Sunday, June 15, 2014

Meet Mario Domina, CEO-Producer Founder of ThunderBall Films!

It is my pleasure to interview Mario Domina today. Mr. Domina is a
CEO-Producer-Founder of ThunderBall Films, LLC in America and partner and Co-Founder of Thundermania Productions, LLC with Nuala Barton in the United Kingdom.

He is a member of the Academy of Television Arts &Science (Production Executives and Diversity Group) and member of The AmericanFilm Institute, The British Film Institute (BFI Champion and also the FilmIndependent (Filmmaker Pro Membership).

My friend Brian L. Porter and fellow author at Creativia Publishing was kind enough to suggest this interview to me. Brian is a producer and screen writer with ThunderBall Films. Let me also say that his novels are being filmed by ThunderBall Films.

First of all, I have to say Julie Northup’s interview of you was pretty amazing. I feel I have learned so much!  Julie is a friend and fellow author at Creativia.

I must say I was so impressed with what you said, particularly your reference to teamwork. And what with your basketball background,I certainly see a connection!

You see what Creativia and Miika Hannila, it’s head are all about.
It’s about teamwork. I agree with you that teamwork can accomplish anything. I had the honor of introducing Brian to Miika and Brian on the other hand, because of his amazing talent and association with you and ThunderBall Films, has brought you and your tremendous vision to Creativia! That’s pretty fantastic in my opinion.
I want to also mention recently you have signed Creativia authors and colleagues of mine, Doug Lamoreux and Tony Lewis.

Now no interview is complete without some questions so here goes:

What motivated you to collaborate with Creativia’s Miika Hannila for the co-marketing agreement?

First off thank you for the kind words and opening. As you rightly point out Carole, this all happened because of Brian Porter, our Co-producer and Screenwriter supreme for ThunderBall Films, which for me started eight years ago when I optioned to develop, adapt and produce for film-TV, his brilliant trilogy of novels A Study in Red: The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper, Legacy of the Ripper and Requiem for the Ripper. A very short time later, Brian and I both realized we had a strong synergy and vision that was equally matched in our personal and family life as well. When he told me about his other novels, we decided it would be better to work together beyond the trilogy of novels for A Study in Red.

What Brian didn’t know was I had a long-term plan for him to enter the world of film-TV because I saw in his writing, before even knowing his exemplary character, talent supreme and an innate quality to be who I would say in my career of 27 years as a film-TV producer, to date, is my greatest collaborator and perfect teammate.

What I learned early on is that Brian works the same, thinks the same and has a strong sense of doing things on time with such dedication and high level to achieve with self-sacrifice for the betterment of the team and project at hand as I do. So, when Brian recommended Creativia and Miika, as with anyone else he suggests, I take that seriously.

I know you have said that you prefer to take on projects that are foreign to America. What draws you to a project that is American-based?

Well, I have to say, it isn’t necessarily just the fact of a project location being outside of America simply because I do love to travel, which came at a very young age after my Grandfather, who I was very close to in life, passed away at 13 and prompted me to go to the library after basketball practice going through the National Geographic magazines to look through all the exotic beach locations and different stories on cultures, all the proponent that stimulated me to hand write 30 military boarding schools on my own to ask for a basketball scholarship without telling anyone, not friends, family, parents. So, at 14, my first venture to military school in Florida 1200 miles from my New Jersey home was the foundation of my sense of freedom, and as always because of the huge challenge I had to overcome.

However, to your question, it is always about the story, characters and are they high-profile, have spin-off value and resonates with me to where I ask, would I want to see this movie or watch on TV. And this can be specific to America or abroad, but typically, as with my projects, Marilyn Monroe Returns: The Healing of a Soul by Author, Dr. Adrian Finkelstein, doctor supreme of over 40 years, a Psychiatrist and past life regression theory expert from UCLA-Cedar Sinai. Also, in his book By Love Reclaimed about Jean Harlow and Paul Bern, he Co-Authored with Valerie Franich, a brilliant marketing wiz and strong personality. Both projects deal with reincarnation, mystery, love, intrigue, are high-profile and take place primarily in Hollywood. Then you take a great family project trilogy franchise like DragonMan, by Ted Lazaris, whose best-selling books reached the top of Amazon and is still on the top of the list, with the locale taking place in the Midwest, still it’s about great characters and story.

