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The brief but already impressive career of screenwriter-director James Mangold offers a cautionary tale about how the quick fulfillment of a young filmmaker's dream can easily became a nightmare. Amazingly, the second act is of even greater interest.The son of respected artists, Mangold began making his own short live-action and animated films as early as age 11. He earned his BFA at the Disney-subsidized CalArts, attending both the Acting and Film Schools and studying closely under the celebrated filmmaker Alexander Mackendrick ("The Man in the White Suit"; "The Sweet Smell of Success"). He also wrote and directed four short student films including the award-winning "Barn"(1985).The story goes that on the Monday following his 1985 graduation, Mangold was packing his bags in his dorm room preparing to go home to a summer job in a photo shop in the Hudson Valley (NY) town from which he hailed. In short order, he received phone calls from three very high-powered entertainment figures: Michael Eisner, the then new chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions, Barry Diller then-head of Twentieth-Century Fox and Jeff Berg, chairman of International Creative Management. All had seen his student work and all...

The brief but already impressive career of screenwriter-director James Mangold offers a cautionary tale about how the quick fulfillment of a young filmmaker's dream can easily became a nightmare. Amazingly, the second act is of even greater interest.

The son of respected artists, Mangold began making his own short live-action and animated films as early as age 11. He earned his BFA at the Disney-subsidized CalArts, attending both the Acting and Film Schools and studying closely under the celebrated filmmaker Alexander Mackendrick ("The Man in the White Suit"; "The Sweet Smell of Success"). He also wrote and directed four short student films including the award-winning "Barn"(1985).

The story goes that on the Monday following his 1985 graduation, Mangold was packing his bags in his dorm room preparing to go home to a summer job in a photo shop in the Hudson Valley (NY) town from which he hailed. In short order, he received phone calls from three very high-powered entertainment figures: Michael Eisner, the then new chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Productions, Barry Diller then-head of Twentieth-Century Fox and Jeff Berg, chairman of International Creative Management. All had seen his student work and all had offers. With Berg as his agent, Mangold signed a one-year contract with Disney. His Hollywood career had officially begun.

Unfortunately, Mangold got on the bad side of Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg over a minor deal point that Berg had negotiated into his contract granting him an assistant. As a result, Katzenberg never fully accepted the new recruit into the Disney "family". Mangold scripted a Disney TV-movie, "Deacon Street Deer", and was assigned to direct. The studio, however, found his interpretation too dark and replaced him with veteran TV director, Jackie Cooper. Mangold next co-wrote one of the studio's less impressive animated features "Oliver & Company" (released 1988). This was back in the time before the Disney animation renaissance so it was hardly a plum assignment. When his year was up, he found himself adrift in Los Angeles.

Mangold scared up a few jobs, writing trailers for cheesy genre movies, scripting a Will Vinton animated children's special (which would later win an Emmy) and contemplated writing a novel. Fearing he'd end up a minor TV director, Mangold confounded his friends by moving to NYC and enrolling in Columbia's MFA program in Film. His experience won him advanced standing and, two years later, one of five places in Milos Forman's advanced writing and directing workshop where he developed the script for what would be his feature directorial debut.

Mangold wrote and directed several well-received shorts while at Columbia including "Victor" (1991), a 30-minute silent film, and "Tree/Line", a documentary about his mother, artist Sylvia Mangold Plimack, that accompanied her museum show.

The project that begin its genesis at Columbia, "Heavy", was screened at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival and won its maker Special Jury Recognition for Directing. The deliberately paced character-driven story concerned an overweight pizza maker (Pruitt Taylor Vince) emotionally stuck in a life dominated by his mother/boss (Shelly Winters) until a beautiful young college drop-out (Liv Tyler) enters his life. The film received a limited release in 1996 and garnered generally respectful reviews.

Mangold's second feature project was "Cop Land" (1997), a low-budget ($15 million) independent feature with A-list stars (including Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro) about a suburban sheriff who learns of corruption within the NYPD. The stars were so impressed by Mangold's screenplay that they deferred their usual salaries and worked for scale. In retrospect, Mangold decided that Katzenberg had done him a great favor by saving him from a standard studio career.

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