Jonathan Schwartz (L) and Steven Lebowitz (R)
Jonathan Schwartz (L) and Steven Lebowitz (R)

When a movie is successful, the accolades usually go to the movie’s director, actors or both. Rarely are the movie’s producers brought up, but they should be because much like the directors, actors and writers, without them there is no movie. The closing night movie of the 26th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival was “Like Crazy” and FLIFF was honored enough to get the movie’s producer, Jonathan Schwartz to attend the screening. Afterwards, I had the privilege of sitting down to talk with Mr. Schwartz. He was a lot of fun and joked around a lot while we spoke. We talked a great deal about “Like Crazy”, how he first met and worked with the movie’s writer/director, Drake Doremus, and what he loves most of all about producing movies.

How did you get started in the movie business? Uh, bribery (we laugh). No, I went to law school and I was sort of flirting with the sports business working with HBO, NBC and so on. I came out to Los Angeles where my family is from. I got lucky to get a job at a talent agency looking over film contracts and learning them. That’s sort of how I got my feet wet in the business. I was a lawyer and figured out that if you get good stories that people want to hear that you could makes films. That’s how I started.

Many people see all sorts of different producer credits when they see a movie and have no idea the difference from one to another. What are some of the duties you have as a producer and what are some of the duties you have as an executive producer? Well, that’s a good question. It’s different in film than in television. In television executive producer is the highest credit you can get. In film it’s totally different. It’s complicated. It’s a matter of a lot of things including leverage. There’s no real difference at the end of the day other than that, if a movie is lucky enough to win the Academy Award, the producer gets the award rather than the executive producer. There’s no difference really. If there is a soft difference, potentially, it’s the people who bring in the money tend to be the executive producers. The people who produce the film physically, and get the actors and so on tend to be the producers. On this film, “Like Crazy”, there were not a lot of producers, but we do everything. We’re the captains of the ship. You have to be a manager. You have to lead a lot of people and hope that everybody stays in line, particularly with a film like this which is not “Transformers” or “Titanic”. It’s not a huge budget film with explosion and space aliens kicking butt. It is a love story! It’s not a huge budget; you need people to be there for the right reasons because they love the project and care about it and are passionate about it.

The Way Back” which starred Colin Farrell and directed by Peter Weir looked liked it had a big budget. It definitely had a bigger budget than “Like Crazy” by far. Yes, it did. It was shot around the world. That’s a story that calls for it. The story is about an escape from a Russian prison camp. This is a love story that really could have taken place anywhere. We choose LA, because this is where we’re from and London, because we all had a lot of experience with London. Drake Doremus, our director, went through a similar experience in his life and we all went through long distance loves, so it was fun to be able to tell a story that’s relatable to so many people knowing that hopefully, if we succeed there can be some magic there.

You’ve worked on many projects with Drake Doremus, including co-writing “Spooner” and “Douchebag”, how did you two meet and why do you think you work so well together? We met in a brothel in Thailand. I’m kidding. Drake and I met at Starbucks! Close! (Laughs). We met at Starbucks through an agent who asked me to meet him and told me he was a talented youngster, which he was and he came to me and said, “I have to make my movie this year. It’s burning inside of me. I HAVE to make it. A lot of it takes place in a car dealership. I have the car dealership already. Help me make this movie, please!” I loved the idea. I liked parts of the script and we then went and sort of flipped it all around and turned it into something we think is very special called “Spooner”. It’s on cable right now, actually, on Showtime. Then we made a film called “Douchebag” which the title was very popular with the over 70 crowd (we both laugh). I’m kidding, but it’s sort of a love story about two estranged brothers. We loved that film very much. It’s improvised. The WHOLE film with a strict sort of guideline book there. Then came “Like Crazy” (which was also entirely improvised) and this is, for me, Drake’s masterpiece. This is a really, fine, fine film, a film that people love when they go see it and they talk about it. If you have ever been in love or had that sort of moment in your life, it really brings back a lot of memories and it’s a fun experience. I think people should see it.