In your interview with Author J.M. Northup, you said you tend to look for two things when you are considering adapting a book into film: First, is the book a part of a franchise and second, is it a compelling story. Can you elaborate on this?

Well, Carole, as I indicated in the previous question, yes, I do look for franchise or spin-off projects as a first option. However, I found, from when I started in 2007 on developing and producing the Real Zodiac documentary, it laid a foundational premise of where to take ThunderBall Films as well as my personal selection of projects. It gave me the impetus to not discount documentary or one-off projects, but to find a way to turn them into a spin-off venture somehow.

Take for example, our new reality TV series in development, Jack the Ripper: Reality and Myth, which I created, Brian Porter Co-Created and wrote the Pilot Episode, and all created to skillfully interlace the entire series with the published novels of Brian and also, the books and supreme factual research of our Historical Research Director, Mike Covell, who is typically called by the BBC as a Jack the Ripper expert. So, although these selections of published novels are all being adapted for feature films, I found a way to expand them further into TV. For me, in everything I do, I have to look at the big picture and see a long-term plan, which is the reason, all my clients and partners have been with me so long.

Aside from how difficult and the years it takes to develop a project to get into production, raise financing, package with talent and then fight the powers to be in order to secure distribution, it comes down to the team having the same long-term view. I find that those without experience in the industry have to be educated in a different way because they think things will happen in months or a year – and that is totally unrealistic in 99.99% of the cases.

So, it’s an educational process Carole of bringing the team along with the philosophy and the reason why selecting collaborators, be it talent, crew, Authors-Screenwriters, that have the foundation of seeing the big picture not focused on just the money, but on getting their story out to the world in the best possible way to the widest audience possible…which cannot be done without a team.

Is there a particular genre you prefer? Do you look for a series that has a certain number of books?

Well, guess I’m drawn always to true crime or true stories, horror, thriller…all movies my Mother, whom I worship and adore, doesn’t like; she wants me to produce musicals. I tell her, Mom, don’t blame me I got it from her sister, my favorite Aunt Betty who we spent weekend nights as a young child before attending military school, watching the Late Late Show, which is the reason I used to spend many weekends overnight with her and my cousins.

Going back to the question, as I said earlier, it’s about the story, a great comedy, romantic story, I love movies and I have to ask myself always first, would I watch this and not just be entertained or envision taking the time it will take to properly develop it and will the Author or Screenwriter be a great collaborator?

So, a project like Marilyn Monroe Returns, which is a one-off project, based on a highly publicized book, and spec screenplay adaptation written by Bob Welkos and Jennifer Byrne, both LA Times Journalists, still I believed that there should have been a Documentary feature told, so we have developed it and packaging both the Documentary and Feature as a package. Same goes for a great project based on the number one best-selling book on Amazon, Escape from Paradise, by John and May Chu Harding about the famous Tiger Balm family, which was written to be adapted as a motion picture, however, could also be a compelling Documentary, so again, packaged as both feature and Documentary.

What in a story idea do you think makes a compelling story?

For me there are a number of elements, like great characters, potential commercial value, even in smaller independent films because they resonate on a common level anyone across the globe can relate and say, that is my life, or I know someone who went through that same situation. But, the key to me, be it book or screenplay is to feel the passion of the writer, what are they trying to say, does it have a personal meaning to them and are they conveying something different that the world can relate to and be moved by in some way, whether great horror being scared to death, a wonderful family drama that even make men cry, or a great love story like Ghost…all from the passion of a writer conveying a vision and collaborating with a team.

Would you sign a single novel if you saw the potential for expanding it into a series or multiple feature films even if there was no expectation of the novel being converted to a series? If so, what sort of content do you look for?

Because of my heavy development slate and how my company/I have evolved over the years Carole, the only projects I do sign for development-production are those who I believe without question have a spin-off value, be it features, documentary or franchise characters. So, the content are all in the areas of interest previously discussed and under these premises aforementioned.

Making a feature film takes a long time. Typically, how long does the entire process take to go from conception to completion?

