Everyone’s been asked this hypothetical question before: What would you do if you had a billion dollars? For Mark Cuban, it’s actually something he has to think about every so often.
Whether you know him as the opinionated owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, the self-made billionaire who hit it rich during the dot-com boom in the late 90s, or part of the team who helped bring high-definition television into your home, Cuban is a man of many interests.
It’s not only basketball, the internet, and satellite TV that make up Cuban’s enterprise. Along with his business partner Todd Wagner, Cuban’s fascination spans into the film world where he produces feature films with his companies 2929 Entertainment, HDNet Films, and Magnolia Pictures.
Since 2004, Cuban has produced such films as “Criminal,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Akeelah and the Bee,” and “We Own the Night,” among many others. Cuban reached the cinematic equivalent of the NBA Finals in 2006 when his film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which was directed by George Clooney, was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture of the Year.
During an interview with me, Cuban talked about what it was about the film industry he found fascinating, what he looks for in projects he chooses to produce, and who he thinks should play him in a movie if they ever make his biography.
What was it about the film industry that was so intriguing that you started investing in features five years ago?
My partner Todd Wagner was really the reason we got started in the business. He wanted to make great movies [and] I wanted to change the movie business. The idea that movies had to spend more on [promotion and advertising] than they could expect in box office gross was upside down to me.
What do you look for in a film when deciding which one to produce? How involved are you in the process? Do you read scripts or help with casting or is it more about just cutting a check at this point?
I was involved in the process in our early movies, “Enron,” “Akeelah,” and others. In more recent years, we have focused more on distributing finished films. There are so many great films that are unable to get distribution, that I saw it as an amazing opportunity. So any given day, I’m watching movies submitted to us and trying to figure out the best way to get it seen by the most number of people while making money for the producers and us. To me the business side is the far greater challenge these days.
During shooting, how involved are you? My guess is if a film is shooting during basketball season you are not, but what about during the off-season? Do you like being on set?
Not at all. I’m not the creative type. So I leave the art to the artists.
Many times, when it comes to Hollywood producers, you can make an educated guess about the type of films they are going to back financially (for example Jerry Bruckheimer usually does big-budget action, etc). But with you, you jump from genre to genre, which I think is great. Is it important for you to have an open mind and not get pigeonholed as a specific type of producer?
Whether we are producing, buying or just distributing, I think it’s important to offer every kind of film. There are so many people who want to limit what people see because it may be controversial or topical, that someone needs to be willing to help the flow of art or ideas reach an audience. I’m a big believer that you can’t understand both sides of an argument unless you can see both sides. Which is why we often release movies that could be perceived as being on opposing sides of the political spectrum.
How do you take criticism on the films you produce? I think it’s safe to say that you are a critic yourself when it comes to a few things in the NBA like occasional officiating (disagree with me if you want), so can you respect a well-written negative review of one of your movies?
All opinions are worthwhile. The more thought out and based on information they are, the more I like them. In this digital era, it’s easy to offer an opinion, but rare to see one that is based on a well thought out premise. It’s pretty easy to differentiate between the two. I accept both, but appreciate thought out responses, no matter whether they are positive or negative.
You reached the movie equivalent of the NBA Finals when “Good Night, and Good Luck” was nominated for an Oscar in 2006. Three months later the Mavericks are in the NBA Finals. I know it’s always a goal to reach that pinnacle again in the NBA, but do you look at it the same way in the film industry? Are accolades like that important to you? Is it something you think about as much as reaching the NBA Finals again?
They are fun, but the truth be told, Awards in film are too expensive. It costs so much money to apply, promote and sell academy voters on the film, that I think it detracts from the value of the award. Sports is very Darwinian. Like film, its expensive to play the game, but unlike film, it’s not a vote. I truly despise the expectation that millions of dollars should be spent on awards promotion to make the star/director happy.
Do you like all your movies? When you walk out of the theater of a film you have produced do you genuinely tell yourself, “You know, that was pretty good” every single time?
Of course not, but don’t ask for examples (laughs).
Who in the NBA do you think would make a good actor? Who have you met/played ball with in the film industry that can possibly be the 12th man on the bench (or at least a good body for the practice squad)?
My buddy Geoff Stults can play some ball. As far as actors, every NBA player thinks they are just one break away from being the next Tom Cruise or Denzel [Washington].
What are your five favorite films?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Godfather, Man on Wire, Rocky, The Hangover (my guilty pleasure).
What is your favorite film shot in Dallas?
“Robocop,” of course.
Which actor would you want to play you in a film? What do you think he could bring to the role?
Peter Griffin of “Family Guy.” I think he truly would “get me”
It’s Saturday night and you’re hanging out for a quiet evening at home. What movie are you popping into your Blu-Ray if 1) You’re alone 2)You’re with your buddies 3) You’re with your wife 4) You’re with your kids?
1) Splinter, 2) Animal House, 3) Sex and the City: The Movie, 4) Akeelah and the Bee