From his early days producing direct-to-video slasher films, to being a major figure in the independent cinema movement of the 1990s, Richard Gladstein has built a reputation as a champion of filmmakers.

His credits span across budgets and genres. You may know his collaborations with director Quentin Tarantino, dating all the way back to his debut film, Reservoir Dogs. Or you may have seen his back-to-back Academy Award® Best Picture-nominated films The Cider House Rules and Finding Neverland. Or, perhaps, your heart was thumping from excitement during the action scenes in The Bourne Identity.

Today, he’s making his mark on cinema in a new way – by teaching the next generation of filmmakers at Brooklyn College’s Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema. 

However, (in our completely unbiased opinion), the most important and esteemed position that Richard fills is a seat on our Leadership Committee! In his copyright-related work, Richard has testified before Congress on the cultural and economic harms of widespread digital piracy and worked as a tireless advocate for the rights of all American creatives. 

Richard spoke to CreativeFuture about his extraordinary career, his thoughts on the effects of digital piracy, and his work ushering in the next generation of filmmakers. 

JC Taylor: Tell me about how you got into the industry. What was your first job in entertainment?

RG: After I graduated from Boston University, I moved back to New York, where I grew up. I had a real desire to work in the film business – specifically working on the set of a movie.

I spent a couple years toiling around as a production assistant on films shooting in New York City. I did that for about 18 months and spent more time looking for work than actually working. But I didn’t see myself working on set forever. I wanted to work more in the business of film.

I ended up getting a job at a company called Angelica Films. It was a small arthouse distribution company, and as part of the job, I travelled to what was called the USA Film Festival – which is now known as the Sundance Film Festival.

It was at that time that the independent film business started to flourish. I really got to know the business through that company and attending that festival.

JT: I have to ask about your involvement in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series…

RG: In 1987, I moved to Los Angeles and got a job at a company called Live Entertainment. There, the home video business started blossoming, and became what would drive the financing of a lot of great indie films of that time.

This allowed us to make films for very low budgets – like Silent Night, Deadly Night – and still have them be profitable. It was through that model that I learned to make movies. From there, I did Reservoir Dogs at Live Entertainment. I sold that movie to Miramax as a finished film, and of course, it went on to become a hit. So, they then hired me to be head of production at Miramax. 

JT: Tell me more about how you came to Reservoir Dogs. Quentin Tarantino (director of Reservoir Dogs) has said that he owes his career to you. How did that relationship start?

RG: While I was working on the Silent Night, Deadly Night sequels, the director of them was Monte Hellman. He was sort of a cult ’60s director. When we were working on Part Three of those films, he told me about this wonderful script for a movie called Reservoir Dogs.

I asked if he wanted to direct it, and he said, “I’d love to, but there’s this kid I met named Quentin Tarantino who wrote it, and he wants to direct it.”

A few weeks later, I went home and there was a package at my house with the script in it, and on the front, it said “Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino” – very unusual, considering it hadn’t been directed by anyone yet. As I was walking into my house, I started reading it, and the first scene just jumps right into dialogue without a word of describing the characters or what they’re doing – and they’re talking about Madonna.

Back then, you would never have characters discussing pop culture in a movie, and the whole thing was really unusual. I couldn’t stop reading it. After 30 pages or so I thought, “There’s no way it stays this good for the rest of the script,” but it did!

I think we shot the movie like four or five months later – I was just so into it. It was so fresh, dynamic, engaging, different.

JT: That’s interesting what you said about the scene descriptions, or lack thereof, because the movie is so aesthetically iconic now – it’s surprising that there was such an emphasis on the dialogue. 

RG: Right, and the movie takes place almost all in that one warehouse. We barely did anything to the location. It takes place during the day, so we didn’t have to light very much. Quentin was so set on this movie that he was going to make it in his backyard if he had to. 

JT: What happened after you made it? Was it a hit right away? 

RG: It took a long time. We made it into Sundance, but nobody wanted to buy it there, and it took us months to find distribution after the festival. Eventually, we made a deal with Miramax. They took the U.S. rights, and we kept home video and international rights – which was great, because it made more in London than it did in the whole United States. It was much bigger overseas than it was at home. 

In England, Reservoir Dogs became an immediate phenomenon, and people were dressing like the characters and repeating the lines. When the movie finally came out on home video, it started to really catch on. At that point, it was a hit. 

JT: When do you think the home video market stopped being viable? 

