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Randall Emmett's drive to produce films is paying off

Randall Emmett learned to put movies together by any means necessary. Now backed by more than $500 million, he is financing bigger-budget pictures.

September 24, 2012|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times
  • Film producer Randall Emmett works the phone in his office at Emmett/Furla Productions.
Film producer Randall Emmett works the phone in his office at Emmett/Furla… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

Randall Emmett has produced 70 movies — more than super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, more than Paramount Pictures in the last five years, more than he can even remember.

Many were low-budget schlock. Some went straight to the DVD shelves. But Emmett has never stopped hustling, calling and yelling at whomever he needs to in order to get that next project made.

"He's the Tasmanian devil," says Emmett's longtime producing partner, George Furla.

Now Emmett is moving into the big leagues. Backed by more than $500 million, he has over the last year started financing bigger-budget pictures, with stars such as Mark Wahlberg, Arnold Schwarznegger and Russell Crowe, that are being released by studios including Universal Pictures, Lionsgate and 20th Century Fox.

In addition, Emmett/Furla Films is negotiating a deal with Hasbro Inc., the company behind Transformers and G.I. Joe, to make several movies based on its toy brands.

"People ask, 'Why do you make so many movies?'" said the fast-talking 41 year-old, who jokes about having attention-deficit disorder. "The answer is my appetite is so big and I hope one day people will respect us as real filmmakers and financiers."

Emmett isn't known throughout Hollywood yet, but everyone who does know him has a story.

Weinstein Co. Chief Operating Officer David Glasser remembers a night at the Sundance Film Festival about a decade ago when Emmett bet an associate $5,000 he wouldn't run down the town's main drag in his underwear.

Wahlberg says Emmett wanted to wrestle him when the then-aspiring actor met the wannabe producer in 1995.

"I had to body slam him," recalled Wahlberg. "Then he wanted it again."

"Friday Night Lights" director Peter Berg was at the Cannes Film Festival with Emmett in May to promote their movie "Lone Survivor," which starts shooting next month. Emmett was walking through street traffic talking on multiple cellphones.

"I was nervous my financier would get run over by a French cab," Berg said. "He's a character, but he's a straight shooter. His checks have always cleared."

Independent producer and financier Avi Lerner, who worked with Emmett in the mid-2000s and taught him about putting movies together by any means necessary, says he has never met anyone as determined to succeed.

"If you throw Randy out the door, he comes in the window," Lerner said. "If you throw him from the window, he comes down the chimney."

After working as a child actor in his native Miami, Emmett — whose parents sold insurance — went to New York for college on an acting scholarship. But a summer job as a production assistant on the Michael J. Fox comedy "The Hard Way" turned his attention behind the scenes.

"Everyone else at film school wanted to be a writer or director or actor," Emmett recalled. "I was the only one who wanted to be a producer."

Upon graduating in 1995, he joined the legion of aspiring young producers in Hollywood working menial jobs, landing an internship with Bruckheimer and an assistant's job at International Creative Management.

Several key meetings changed his life. One was with Wahlberg, who hired him as an assistant after the body slamming incident.

Emmett frequently talked about how he wanted to be a producer. Wahlberg would tell him, "Good. Then produce me a drink."

In the late 1990s, Emmett met wealthy ex-hedge fund manager Furla. Despite their differences — Furla shuns the spotlight and is more interested in a movie's balance sheet than who's in it — the two immediately clicked. The pair spent more than a decade making dozens of movies, most with low budgets financed by Furla. Some, such as "Narc," the first feature from "The Grey" director Joe Carnahan, and the John Travolta-Scarlett Johansson drama "A Love Song for Bobby Long," garnered respect. Steven Seagal's "Today You Die" and Nicolas Cage's "The Wicker Man" are remembered for unintentional laughs.

"Some were good, some were not, but I always wanted to make bigger movies," Emmett said.

Emmett got his shot in March 2011, thanks to a meeting with Remington Chase and Stepan Martirosyan, friends who made fortunes in the Russian oil business. Their company, Envision Entertainment, has committed $525 million to Emmett/Furla.

Martirosyan said Emmett and Furla appealed to him in part because they weren't Hollywood power players.

"If I had gone with an established name, I would not get the respect I am getting," he said.

With the cash infusion, Emmett/Furla Films has already put together more than 10 movies. They include last weekend's No. 1 movie "End of Watch"; the $66-million prison thriller "The Tomb," which co-stars Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone; "Two Guns," an $85-million action movie starring Wahlberg and Denzel Washington; and Berg's "Lone Survivor," a nearly $50-million drama about a Navy SEAL team hunting a Taliban leader.

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