Well not only features, TV or any venture takes so much time in this industry, Carole. I have this talk from my initial discussions with potential clients that if they have an unrealistic view of how long things can take, then I cannot really work with them. There are so many films throughout history, take the more recent Academy Award-Winning project, Dallas Buyer Club this past Oscar season. It took them 25 years to bring this to the screen. A feature or even TV projects, all go through a number of changes, talent, crew, financing sources, Co-production partners, etc., until the right mix of visionaries are able to push it through to completion. So, how long that takes to me is like asking what the interest rate will be in 2020? It’s all about working smart, hard, as a team with a unified vision and work ethic to protect the integrity of the project and team.

I know that it is very difficult to make the transition from author to screenwriter, yet our friend, Brian has managed to do this with great success. What do you feel gives him the ability to easily migrate between the two different disciplines so well? What did you do to mentor this ability and to nurture Brian's talent?

Well, Brian is a very unique talent and something I recognized in him from the beginning, even when he didn’t see it in himself. Very few Authors have the ability to adapt a book or novel into a screenplay. What most don’t see or know about Brian is his incredible work ethic and ability to learn quickly. When we started years ago on A Study in Red: The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper, I had a director-writer signed on from Wales, and before I signed the director, I indicated I wanted Brian to Co-write the script for him to learn how to adapt from novel to screenplay. However, my vision was more broad in scope for Brian, and he thought it was for that particular project of the trilogy, what he didn’t expect is that I wanted to foster his talents I recognized earlier to be a prolific screenwriter as he was Author. I also, unbeknownst to him until this past year, was my transitioning him into the production side of things because of his great work ethic, ability and perfect collaboration as a teammate. As I applied that specific game plan to Brian, I do so with every aspect of my work. God bless my parents for giving me the foundation to be firm with working hard, gaining the knowledge necessary to be the best I can be in my career and always saying what is fact and not laced with fiction or pre-conceived notions of what might be inconsistent with being the best or protecting my integrity or that of those around me.

I have heard the co-marketing agreement between Thunderball Films and Creativia is unusual. Why do you think this is? Do you anticipate more partnerships like this because of your decision to do it?

Well, it is a very unusual agreement Carole, all facilitated by Brian Porter. Again, because of my unqualified trust in his ability professionally and high respect for him personally, this was able to happen. However, when I saw how Miika developed Creativia and was heading in a direction that fit the personality of teammates I typically work with, it was a potential I wanted to explore further.

Miika has a wonderful ability to market books and philosophy that was highly complimented Authors that I respect highly – and again, based on his ability to get Brian’s novels republished and the publicity helped elevate the novels on Amazon ratings into the top 100 on second editions in a very short promotion. That is rare to be a small publisher based in Finland and have the ability to accomplish that feat. So, I have a long-term vision that I believe will certainly benefit Creativia and its’ Authors who Brian/I select for adaptation to film-TV.

Not sure if I anticipate further partnerships of this type because although I am a staunch planner for the long-term, I also am very much reactive to something hitting me from left field that resonates with me on a different so I say, sure let’s go for it, I have the game plan.

What is your favorite film of all time and why? And did it impact on your life and if so how?

With my love of ALL movies, which everyone I know line for line, word for word, scene for scene since I have watched them hundreds of times and even before I was inducted into the film business learning how films are put together, I was able to see something new. However, despite the types of films I am attracted to producing, there are great comedies, like the Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau films, dramas, like The Bodyguard; and yes, musicals, where the music from the Emmy Rossum-Gerald Butler, Phantom of the Opera was so beautifully produced, directed, and don’t believe that any movie score could be better.

Going back to one of my favorite films, which again, has a very deep meaning to me is one from 1963 called King of Kings, with Jeffery Hunter as Jesus and Robert Ryan, who played John the Baptist, and coincidentally, could be a twin brother if I should you a picture of one of my Uncles. The reason this film has such a deep impact to me, is not only the film itself, the brilliant performances of Jeffery Hunter and Robert Ryan, the music or writing, but it was the last movie I saw with my Grandfather in the theater one week before he died. So, whenever the movie is on and I also have the VHS and DVD, I watch it in tribute to my Grandfather.

To do all that you do, you must be very disciplined. Were you always that way or has time instilled in you this important quality?

I was so blessed to have the parents I do who taught me a strong work ethic, to find my inner voice, not be afraid to speak out against what was wrong when everyone else was saying yes or being complacent with the status quo.

