When producers Sean and Bryan Furst met Wayne Kramer in 2001, just about everyone had rejected his Las Vegas fable, "The Cooler." The screenplay was a hard sell, "because it defies any specific genre," Bryan Furst said. "It's not a mob flick, it's not a comedy or a love story, but all three together."
It didn't help that the inexperienced Kramer wanted to direct, although that hardly bothered the Fursts. With their eight-year-old production company, Furst Films, Sean, 33, and Bryan, 26, have made a name for themselves by discovering previously unknown talent. In 2000, their Sundance picture, "Everything Put Together," introduced filmmaker Marc Forster, who went on to direct the Oscar-winning "Monster's Ball." "Sean has this incredible, risk-taking entrepreneurial spirit," Forster told Variety, which listed the Fursts among 2003 "producers to watch."
So it wasn't surprising that the brothers were willing to gamble on Kramer, who impressed them with his visual sensibility and his sharp screenplay, co-written with Frank Hannah.
The story is more reminiscent of classic 1970s films than recent Sin City flicks such as "Leaving Las Vegas," which interested the Fursts.
"We were also drawn to the film because we identify with the idea that to a certain extent, you make your own luck," Sean Furst said.
While growing up Reform in Beverlywood, their model was their father, who turned the flag company he started in his garage in his early 20s into a national business. Although Sean Furst initially aspired to become an actor (he caught the bug while starring in a Temple Emanuel production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"), he adopted dad's Jewish work ethic and set his sights on producing. "I wanted to pursue something that would allow me to be creative but also to build a business," he said.
After majoring in theater and business and USC, he moved to New York to work as a producer's assistant, and proved resilient when that job fell through. He waited tables, interned at a production company and developed "a little gift of gab," he said. By age 25 he had founded Furst Films: "But I had to put myself on the map," he said.
He began doing so by investing his own money into a pet property, "Everything Put Together," which "was like a debutante, coming-out kind of thing," he said.
His younger brother helped out on the set after graduating from NYU's film school in 1999 and soon became his partner. The Fursts went on to establish a reputation for securing high-profile talent for inexpensive independent films, casting Philip Seymour Hoffman and Minnie Driver in "Owning Mahowny," for example.
"One of the things we're very good at is making a compelling case to actors' representatives," Sean Furst said.
They used that talent to snag an initially reluctant Macy for "The Cooler," their first project under a first-look deal with ContentFilm.
"Bill had read the script, but he hadn't really committed to the movie, " Bryan Furst said.
"[I'd] played a lot of losers in my career, so many, in fact, that I had decided to put a moratorium on that type of role for myself," said Macy ("Fargo," "Boogie Nights"). "When I read 'The Cooler,' I thought, 'This takes the character of the loser to operatic heights.'"
The producers changed Macy's mind by writing persuasive letters to his agent, emphasizing that Lootz was the romantic lead and that the film was first and foremost a love story.
Several months later, "The Cooler" went into production at the Flamingo Reno; in January 2003, it was the first movie to sell at the Sundance Film Festival (Lions Gate acquired the North American distribution rights for an advance of $1.5 million). "We screened the film on a Thursday and closed the deal on Sunday," Bryan Furst said.
Since then, "The Cooler" has earned rave reviews, dramatically increasing the brothers' producing cache. Today, they have a dozen new projects in the works, including the horror film "The Woods" for United Artists and the Hughes brothers' thriller, "Conviction."
As the producers continue seeking out new talent, they have something in common with "Cooler" characters: We gamble every day at the office," Sean Furst said.