The Ultimate Love Story: An Interview with Richard and Lauren Shuler Donner


Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner joined Warner Brothers for the unveiling of their 90th anniversary logo and announcement of their home video slate. They have made many films at Warner Brothers as director and producer respectively, sometimes of the same films. A new documentary Tales from the Warner Bros. Lot shows how Stage 16 was raised to become the lot’s biggest soundstage, then shows Donner sitting in the middle of the empty stage where he once shot The Goonies. The documentary will be featured in WB’s upcoming 100 film DVD and 50 film Blu-ray anniversary sets in January. We got to chat with the Donners about their films and some of the causes they support. 

CraveOnline: I’m excited you’re both here on the Warner Brothers lot. Does this mean a Ladyhawke Blu-ray could be imminent?

Lauren Shuler Donner: Oh, that would be nice. That would be very good. There’s a lot of fans.

Richard Donner: Yes, you just made it happen. That would be a great idea actually. Lot of talk about that going to Broadway too at one point. I think it’d be great.

That footage in the documentary of you sitting in an empty Stage 16 is amazing. Had you ever seen that big soundstage empty before?

Richard Donner: Only before I moved on it. Yes, there was a long time where here at the studios there was not much activity. The new thing was to shoot outside and to move so stages sat idle for a long time, but that’s some stage. And then when you drop the floor out, you’re in four feet of water, it’s something else.

When you see your films in high definition, are you seeing things you didn’t even know were there the first time?

Richard Donner: Yeah. Do you know something? In The Omen, you can actually see in the new release that it’s only half a dog, that it’s just a stuffed animal that’s attacking his foot. You can see past the extension.

Lauren Shuler Donner: That would take the scare out of it.

Richard Donner: Remember I had that stuffed animal in the house?

What other films of yours are you still hoping people rediscover on Blu-ray?

Lauren Shuler Donner: Inside Moves.

Richard Donner: Inside Moves, yeah.

That only just came out on DVD.

Richard Donner: Just came out on DVD thanks to Lionsgate. If they hadn’t done it, nobody would’ve. Let’s see, all of them. I’d love to see them all preserved and brought up to date. If it’s feasible, it’s feasible. If it’s not, it’s not. Certainly it’s a monetary issue for the studios and those that they think will do well will do well. I assume Maverick and now that you brought up Ladyhawke I would love to see that. It’s the ultimate love story. My wife produced it and hired me to direct it and she fell in love with me and made me leave my husband. Oh no, I fell in love with her and made her leave her husband.

Lauren, how is X-Men: Days of Future Past going?

Lauren Shuler Donner: Not quite fast enough but it’s coming along. We have a great treatment and we’re just waiting for the screenplay.

Do you still have Jennifer Lawrence since she’s blown up?

Lauren Shuler Donner: Yeah, definitely.

Now that The Avengers has done so well, it seems like the other studios with Marvel properties can see the advantage of making a deal. Can you see a world where this generation of X-Men could be in an Avengers movie?

Lauren Shuler Donner: I would love it. I would love it. I personally have close ties to Marvel because of Kevin Feige, because Kevin worked for me. But to take our characters and mingle them in the way that they were written, yeah, absolutely.

I have to ask because it’s on my mind, have you been in touch with Mel Gibson?

Richard Donner: Yeah. As a matter of fact, a week from next Saturday, so in two weeks I’m going to a presentation. Mel has always got these great crazy flukey organizations and medical groups that will save lives, but they’re all nuts usually. This one is a group from Panama City, both Harvard graduate doctors, and they are doing stem cell [research] there because they couldn’t do it in this country. It’s saving lives and doing the most miraculous things, and they’re doing this presentation Saturday so Mel will be there and it’s because of him I’m going. I’m most anxious. Look, as many times as he puts his foot in his mouth, I still love him. He’s a crazy SOB and he’s a little nuts and he flies off the handle and he’s got a lot of suppressed problems in life but underneath it all he’s still just old crazy Mel and I love him. I just hope he comes out of all this.

Speaking of causes, what is going on with the animal charities you support?

Richard Donner: Lauren and I are big on it. We rescued a 13- or 14-year-old Great Dane mutt a year and a half ago that they told us would only live two months because he was left in an abandoned home for over two weeks with no food or water. They had cut his vocal chords. They had done damage to his nerves and his rear end, his legs. And they said, “Look, he’s just had a horrible life.” I said, “I’ll take him for the next whatever months.” So while we had him, he had his spleen removed with cancer. He had two operations on his inner ears and he was supposed to die. He is still alive. He poops in the house because he has no control but he doesn’t know it, and I don’t mind cleaning it up. He’s gone on and on and on. He’s surprised everybody. It’ll be two years in April. He came through another dog because we had just lost our Gus, another crazy dog we had that we rescued. He had a passion for eating trees. That sounds ridiculous but he literally ate trees. He fell a tree that big.

