Moviemaker Marty Katz

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Longtime movie and television producer Marty Katz will appear at the Women in Film Networking Breakfast this Friday. Photo by Dana Fineman / TMT

Malibu resident Marty Katz talks about his work in film and television in a career that has covered low budget to one of the most expensive films in history.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Veteran film producer and Malibu resident Marty Katz will appear at the monthly Women in Film networking breakfast this Friday; though how he will squeeze breakfast into his loaded schedule is a testament to the time-saving skills he acquired working for such taskmasters as B movie-meister Roger Corman early in his Hollywood education.

Katz’s hillside home with bay views stretching beyond Santa Monica is packed with 40 years of memorabilia from a career that started in television (ABC Circle Films, Quinn Martin Productions) and has seen him guiding projects with some of the biggest industry stars attached. Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Heath Ledger, Kate Winslet, Albert Brooks, Julia Roberts and Robin Williams are just a few of the colleagues whose photos grace his walls, right next to a framed list of cautionary expectations: “The Six Stages of Production: Wild Enthusiasm, Total Confusion, Utter Despair, Search for the Guilty, Perse scution of the Innocent and Promotion of the Incompetent.”

In an interview with The Malibu Times, Katz laughing ly deemed his current project, “Love Ranch,” as still being in the wildly enthusiastic stage.

“It’s based on events at the Mustang Ranch bordello in Reno in the ’70s,” Katz said. “But with stars like Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci, it’s more about people than a bordello.”

Katz’s production work with Corman’s low budget film company, New World Pictures, trained him to juggle locations, conflicting schedules and, always, limited budgets.

“With Roger’s movies, we had maybe $100,000 budgets for things called ‘Velvet Vampire [Katz was assistant director],'” he said. “You did everything. There were no location managers. So you learned how to make the most out of the time and money you had.”

Katz’s personal history prepared him well for such improvisation. He was born in a displaced persons camp in a post-World War II, just-liberated Europe. His parents immigrated to California and he worked as a child actor before assisting on television productions like “American Bandstand.”

After being drafted, he served in Vietnam as a first lieutenant in the U.S Army as a combat unit pictorial director, earning a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal. Upon his discharge, he found himself an executive vice president of production with Quinn Martin Productions. This led to a storied association with Walt Disney Studios, where Katz, as senior vice president of motion pictures and television, oversaw production of movies of the week and films like “The Color of Money,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Pretty Woman.”

“Guys like Barry Diller and Michael Eisner (Diller mentored Eisner at Paramount Pictures until Eisner went on to become CEO of Disney) bridged the gap between TV and films and it was an excellent business model,” Katz said. “We tried to blur the lines between features and TV with a creative vision that served budget concerns. You need to have the same quality, but do it with less money and faster.”

As Hollywood is grappling with a new economy, Katz believes that “new media’s” perils only offer new opportunities, ultimately including vision-bending features like 3D and holograms.

“The content of TV and films won’t change,” he said. “It still starts with the story. But it will be about delivery. While I’m not sure I’m interested in seeing content on tiny screens like iPods, kids are. And it will become interactive. The audience will control the message. When I was at Disney, we worked to develop theme rides that would respond to the audience’s personal reactions by measuring their heart rate and breathing. It will all be about interactivity and on demand.”

Katz counts “Lost in America” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (which won the 1988 Oscars for Best Editing, Best Sound and Visual Effects) as two projects he is most proud of in terms of innovation, story and performance.

He said it is getting more difficult to produce great independent films because the bar keeps getting set higher for what qualifies as an indie.

“It used to be $10 million and under,” Katz said. “But that doesn’t leave you much for promotion.”

At this point, Katz is more than well informed on big-budget films. He worked on what was then Hollywood’s most expensive film, James Cameron’s “Titanic,” the 11-time Oscar-winning 1997 film whose $200 million budget almost bankrupt Paramount and 20th Century Fox.

“We knew we had made an excellent, though ambitious, film,” Katz said. “It took a genius like Jim to make it, but every penny was on the screen. I think his new movie, “Avatar,” will be the same. That’s going to be a breakthrough movie, both in storytelling and in technology.”(Cameron’s IMAX 3D-enhanced film is scheduled for release later this year.)

Katz, who formed his own, self-titled production company in 1996, has passed along his love for filmmaking to his son David, who has produced the annual Malibu International Film Festival the past 10 years and just completed his first feature film as writer and director, a romantic comedy called “Kissing Strangers.”

“Watching Dad all those years on set and in the office was an education in itself,” the younger Katz said. “I owe all my work ethic and drive to the inspiration my father instilled in me. Someday, I hope to be one of his peers.”

Marty Katz will speak at the Women in Film networking breakfast Friday, May 8, at The Charthouse from 8 a.m. to10 a.m. The public is invited. RSVP Candace Bowen at 310.457.8664 or by e-mail at candace@malibuonline.com