Me too (you can read my review for “Like Crazy" HERE). IMDb currently has a listing for “Untitled Drake Doremus” project; can you share anything about it? All I can really tell you is that Felicity Jones from “Like Crazy” who I think, knock on wood, could get nominated for an Oscar for this movie. She’s that great and being talked about so many times by so many people. She’s starring in that new movie with Guy Pearce, who people might remember from “Memento” and “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark”. He was also in the last two Best Pictures. He was in both “The Hurt Locker” and “The King’s Speech”. Guy broke out in “L.A. Confidential”. Guy Pierce is in it; his wife is played by Amy Ryan. Amy Ryan is a wonderful actress. Maybe the best there is right now, in my book. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a crack head in “Gone Baby Gone”. Then Felicity Jones from “Like Crazy”, who I think is going to be a huge superstar, she’s just as talented as anybody out there right now and she’s quite a find. I think people will see “Like Crazy” and be really excited about her. She’s amazing.

You told the FLIFF audience about how she sent her audition tape to you showing herself in her shower. Yeah, I mean Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence, the two, quote unquote, bigger stars, were already committed to the movie. We were desperate to find that girl. We needed to find that girl who you could fall in love with. You just can’t slap someone on the screen and say “Have chemistry”. You have to REALLY fall in love with this character to care. You have to want this to work and be in love with her. I think she does a phenomenal job of telling the story of her heart without using words in a lot of this movie: with her eyes, with her looks, with the subtext. It’s a brilliant performance by her and Anton. I think people will be excited to discover her. They should see “Like Crazy”.

How do you usually become involved with new projects? Well for me, a project has got to have… it’s a three pronged task for me, I like to say. Maybe that’s the lawyer in me that went to school and studied all these three part balancing tests. Number one is quality… always. It’s so hard to produce a movie. It starts at script stage. You cast the wrong people, you’re dead. You make the movie with the wrong people, you’re dead. You have the wrong crew, you’re dead. If you are lucky enough to get it into a film festival and sell it and you sell it to the wrong people, you’re dead. So it’s a hard process. You’ve got to be in love with it. So quality is the number one thing for me. It’s all about quality. Set out to make a great film every time. You won’t always succeed, but if you don’t care about the quality as much, you have no chance. Number two, it’s got to be something people will want to watch. I’m not interested in spending my life making movies that nobody sees. I really love the films to get out there so I want to make something that’s relatable. Even like “Like Crazy” which may come out as many screens as the huge films, but was made for $250,000 versus $74 million. I don’t care about the budget of the film, I just want subject matter to at least tell a story that’s relatable to people or that can touch people and people can connect with, so that if we make a good job at making it, potentially, people will go see it. The last thing is to work with good people. You live your life hopefully doing something you love. It’s a hard business. It’s not for people who care about money, particularly. You have to love what you do. So I try to work with good people. That’s very important to me.

Working with people who have passion is very important. Yes, of course. I actually don’t want anybody with any passion. I’m kidding. I want all passion all the time. I really want people who are there for the right reasons.

Last question, what do you love most about producing? My wife’s food when she cooks on set is what I like most about producing. Doing a job where I can spend as much time with my wife as possible. The other answer is it’s really fun to come up with an idea or start working on a script and see it come to life one day and have some sort of a legacy and lasting impression on other human beings is a cool feeling. To think about when Drake first told me about this idea, to how it was March 10th, 2010 and how miraculously we got it cast and shot by June 1st because our lead actor had to go work for Dreamworks on “Fright Night” for five months after. There’s realities like that, but to see an idea transform into a two-page thing, into a ten-page thing, eventually into a 50-page airtight document that we questioned and picked apart in every way we can to make sure it’s got truthfulness and honesty. To see that be made into a picture and then do something well with it like we had at Sundance winning Best Picture and Best Actress and then selling it. That’s a hell of a feeling. It’s a hard feeling to match. I don’t know how to describe it other than meeting the love of your life and being with her for the first night over and over and over again, having it be the first night. It’s an incredible reward to have people appreciate the work you do and this whole process you go through and to be able to show it is fun.

“Like Crazy” is playing in theaters across the country. Click HERE to find it at a theater near you.