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TOWER HEIST

About The Production
Plotting the Heist: The Project Begins

Oscar®-winning producer Brian Grazer is one of a handful of filmmakers with the intuitive ability to pair Brett Ratner, the action-savvy director with a string of box-office hits to his name, and a high-profile cast led by comedy superstars Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy to deliver Tower Heist, an action-comedy that scales new heights.

The producer shares how the project began: "Eddie and I have worked with one another since we filmed Boomerang in the early '90s. In 2005, he pitched an idea to Brett and me to develop a film with a number of comedians playing guys who were down on their luck, the genesis of Tower Heist. He wanted to create a movie with characters that were not the cool, slick guys. His idea was that the story would follow a group of disgruntled employees in a building like the Trump Tower who seize their chance and plan a robbery. Naturally, everything that could possibly go wrong with their ill-conceived plans did.”

From inception to the first day of principal photography, it would take almost five years before the film would fire on all cylinders. Grazer, Ratner and Murphy were in no rush, however, as they wanted to make sure that the project was tonally perfect. Commends Murphy of the man with whom he's worked on blockbuster hits such as The Nutty Professor and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps: "Brian has been my biggest collaborator throughout my career. We have similar sensibilities when it comes down to what a good movie is and the types of movies we're trying to make. We have a shorthand communication where I can tell him one of my ideas and he can help shape it into a screenplay.”

Since Murphy's pitch to Grazer and Ratner in '05, several incarnations of the project have come about. The development process has been a lengthy one, but the three men agreed that the film that they ultimately wanted to make should seamlessly blend comedy and action. Grazer and Murphy found Ratner to be the perfect partner to helm Tower Heist and liked the fact that he would work with Ocean's Eleven screenwriter Ted Griffin and Catch Me If You Can writer Jeff Nathanson to hone the earlier work of Accepted scribes Adam Cooper and Bill Collage.

Ratner reflects upon how Tower Heist's writers nailed the tone of the film he would direct: "Ted brought the real motivation and the heart to the concept, and then when Jeff came on, he came up with the obstacles, complexities and the specificities of these characters.” He feels that the time is ideal for this story to unfold and states: "It's about the upstairs and the downstairs and working-class, blue-collar workers just trying to get by who were robbed. They're taking it back from not just the rich, but the corrupt rich. That's why you're cheering for and rooting for these characters. You want them to win.”

The director, who is equally comfortable with the comedy genre as he is with action, shares something unique with Murphy: both are film aficionados who possess encyclopedic recall of scenes from classic Hollywood and foreign films. However, it was Ratner's deep affinity for the heist movies of the 1970s—from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three to The Hot Rock and The Anderson Tapes—that most attracted him to Tower Heist. "What works about our movie is that it walks that line between drama and comedy very well,” he offers. "Nobody's playing these characters with a wink; everyone's playing them incredibly serious. The comedy naturally comes from the characters and the situations that they're put into.”

For Ratner, the opportunity to direct a comedy icon was one he didn't hesitate to grab. He offers: "I grew up watching all of Eddie's films and studying them, so the chance to work with him was a dream come true. Not only was this movie Eddie's idea, but in a lot of ways, he invented the genre. If it wasn't for him, my Rush Hour series would never have existed.”

Murphy, pleased to see that the project was coming full circle, joined Grazer and fellow Imagine executive Kim Roth on Tower Heist as a producer on the film. He shares: "Brian and the studio kept developing it and wanted to make it more about one character instead of a group of comedians, and a great script came together. They called me and let me know that Ben Stiller wanted to do the movie and that there was this role in it that's really cool. I read it and thought it was funny. Plus, I'm trying to work with Brett as much as possible.”

The performer believed that it was time to return to familiar comic ground. He adds: "The theme of the film, with the workers being taken advantage of by the rich folks and then turning the tables, is timeless. One of my earliest movies, Trading Places, was like that. Those themes work forever. It was fun for me to work on because I hadn't done a role like that in a while. I've done a lot of family movies, and I've done a lot of projects in which the characters were not ‘street-y' guys. There was a freshness to this.”

Stiller, the star of such box-office hits as Zoolander and Tropic Thunder (both of which he directed) and the three films of the Meet the Parents franchise, came aboard as Josh Kovaks, the workaholic manager of the tony building who has given up on his personal life to satiate the endless wants of his pampered residents. Whether immersing himself in the minutiae of fine wines and the newest restaurants or keeping track of the birthday and anniversary of every affluent occupant, Josh may always be counted upon. With a decade of experience working in the building, he runs a tight ship and expects nothing but perfection from his staff.

The actor admits that he was intrigued by Ratner's passionate take on the material, and the chance to join both the director and Murphy proved to be an attractive proposition. Stiller remarks: "I've known Brett for almost 15 years, and this is the first time that we've worked together. He has incredible enthusiasm and an amazing sense of film history. He loves the filmmaking process, and he loves filmmakers. Brett works viscerally. He does his prep, but when he gets on the set is when it all comes alive for him.”

Ratner returns the compliment to Stiller: "I've been a friend and fan of Ben's for more than 15 years. He is one of my favorite directors and actors. There is no actor with as much passion, commitment and hard work toward a performance than Ben. From our first meeting about Tower Heist, we were on the same page and completely agreed on the tone of the film that we all wanted to make.”

Problem solver that he is, Josh looks to con man Slide when it comes to criminal advice. The relationship between the two dates back to their time in preschool in Astoria, Queens, but the interaction that they currently have is the daily harassment that Slide gives Josh on Josh's way to work. Although both still live in the borough, the men are polar opposites who have taken separate paths. Josh works in the rarified world of vast wealth in Manhattan while Slide is pulling low-level crime gigs. But a criminal mind is a criminal mind, and Josh has limited options and time to get the pension funds back. Josh knows he's taking a chance to ask Slide to join in their con, but he takes the risk.

When it came to working with Murphy, Stiller led the cast in enthusiasm. As Murphy has been a fixture of the comedy landscape for decades, Stiller was excited to see him slip into a role that harkened back to memorable characters he portrayed in Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs. Commends Stiller: "Eddie Murphy is iconic, especially for my generation. He defines a lot of what comedy is over the last 25 years, so it was very cool to wo

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