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Company Town | THE BIZ

The Other Captain

How Did 'Titanic' Get All Logistics on Deck? Ask Co-Producer Jon Landau

March 20, 1998|CLAUDIA ELLER

As an executive at Fox, Landau would do things like treat 100 people to the opening of a new movie or arrange a 24-hour field trip to Las Vegas or a midweek river-rafting outing. He loves dressing up every Halloween and last year, he boasts, "Titanic" notwithstanding, "I was Mr. Potato Head."

A native New Yorker who moved to Brentwood when he was a junior in high school, Landau grew up around show business. His parents, Ely and Edie Landau, were producers whose credits include "The Chosen" and "Hopscotch." Ely Landau, who also was a producer of the 1965 classic "The Pawnbroker," was perhaps best known for bringing quality stage adaptations to TV and movie audiences, including "Long Day's Journey Into Night," starring Katharine Hepburn, and for his landmark 1950s TV series, "The Play of the Week."

After graduating from USC film school in 1983, Landau had various jobs on productions--from gofer and production assistant to the supervisor of post-production on a break-dancing film called "Beat Street," which he says introduced him to his future wife, Julie, who now works at Disney in post-production accounting.

Landau worked in production on films such as "Making Mr. Right" and "Manhunter" before producing his first movie in the mid-1980s, Paramount's "Campus Man." He then worked on the Disney films "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "Dick Tracy."

Landau joined Fox as an executive in 1989, supervising such films as "Die Hard 2," "Home Alone" and "Alien 3," but always viewing the job as "a steppingstone to something else."

As a studio executive, he saw his job as "sometimes hand-holding the director" as well as "making sure the studio's vision of the movie was adhered to."

On "Titanic," he says, "I felt like I was the mayor of the city" in that "I had all these constituents [including heads of various departments such as special effects, props, wardrobe] that needed help and support--sometimes moral support, sometimes financial support."

Cameron said Landau "was ingenious in coming up with eleventh-hour solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems." One of Landau's most memorable feats, recounted Cameron, was juggling the entire production schedule when they learned the main exterior set [the ship] was going to take two months longer to build than originally thought.

"He kept us going," recalled Cameron. "He had to pull forward everything we possibly could shoot . . . and we never stopped shooting once."

In addition to overseeing the all-consuming production, Landau was charged with supervising the 100-day construction of Fox Baja Studios, a 40-acre oceanfront facility in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, which housed the mammoth movie sets, the largest shooting tank in the world and five sound stages, one nearly the size of a football field.

Landau said: "Nobody had actually worked on a set that big before, and in water. So there were things we realized as we got into it that we had not anticipated" and that accounted for much of the film's huge overruns.

Landau said he can't imagine ever working on another film with the "enormity and complexity at every level" of a "Titanic."

Landau, who lives in Sherman Oaks with his wife and their two sons, 6 and 10, said he tries hard to balance his family and professional lives even when he's on a long, grueling shoot like "Titanic," for which his wife and eldest son performed stunts. Then again, this is someone who sleeps only a few hours a night and is clearly consumed by his work.

Though some portion of his time is still devoted to "Titanic," Landau has moved on to other projects for Fox under his production banner, Blue Horizon Films. The two he's currently working on--a comedy spoof and a contemporary international suspense thriller--bear no resemblance whatsoever to "Titanic."

And, while the producer said he'd love to work with Cameron again someday, it's evident that he wants a name for himself in no one's shadow.

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