The Don of Canadian production

No producer straddles Hollywood and Hollywood North on the same scale as Don Carmody. On one hand, Carmody can boast of producing the most commercially successful Canadian film ever, Porky's (along with writer/director Bob Clark), as well as having produced other top Canuck grossers Johnny Mnemonic and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Meanwhile, he has also played gun-for-hire on numerous Hollywood features that have shot north of the 49th, including Gothika, City by the Sea, Lucky Number Slevin, and, most notably, best-picture Oscar winner Chicago.

No producer straddles Hollywood and Hollywood North on the same scale as Don Carmody. On one hand, Carmody can boast of producing the most commercially successful Canadian film ever, Porky’s (along with writer/director Bob Clark), as well as having produced other top Canuck grossers Johnny Mnemonic and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Meanwhile, he has also played gun-for-hire on numerous Hollywood features that have shot north of the 49th, including Gothika, City by the Sea, Lucky Number Slevin, and, most notably, best-picture Oscar winner Chicago.

His various credits on more than 100 features in a 30-year producing career helps ease the minds of Hollywood brass about shooting in Canada, and by using his influence to incorporate local production and post-production talent into these big U.S. projects, he has helped provide work to hundreds in the domestic film sector.

Carmody has bounced between the U.S. and Canada right from the start. Born in New England 53 years ago, he moved to Montreal with his parents as an infant, and holds dual citizenship. After having received a communications degree from Montreal’s Loyola University (now Concordia University) in 1972, the ambitious young man was eager to get his feet wet in the film biz.

In fact, he had dipped a toe in the pool a couple of summers earlier. Having won a summer job at the National Film Board, he set out to Calgary to work on a project with a documentary crew, and through a roundabout way got on the set of an American television pilot shooting there. He was instantly seduced by the glamour of Hollywood production, and in a decision indicative of his later commercial leanings, opted to pursue more mainstream filmmaking.

‘So I chucked the film board and headed to Vancouver, where a friend of mine said, ‘I can get you on this Robert Altman movie,” Carmody recalls in the Toronto production office of his latest feature, Silent Hill (aka Centralia).

And so Carmody was hired onto the now-classic Altman anti-western McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Getting an assignment no doubt enviable to many young men at the time, he was assigned as the driver to one of the film’s stars, British beauty Julie Christie. ‘I was only on it for six or seven weeks. I didn’t get paid, but that was a great job,’ he says, laughing.

Today Carmody is not one to rest on his laurels. On the heels of his success producing Resident Evil: Apocalypse (US$64 million in international box office, according to Variety), a sci-fi actioner based on a videogame, he is returning to the well with Silent Hill. The new film is an adaptation of a game by Japanese giant Konami about a woman searching for her daughter in a mysterious and terrifying town.

The film, a copro with France’s Davis Films, is directed by France’s Christophe Gans (Crying Freeman) from a script by Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Crying Freeman). The cast is led by Radha Mitchell, who generated considerable buzz with her two-role turn in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda, and who also appeared in Oscar nominee Finding Neverland. Laurie Holden (Fantastic Four), Sean Bean (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and local actress Deborah Kara Unger (White Noise) also star. Shooting is expected to continue in Toronto and outlying areas until July 22.

This particular day is a hectic one on set. Before the interview begins, the phone rings, and Carmody has to put out a fire. He barks into the receiver something to the effect of ‘Tell him to get it, or I’m going to kill someone.’ He gets off the phone and apologizes for the interruption. ‘It’s one of those days,’ he explains.

Carmody is well versed in the chaos of production, although he started on a much smaller canvas.

After university, he was hired by John Dunning and André Link, heads of Montreal prodco and distributor Cinepix (see story, p. 23). He shuffled around in different roles, driving (and one night landing his car in a ditch) and working in the art department. But he quickly impressed his bosses with his tireless work ethic, and moved up the corporate ranks to VP in charge of production. Cinepix was on the lookout for interesting genre movies, and put him together with young filmmakers Ivan Reitman and David Cronenberg.

Carmody picked up his first coproducer credit on the 1975 horror film Shivers (aka They Came From Within), which also launched Cronenberg’s directorial career. Reitman, whose most notable credit to that point was the 1973 horror comedy Cannibal Girls, produced the film, about apartment-dwellers overcome by bizarre parasites, for under $180,000. It was shot mostly in brand-new apartment buildings in Montreal’s Nun’s Island. Working on such a low budget, Carmody had to wear several hats.

‘The first AD wasn’t very good – there weren’t too many people available in those days,’ Carmody recollects. ‘We had to let him go, and I took over as the first AD in addition to coproducing the picture. I still say to David to this day that I was the best first AD he ever had. He would come in and say, ‘OK – I think we’re over here now, we’ll do this shot,’ and I would go, ‘No, we’ve got that shot – we’re over here now.’ So I think it was a relief [for him] to eventually get away from me.’

Shivers proved a success, and the team reunited for the 1977 film Rabid, about a woman, played by porn star Marilyn Chambers, who suffers a motorcycle accident, then develops a taste for blood after undergoing plastic surgery. This time they had more than $500,000 to play with.

