Byline: Louise Farr
LOS ANGELES — A guest at designer Carole Little’s recent dinner party asked a casual question: “Are you showing a lot of leopard?”
“Actually, we’ve been doing a lot of snake,” Little replied.
She was talking about her fall clothing line — snake-print velvet dresses, stretch snake pants and jackets, fake snake shirts. But she might as well have been talking about “Anaconda,” the giant snake flick she co-produced with husband and California Fashion Industries co-chairman Leonard Rabinowitz.
“It’s a date movie,” Little says. The Luis Llosa-directed horror hoot — it could also be called “Jaws” with fangs — follows Jennifer Lopez and a cross-section of humanity, including Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz and Jonathan Hyde, down the Amazon in search of an elusive Indian tribe. Of course — big mistake — they pick up a mysterious stranger along the way. The slithery obsessive is played by Jon Voight, who’s determined to catch a giant anaconda. The snake is played by two animatronic creations, 25 feet and 40 feet long, with innards made from dozens of tiny computer-driven hydraulic pistons.
“To me it was scarier than a real snake,” says Rabinowitz. “Thousands of pounds of steel thrashing around.” But not as chilling, perhaps, as Voight playing evil personified. Or, for that matter, not as scary as the movie industry.
Which raises the question of what sophisticates Little and Rabinowitz are doing making a hokey film while engaged in a business as ruthless as fashion.
“It’s a high energy, entrepreneurial business,” says Rabinowitz, who compares the film industry to the garment industry.
“Films are so compelling that I’d go there telling myself I’d just stop in and I’d end up staying for hours,” says Little.
When they formed CL Cinema Line Films in 1990, the pair had already made the Dyan Cannon movie “The End of Innocence” through their St. Tropez company. With CL, they began funding their own development, which meant they could buy scripts without waiting for studio approval or money. They did just that with “Anaconda,” their first CL feature.
“The truth is, we didn’t want to make a $52 million movie,” says Rabinowitz. “We wanted to make a light, romantic comedy.”
But Columbia, where CL had a first-look deal, looked at the “Anaconda” script and saw dollar signs. Rabinowitz recalls that former Columbia Tristar chairman Mark Canton gave him the go-ahead, saying “I can’t help it. I’m a big-game hunter.” The week before the movie opened, Rabinowitz was envisioning dollar signs himself.
“I can see the headline in next week’s Variety,” he jokes. “Snake Eats ‘Liar Liar.”‘
When “Anaconda” did beat “Liar Liar” over its opening weekend with a take of $16.5 million, the Variety head read, “Snake Takes Big B.O. Bite.”
Rabinowitz and Little plan to make more movies, although they sold 95 percent of Cinema Line to “Anaconda” co-producer Verna Harrah in late December. (Harrah is also Rabinowitz’s ex-live-in.) They’ve since resurrected their St. Tropez film company, and Rabinowitz says their first project will be about a serial killer.
“No one’s writing light, romantic comedies,” he laments.
In a complex relationship that seems terribly Hollywood, Little and Rabinowitz are married and work together, but have led separate personal lives for the past five years. It was the breakup of Rabinowitz’s relationship with Harrah that led to the end of their movie partnership.
“I have a prepared statement,” he says with a grin. “Hollywood separates strange bedfellows.”
Hanging around the office where Little and Rabinowitz are talking are items from her snaky fall clothing line. Rabinowitz looks at them thoughtfully.
“I think,” he says to Little, “you were more open to snake prints because of the film.”
“That’s not true,” she says, picking imaginary lint off Rabinowitz’s crisply pressed trousers. “I’ve been doing snake prints for years.”