With the release of his new memoir, filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld reflects on his myriad Michigan connections.
Barry Sonnenfeld has never been to Detroit — and is Jewish in spite of “having no interest in what seemed to be a petty, mean, vindictive, judgmental and insecure Old Testament God” — but he was excited to talk to the Detroit Jewish News.
Turns out Barry has some colorful connections to Michigan and Michiganders from his decades as a cinematographer, director and producer.
1. Elmore Leonard gets lost in Get Shorty After screening an early cut of Get Shorty in Chicago, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard “started to ask me all sorts of questions about the plot. ‘Elmore, all the answers are in your book.’ ‘Oh yeah, they are.’ Such a movie fan that he was able to literally watch Get Shorty without any memory that he had written that book … a lovely person and real film buff.”
2. Sam Raimi simplifies Blood Simple.
“Joel Coen was the assistant editor on Evil Dead. It was Sam Rami’s suggestion that Joel shoot a trailer as if Blood Simple were a finished movie and use the trailer to raise money from dentists and doctors’ investing clubs. Since I had a 16mm camera, Joel and Ethan hired me to shoot the trailer.”
3. Out of Sight in Detroit (in spirit) Get Shorty showed that Leonard’s novels could be made into critical and commercial successes. “I was going to direct Out of Sight, but other things came up and I couldn’t. My wife saw Pscytopolis at the East Hampton Film Festival and suggested we get Steven Soderbergh to direct. It was also her idea to hire George Clooney.”
4. Lawrence Kasden, won’t you by my neighbor? “We were in Telluride one weekend 22 years ago, staying with our friends Larry and Meg. Went to look at a house nearby with composer James Newton Howard. Wasn’t what James Newton Howard was looking for, so my wife Sweetie and I ended up buying it.”
5. Maximum Bob brings Dutch and Barry to the small screen.
“Dutch let me shop around Maximum Bob. I ended up directing and producing the pilot for ABC, my first work in TV.”
6. Big Trouble in Miami and beyond with Tim Allen
“I really enjoyed working with Tim Allen on Big Trouble. He’s incredibly smart and, like all comedians, he likes cars and watches and fountain pens.”
7. RVing with Robin Williams
See Chapter 36 of Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother for his take on working with Detroit Country Day alum Robin Williams.
8. Jeff Daniels, Movie Dad and Kosher Cowboy Composer
“Jeff was fantastic. One of his three kids in the movie was my daughter Chloe. He’s a really good singer-songwriter. Whenever there was downtime on RV, Jeff would be nearby with his guitar. I said to Jeff one day, ‘write me a theme song’ because I used to occasionally be on the David Letterman show. On the last day of shooting, he sang this amazing song called the Ballad of the Kosher Cowboy with the chorus, ‘Oy vey, he yodels Oy vey.’”
9. Pushing Daisies with Michael Wylie
Flint-native Michael Wyley first worked together on The Tick TV pilot in 2001. “Michael is a really good production designer. Pushing Daisies was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. Perfect experience — beautiful art direction and design. I won an Emmy and a Director’s Guild of America award for Pushing Daisies. Then there was a writer’s strike after 9 episodes and it just never got traction after that.”
10. Beverly Hills Cop: Missing Mumford
Sonnenfeld directed West Bloomfield High School alum Brandon T. Jackson in the first and only episode of Beverly Hills Cop for CBS. Jackson plays Aaron Foley — no relation to Aaron Foley — son of Eddie Murphy’s Axel. “Very good pilot, though it didn’t really reference Michigan. Not sure why it wasn’t picked up. No relationship between the TV series and Beverly Hills Cop 4.”