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ELKHART -- For 30 years, Elkhart Memorial High School graduate David Gundlach labored in the rarely-glamorous world of insurance. His post-retirement career, however, has the paparazzi's attention.
Gundlach is the co-producer of a multi-million dollar, independent movie starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Lucas Black. "Get Low" opened at Encore Theaters in Elkhart and hundreds of other theaters across the country last week. The independent film recounts the true story of an eccentric recluse, played by Duvall, who plans and attends his own, living, funeral.
On the heels of the movie's local opening, Gundlach spoke with The Elkhart Truth by phone about his path from Elkhart to Hollywood, his movie-making education and working with Murray, Black and Duvall.
ELKHART TO LA VIA LONDON
After high school, Gundlach studied history at the University of Southern California with the intention of being a classroom history teacher and perhaps coaching golf.
He was also a fan of film, and found himself on the same dormitory floor as soon-to-be director Ron Howard. They spent time together and swapped "somedays," but Gundlach stuck to the original plan and graduated with a degree in history -- just as the 1979 recession triggered widespread teacher layoffs.
The insurance industry was his third choice of careers, he said, after teaching and maybe making movies. But it was the one that paid the bills -- and then some. For 15 of his professional years he was in the employ of Lloyd's of London.
"I made a bit of money in insurance, then came back to the states. I had this golf contact, so I called him and said 'You remember how we always said if we made a little money we would put together a little independent film company?' He said, 'Yes I do. Let's do lunch.'"
HOW HOLLYWOOD WORKS
After getting his feet wet in the business, Gundlach tried some less successful partnerships before meeting Dean Zanuck, a 20th Century Fox legacy and his co-producer on "Get Low." They read several scripts a day until they found one they wanted to produce.
"Once we found 'Get Low,' -- I don't think there was any other actor who could play that role (than Robert Duvall). And you have to wait until he's free ... it took three years for us to get him," Gundlach said.
So Gundlach went to work trying to get Bill Murray to star in the supporting role of Frank Quinn. Already he'd learned that attaching a star to a movie means beginning with calls to the star's agents and managers. Not so with Murray.
"Bill Murray represents himself. He's just a little eccentric, there's no doubt ... and he travels a lot. So there's an 800 number you dial to get a hold of Bill."
Movies can take 10 years to go from concept to completion, Gundlach said. Besides waiting for the right actor to be available, some producers will also wait for the big-name directors to be free and for the movie to be funded. And there are still no guarantees.
Executive producer Joey Rappa, Gundlach and Zanack found success, though, while shopping the finished product around film festivals. Sony Classic purchased the distribution rights to the film and sent it to theaters instead of straight to DVD.
"It's been an interesting time for independent films. 'Slumdog Millionaire' won an Oscar for best picture. I think it's that if you look at most of the movies being made today, good storytelling is not that prevalent," he said.
Gundlach is already working on another project, a golf movie in the vein of "Tin Cup." He'd like to get Justin Timberlake to play the role of the young golfer working toward qualifying, and Mark Wahlberg as the older pro.
He wants to stick to producing movies with compelling scripts.
"I'm 55 years old and this is a dream come true. This is what I've always wanted to do, and it's even making money. So I'm having a great time."