Lauren Shuler Donner: He’d jump up and bite them.

Richard Donner: He’d bite the tree, and then he’d claw and eat it until we had to redo all his teeth. He passed away and it really blew me away. Shortly thereafter, Zack came and I swear Gus sent me Zack. Lauren is afraid that this is going to continue.

Lauren Shuler Donner: Lauren is saying it’s not going to continue. We work with a lot of groups but Karma is the group that we work with the most because Jack Leslie who runs our company, works with Karma Rescue. They’re a really great organization. They specialize in Pits and also hard to place dogs and they’re wonderful, they provide trainers and vets and help the dogs and help the adopters with the dog adoptees. They’re terrific and they work with all of the other rescue groups too so they may find a beagle rescue and make sure it gets to the right place.

Are either of you worried about the elimination of celluloid film from the industry?

Richard Donner: Well, I don't know. Sure, I will miss it. Film is film.

Lauren Shuler Donner: Time marches on.

Richard Donner: Everybody’s got the expression: There’s nothing like holding a piece of film in your hand when you run it through the Moviola and you get film cuts on your fingers. But it was the touch of the film and all that, yeah, that was great. Now it’s too easy. Cutting is too easy. Editors sometimes, although I’ve had it happen too much to me recently, will have three or four versions of something that they cut in about 20 minutes. Then they say, “Well, here’s version 1, here’s version 2.” I say, “I don’t want to see version 1, 2 and 3. What do you see?” It used to be in film, you cut a piece of film, it took you a week to do a scene and to find the snippets and put the face back in, a little piece here and a reaction there. It worked from passion. They worked from feel. Now it’s just a little electronic brain that’s doing it for you. Do I miss celluloid? Yes. Do I work in digital? Sure.

Lauren Shuler Donner: To me it’s not as big a deal. I started in film too and I was even an assistant film editor in medical and educational films, A and B roll. But I’ve done so many movies digitally, it’s a wonderful asset I think.

I’m glad I got the foundation of 16mm film in film school though.

Lauren Shuler Donner: Me too. Me too so you could have a Moviola and you could hot splice and you could understand it, but if you use the flatbeds and digital with the same passion as we did with film…

Richard Donner: But they’re dying off because a lot of it is selection, rather than intent. There are so many selections, and true, when you made films with celluloid there were a lot of selections but you didn’t have time, so you just had to concentrate on what your original instinct was and go with the instinct.

Lauren Shuler Donner: What was the story you were telling?

Richard Donner: Now it becomes so analytical that you’re functioning on intellect rather than instinct. To me there’s something lost, but not to the filmmakers of today. They totally believe it and I encourage them 100%. It’s their world. I’m just some old fogey.

Lauren Shuler Donner: Who made good movies.

Richard Donner: It’s all amazing to me. In the old days, somebody would come in here and plug in a thing, there’d be a Magnecord and a Magnasync and the table would go on. You come in with this [recorder] smaller than a pack of cigarettes.

I was slow to adopt digital. I didn’t want to give up tape.

Richard Donner: I’m telling you, it’s an amazing world we’re living in.

Warner Brothers just announced The Wizard of Oz is being converted to 3D. What would you think if someone wanted to convert Superman or The Goonies to 3D?

Richard Donner: I think they should do it. I think it’d be wonderful. I’d love to see Goonies in 3D.

Lauren Shuler Donner: Do we want more 3D movies? I’m just asking the question, do we want more 3D movies?

Richard Donner: I do.

Lauren Shuler Donner: They cost more at the box office.

I personally don’t but it’s just a personal preference.

Lauren Shuler Donner: I don’t either. Me too. I don’t mind Pixar or Life of Pi, but just to take all these movies and convert them, it’s like…

Well, I would be excited about re-releases. If 3D is the vehicle to do that then I guess that’s a positive.

Lauren Shuler Donner: Wizard of Oz I’d be interested in. That sounds pretty exciting.

And you talk in the documentary about how they’d never construct a real pirate ship on Stage 16 now that they can do it green screen, so you’d be able to represent that in 3D.

Richard Donner: It’s funny, I was talking about Michael Riva. He has since died, terrible, at 62 years old and he had a stroke on a film in Louisiana. I can’t believe he’s dead and there I was just talking about him, because that film is totally his vision. Rick Carter, who’s been Steven Spielberg’s production designer forever, was the assistant on that. We run into him now and he says, “I remember sitting with Riva and they’d come up with these bizarre ideas” and he’d said, “Take it to Donner.” They would come in and I’d say, “I mean, where does this come from? I think they’re all smoking dope back there.” Which they probably were.