Virginia Native Dana Brunetti is the force behind two of your guilty pleasures—House of Cards and the Fifty Shades of Grey movie.
Dana Brunetti describes DC as “the center of the world in a lot of ways—what is happening here is affecting the rest of the world".
Dana Brunetti, longtime business partner of Kevin Spacey, president of Trigger Street Productions, and producer of multiple award-winning movies, including Captain Phillips and The Social Network, is also a producer of the acclaimed political thriller House of Cards. He has been credited for orchestrating the mega deal with Netflix and providing a prestige title to anchor its original programming. The Emmy-winning show’s third season premieres on February 27—no doubt the majority of the DC area will be binge-watching that weekend—and Brunetti’s most recent project, the highly anticipated film Fifty Shades of Grey, was released on February 13. Capitol File caught up with Brunetti to talk about his career, Frank Underwood, streaming content, and hitching a ride on Air Force One
How does someone from Covington, Virginia, a paper mill town, end up a Hollywood bigwig?
I ended up going into the Coast Guard, which took me out of Covington and put me on Long Island. It’s funny, movies have definitely influenced my life…. I went into the Coast Guard because of Top Gun. After my service, I went to New York. I always liked Wall Street, so I got my Series 7 and 63 [stockbroker licenses]. Ultimately, rather than working in a firm on Wall Street, I ended up Wolf of Wall Street. [Laughs]
Past scripts that Brunetti keeps in his office.
Somewhere in there, you met Kevin Spacey through a mutual friend, and he asked you to go with him to London to be his assistant while he did a play, but at first you said no.
I thought, I don’t want to be somebody’s assistant. But then I thought it would be cool to go to London and hang out and experience that world. I asked my company for a leave of absence, and they said no. A week or two later I saw my supervisor in his office. It was seven o’clock at night, the rest of the place was dark, and he was stressing over our numbers. He commuted every day into the city from New Jersey, and at the time he was 40 years old. To me, that was ancient—I’m 41 now, by the way. I just remember looking at him, going, I don’t want to be that guy. So I called Kevin and said, “Let’s do it.”
So London changed everything.
Yes. After a year in London, we went to LA and shot American Beauty. That was the best learning experience— a small production ($15 million); first-time filmmaker, because Sam Mendes had never directed a film; first-time screenwriter, with Alan Ball. I observed that entire process, all the way to the Academy Awards. Kevin winning was quite a ride. We joke about it. I went as his guest that year to the Academy Awards, and then 10 years later he came as my guest for Social Network. We came full circle.
How did House of Cards start?
When I was doing Social Network, David Fincher approached me and asked if Kevin would consider doing television. I’d been pushing Kevin toward TV, much to the annoyance of his management: “Movie stars don’t do television.” But some of the best content is on television: The Sopranos, The Wire, and all the great shows we’re seeing now. Those are the types of stories that actors like Kevin can dive into and chew on, because television is always evolving and you have a lot of different arcs, story lines, and character development—it doesn’t need to be tied up in a nice little bow at the end of two hours.
You’ve said that Netflix and other sites are going to destroy the networks.
Yeah, but I always get misquoted on that. They are going to destroy the networks as we know them. The networks are still going to be around, but it’s going to destroy them in how they create and distribute content. It’s already happened to True Detective. It’s already destroyed the model of “we do pilots only.”
Dana Brunetti with Fifty Shades star Jamie Dornan.
Let’s talk about Fifty Shades. did you specifically pick an unknown actress in Dakota Johnson?
We went for the cast we thought would have the best chemistry and would best fill the parts. We didn’t need a name because the brand is already there; it’s a star-making vehicle. We had that luxury.
You’re in Baltimore a lot. What are your thoughts on Washington?
You can almost feel the power in Washington. It’s like the center of the world in a lot of ways. What is happening there is affecting the rest of the world. I get that feeling and that sense when I’m there.
President Clinton talks with Kevin Spacey’s mother on Air Force One while Brunetti (RIGHT) and Spacey watch.
You flew on air force one with President Clinton in 1999.
We were backstage at an event in Newark—it’s me, Kevin, President Clinton, and the president’s assistant. And the president says to Kevin, “You coming to the dinner afterward?” and Kevin looks at me and asks, “Is there a dinner afterward?” The president’s assistant leans in and says, “Mr. President, there’s no dinner afterward; we’re flying back to Washington.” And [Clinton] says, “Well hell, fly back to DC with me.”
I took tons of M&Ms and napkins—basically everything that was lying around that had Air Force One written on it.