David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman, who together run Mandeville Films and Television, tell Jeremy Kay about the challenges of bringing two wildly different projects — The Fighter and The Muppets — to the screen
Mandeville Films and Television founders David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman have made more than 100 films between them. Right now they are headquartered at Disney, where for the last 25 years Hoberman has enjoyed a close relationship with the studio.
With credits such as The Proposal, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Surrogates and television titles Monk and recent launch Detroit 1-8-7 to their name, they have proved their worth as commercial entertainers. However, it is two of their most recent projects which could signal the most dramatic change at Mandeville since the company launched in 1995.
Hoberman, a former Disney production chief, and Lieberman, who paid his dues at Summit Entertainment, find themselves at a crossroads in their careers. Not only are they deeply immersed in reviving The Muppets film franchise which Disney will release over Thanksgiving in the US, they are also the proud producers of independent drama The Fighter.
True Oscar potential
While the former is a costly undertaking which was due to wrap last month after a 55-day shoot, the latter similarly displays all the ingredients of quality entertainment but adds a rare spice — true Oscar potential. The Fighter’s seven Academy Award nominations, including best picture, director and supporting actress and actor, prove it has been one of the stars of the season.
The partners have godfathered the drama for more than four years, producing alongside the film’s lead Mark Wahlberg. They saw many people come and go and settled on director David O Russell and the final cast with acclaimed results. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo have won supporting actor Oscars and Golden Globes and have amassed a trophy cabinet of prizes from critics groups. So now that Hoberman and Lieberman have made a splash in the Oscar race, where do they go now?
Decked out in headsets and sweaters one chilly late-January morning on the Universal lot where they are nearing the end of The Muppets shoot, Hoberman and Lieberman ponder their first Oscar nomination.
“To me, it’s the culmination of a very long career and to achieve it now is emotional and probably more gratifying than if it had happened to me 20 years ago,” says Hoberman, “It’s a different experience and it makes you want to put more of these kinds of movies into the mix.”
“We have a broad range of tastes,” Lieberman adds, “and I’m just grateful we were able to do The Fighter and make a movie that was not only a financial success but executed on the dramatic vision. I hope we can do more great dramas.”
People in Los Angeles like the Mandeville executives and the partners hope to tap into that as they strive to produce more awards-worthy fare.
“We’ve been so immersed in The Muppets and The Fighter we’ve got to wait and see what will come our way,” Hoberman says. “It’s also about declaring to agencies and saying we want to do more of this kind of movie.”
Like Hoberman says, there have been distractions. The Muppets shoot has been draining but exhilarating. “There’s a lot of interest, which is thrilling to us because we believe there’s a great brand here,” Lieberman says, explaining they came on board about 19 months ago. “Nostalgia for the brand is strong and it’s very possible we can bring it back to where it was.”
Disney acquired rights to The Muppets about six years ago and avowed fan Jason Segel — whose credits include Forgetting Sarah Marshall and TV series How I Met Your Mother — came on board as co-writer. The film combines puppetry with real actors and follows a small-town muppet as he rallies Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang to prevent an oil baron drilling beneath the Muppet theatre.
Segel and The Fighter’s Amy Adams play a human couple in the film and the producers promise many cameos (“Amy’s been on this crazy ride with us and it’s been surreal,” says Hoberman). UK film-maker James Bobin, who cut his teeth on TV series Flight Of The Conchords and Da Ali G Show, is at the helm for his feature directing debut.
“If anyone can love The Muppets, he’s that guy,” Hoberman says. Who in Hollywood would bet against Hoberman’s instincts now?
■ As president of the motion picture group at Walt Disney Studios, Hoberman oversaw development and production for Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures.
■ He founded Mandeville Films in 1994 before putting the company on hiatus in 1999 to launch Hyde Park Entertainment.
■ Hoberman reformed Mandeville as Mandeville Films and Television in 2002, and with Todd Lieberman has produced a feature slate which has grossed more than $1bn at the domestic box office.
■ Began his career at international sales and distribution giant Summit Entertainment.
■ Lieberman moved to Hyde Park Entertainment where he served as senior vice-president.
■ He joined Mandeville in 1999 and became a co-partner alongside Hoberman in 2004.
■ With Hoberman, Lieberman has produced such films as Bringing Down The House (2003) and The Proposal (2009).