When I saw producer Kevin Misher painfully limping into Chaya Brasserie for lunch this week, having just returned from spending months in Chicago producing "Public Enemies," the upcoming Michael Mann 1930s gangster movie, I have to admit that my first thought was: "Oh no, Mann must've been using live ammunition again." Anybody who's ever worked on a Michael Mann film has stories to tell that sound like tall tales, at least until you spend some time on his sets and see for yourself that pretty much anything can happen when Mann has a full head of steam.
Outside of James Cameron and perhaps David Fincher, no one is as much of a hard-headed perfectionist as Mann, who has a special zeal for authenticity. When I spent time on his "Ali" set in Miami, he insisted on shooting a scene where Ali first sees Malcolm X at the exact mosque where Malcolm was preaching. He also shot a scene set in the backyard of Ali's Miami home at Ali's real house, even though the backyard was right in the flight pattern of Miami International Airport, meaning a plane flew overhead every 90 seconds, repeatedly drowning out the dialogue. One of the production guys shook his head, grumbling "We didn't have this problem when we shot near LAX with 'Heat.' " Why was that, I asked? "Michael got the flight controllers to reroute LAX traffic to a different runway for a few hours."
Frankly, when I scheduled my lunch with Misher back in May, I thought for sure the producer would end up canceling. "Public Enemies," which stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, was slated to finish shooting June 30 to beat the SAG strike deadline. But having seen what happened on Mann's last movie, "Miami Vice," which went endless months over schedule, I figured the odds of Mann being done on time were about as slim as the Dodgers finishing the season with a winning record. And yet, here was Misher, bloodied (he actually hurt his leg in a hiking fall) but unbowed. So how did Misher and Universal Pictures manage to keep Mann on schedule?