May 5, 2013

Hollywood film producer credits UMaine

Lessons well-taught – and learned – in Orono helped Lawrence Bender find success.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Lawrence Bender has producing credits on the Quentin Tarantino film “Pulp Fiction” (with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson).

Miramax Films

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Lawrence Bender

Courtesy photo

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After graduating, he was a dancer with the Ralph Robinson ballet company, and moved to New York City. But after several dance-related injuries, he gave up his dance dreams, moved to Los Angeles and decided to pursue acting instead.

He took acting classes and worked on film sets as a grip and in other low-level jobs. For a while, he thought he was going nowhere.

"I was working on movie sets at that point just to make money, and I remember looking at the producer and thinking, 'That's the guy I want to be'," said Bender. "Once I decided to try it, everything started coming together for me. I had been failing as a dancer and an actor for about 10 years, and I started to understand that all my training had prepared me to produce."

By the time he decided to try producing in the late 1980s, Bender already knew people in Hollywood, including other struggling but talented would-be filmmakers.

He found a horror story set in a grocery store, and raised $100,000 to make it. He got a struggling filmmaker named Sam Raimi (who would later direct such blockbusters as "The Evil Dead," the "Spider-Man" trilogy and "Oz the Great and Powerful") to play one of the lead roles. The film, "Intruder," was a modest success.

The director of "Intruder," Scott Spiegal, introduced Bender to a struggling screenwriter who had some scripts he wanted to try to make into films.

The screenwriter's name: Quentin Tarantino.

TWO CAREERS GO TO THE 'DOGS'

"We got together, and he (Tarantino) wrote the script for 'Reservoir Dogs' in about three weeks," said Bender. "I read it. I didn't know anything, but I was blown away. It was amazing. He wanted to make it for $50,000, but I said, 'Let me try to raise some real money to make this right.' "

At the time, Bender was taking an acting class, and his acting teacher got the "Reservoir Dogs" script into the hands of veteran actor Harvey Keitel. Keitel loved it, wanted to be in it, and even paid to fly Bender and Tarantino to New York to audition actors.

"Reservoir Dogs" came out in 1992 and became an instant cult classic, launching both Bender's and Tarantino's long and successful careers. The two would go on to collaborate on many of the films for which Tarantino is best known, including "Pulp Fiction," "Inglourious Basterds," "Jackie Brown" and both "Kill Bill" movies.

But that's only the beginning of Bender's success in Hollywood. He has more than 40 producing credits, including the feature films "From Dusk Till Dawn" (which co-starred Tarantino), "Good Will Hunting," "Anna and the King," "The Mexican" and "Safe," and numerous TV shows and documentaries, including "An Inconvenient Truth" with Al Gore.

In all, Bender's films have received 29 Academy Award nominations and won six.

But Bender will also tell you he's made some duds -- or, at least, movies that didn't perform as well as he thought they would. One of these he mentions by name: "White Man's Burden" (1995), with Harry Belafonte and John Travolta.

"The idea was, 'What if America had been settled by Africans and white were the oppressed minority?' We thought we could make something relevant," said Bender. "But there wasn't enough of a story. My lesson there was, story always comes first."

Bender also works to promote various causes. He's made films about some of them, including the threat of nuclear proliferation, environmental protection and sustainability, and the nation of Israel.

He says he continues to live and work the way he did at Orono -- being curious about lots of things and trying his hand at many.

"Life is more interesting when you're curious," he said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

Twtter: RayRouthier

 

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Additional Photos

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Bender has producing credits on the Quentin Tarantino film “Inglourious Basterds” (with Eli Roth and Brad Pitt).

The Weinstein Co.

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Bender has producing credits on “Good Will Hunting” (with Matt Damon and Robin Williams).

Miramax Films

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“Reservoir Dogs,” starring Harvey Keitel, center, launched the careers and frequent partnership of director Quentin Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender.

Miramax Films

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