By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
THE MAD SCIENTIST
Chris Hanley on Drugs, Cyberpunks and Serial Killers
(executive producer, 1992)
Trees Lounge (1996)
This World, Then the
Two Girls and a Guy (1998)
Buffalo ’66 (1998)
The Virgin Suicides (2000)
American Psycho (2000)
Love Liza (2003)
With his Buster Keaton deadpan and wild tangle of hair behind thick black Philip Johnson glasses, the soft-spoken Chris Hanley most resembles a European intellectual, or perhaps a mad scientist engaged in experiments involving small animals and electricity. A world traveler -- his Web site, www.musefilm.com, features extensive photos from Tokyo, Phi Phi Island in Thailand and the house he keeps in Lamu, Kenya -- Hanley has speech patterns that reflect an eclectic host of influences, from brain chemistry and chaos theory to his former lives as an electronic musician, art dealer and karaoke mogul, as well as the colorful figures he has encountered along the way.
From a beachfront loft in Venice, Hanley‘s Muse Productions, which he runs with his wife, Roberta, has produced roughly 20 films in a mere decade, luring adventurous, often first-time directors with the promise of final cut, and attracting major actors at far below cost with challenging material unlikely to get made elsewhere. Muse is currently awaiting the release of three features: Love Liza, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a grieving widower who takes up gasoline huffing; Spun, the story of speed tweakers in Portland; and Tiptoes, a comedymelodrama from Freeway writer-director Matthew Bright in which Gary Oldman will appear computer-composited with a dwarf body double.
“Chris and Roberta’s life is just like an Interview magazine article,” says a former employee who wishes to remain anonymous. “The whole Warhol ‘80s, ’Look at all the crazy people around me, isn‘t it cool’ kind of thing.”
“Chris is from outer space,” explains Larry Clark, for whom Hanley produced Bully with Don Murphy. “He definitely is from another planet. But it‘s what makes him interesting, I guess. And somehow he has the knack for raising money for these difficult films.”
Born in the upper-middle-class suburb of Montclair, New Jersey, where they shoot exteriors for The Sopranos, Hanley -- the son of a dentist and a dancer with the New York City Ballet -- became an itinerant student at Columbia and Oxford (briefly) before settling at Amherst College in western Massachusetts, where he collected degrees in literature and philosophy. It was at the affiliated Hampshire College’s electronic-music lab, which featured the first sequencers and drum machines in the country, that he met his future wife. Relocating to Manhattan, where he and Roberta spent most of the ‘80s, Hanley found his way into the downtown “no wave” noise-music scene, where he formed a company called Intergalactic Music, initially providing vintage guitars and synthesizers to musicians like John McLaughlin, Heart, and John Entwhistle of The Who. Intergalactic later opened its own studio and recorded contemporary acts such as Afrika Bambaata, Soul Sonic Force, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, the Ramones, and Blondie minus Debbie Harry.
Soon, as an offshoot of Intergalactic and financed, in part, by a thriving art dealership (on occasion, he paid people with Warhol paintings), Hanley formed Rock Video International to distribute the first music videos in Russia, the Eastern Bloc and Japan -- and then, reversing direction, brought karaoke to the U.S., producing more than 400 video clips for the burgeoning fad. In the latter capacity, he wound up hiring practically anyone in New York who had an independent feature to his or her credit.
In February 1992, the Hanleys closed out their various businesses and relocated to Los Angeles, first stopping off in London long enough to produce Split Second, a subpar Rutger Hauer action film financed by Roberta’s father, a London banker. It put them on the map. “We worked with Harvey and his gang at Miramax,” says Hanley. “The entire net worth of the company was a pumped-up $6 million. At one point, actually, Harvey came to our house in London, and we could have bought 50 percent of Miramax for $6 million. We called our friend Gary, who worked with Paul Allen, who put October Films together, and he said, ‘Oh, man, they’re so much in the red. That‘s a dangerous investment.’ Then The Crying Game came out.”
Relying on New York contacts, Hanley quickly partnered with Nick Wechsler, of Addis-Wechsler, on Steve Buscemi‘s Trees Lounge. Through Wechsler, he met Matt Bright, who dragged him to a meeting with Oliver Stone, who in turn impulsively offered to produce Freeway, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, starring Reese Witherspoon, and Kiefer Sutherland as a serial rapist. Hanley tapped his New York music pal Vincent Gallo to direct Buffalo ’66 and partnered with New York producer Ed Pressman on Two Girls and a Guy, and American Psycho (to which Leonardo DiCaprio was infamously attached for a heartbeat, before reason prevailed).
Today, Muse carries between 15 and 20 projects at any one time, many of them literary properties, including, at present, two Philip K. Dicks (Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly); one J.G. Ballard (High Rise); current literary pinups Amy (A.M.) Homes (Music for Torching and In a Country of Mothers) and J.T. Leroy (The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, to be adapted-directed by Asia Argento); and Mama Black Widow by Iceberg Slim. “There‘s a drug genre, a cyberpunk genre and a criminal genre,” says the aforementioned former employee. “Everything fits into one of those three. At one point, we had 10 books, and six of them were about serial killers.”