The gig: Bill Gerber is a film producer whose credits include "Gran Torino," "The Dukes of Hazzard," and "The In-Laws." His next movie, "Grudge Match," which will be released by Warner Bros. on Christmas Day, stars Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone as old boxing rivals who come out of retirement for one final fight.
Rock 'n' roll dreams: Gerber, 56, grew up wanting to be a rock 'n' roll drummer. "The minute I heard [the Beatles'] 'I Saw Her Standing There,' the world changed," he said. "I studied music for years, going to different music camps and taking lessons." But when he was 19 years old, after realizing that his future was uncertain as a drummer in bands that were "all unsuccessful — no record deals," he had an epiphany: He would get into the music business "so that I could make my own records, sign other bands and be a force in music and have some control over my destiny."
"Are We Not Men?": Gerber became a music manager in 1977 — "a great time in music in L.A. — it was on fire." A year later, he visited the now-defunct Starwood club and saw the new wave band Devo for the first time.
"All of a sudden the curtains part and out comes Devo in those yellow suits playing 'Are We Not Men?' and I thought, 'I've seen the future of rock and roll. It's not Bruce Springsteen, it's these guys.'" Gerber tried to sign the band, but Devo opted instead to go with well-known music manager Elliot Roberts, who represented Neil Young, among other stars.
No grudge here: Roughly a year later, Gerber began working for Roberts' Lookout Management. "Elliot is one of the greatest managers in history, and knew everything about the music business," Gerber said. "I was his protege and was able to learn the management and record businesses from him." And, by joining Lookout, Gerber got to manage Devo. During his five years there, he also would manage bands including the Cars and Heaven 17.
"The Odd Couple" connection: Gerber's late father, Roy, was a well-known talent manager and the inspiration for the Oscar Madison character in Neil Simon's comedy "The Odd Couple" — a result of having been, in the 1960s, a roommate of the playwright's brother Danny. "My father and Danny — without them there is no 'Odd Couple.' Neil, in a very creative way, took license and made it a far more interesting story than it probably was in real life," Gerber said.
Making movies: The early 1980s was an era of hit soundtracks — those of films such as "Urban Cowboy" and "Flashdance" scored on the Billboard charts — and studios sought out Lookout for its expertise. Gerber met people in the movie business, and he started thinking, "Those people dress pretty well — there must be something going on."
Through his attorney at the time, Nick Wechsler, Gerber cut a development deal to make a music-themed movie at Warner Bros. with its then-head of production, Mark Canton. The film wasn't made, but Canton offered Gerber a job as an executive with the studio.
"A great run": Gerber became a Warner Bros. production executive in 1985, and he oversaw Oliver Stone's "JFK" and the Oscar-winning crime drama "L.A. Confidential" for the studio. In 1996, Gerber was named Warner Bros.' worldwide president of theatrical production. "Creatively, I thought I was doing everything right." But he later got caught in studio infighting and was fired in 1998. "I got into a little bit of a political matchup, which didn't go well for me," he said.
Despite the parting, Gerber set up his production company on the Warner lot the same year, and he maintains a first-look deal there. "Professionally, it means everything to me to still be at Warners," Gerber said. "I think it is the best studio … and I've always been treated really well — treated like family and treated with respect."
Another odd couple: "Grudge Match" originally came out of Gerber's desire to do a movie with Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood, director and star of the Gerber-produced "Gran Torino." He considered pairing them with Morgan Freeman on a remake of the 1979 George Burns caper "Going in Style." But Gerber got resistance from the actors' representatives.
Then fellow producer Mark Steven Johnson told him about the "Grudge Match" story. Gerber thought it would make for a great movie, and Warner Bros. agreed. But again there was resistance: "Clint said, 'Who wants to see me in my boxing shorts?' I said, 'Everybody wants to see you in your boxing shorts.'"
Casting it: With Eastwood and Nicholson out, Gerber said, the only other options were Stallone and De Niro, both famed film pugilists — Stallone for the role of Rocky Balboa and De Niro for that of Jake LaMotta. Gerber said audiences will be in for a surprise when it comes to De Niro's physique: "I don't think he's been in this kind of shape since 'Cape Fear.' I looked at a bunch of production stills and the guy has a legit eight-pack in the movie. We didn't do any CGI to his body, nothing."
Iron man: Gerber runs marathons and competes in triathlons. He has completed the Ironman — a grueling long-distance race — and hopes to beat his time of 12 1/2 hours. "I know I can. I have three kids, a wife and a job — I don't have time for the usual triathlon regimen — but I am up for the challenge. I think it is good to get raw once in a while and see what you are made of."