Westmounter Len Blum looks back at his career in movies

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His CV includes titles like Meatballs, Heavy Metal, and Howard Stern’s “Private Parts”.

Retired screenwriter, film producer, and film composer Len Blum has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.  His CV includes titles like Meatballs, Heavy Metal, and Howard Stern’s “Private Parts”. In advance of his appearance at the upcoming annual McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) conference, Lifting Off and Flying High: Talent and Success in Canada, which examines success in three areas: technology, sports ,and culture.  The Westmounter and husband of McGill Principal and Vice- Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum sat down with the Examiner to discuss his life and career.

Blum, a yoga practitioner since 2000, took six months off work before his fiftieth birthday, and decided to devote himself full-time to teaching yoga.

“I was a musician, and that’s all I wanted to be,” says Blum of his innocuous start in the film biz. Then 15 years old, Blum played in a band with his friend Danny Goldberg, 17. “Danny told me, you’ve gotta meet this guy I’m making movies with called Ivan,” Blum says. One night, then-high school student Blum accepted Goldberg's invitation to attend a jam session with Goldberg’s university friends. “One person seemed to be the energy focus,” recalls Blum. “When he would change a song, everyone else followed – and this was Ivan Reitman.”

The two played guitar "until we were the only ones there," Blum recalls. "We played until two in the morning - we literally played every song we knew, until we ran out of songs." The duo wrapped up the night over coffee and doughnuts at Canada's second-ever Tim Horton's outlet, and a partnership was born.

Blum started helping Reitman and Goldberg out on-set and his career in movies advanced to the next level, when test screenings of a Goldberg/Reitman project called Blackout proved disappointing. The film, a series of intersecting stories occurring during a New York City blackout, left audiences with questions as to how exactly the blackout occurred. Reitman and Goldberg called Blum - "I think because they knew I'd be home, and they didn't know who else to call," he says - and asked him to write dialogue that would explain the blackout.  "I still have never seen the movie, but apparently it worked out well," says Blum. "So, Ivan felt that I could write."

Shortly thereafter, fate intervened. Reitman & Goldberg asked Blum to work on the script for a movie about summer camp. The movie, Meatballs, starring Bill Murray, became the highest-grossing Canadian film ever released in the U.S.

"I was still a musician, so I was gigging and playing dates and recording and such, and suddenly overnight I was a successful screenwriter … to my shock and amazement," Blum says. In time, Goldberg saw the toll dual careers were taking on Blum, and urged his friend to choose between the two professions. "I was far more successful as a screenwriter then I’d been as a musician, so I stayed with that," laughs Blum. "And then, Stripes came out and was a very big hit, so it just sort of continued from there."

Released in 1981, Stripes was the number two box office hit of that summer - second only to Raiders of the Lost Ark. "To be number two in the world, week after week after week, gives you a different perspective," says Blum. "You know, it just makes you think – we can do this."

Following Meatballs and Stripes, Blum moved from Canada to Hollywood, but soon decided Tinseltown wasn't for him.

"I never intended to stay in Hollywood, and I didn’t particularly like it," he says. "The first office we had at Paramount, I walked in and in the corner there was a garbage can, and in the garbage was the nameplate of the person who had had the office before me - Sid Dorfman. And at that point I decided I did not want to be the next Sid Dorfman – I could see that it was all replaceable, and preferred my life in Canada.”

Blum believes his Canadian roots were a plus in the movie biz. “I think it’s a huge advantage,” he says of being Canadian. “In creative terms, winter is long, we spend a lot of time entertaining ourselves and each other… I think you hone your sense of humour that way.”

Being based in Canada didn't hinder Blum's movie career. Subsequent credits included cult cartoon classic Heavy Metal, The Pink Panther, and Howard Stern's Private Parts. "There was a resonance there," says Blum of his time working with Stern. “He was a wonderful partner to have – a very, very, considerate, nice person;” says Blum of the famed shock jock.

Blum believes his Canadian roots were a plus in the movie biz.  “I think it’s a huge advantage,” he says of being Canadian.  “In creative terms, winter is long, we spend a lot of time entertaining ourselves and each other… I think you hone your sense of humour that way.”

Blum left the movie game in 2006 after writing The Pink Panther and Over the Hedge.  Blum, a yoga practitioner since 2000, took six months off work before his fiftieth birthday, and decided to devote himself full-time to teaching yoga.  Blum says he has no regrets about leaving “the little writing room” behind.  These days, Blum teaches classes at United Yoga Montreal (www.unitedyogamontreal.com).

At the MISC conference Blum will be joined by fellow Canadian Fred Einesman, a medical doctor by training who now works as a screenwriter (credits include ER and Private Practice).  “We would have the same conversation onstage that we would have if we were having a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's, and I think that will be the value of it,” says Blum.  “The immediate conversation is what happened to him, what happened to me, and whatever the audience may be interested in.”

Blum’s advice to those looking to break into the movie business?  “Really focus on what you love,” he says. “Focus on the ideas you're passionate about, the characters you want to write for, and the stories you want to tell.  Don't allow your ideas to be compromised by any government agency's mandate, or by any people thinking they are giving give you good advice, and tell you what to do - really, pursue your own independent passion.”

Lifting Off and Flying High: Talent and Success in Canada runs from February 11 – 12 at the OMNI Hotel (1050 Sherbrook West).  To register, go to www.mcgill.ca/misc

 

Organizations: Tim Horton's, Flying High

Geographic location: Canada, New York City, Hollywood U.S. Lost Ark Sherbrook West

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