done TV in 14 years, what do you think has changed about television in 14 years, and why are you back?
My last experience in television, in episodic television, mind you I’ve written, produced, or directed over 500 hours of television. I started in movies but my first venture into television really was Beretta. You can look up the rest of my credits. But the point is that my last experience was the most unpleasant experience of my life. I was executive producer and partners with Arnold Kopelson, a producer, and we made the movie Frogmen with OJ Simpson in Puerto Rico, in 1994. It was my company that made the movie and everything in that movie became evidence in the murder trial. The film was confiscated and it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, so I decided, also, it was the beginning, because it was a two part thing, I wasn’t just making Frogmen, also, the time when television as I had always known it began to change in a way that I felt uncomfortable. I was executive producer of several series before that, where I had a tremendous amount of, and in some cases 100%, creative control of everything that mattered. I could say no to any note I got from networks or the studio. I could cast anybody I wanted. I could hire any director I wanted or any writer I wanted. That kind of autonomy was something that I really enjoyed and I surrounded myself with enough talented people to succeed. What happened in television in the mid 90s and it happened in part at the same time as the rise of cable television so that there were more venues, there were more channels, there were more outlets for it, was that it also was the handing over of studios and networks from individuals to corporations. When I started at Universal, there was one man who called the shots. It was Lew Wasserman. Lew Wasserman wanted something done at his studio, it got done. It was very easy to go into the heads of the studios in those days , ask a question and get an answer, and live with that answer. When it became managed by conglomerates and nobody had an opinion until they heard another person’s opinion. I actually once heard from a network executive in those days. I had written a pilot in the early 90s. I handed it in, and asked him what he thought and he said, “I don’t know, I’m the only one who’s read it.” Now to abdicate responsibility for making a decision to that degree is frightening. I suddenly realized that the inmates began to run the asylum and I just didn’t want to be a part of that. I didn’t want to have to deal with several layers of oversight before I got a decision that I felt I could have made better to begin with. I was a writer, I started as a writer, that’s all I did for a long time. I became a producer in lieu of them giving me more money as a writer. Universal gave me a title; I didn’t know what the hell it meant. It’s the only title you could give away without a guild determining whether you deserve the credit. So in the mid 90s, and this was 94, when large companies started to swallow up production companies on networks and networks and production companies started to intertwine, I just thought it was time to bail out and I became partners with Norman Jewison and I made 6 films with him, and Barbra Streisand and I made a series of six films, and I had just started to make a lot of movies, and what I realized about movies was, particularly when you’re dealing with independent films or dealing with lower budget films, they are so grateful that you give them a good movie that they kind of leave you alone from the time they give you the check to the time you give them the movie and I liked that. It was a slightly slower pace and yet I had 5 or 6 movies going at once, and it was really fun. Cable television during that time, primarily Showtime during that time, had become the dream independent film production company for those of us who wanted to make pictures that wouldn’t cross 1500 dollars. We still got stars, we still got great directors, but we got to make pictures about subjects or in genres that they weren’t making feature films about.
You did Rescuers?
