Mike Binder discusses making the film, working with Ben Affleck and his next film Reign Over Me.
Mike Binder is a lucky man and he knows it. Working as a writer, director, and actor (and performing those duties interchangeably on various projects), he is a jack of all trades in the best sense of the term. We recently had a chance to sit down with him to discuss his most recent writing/directing/acting effort Man About Town.
Top Hollywood talent agent Jack Giamoro (Ben Affleck) seems to have it all: a successful career, money, a beautiful wife. But he still feels like something is missing, and so he takes a journal writing class to explore his feelings. But when Jack learns his wife Nina (Rebecca Romijn) is cheating on him with his most important client his perfect life quickly starts to unravel. Things get even worse when Jack's journal --which contains secrets that could ruin him personally and professionally -- is stolen by ambitious journalist Barbi (Bai Ling). Jack must fight back to hold on to everything he has fought so hard to win, and in doing so he finally achieves the self-insight he was looking for -- and he realizes that only through family can he really find lasting happiness.
What attracted you to the subject matter of Man About Town? Had you longed to make a movie about the industry you work in?
Mike Binder: No, I never wanted to make a movie about the industry I work in. It was always something I shied away from. To be honest, I'm friendly with Steven Spielberg and he liked my show. I had a show on HBO called The Mind of the Married Man. He called me into his office and we talked about a show that was a cross between The Mind of the Married Man and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Plus, it kind of dealt with the industry we were in.
So we came up with the story and he hired me to write it and I worked on it for about a year. Ultimately, he said, "It's just too close to home for me I don't want to do it." The people that had financed The Upside of Anger said that they would finance me doing it. I had so much energy and time put into it that I just decided to do it.
Do you think that movies about the movie business are ripe for satire?
Mike Binder: They are. They don't really interest me. This one... I liked it because it was about a guy whose wife had cheated on him. I thought that that was kind of an interesting world. The producers seemed to see a guy who had it all, and he has this beautiful wife and she's screwing someone behind his back. Ultimately, he's in love with her so he's got to forgive her. The movie didn't come out as good as I thought it was going to come out but I'm glad I made it.
Do you find that since you write the movies that you ultimately make that you edit the movies very early on in the process? Even in the writing stage?
Mike Binder: Yeah, yeah, you definitely get to the point where you go, "Is this a scene I am going to spend three days shooting and then it will end up on the editing room floor?" Which happens a lot. I'd written it for Steven and I thought he could make it for about $65 million or $70 million dollars. I ended up making the same movie, with no changes, for about $10 million. I had to come up with a lot of ways to do things a lot cheaper.
Ben Affleck has always struck me as a naturally funny guy. Is that what you saw in him for role of Jack in this film?
Mike Binder: I'll tell you something else, Evan, I was watching, before this DVD came out, they send me these behind the scenes things. I was watching it with Rachel Zimmerman, the co-producer on the film, and I make a movie every year so you're always on different movie sets with different groups of people. I just turned to her and said, "I forgot how much fun we had making that movie everyday. That was the hardest I ever laughed on a movie set."
Ben is funny, but not only is he funny, he's really funny to tease. He's an easy target because he's this big, good looking guy. He's a bit of a doofus sometimes, you know? (Laugh) But he's very quick to come back at you. He's one of the naturally, funniest guys I've ever known.
Did you see making Man About Town as a way to subtly settle some scores with people you've dealt with in your career?
Mike Binder: No, not really. I haven't had a lot of people I need to settle scores with. I'm not that kind of a guy. I really just kind of saw it as, there are these guys that I know and they're funny... they really are like that. I felt like the stuff in the office, with us and the way we talk is the way these guys really talk. My agent is Ari Emmanuel whose the guy that Jeremy Piven is based on in Entourage. I love the guy but he's a clown. They're funny and they're my friends over the years, but you can't help at just laugh at them all. They're just a breed unto themselves.
So in that regard it was fun for both Ben and I who have known these guys for so many years to be playing with them.
Do you enjoy writing more than directing? Directing more than writing? Or, do you find you like doing it all?
Mike Binder: People ask that and I give this answer, and I feel like it's a saccharine answer but the truth is I just love my job. I love all aspects of my job. I get out of bed real easy in the morning because I get to do it all. I get to act, and write, and direct, and produce. When I get tired of one area, I'll be alone writing for months, and then all of the sudden I'm dealing with all the people getting ready to shoot the movie getting them on the set. Then, just when I'm getting tired of shooting everything, having to get up and work 18 hour days, I'm back alone in my editing room.
I like it all. I wouldn't want to be just one of those guys. I would never, ever, want to be a director for hire. I would never want to go on and just be a writer... that didn't know how to direct. I'd hate to make my living as an actor. (Laughs) I have to say I'm really lucky. I always have been. I've never had any big successes in anything you know? But I've always been able to keep working... thirty years.
With everything you've done in this industry what is one thing you've learned? One constant thought or idea that has stayed the same throughout your career?
Mike Binder: I guess the only thing I've really learned is that I'm powerless over the results. They way they come out and the way they land, and what people think of them and what they think of me. Whether the studio's gonna support it or pull the plug on it, or release it or dump it onto DVD, I'm just powerless over all that. The only thing I have control over is keeping working and sincerely trying to do a little better each time out.
It's the only attitude I could survive in this business with. My goal is to make the perfect comedy. I'm just trying to do that every day of my life. It's just so elusive. Even if I did do one that was just flawless it could come out on the day of a big storm! Or it could come out against Spider-Man 9! The guy that greenlit it could get fired and they shelve it. There's just so much out of my control that it's bizarre. I don't know any other business like that.
What do you have coming up next?
Mike Binder: Next, I have a movie coming out called Reign Over Me, with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle and it comes out March 23 and Sony's releasing it.
Man About Town is currently available on DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
Dont't forget to also check out: Man About Town