So, I would say that gave me the foundation. Both my parents worked minimum 12-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. When I was younger my Father had about 3 different car-related businesses, then went to work at a large pharmaceutical company with his brothers and all were heads of departments or executives. My Father drilled into my psyche to ALWAYS be early and ALWAYS do what you say you’re going to do it when you say you will. I remember one time I was home from college and playing in several pro-am basketball leagues, I went to work with him. I had a 6:30 AM shift till 2:30 PM each day. Well my Father started at 8 PM, or sometimes on the 4 PM afternoon shift depending on which one he supervised, yet he would wake me up at 4 AM, tell me to take a shower, then he would take me to breakfast at the diner and I would arrive at work by 5:45 AM for my 6:30 AM shift. It was a valuable lesson I learned and carry with me today. I am always early to a meeting, always prepared and ready to do work.

The next thing was due to my basketball career, which started at 14 in military boarding school in Florida and continued through my minor league pro career. Because of my Mother, Father and family foundation, their structure and influence, I was able to excel at things in military school beyond basketball. First off, the school was rated number 10 academically in the nation, so with mandatory 3 hours of study hall each night it was highly regimented. However, without the foundation of my parents, I could have never survived. So, Carole, I excelled and as far as I know to date, was the only cadet ever to be promoted three times in one night. Between my parents, military school and basketball, the foundation for how I live, work, love and give are all testaments to being a very lucky man, who has not had an easy life, but very challenging, yet so rewarding. I have failed many times, yet always learned to take what worked, and leave behind what didn’t work for me. Again, another lesson learned by all the aforementioned.

People have different opinions about remakes of classics. Can you tell me what you think about remakes of old favorites? Should there be attempts at this in your opinion?

In my opinion, I am not a fan of remakes of classics, take for example, Psycho, a masterpiece of skill with Hitchcock at the helm, to take word for word a duplication film from the master of suspense was not for me – and the box office or responses agreed. What I don’t have a problem with is someone that can take a classic remake, from a new angle, using elements of the story to make it fresh or current, such as everyone knows the ending of Titanic, yet, James Cameron added and focused on the love story, which worked beautifully. And there are many other examples. One film that I wanted to remake, although not considered a classic, was a movie the fabulous Doris Day starred with John Gavin and Rex Harrison called Midnight Lace. So, as I am all for creativity, I think touching classics scene for scene word for word is not something I subscribe for even considering new technology because it is not just the visuals, it’s the written word for today’s market and considering the fans that supported the film all those years, which is the reason I love what TCM does in their programming.

Who do you feel is/was Hollywood’s greatest director (of all time) and if you want to name a few, feel free!

Well, different genres have different masters, certainly my favorites are Hitchcock, Brian DePalma, Clint Eastwood, James Cameron, Sam Mendes, Martin Campbell, Martin Scorsese, Barbra Streisand and if you saw A Bronx Tale, who could argue with the talent of Robert DeNiro, not only as an actor, but clearly shown as a Director. Yet, many others like Robert Rodriguez, Quinton Tarantino, just to name a few, all brilliant in their own way. So, choosing one is impossible.

Oh God, Doris Day, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Boris Karloff, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin…many more I can’t think of right now.

And, please add anything in your own words that you feel is important to say. Julie’s interview was superb, I felt as if I had met you. I would love you to tell me some Marioisms! Really! No word limit, just go for it! 

Well first of all Carole, I have to thank you for your pointed and wonderful questions. Yes, Julie’s interview was superb and put forth a great foundation, then with your questions expanded further into areas that normally, I don’t openly discuss with personal issues, yet, between you both, felt your professionalism and comfort answering the questions posed, gave me the freedom to tell it to the public. Of course, as with Julie, Brian Porter’s great respect for you both also gave me the freedom to discuss personal issues and answer questions in that area. It was truly an honor to be interviewed by you Carole and thank you for your kindness. I can see why you are successful in all you do.

Thank you! Mario, this was an honor. I thank you so much. I can see how you came to be what you are, a creative—hard working visionary; a credit to yourself, your family, your work and your work colleagues.

And may I say to be able to discern in others what capabilities they have is remarkable. It is one of the many talents that make up the man who is Mario Domina.