I did Rescuers: Stories of Courage. That was wonderful. I was with Barbra Streisand with 6 amazing directors and 20 incredible people in the cast, and they’re all true stories, and we went all over the world with a Canadian crew. We shot in Belgium, we shot in Holland, we shot in Canada. It was a phenomenal experience, but literally in that case, I took a very large amount of money from Paramount and Showtime and took off with 6 directors and a lot of actors and went all over the world and came back two years later and gave them 6 movies. I can’t tell you how incredible that was just as a creative person it’s really nice not to have somebody looking over your shoulder. Television in a way became doing your homework with your parents watching and nobody likes to do that. You don’t want to take a test with your teacher staring over your shoulder kind of shaking their head and nodding at you. I had a relationship with David Madden who is at FOX television, and I’ve known David for a long time, never worked together, we were just friends. I did a picture for FOX which was called Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas with Christina Applegate a few years ago; it was based on a James Patterson book. A few years later, David called and he said, I have a pilot script I really want you to read, and I said no. He said, I know you really well, I think you’re going to like it. So I get this pilot script, I’m in New York with my daughter, looking for an apartment for her, and I read the script and she’s talking to me, and I’m ignoring my daughter [laughs]. I’m reading Burn Notice, and it’s this 100 page script written by this guy, never heard of before. I loved the script. I agreed to talk to Matt. I said I would do this if I liked the people I have to work with. I’m not getting involved in something else where I don’t like the people I’m working with. I don’t want to be miserable; it’s not worth the money or the effort. This show is a lot of work and it has to be done right. I met with Matt and I instantly liked Matt. What I saw in Matt was a little bit of me 20 years ago. It was a guy who was terrified that something he had spent a lot of time writing, had really lived in a way, in a way Matt wants to be Michael Westen. In a lot of ways, Matt thinks just like Michael Westen. I could see in him, the writer who is afraid that these 100 pages were going to be taken and turned into something completely different. Every writer lives with that fear. And I had been teaching at AFI for a few years also when I was at Los Angeles. What got me excited about teaching was the same thing that got me excited about having breakfast with Matt Nix that morning which was if I work with Matt Nix, maybe I will start to be just as excited as I was 25 years ago, 30 years ago, when I started working in this business. Because after a while you get jaded, after a while you get tired. After a while you feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again and it’s all about a paycheck. Having been in medicine years ago and having not liked being a doctor, and having become a writer, having gone into this business, I never wanted to do anything again that I wasn’t having a good time doing. I thought A) this guy’s going to help me have and B) what I’m going to do is I’m going to make sure it comes out exactly the way he wants it to. Our deal has always been if Matt gives me what I want, which is something I think we can shoot, I’ll give him what he wants, which is his show, without anybody meddling with it, and turning it into something different. And we kind of made that pact, but it wasn’t for the series, it was for the pilot. I refused to do the series.
Do you also think that television now, it’s more prestigious to work in television?
No, for me, it’s never been prestige. I had a lot of friends, I went to AFI also years ago, and most of my friends went into movies, and I kept trying to hire them to do television and they all went, we don’t do television. Now, I think the Jerry Bruckheimers of the world kind of opened up television. Anybody with half a brain knows that media is media. Anybody who makes movies should also make something for the internet. There is no difference anymore. In Mao’s little red book, it says Art is for the people. Well now, we’ve kind of come to realize that, that kind of prophecy. I have a son who is 26 and daughter who is 22 and they hardly watch television. They watch everything on their computers, because it’s portable, because it’s instant, because they can pause it and start it up again. I don’t blame them, I do the same thing. I hated the fact that I actually sat on an airplane and watched a movie on my Ipod. I was the person I always hated. These are supposed to be people who are “I don’t have the time right now, I’m going to watch it this way” so really media is media and now I don’t think it’s a question of more prestige, I think it’s a question of nobody cares about prestige anymore. I think that everybody tries really hard to make a good product and everybody, the dream of a creative person, is to have their work complete. Now that we have movies direct for DVD, and in a couple of years, there won’t be DVDs. Everything will be downloaded, and everything will have a failsafe data on it, and you’ll be able to buy it for life, and burn it yourself. Now we just make things. And if they happen to find their way to someone’s eyes and ears, you’re lucky and you’re happy.
Jeff, get back to why you didn’t want to do the series!
