It helps, says once-struggling independent film producer David Klawans, to be the guy who came up with the idea to make a movie called "Argo," this year’s Oscar winner for best picture. It helps a lot.
“It’s just a lot easier now,” Klawans said. Without "Argo," he says, he might still be riding around Los Angeles on his bicycle pitching story ideas to skeptical movie moguls. Today, he says, people who matter in the cutthroat world of Hollywood entertainment even take his phone calls.
One of those people is George Clooney, who with Klawans and Clooney’s partner in Smokehouse Pictures, Grant Heslov, set in motion the project that would eventually become "Argo," back in 2007. Now they’ve joined forces again to make a new film, tentatively entitled "Coronado High."
Klawans said that the story, which he came across several years ago, involves a former Spanish teacher at a high school near San Diego who worked with several of his former students to smuggle tons of marijuana and hashish from Mexico, Thailand, Morocco, and Pakistan into the United States in the 1970s. The film will reportedly be based on an article that will appear in the July issue of GQ magazine. The article was written by Joshuah Bearman, who also wrote the article on which "Argo" was based ("How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran"), which appeared in Wired magazine in 2007.
Klawans said that he found the inspiration for "Argo" in 1997 while leafing through Studies in Intelligence, the quarterly journal of declassified CIA files. It took some 15 years, he said, to sell the idea and to produce the movie. His other credits include developing the idea for and co-producing the 2006 comedy-drama "Nacho Libre," starring Jack Black, which is also based on a true story.
The 44-year-old producer said his method for finding these stories is simple but unique: he spends countless hours day and night scouring the Internet, obscure journals, police blogs, and dozens of newspapers looking for the “kernel” of an idea that could grow into a film. “It’s like panning for gold,” he says. Then he works with a writer, like Bearman, to plant the story in a high-circulation magazine to generate possible moviemaker interest in the idea.
Klawans said that even as a child he wanted to be a film producer. As a 10-year-old, he says, he read newspapers for the movie ads. He grew up in Belgium, spent two years at American University in Washington, D.C., transferred to New York University, then headed straight for Los Angeles.
These days, Klawans is also involved in a project much closer to home: producing a CD to honor his late stepfather, the jazz musician Doug Lucas. Working with his half-brother Zach Lucas, a New York City-based saxophone player, he negotiated the rights to the master recordings of his stepfather’s music to create a collection of “new originals” that showcase not only Zach but an all-star roster of hip hop artists like Big Daddy Kane, Brand Nubian, and Talib Kweli. It is, he says, a sort of musical conversation between a father and a son and is titled "Lucas High."
Gary G. Yerkey is a Monitor contributor.