Michel GONDRY, the director of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," was racking his brain, trying to find the right way to explain why Steve Golin, who produced "Spotless Mind," is such a magnet for gifted filmmakers. "When we were editing the movie, my girlfriend dumped me," Gondry says, speaking in a slippery French accent. "I was very depressed, and Steve was the only person I could really talk to. He even let me sleep over at his place, in the same bed."
"Did you say in the same bed?" I blurted out.
"Yes!" Gondry said. "Oh, don't worry, nothing happened! But when I needed someone, emotionally, he was there, not just for someone who was his director, but for me. You couldn't say that about many Hollywood producers. I can't imagine wanting to sleep in the same bed with Joel Silver!"
First as the co-founder of the groundbreaking Propaganda Films, now as the head of Anonymous Content, the 49-year-old Golin has been one of the few people in Hollywood with the vision to see beyond the nearest horizon. Golin and partner Joni Sighvatsson, who launched Propaganda in 1986, were perhaps the first to recognize that the new art form created by MTV -- the music video -- would spawn a dazzling new generation of visually oriented filmmakers. Propaganda quickly became a home for the most sought-after young video and commercial directors. One of their first discoveries was David Fincher, then an unknown video director. Not long after, a young filmmaker showed up with a reel containing a Donny Osmond video and a spec Coke commercial. Golin watched the clips and told Michael Bay, "Nice to meet you. You're hired." After seeing a couple of skateboard videos he liked, Golin brought Spike Jonze into the fold.
Blessed with a keen eye for new talent, Golin helped discover a slew of gifted commercial directors who've made the leap to features, including Antoine Fuqua, Gore Verbinski and Alex Proyas. He also produced movies with Jonze ("Being John Malkovich"), Fincher ("The Game") and Neil LaBute ("Nurse Betty"). Golin's new firm, Anonymous Content, launched in early 2000, continues the cutting-edge tradition. Housed in a series of buildings carved out of old warehouse space in Culver City, Anonymous looks like a media-age version of a Renaissance artisan village. It's a rarity in today's sequel-crazed Hollywood: an oasis for talent and original material.
Anonymous is actually made up of several interlocking companies. Its film and TV division has produced "Eternal Sunshine," Showtime's "The L Word" and the Adam Sandler comedy "50 First Dates." Anonymous also represents a host of directors for commercials and music videos, including Fincher, Mark Romanek and Guy Ritchie, and produced the BMW Internet mini-film series. Its management division reps such top filmmakers as Wong Kar-wai and Lars Van Trier, and such actors as Patricia Clarkson, Tony Goldwyn and Omar Epps.
"Steve connects with filmmakers in a way I've never seen: He's a Pied Piper for creative artists," says ICM agent David Unger, who reps several Anonymous directors and got his start as Golin's assistant. "Steve loves the subversive quality that makes an artist unique. Outside of Jerry Bruckheimer, he's the only guy who's successfully harnessed the energy of commercial and video directors and converted it into great movies."
Whether Golin can convert all this creative energy into a workable economic model remains to be seen. Anonymous has to generate its own material -- it no longer has a "first-look" deal with Focus Films that would provide financial support for its production wing. Anonymous relies heavily on its commercial division, which has a stable of 30 top directors and generates roughly $100 million in revenue each year, to keep the company afloat. The management division also helps feed the company's production ambitions. "50 First Dates," for example, was written by George Wing, a management client, allowing Golin to set up the project at Sony Pictures.
Being independent suits Golin's style, especially after his experience with Propaganda. After the company became a success, Golin and Sighvatsson sold the company to Polygram. But when Polygram was sold to Seagram in 1998, Golin's backers were fired and he lost control of the company, exiting in 1999. In January 2002, while struggling to put Anonymous on the map, Golin discovered he had a rare form of bone cancer. For the next six months, he spent part of every day at the hospital. He had several regimes of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as surgery to remove his left shoulder blade. Though he's been free of any recurrences, he admits "that every time you get a cough or an ache and pain, you get worried."