Carmody got his first producer credit on East End Hustle, a forgotten 1976 exploitation drama set amidst the world of pimps and prostitutes. He would end up working on more than 20 films for Cinepix.

This was followed by a VP position at Astral Films, where he oversaw the company’s film and TV production. Titles included the mini A Man Called Intrepid and the features Terror Train, a Jamie Lee Curtis screamer, and Hard Feelings, Daryl Duke’s Genie-nominated drama about a white suburban boy (Carl Marotte) who strikes up a friendship with an urban black girl (Charlayne Woodard) in the early 1960s.

There would be another memorable film with Reitman, one the latter would helm – 1979′s summer-camp comedy Meatballs, which marked comedian Bill Murray’s feature film debut. Carmody is credited as a ‘production executive’ on the film, which was exec produced by Dunning and Link. The movie would go on to make US$43 million at the North American box office with U.S. distribution from Paramount, and a reported US$20 million-plus on video in the States alone. It was the first film to win the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s Golden Reel Award for the Canuck film with the year’s biggest domestic box office, in 1980.

When asked if Reitman had served as a mentor in those early days, Carmody, with so many credits behind him today, instead characterizes Reitman as a ‘rival,’ adding that he admires his former collaborator’s producing and directing chops as well as his humor. Both would eventually move to L.A., although Carmody, who hung out his own shingle for Don Carmody Productions in 1980, would make movies all over the world, often returning to Canada.

He aligned himself with director Bob Clark, and the two would go on to make raunchy teen comedy Porky’s (1982), which Carmody sees as an answer to Reitman’s Animal House. But the producer concedes that Reitman had the last laugh with Ghostbusters, which, he says, ‘left me in the dust!’ Carmody would produce 1987′s Meatballs 3 with Dunning and Link, sans Reitman. It managed a meagre $2 million in North American receipts.

After Porky’s rocked the North American box office with US$111 million in receipts (see story, p. 18), Carmody and Clark would reunite the following year for the sequel Porky’s II: The Next Day (US$34 million at the box office). Neither would be back for 1985′s Porky’s Revenge, however, but Carmody would coproduce Clark’s 1983 family film A Christmas Story (US$19 million at the B.O.), which has become a hugely popular Yuletide favorite.

Carmody amassed numerous producing credits in the ensuing years, and even helmed the 1984 sexy psycho-thriller The Surrogate, starring Carole Laure and Shannon Tweed, which he wrote with Robert Geoffrion.

‘I got so mad at [the original] director that I said, ‘This is ridiculous – I can do this.’ And it had to be one of the hardest jobs I ever did,’ he says, laughing. ‘I’ve been much nicer to directors ever since. It was a learning experience. I’m glad I did it, but it’s not something I’m anxious to do again.’ Carmody has, however, served as second-unit director on a number of his productions.

From 1998 to 2001, Carmody headed up production at L.A. indie Franchise Pictures, which produced or coproduced films that would see release through major distribs, notably Warner Bros. Films made under his watch include The Whole Nine Yards, The Pledge, 3000 Miles to Graceland, Driven, Angel Eyes and the ill-fated Battlefield Earth, each of which would shoot in a Canadian production center.

It was around this time that Carmody met Catherine Gourdier, an aspiring producer from Kingston, ON. The two were married (Carmody was married previously, and has a 19-year-old son and 17-year-old twin daughters from that relationship), and, according to Carmody, it is Gourdier’s preference for Toronto over L.A. that has kept many of his films shooting there.

‘The city of Toronto should give her a gold key,’ he quips. Together, he and Gourdier produced the Canada/U.K. copro drama Some Things That Stay, helmed by Gail Harvey, which played on screens earlier this year (see story, p. 20).

Carmody has also enjoyed a strong relationship as a freelancer with Miramax, exec producing 54 and In Too Deep, and coproducing The Mighty and, of course, Chicago, each of which filmed at least in part in Toronto.

‘They don’t give me the ones where they would go ‘Yeah, sure Don, go spend $170 million,” he explains. ‘They give me ones that are really tough that they don’t want to spend a lot of money on. They want to bring it to Canada and get as much bang for their buck [as they can] and keep a lid on it.’

Carmody acknowledges that he’s a workaholic, and each project he works on seems to lead to another. For example, he exec produced the thriller remake Assault on Precinct 13, which shot in Toronto last year, and is working again with James DeMonaco, the writer on that film, on the werewolf flick Skin Walkers. James Isaac (Jason X) will direct and Dennis Berardi, head of Toronto FX shop Mr. X, will also produce the Toronto shoot, slated for September.

In other words, after 30 years, Carmody isn’t slowing down.

‘You’ve always got five or six irons in the fire,’ he says of the film biz. ‘And with me, fortunately – knocking on wood here – they’ve been firing on all cylinders lately.’

And speaking of fires, with the interview done, Carmody marches hurriedly back to set, three members of his production team in tow, off to put out another one.