I didn’t want to do the series for the same reason I said before, I didn’t want to make television. It’s very, very repetitive and the idea of coming to Miami and leaving my home and uprooting myself and coming here for an extended period of time, it just seemed like a sentence. Like I was going to be sentenced to go to Miami. But we didn’t know. I got a picture to make, I remade, I produced a remake of Bachelor Party, and Miami seemed like the right place to make that, and the series got picked up in the middle of production on that. Matt and I talked about it a little bit and again, I decided at that point truly, I decided that I wanted to be the person that I never had working with me. Matt wasn’t going to come here, Matt has three children. There needed to be somebody here that basically protected the material. What I do best is that I know how to spend money in the most creative ways possible, and that’s what I pride myself on now. I don’t write as much as I used to anymore, I direct every once in a while, but I do know how to take money and spend it on the things that I think a writer would feel are the most important places to spend it. I don’t spend it where the production company thinks it’s the most important place to spend it. A writer’s mind is different than a production executive’s mind. I’ve never had that job, I don’t want to know what those people do, frankly, but I do know where the emphasis should go, and I know what I think makes the show look best, and that’s where I like to spend the money, and I thought that it would be good to protect the series. I like the show. I like the fact that my mother likes the show. And I like the fact that my daughter likes the show. To me, it’s really bizarre that a 22 year old and an 85 year old both like the same show. It’s unusual. And then when I started to see the stats and the demographics on this show were so wide, it obviously has a universal appeal, that maybe somebody who has less objective opinion like me, because I was just part of it, opened my eyes a bit. I agreed to do the first year, and I produced the first year, and I was ready to come back. I love the cast; I really feel at home here, the people in Miami couldn’t make me feel more at home than I do. They’re truly nice people. I don’t find anybody here jaded, everybody comes to work excited and it’s inspirational to me. I hate the fact that I’m here in the summer, but nobody listens to my complaints which is why I’m here complaining to all of you [laughs]. I get on the phone with somebody in LA and they go, “Where are you?” and I go “Miami” and they all go (sarcastically) “Aww”. “But you don’t understand, it’s really…”, “Yeah, right,” and they move onto the next thing. I’m on the show because I like the show.
Would you describe yourself as a writers’ director?
Oh I definitely would. I became the kind of producer that I literally always wanted to have. I don’t like to stand on the set and look at my watch and make people nervous. I’ll tell you what my job is, and this is what I tell the people at AFI, because I taught at the advanced producers’ workshop. There is no definition of a producer; can anybody tell me what a producer does? A producer is the guy who throws the cocktail party. You want to invite a whole bunch of people who basically get along but there’s a little conflict because conflict is good. Conflict keeps things interesting. You want to bring the right caterer who is going to serve the right hors d’oeuvres and the right drinks because you want to make sure that the grips have their [stuff]. It sounds stupid, but that’s what I do. I know everybody’s name, I know everybody’s job. I basically can do almost anybody’s job; not as well as they do it, but at least I know what it is, so when I hear that they’re having a problem, I can understand how to solve that problem. I came from Roger Corman years ago, it was my first venture into movies. When it was me, and Joe Dante, and Peter Bogdonavich and Jonathan Demme and Francis Coppola and Tim Hunter and Johnny Axelrod and Jonathan Caplan and Paul Bartell. You got 25 bucks a week, you got peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but god help us, somebody gave us a chance to make our movie. Joe Dante and Tim Hunter and Alan Arkush and I made a movie and Tim and I got paid $500 to write the script and Joe and Alan got $500 to direct it. And when we were done shooting it, we thought, boy, it could use a little stock footage from one of Roger’s other pictures and we put some shots in from Death Race 2000 and we got our checks and it was $350 not $500 and we went to Roger and we said how come we got a total of $700 instead of $1000 and Roger said “stock footage costs money” [everyone laughs]. But, we were okay because somebody made our movie. For me, it’s like we were happy and made nothing, but we had a good time doing it. Here we’re paying people good salaries. This is a union crew; we’re paying people very well. All of them are very happy that they’re not working high steel in Miami on a crane. They need to know that they’re appreciated, they need to know that somebody’s here to support them, they need to know that I don’t blame people when things go wrong because it goes wrong all the time. Maybe it’s my background in medicine when things were life and death that gives me a perspective on film making which is if you can’t have a good time doing it, it shows on screen. And you’re miserable coming in, and you’re working 16 hours a day, and you don’t want people to wake up Tuesday and say “Oh shit, I have to go back to work.” You want them, at the end of Friday, to hang out and have a beer, and not want to jump in their cars and drive home and escape. You want them to feel that it’s cool about waking up on Monday morning and coming back, and that’s what I try to do. I want the actors to be happy, and I want to keep the micromanagement of television away from us and away from Matt, and to some degree I’m able to do that, and to another degree, Matt does that by writing terrific scripts and putting a writing staff together that keeps the network and the studio satisfied. At this point, I never get calls from the network or studio except happy calls and as a result of that, then I feel like I’ve done my job. We’re not one that they worry about.
