In Even Money, acclaimed director Mark Rydell, known as an actors director, casts Danny DeVito, Kim Basinger and Forrest Whitaker as characters whose lives reflect the harsh consequences of adaptation to gambling. The film is Rydells first theatrical release in more than a decade.
Its tough in todays market to maintain your integrity, says Rydell, but luckily Ive managed to do it. Its hard to find substantive material that deals with human beings. When you do, its worthwhile pursuing that project.
When I read the first draft of Even Money, (first-time writer) Robert Tannens deep examination of the characters impressed me, and I liked his interweaving of four stories that come together in the end– thats a style that gained popularity with the films of Robert Altman, who was a very good friend of mine. Even Money was filmed in the spirit of Altman.
MERIN: How did you change that first draft?
RYDELL: Robert Tannen, whos a very skilled young man, and I went over the material syllable by syllable, examining each scenes intent and the way it was executed. We worked together to solve problems, improve situations. And, we kept writing even while we were shooting– because a films a living thing, it changes as you work on it, particularly during the shooting process, when actors of immense talent bring that talent to the set. Suddenly things you might have thought inviolate become infused with their gifts, and you have to be elastic enough to examine something you hadnt perceived before and embrace change.
For example, Grant Sullivan (cast as a bookie) is a professional fighter. Originally, the script didnt have that profession for him. We rewrote to give him opportunity to demonstrate his special skills which work for the part– hes a man whos struggling with his violence because hes fallen in love and wants to do the right thing. With the Magician, Danny DeVitos part, we added his ambition, his need for a resurgence in this career– that fed his relationship with Basinger. You discover these things as you work on the material.
So many talents come together in making a film. A directors a kind of a father figure guide always looking for ideas to execute the film in the best way possible. You never know where ideas are going to originate– a great idea can come from a craft service guy. You have to leave yourself open to continual development of the material.
MERIN: I find your comparison of directors to father figures interesting. Many women directors speak of themselves as Earth mothers, but many male directors whom Ive interviewed identify themselves as army commanders. Your have a decidedly different approach, Id say .
RYDELL: Director doesnt have to be army commanders, although that element enters into it because directors are natural born leaders, and the barometer of their skill is their ability to engage everyone working with them– 50 to 100 crew, 30 cast members– and get them aiming for the same target. When your concept is defined and clarified for everyone, you take them on a trip. You include them in the journey, instead of using them like a commander uses an army– which implies, in my mind, lack of communication. Im a fan of communication. Good ideas come from everyone. Im going to get the credit for them anyway, so Im very happy to accept the generosity and creativity of the people with whom I work.
MERIN: Even Money explores the world of gamblers. What are you saying about that ethos?
RYDELL: Its rather shallow to say gambling is awful. Whats really going on? Relationships, lives, aspirations– marriages can be destroyed by gambling. People whore hungry to invest themselves in a better future take risks, perhaps, that theyre not prepared for. We illuminate their lives, show what happens to them.
MERIN: How does Even Money fit into your filmography?
RYDELL: Thats an interesting question, because this film has few predecessors. Some people say its the Crash about gambling, but its its own thing.
Its unusual to see a film these days thats about human beings. Studios are not making these kinds of films since theyre targeting young audiences– 13 and 14 year olds– who produce hundred million dollar weekends. The attention is focused on technology and dazzle, and very little substance. These days, studios tell you bring us a tent pole picture– like Spiderman, something that produces huge revenue. They want a circus– or a crude vulgar comedy. Its very hard to sell to the majors now– though its hard, too, to condemn them for trying to meet their financial goals. But it lacks soul.
I take my role as a director very seriously. I find it a kind of noble profession. Therere very few professions where you can sit people all over the world in dark rooms and try to show them what you think is the truth about human behavior and perhaps even change or enlighten people. I dont mean to be self-aggrandizing here, but you do have an opportunity to illuminate truths that they might never be exposed to otherwise. I take my responsibility quite seriously. I think its a really powerful profession. Unfortunately, the way the industry has change since corporate entities, market research and pursuit of the bottom line– the dollar– rule, and the sense of responsibility and artistic aspiration have diminished so much, its very hard to be a serious director today.