December 7, 2000
Slayer of Movie-making Dragons
How do you direct your first movie with lavish special effects, stars like Jeremy Irons and a budget of $35 million?
You have to know how to finagle.
Just ask Courtney Solomon, 30, whose debut feature, "Dungeons & Dragons," opens today in L.A.
Bringing the fantasy role-playing game to the silver screen was a decade-long quest more taxing than the fictional D&D scenarios Solomon created as a kid in Toronto. He and his Jewish pals would clear a place on the dining room table and spread out the pens and dice and handbooks required for marathon 12-hour sessions of the popular game. Solomon may not have had a Bar Mitzvah ("My dad got sick; I totally missed out"), but he did acquire skill as a Druid and a Thief, a D&D character noted for picking locks and climbing walls.
Climbing mountains was the skill he needed to scrape together his first movie. It all began when he was 19: Solomon had grown up on film sets with his production-coordinator mom; he'd already worked on 21 shows, so why bother with film school? he figured. He'd just make a movie about D&D, something splashy like "Raiders of the Lost Ark." "Yeah, right," his friends said.
It didn't help that the D&D company was wary of Hollywood and had consistently declined to sell the movie rights.
But the undeterred Solomon merely cold-called the company, pretended he was an economics student and got all their marketing info. As for his first meeting with D&D executives: "They sort of laughed me out the door," he recalls. "But I wouldn't go away."
His tenacity paid off. The company finally yielded; money arrived from Hong Kong investors and superproducer Joel Silver; and Solomon shot a chase sequence with horses ("It was a lot of people getting trampled") to convince Silver he could direct. In May 1999, principal production began in Prague with Thora Birch ("American Beauty"), Marlon Wayans and Jeremy Irons as the arch-villain.
The movie is dedicated to Solomon's grandparents, Anne and Joe Smuckler, without whom he couldn't have completed the film. At one point when his money ran out, his grandfather, a housepainter, co-signed a $25,000 loan to allow him to continue the project. "My bubbe and zayde didn't live to see the movie," Solomon says, "but somehow I feel they know."