RG: All through the nineties the home video business was huge, and even through the 2000s, there was HBO and other cable channels that were distributing movies.

It wasn’t until streaming entered the picture that the DVD business started to fall apart. And, as that market went away, it started to affect the kinds of movies that were being made. For example, dramas that are made for a couple million dollars are not released in theaters anymore – they go straight to streaming. 

JT: How do you feel about that trend in the industry?

RG: I think Netflix and Amazon are like the Miramax of today. Yes, there’s A24 and a couple other indie companies – but for the most part, the independent distributors have gone by the wayside.

There are still indie movies being made on super-low budgets and the studios are still making blockbusters, but the market for mid-budget films like The Cider House Rules are not getting made to go to theaters. And when I’m making a movie, I want it to be experienced theatrically, so that’s not ideal. 

JT: Let’s go back to The Cider House Rules, because that must have been a big career moment for you – to go straight from that film into The Bourne Identity

RG: Well, before that, I left Miramax to start own my production company: FilmColony. So, I went from being an executive producer on films like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown for Miramax to producing films like The Cider House Rules through my own production company. 

JT: I was curious about The Cider House Rules specifically because of the Oscars® experience – you were nominated for Best Picture. When you were making it, was there a feeling that it might be an award-friendly film?

RG: A movie like Pulp Fiction is a total surprise when it gets nominated. But The Cider House Rules was less of a surprise to me because it was a drama, and it dealt with certain issues of social justice, so I felt that it had the elements of an Oscar® contender.

When I left Miramax to form FilmColony, it was the first movie that I sold them. It took about five years of working with screenwriter and author John Irving to get the script right and make that film. 

JT: How common is that timeline for you? A lot of people aren’t aware how long movies can spend in that development stage. 

RG: Finding Neverland took about that long, as well. Every project is conceived differently. When I produced The Hateful Eight, Quentin just called me up and said, “I have this script, would you like to produce it?” Just six months later, we were shooting it.

JT: Let’s fast-forward to today. You recently testified before the House Judiciary Committee about digital piracy and the effect it has on the creative economy. What was your first experience with the policymaking side of this industry like? 

RG: One of the more interesting aspects of that side of the industry is that there is a lot of support for these issues on both sides of the aisle.

This issue defies partisanship, which seems really surprising in the current political climate. I think the more people learn about piracy, and how it effects everyday workers who are trying to make a living in the film business, they begin to understand why it’s important to have smart policies in place. It’s not about giving movie stars more money; it’s about giving those residuals and union participations back to the everyday workers who need it.

When more movies are being made, it’s good for everyone. The carpenters, the electricians, the seamstresses of the industry are often the people hurt most by piracy. And it’s not just the people directly working for the movie, either. When we shot The Hateful Eight in Telluride, Colorado, the local grocery store, the restaurants, and the tire shops were all thriving because of the production.

That’s what a lot of people miss when they think about piracy.

JT: Tell me about how you moved into education. What made you interested in teaching the next generation of filmmakers?

RG: I love making movies, but just like a movie has a beginning, middle, and end, so too does the process of making movies. I like that I now have the opportunity to be a part of something more lasting than a movie. 

JT: What do you think about New York City as a film town, compared to Los Angeles or Atlanta?

RG: L.A. is a little more compartmentalized – there’s cinematographers, editors, directors, costume designers, and all of these people stay in their specific lanes. In New York, there’s a lot of people who are just “filmmakers.” So, we’ve adjusted our curriculum at Brooklyn College to match that attitude and teach our students to be well-rounded filmmakers instead of pushing them into a single concentration. 

It’s also good to get a taste of a lot of different meals before you decide what you want to eat all the time. A lot of the students that we attract haven’t tried out all those different jobs yet, so they would never know if they wanted to be an editor or a cinematographer – because they haven’t tried it yet. 

JT: Do you see a lot of yourself in the graduate students that you teach?

RG: Well, I didn’t go to graduate school, so I find that these students are a lot more sophisticated than I was. I was an undergraduate, and I didn’t even really know what I wanted to do.

Additionally, our school is very diverse. When I was coming up in the industry, I saw a lot of people that looked like me represented on screen and behind the camera, and these students haven’t seen that as much. There’s a strong desire with these students to tell their own stories and share their history, and that was never something I would have thought about when I was starting my career. 

JT: What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself who is just starting in the film industry?

RG: Be patient. Do everything perfectly. Don’t ask to be noticed.

You don’t need to ensure that people see what you do. Do it, and they will notice.