James Mangold was hot off his feature directorial debut “Heavy” when he landed a star-studded cast (Stallone, De Niro, Liotta, and Keitel) and an industry-leading distributor (Miramax) for his 1997 follow-up “Cop Land.” Working with Miramax brought Mangold into the orbit of Harvey Weinstein early in the director’s career. In a new interview with Vulture looking back at the making and release of “Cop Land,” Mangold details how Miramax in the late 1990s was “an incredibly thuggish place to work.”
“It had a very unusual environment at that time,” Mangold said. “[It was] this place that seemed golden, in Hollywood’s eyes, and in the zeitgeist. You felt honored to be included, but you also felt like you were a cog in a system that was dark and corrupt. It seemed like everyone was reading their own clippings and feeling thrilled to be part of this club that was the hottest little studio in the world.”
Mangold says “Cop Land” was subjected to Weinstein’s notorious editing demands. The movie was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but Weinstein refused to send the film because test scores for the project weren’t as high as he wanted. Stallone’s “Rocky” and “Rambo” fans gave low scores to the film because it was not a similar kind of hero movie, while “cinema fans” ignored the film entirely because of Stallone’s involvement. The film’s test scores were closer to an art film than a Stallone action film, which resulted in Weinstein forcing “lots of cutting, recutting, and trying things, and just trying to figure out why the scores couldn’t be as high as other Miramax films.”
“It was both brothers [Bob and Harvey] on this movie,” Mangold added. “I didn’t have a lot of contact with them, other than them coming into the cutting room and telling me what had to change. Imagine being in a small cutting room on Broadway with both of those brothers sitting on a couch, just pointing at your Avid.”
Mangold said he also observed some of Weinstein’s go-to techniques while editing “Cop Land.” One such technique was Weinstein’s request for the director to talk to “experts,” aka “people who had produced cop movies 20 years before or the political brass in New York.” These experts would be used as “a kind of testimony about what was right or wrong about your picture.” Mangold said Weinstein would use film critics in a similar way.
“They had this great game going where they would show your film early to a critic. Then, the critic would offer their notes,” Mangold said.
“They’d literally tell Harvey that they would be kinder to the film if you made certain changes. It was this incredibly incestuous world where they had figured out how to pull people whose support they needed into the process — and thereby gain their endorsement later, when the film emerged.”
Mangold continued, “It was a system. Like all systems, people are rewarded with the ego gratification of being part of a process. It never feels corrupt to any of the participants in the moment because they just feel like their great, creative minds are being accessed for advice. What’s better than that? I don’t necessarily think it was nefarious on the part of the critics, but nonetheless, they ended up playing a role in that ecosystem.”
Mangold is currently developing the next Indiana Jones movie. His most recent release, “Ford v Ferrari,” picked up four Oscar nominations earlier this year, including Best Picture, and won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing. Weinstein is serving a 23-year prison sentence for rape and sexual assault. For more on Mangold’s “Cop Land” experience, head over to Vulture’s website.