This article was originally published in 2010
Don Carmody has worked both sides of the 49th on a scale all his own. His remarkably durable career continues full-throttle, as he is currently prepping no fewer than three features. That’s pretty much the way it’s been since the mid-1970s for the native New Englander who grew up in Montreal and who has since amassed more than 100 screen credits.
Carmody’s first big break came as coproducer on the horror favorite Shivers. Shot in Montreal for Cinépix – the self-styled Roger Corman studio of the north – the film helped launch three great careers: Carmody’s, as well as those of producer Ivan Reitman and writer/director David Cronenberg.
“I always knew Ivan was driven and a very funny guy. Ivan and I were fairly ruthless in our commercial instincts, and I think that’s proven out. I think David was vastly relieved to get out from under us,” he recalls on the phone from his production office in Toronto’s east end.
Carmody says he and his green collaborators had “very strong mentors” in Cinépix heads John Dunning and André Link. “We were trying to compete with the Americans in the early days. We were always trying to make commercial movies. We never thought we were making them just for Canada. We were making them for an international market. And as soon as we could, we got out of here,” he says with a laugh.
But first there would be more movies for Cinépix, including Rabid (1977), another successful dose of Cronenberg gruesomeness, and Carmody would serve as production executive on Dunning and Link’s biggest hit, the summer camp classic Meatballs (1979), directed by Reitman and featuring Bill Murray in his breakout movie role. According to Box Office Mojo, it has taken in US$43 million in North America.
Carmody then made his Hollywood move to launch his own prodco, but Astral Bellevue Pathé head Harold Greenberg – another key mentor – lured him back north.
“I came up to do a picture for him and he really put the pressure on me to run [Astral's] production company, even though it wasn’t something I wanted to do, because I had to come back from Los Angeles, and I didn’t want to be an executive,” he says. “I wanted to actually produce, and so because I would be hands-on in those productions, I agreed to do it.”
Then came a game-changer. American filmmaker Bob Clark approached Carmody with a script about the raunchy pursuits of 1950s Florida teenagers. “I remember reading it and thinking, ‘Oh my God, we can’t make this. We’ll be arrested!’ And then thinking ‘That’s exactly why we should make it – because it’s so unique.’”
He recalls Astral’s development head – whom he characterizes as a “society woman” – being aghast, but “I got Harold to read it himself, and he laughed like crazy.”
Porky’s, the resulting 1982 film, may have outraged a lot of people, but it won over many more, making it the Canadian industry’s all-time international box-office champion by a long shot. It has reaped a reported US$111 million at the North American box office for backers Astral, American producer Melvin Simon, and 20th Century Fox. Carmody gives plenty of the credit to director Clark, who died in a 2007 car accident.
“He really had a good strong take and a lot of heart,” Carmody recalls. “Everybody remembers the shower scene in Porky’s, or the measuring of the penis, but they don’t realize that there was a whole streak about anti-Semitism in it.”
Conquering heroes after this massive success, he and Clark reteamed on Porky’s 2: The Next Day, which Carmody remembers as one of his most fun shoots. “We were relaxed and the financing was there. Anything we wanted, the doors opened,” he says. The sequel did well, but not as well, pulling in US$34 million. While the series has never been a hit with the critics, there was a cultural triumph with Clark’s A Christmas Story, which Carmody coproduced. The 1983 film tells of a 1940s Indiana boy who asks Santa for a Red Ryder BB gun. While initially successful – it made US$19 million in its initial North American run – the charmer would grow tremendously in stature and today airs around the clock in the Yuletide season.
His stint at Astral didn’t last long. The number of productions on his plate grew tiresome, as did disagreements with Greenberg over which projects to greenlight, so he struck out on his own again.
Carmody says he has positive memories of nearly all his productions, but not so much so for another one he worked on in the excess-plagued eighties. “It wasn’t so much the movie or the personalities involved, but because of the cocaine that was prevalent in the time,” he explains. “Everybody was on coke, and you’d look around and everybody’s running around like mad and nothing’s getting done.”
One of his busiest periods came in the late 1990s when he headed up production at now-defunct Franchise Pictures, which produced or coproduced features for major distributors including Warner Bros., with titles including The Boondock Saints, The Art of War, and The Pledge.
With the exchange rate and tax credits driving production to the Great White North, Carmody established himself as Hollywood’s man in Canada – a trusted freelancer who knew the lay of the land and could oversee remote shoots for Tinseltown execs such as Joel Silver (Gothika, Whiteout, Orphan). The number of productions Carmody has helped shepherd here has created years’ worth of jobs for local service and post-sector workers.
His ties back in Canada have grown stronger, especially after he met Catherine Gourdier, a producer from Kingston, ON to whom he is now married. “My wife likes it here. She never was a big fan of Los Angeles,” he explains. “I go back there for the money – to get the pictures set up with a distributor.”
One of his proudest moments was, as coproducer, helping convince Miramax Films to have Toronto sub for the Windy City for the musical adap Chicago (pictured in main photo, above), which went on to win six Oscars – including best picture – at the 2003 Academy Awards.
If his instinct for genre pictures remains sharp, he has also shrewdly evolved with the times. He has created a niche for himself in video game adaptations, and has had big box office hits with Resident Evil: Apocalypse (US$129 million worldwide) and Silent Hill (US$97 million). He is back on board for Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D, due to hit 2D, 3D and IMAX screens on Sept. 10, and he hopes cameras will roll on Silent Hill 2 later in the year. Making these films, he felt obliged to try playing the games that inspired them.
“With Resident Evil I was not bad, but I was terrible at Silent Hill,” he confesses. “I couldn’t figure out the game. I had to call my son to get me off the first level.”
These copro successes have benefited the local industry – not only in job creation, but also because they have generated Telefilm envelope cash Carmody has channeled into domestic production. Most notably, he put up financing for Polytéchnique, Denis Villeneuve’s take on the 1989 Montreal Massacre – a project he says called out to him because he has twin daughters (from a previous marriage) currently in university. His envelope is also going toward upcoming releases Hidden 3D and Die.
Carmody’s increased involvement in Canadian-content films is a sign of things to come. “I’m looking forward to slowly transitioning from being a very active commercial producer to trying to mentor and get Canadian pictures made that will play in the international marketplace,” he says.
And when will he hang it up?
“Every time I have a bad experience with a studio or agent I think, ‘I’m getting the hell out of this game,’” he says. “I can’t keep up this pace forever. But I don’t know when. I suppose when it stops being fun.”
Editor’s note: In 2013, Carmody expanded his business even further by launching a new TV division, DC TV, with David Cormican as lead exec and John Barrack as an investor.