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Flying High With ‘Aviator’

Flying High With ‘Aviator’

When Rick Schwartz left his job last February as vice president of production for Miramax Films, the epitome of cutting-edge film production, friends and colleagues questioned his decision, if not his sanity. Why would Schwartz, a soft-spoken fellow in his mid-30s who grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in Teaneck, N.J., and now sends his young children to a Jewish day school in Englewood, want to walk away from the company founded and headed by the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob?

Today, with speculation rampant that Miramax’s demise is imminent and as the remaining employees scurry for jobs, Schwartz’s move seems prophetic. But he says that while he loved his six and a half years at Miramax — his first real job — he just felt it was time to move on.Schwartz acknowledges that it was “scary” for him to leave the company, which he describes as a “very Jewish” environment, not just because many Jews worked there but because of its mentality. “We were always the outsiders, the independent company in New York while 95 percent of the business is based in Hollywood.”He left “the safety net” and formed a partnership with Graham King, the London-born producer he’d met when they were both associated with the Miramax film, “Gangs Of New York.”

The making of that long-delayed epic was a war in itself, and director Martin Scorsese’s battles with Harvey Weinstein about going over budget and time and artistic differences were the talk of the industry. Schwartz said that King, who had invested about $65 million in the film, was one of the few people involved who could walk away “with his head held high.”

The two men became friends, created Blueprint Films, and are now anxiously awaiting reviews on their latest project, “The Aviator,” a big old-fashioned Hollywood biography of the early career of Howard Hughes as innovative filmmaker and pilot and legendary ladies man. The movie opens this weekend, directed by Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The early buzz is that it is Oscar material, and DiCaprio, who also starred in “Gangs,” gives a dynamic performance. Schwartz is executive producer of “The Aviator,” and is excited about the film and working with Scorsese, describing him as the kind of director “you follow into battle no matter what.”

Schwartz and Graham have first-right deals with the famed director and DiCaprio to work with them on upcoming projects, as well as with such other A-list names as Johnnie Depp.Heady stuff for Schwartz, who doesn’t seem to let his association with celebrities go to his head. With his easy laugh and low-key style, he observed that his friendship with the rich and famous often translates into people from his shul approaching him to ask if he can get Jerry Seinfeld to come to their daughters’ bat mitzvahs.As for the kinds of movies he wants to make, Schwartz said his interests vary. “No one knows the formula for success in making movies,” he said, “but if you try to copy others it’s sure to be a disaster.”

What appealed to him about the Hughes film was the attempt “to build a movie around a man who was brilliant and sexy and crazy,” and he thinks audiences will be surprised to see this side of the billionaire eccentric.These days, Schwartz spends much of his time reading books and scripts and watching old movies, looking for future projects. He has his eyes on a new novel by Joshua Braff about a young yeshiva dropout, and has been re-reading the “Friday the Rabbi Slept Late” mystery series to see how it holds up. “I’m just looking for quality, with a little bit of commercial hope,” he says, adding that it helps to have “a passion for the subjects you pick because these projects take so long.”

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