What do you think is going to happen with the upcoming actors’ strike?
I don’t think there’s going to be one. I may be the happy idiot but I knew there was going to be a writers’ strike. I think that when it comes to labor issues in general, this is not only in the entertainment business, but especially in the entertainment business, if the studios and the networks can afford a strike, then the odds are that there will be a strike. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I think that when the networks and studios want a strike, there will be a strike. And I think that the writers’ strike was a strike that they thought was a necessary strike. And I think that it ended when they thought that they couldn’t afford it to go any longer. I think that they cannot afford for there to be a SAG strike, and I also think they don’t want there to be a SAG strike, so for those reasons, I’m just banking on logic. The fact that it’s already, almost the middle of June, about 3 more weeks, and the fact that I haven’t been getting constant phone calls saying “what are you going to do about episode 7? I don’t think we should start it.” The fact that I haven’t gotten any emails like I got last year in August saying “if there were a strike and you couldn’t start up again until February, how many episodes could you have ready by X date?” Well, I ain’t getting that kind of message, so I’m just assuming there won’t be one. If there is, I think it would be terrible. I think it would be terrible not for the television viewers, but for the people in Los Angeles and everyone else where people work on television shows. The hit that people who aren’t making a fortune, like everyone in the crew, took, during the three months of the wrtiers’ strike, was to some people, impossible to recover from. People lost their homes, lost all sorts of things, they lost their careers. I don’t think anybody wants that to happen again. I know that the actors don’t, our cast doesn’t want to strike. I’m not up to date as I was during the wrtiers’ strike what the issues are and that are different than what the writers or directors already settled on. But I have to believe that new media will be the cornerstone of whatever the negotiations are and I have to believe that SAG also knows that whatever the writers guild and the directors guild settled on is the benchmark of what their deal will have to be. Whatever the supplementary issues are that concern actors specifically, could be different. I’m not afraid of the strike, per se. I would dread it.
Are you glad to be back to television?
I’m glad I came back to Burn Notice. I have been offered a lot of other jobs in television that I refused. And I’m not sad I refused those jobs. I like Burn Notice a lot. I like the show, and I like the friends, I like the people. I don’t know how long I can do it, personally. I’m not saying I wouldn’t produce another season. But it’s made me antsy to do something of my own. I made a picture, I produced a picture in between last season and this season. I did another picture for 20th Century Fox. I probably will make another picture. I have other things I would like to do. I’ve been writing a book for three years, and haven’t ha da chance to finish it. As long as there’s this show and as long as Matt’s attached to it, and as long as we’re still talking to each other.
What movie did you do?
We did Behind Enemy Lines 3; Tim Matheson directed it. It’s actually quite spectacular. I just saw Tim’s cut last night. Shot in Puerto Rico. Went back to Puerto Rico and had most of the same crew as Frogmen 14 years ago.
Claudia [PR Rep]: One last question.
Is there anything that I didn’t cover in my rambling.
We’ll get into politics next time.
Politics? We’re in the right state for that! [laughs] We count every vote in Florida. During the recount, the Germans could not understand why we didn’t just take all the ballots and recount them. They were like, isn’t that what you vote for? I couldn’t come up with an explanation. It’s insane.
Did you watch RECOUNT?
