Middle Men is arguably one of this summer’s most anticipated independent releases – with naturally a lot of the anticipation based on the trailer content alone. Sure, sex sells, but if so inclined, you can stand to believe that behind this film is the intent to tell a good story that aims to do more or anything but rake in the big bucks based on curiosity alone. What’s that? A sense of integrity between film-maker and movie-goer? After speaking with director George Gallo, producer Christopher Mallick, and actors Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht and Kevin Pollak, Working Author is able to confirm that it is still alive and well in Hollywood as we know it.
Based on the experiences of producer Christopher Mallick, director George Gallo and Andy Weiss were able to come up with a script that worked well within the boundaries Mallick had set out by independently financing the film. Both Mallick and Gallo are enthusiastic about their work, especially when it comes to making things happen without going through the process of making a film. Also known as: it can take forever and a day. But as Mallick explains, “I don’t work well for people; I work well with people. I’ve always had the intention of making the movie, not spending years of going through a process where a script…would be diluted with decisions by a committee.”
Gallo agreed, saying, “When we thought the script was ready, […] we actually went out and made the movie. It normally doesn’t go like that. Another year and a half goes by and there are so many committee decisions and you watch it become less and less interesting, and everything that’s interesting about the story is now taken out. All the edges are taken off the people and they want a vampire in it. We’re literally making a movie with 10 to 12 weeks.”
It was the goal of Mallick and Gallo to make a film that they were sure that audiences wanted to see, taboo subject matter and all. Working in characters that movie-goers could relate to was of top priority. “I always imagine myself in the audience eating popcorn watching the movie. That’s the movie I want to see,” Gallo said. “Chris produced the movie literally from the perspective of a filmgoer, which for me was a breath of fresh air. […] We would always talk about what was right for the movie, not like, ‘Oh, that’ll make the main character unlikeable.'” Of this ‘likeability’, Gallo considered such a quality to be “a terrible mistake. The main character has to be relateable. He doesn’t have to be likeable, because if they start to be too likeable, they [moviegoers] are like, “I don’t believe them anymore.” People do cheat and they’re still okay. People do make terrible mistakes and they’re okay.”
The story surrounding the film — although based on a true story — is highly fictionalized. Jack Harris, family man and businessman, finds himself in a difficult position involving the adult entertainment industry, ridiculous amounts of money, and the bumbling fools who made it all possible. It would only make sense that the FBI be somewhat involved as well, because, well, nothing is ever easy. It would take a laid-back actor who who has done pretty much everything you can in the comedy realm to take what he’s good at and try it at a different angle.
Luke Wilson, who plays Harris, felt as such: “I do a lot of comedies, so I felt real lucky to get the chance do something like that [the role of Jack Harris] because you can get pigeon-holed into what roles you play. I can remember when I first got to town after a few years people would be like, “Oh, you play a lot of boyfriends!” I really didn’t realize that. I just like to be productive and stay happy. To get somebody to be willing to take a chance on me playing in a different role, I felt really lucky about it.” And like anyone will likely agree upon seeing the film, “you want a good script. I think it’s possible to make something good even from not a great script. But I think it’s kind of difficult to make a bad movie from a good script. You get a really well-written script and it’s almost idiot-proof.”
But the script itself isn’t free from idiots. Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht play Wayne Beering and Buck Dolby, the masterminds behind the idea of charging people for porn. It is clear that their interactions with each other in the film — a knockabout, destructive ‘bros-before-hos’ relationship — transcend seamlessly in discussing the roles themselves. First of all, they portray characters that are up to their eyeballs in drugs and what would normally be considered absurd quirky behavior. Naturally this would take a lot of energy out of a person. “When you wrap everything, you don’t realize how your body collapses and you’re just exhausted and you sort of need to go away for a while,” Ribisi said. But at the same time, “it was definitely great because we wanted to be there. It was such a great and healthy environment to be on set working with those people, and the process that got developed over the course of the film.”
The antics between the two are at times so off-the-wall and bizarre that it would be hard to think their traits could be captured all on paper. “A lot of it was on the page and a lot of this was in the storytelling from Chris and telling us who some of these guys were; you know, this is an amalgamation of a bunch of different people,” Macht said. But it looks like the right guys were hired for the job, because “a lot of it was improvised with us, taking the material and going back into our space and reworking certain things”. Still, there was a lot of working and bouncing ideas off of and with Mallick and Gallo. “George really allowed us the opportunity to expand on the vision. I don’t know exactly what the number is but there was a lot that was improvised and a lot that was really on the page.”
Kevin Pollak plays FBI agent Curt Almans, whose role in the film on the outset could be easily assumed, but of course there’s much more than meets the eye. As far as the mindset of the character himself, his approach was to “just play it real and let the comedy and drama fall where it may. It was such a great script, and I say that in all sincerity because they rarely are great. You hope and pray they’re good, but rarely they’re great.” And for an actor who has acted in over sixty films, it would be hard to disagree. “It’s as absurd and ridiculous as it gets [from the beginning] and then the fact that the thrill ride of the story beyond that actually goes somewhere […] that’s the mindset, just play it real and don’t screw it up.”
The premise of Middle Men from the creative standpoint seems to be as follows: come for the taboo content, leave with an appreciation and better understanding of what it takes to make a great film. And more importantly, know that the drive is still alive and kicking, for the better of the filmgoer.