Yeah, it’s terrific. It’s terrific. I just wish the right people watched it. Unfortunately, all of those movies end up preaching to the converted. EK, our production supervisor, bought for a couple of us, Scott McClellan’s book for Father’s Day.
[we asked Jeff to elaborate on his book and the series it’s based on]
The first one’s called “Who the Devil Made It” which was about directors and the second one being “Who the Hell is In It” and those were his personal interviews with incredible directors going all the way back, well before Hitchcock all the way through Spielberg. “Who the Hell is In It” is 30 or so actors that he interviewed. If you read both of those books, you get tremendous insight into what it’s like to direct a movie and what it’s like to be a star. But no one’s ever written the companion piece which is the producer’s book, so I’ve been going around interviewing a lot of producers. It’s less interview than it is personal insight; it’s like what let you down this path, and it’s the one job that’s so poorly defined because it’s such a specious job that you can’t put your finger on what that job is. People used to give their brothers-in-law producer credit, because you can. Before there was a writers guild, people gave their brothers-in-law the writers credit; now they can’t. So what is a producer, because there’s so many different kinds, and so many different jobs. So I’m trying to write that book. These days, I have a stack of books in my apartment here that I can’t get to. It’s driving me crazy. I think the internet has ruined book reading for me. I’ll spend two hours looking at things on the internet, and then I’ll look at the book. So now I want to get one of those little things that Amazon sells….
Yeah, and travel with that, because the only place I read anymore is the airport. And it’s sad.
What was it like working with Barbra Streisand?
Barbra was funny. Barbra is a micro-manager. Barbra was good training for going back to television. [laughs]. The first person I hired was Peter Bogdonavich, because I knew Peter knew Barbra from What’s Up Doc? Barbra’s the one who insisted they hire Peter to direct What’s Up Doc. I know that Peter and Barbra had a wonderful relationship. Being with Peter for years, I’d see him talking to Barbra once a week, for years. So when I hired Peter, the first thing I said was, “Ok what do you think I should do with Barbra?” and he said “don’t send her a movie until it’s finished because she will give you notes until you die,” so that’s what I did. I’d hire directors, we’d shoot a movie, we’d cut the picture, I’d deliver the picture, I’d send her a copy and Barbra would send me back a really nice note. She really liked it. Barbra was just really supportive and what I need Barbra for was her name, because we needed credibly. We’d tape an introduction that Barbra did, and she was wonderful. She’s a good person. She’s really a good person and she and I both have the same reason for making Rescuers. We both wanted to die knowing that we’d made at least one thing that had some kind of weight to it, that wasn’t just pure entertainment. For a New York Jew, I won an awful lot of Christian awards that year. [everyone laughs]. I stood at the pulpit at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, from the Archbishop of New York got an award, it was the biggest award. I made a speech that silenced the crowd. Now that you know me, I’ll just talk a blue streak [everyone laughs], but a Catholic audience of about 3000 people. Fortunately, most of the people in the Rescuers stories were Catholic. Rescuers was a series of six films about Christians who did selfless acts of courage during WWII, during the Holocaust, to save the lives of Jews. It took place in France, Belgium, Holland, Hungary, and Germany. Most of the people who did, they happened to be Catholics. That’s one of the reasons for the Christopher award in New York which is a big award. It’s basically the Catholic’s version of a humanities award. And I said that these stories came from Yad Vashem which is a monument in Israel that honors the over 9000 righteous Christians that were identified during WWII as people who did selfless things to save the lives of Jews. And other people who were victimized by the Nazis. I ended that with “Hopefully, God forbid this should ever happen again, there will be more than just 9000.” But it’s true, it was sadly true. And the only person who came up to me and gave me a hug at the end and told me that he was proud that I said that was the guy who won the award for feature films that year, Robert Duvall. Robert Duvall came up and had made a very Christian movie with The Apostle, and he said “it’s so true, but it’s so sad.” And then each priest and the Archbishop said “somebody had to finally say that.” It’s kind of cool, but yeah, she was a pleasure to work with.