Michael Mann

Michael Mann Biography

Michael Kenneth Mann (born February 5, 1943) is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. For his work, he has received nominations from international organizations and juries, including those at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Cannes and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His major films include Heat, The Insider, Collateral, Ali and Miami Vice.

Total Film ranked Mann #28 on their 100 The Greatest Directors Ever and Sight and Sound ranked him #5 on their list of the 10 Best Directors of the Last 25 Years, Entertainment Weekly ranked Mann #8 on their 25 Greatest Active Film Directors list.

Early life and education

Mann was born on February 5, 1943 in Chicago, Illinois, of Jewish ancestry, the son of grocers Esther and Jack Mann.

He received a B.A. in English at the University of Wisconsin"Madison where he developed interests in history, philosophy and architecture. It was at this time that he first saw Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and fell in love with movies. In a recent L.A. Weekly interview, he describes the film's impact on him: "It said to my whole generation of filmmakers that you could make an individual statement of high integrity and have that film be successfully seen by a mass audience all at the same time. In other words, you didn't have to be making Seven Brides for Seven Brothers if you wanted to work in the mainstream film industry, or be reduced to niche filmmaking if you wanted to be serious about cinema. So that's what Kubrick meant, aside from the fact that Strangelove was a revelation." His daughter Ami Canaan Mann is also a film director and producer.


Mann later moved to London in the mid 1960s to go to graduate school in cinema. He went on to receive a graduate degree at the London Film School. He spent seven years in the United Kingdom going to film school and then working on commercials along with contemporaries Alan Parker, Ridley Scott and Adrian Lyne. In 1968, footage he shot of the Paris student revolt for a documentary, Insurrection, aired on NBC's First Tuesday news program and he developed his '68 experiences into the short film Jaunpuri which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1970.

Mann returned to United States after divorcing his first wife in 1971. He went on to direct a road trip documentary, 17 Days Down the Line. Three years later, Hawaii Five-O veteran Robert Lewin gave Mann a shot and a crash course on television writing and story structure. Mann wrote four episodes of Starsky and Hutch (three in the first series and one in the second ) and the pilot episode for Vega$. Around this time, he worked on a show called Police Story with cop-turned-novelist Joseph Wambaugh. Police Story concentrated on the detailed realism of a real cop's life and taught Mann that first-hand research was essential to bring authenticity to his work.

His first feature movie was a television special called The Jericho Mile, which was released theatrically in Europe. It won the Emmy for best MOW in 1979 and the DGA Best Director award. His television work also includes being the executive producer on Miami Vice and Crime Story. Contrary to popular belief, he is not the creator of these shows but the executive producer and the showrunner. They were produced by his production company. However, his cinematic influence is felt throughout each show in terms of casting and style.

Mann is now known primarily as a feature film director and he is considered to be one of America's top filmmakers. He has a very distinctive style that is reflected in his works: his trademarks include unusual scores, such as Tangerine Dream in Thief or the New Age score to Manhunter. Dante Spinotti is a frequent cinematographer of Mann's pictures.

Mann's first cinema feature as director was Thief (1981) starring James Caan. His next film The Keep (1983) was, in retrospect, an uncharacteristic choice, being that it is a supernatural thriller set in Nazi-occupied Romania. Though it was a commercial flop, the film has since attained cult status amongst fans.

In 1986, Mann was the first to bring Thomas Harris's character of Hannibal Lecter to the screen with Manhunter, his adaptation of novel Red Dragon, which starred Brian Cox as a more down-to-earth Hannibal. The story was remade less than 20 years after it came out by Brett Ratner presumably because Anthony Hopkins reprisal of the role in Ridley Scott's Hannibal had made the character a highly lucrative property. In an interview on the Manhunter DVD, star William Petersen comments that because Mann is so focused on his creations, it takes several years for Mann to complete a film; Petersen believes that this is why Mann does not make films very often.

He gained widespread recognition in 1992 for his film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's book Last of the Mohicans. His biggest critical successes in the 1990s began with the release of Heat in 1995 and The Insider in 1999. The films, which featured Al Pacino along with Robert De Niro in Heat and Russell Crowe in The Insider, showcased Mann's cinematic style and adeptness at creating rich, complex storylines as well as directing actors. The Insider was nominated for seven Academy Awards as a result, including a nomination for Mann's direction.

With his next film Ali starring Will Smith in 2001, he started experimenting with digital cameras. The film helped catapult Will Smith to greater fame, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

On Collateral, he shot all of the exterior scenes digitally so that he could achieve more depth and detail during the night scenes while shooting most of the interiors on film stock.

In 2004, Mann produced The Aviator, based on the life of Howard Hughes, which he had developed with Leonardo DiCaprio. However, Mann demurred doing a second biopic after Ali, directed Collateral starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx and offered the The Aviator director's chair to now-frequent DiCaprio collaborator Martin Scorsese. The Aviator was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture but lost to Million Dollar Baby.

After Collateral, Mann directed the film adaptation of Miami Vice which he also executive produced. It stars a completely new cast with Colin Farrell as Don Johnson's character Sonny Crockett, and Jamie Foxx filling Philip Michael Thomas' shoes.

Mann served as a producer and Peter Berg as director for The Kingdom and Hancock. Hancock stars Will Smith as a hard-drinking superhero who has fallen out of favor with the public and who begins to have a relationship with the wife (Charlize Theron) of a public relations expert (Jason Bateman), who is helping him to repair his image. Mann also makes a cameo appearance in the film as an executive. In the fall of 2007, Mann directed two commercials for Nike. The ad campaign "Leave Nothing" features football action scenes with current NFL players Shawn Merriman and Steven Jackson.

In 2009, Mann wrote and directed Public Enemies for Universal Pictures, about the Depression-era crime wave, based on Brian Burrough's nonfiction book, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933"34. It starred Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Depp played John Dillinger in the film, and Bale played Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent in charge of capturing Dillinger.

In January 2010 it was reported by Variety that Mann, alongside David Milch, would serve as co-executive producer of new TV series Luck. The series was an hour-long HBO production, and Mann directed the series' pilot. Although initially renewed for a second season after the airing of the pilot, it was eventually cancelled due to the death of three horses during production.

On February 14, 2013, it was announced that Mann has been developing an untitled thriller film with screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl for over a year that he will direct for Legendary Pictures with Chris Hemsworth attached to star.

In May 2013, Mann started the filming of Cyber in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Jakarta.

Filming style

Mann's films often contain one to four deadpan male protagonists who are expert in some occupation: undercover policework, high-level crime-work, warfare in colonial America, and the like. Importantly, his films often involve a tragic rather than happy ending, or they involve a combination of tragedy and happy ending, such as in Miami Vice, when of the two undercover police officers, one has his girlfriend (also an undercover officer) come out of a coma and the other tearfully separates from his romantic interest. Mann's films contain fast-paced, artful, ingenious scenes that strongly depend on powerful music, where often two opposing sides intermix, such as undercover policework and undercover drug trafficking, so that it is hard to distinguish between the two. For example, in Heat, the criminal and the police detective meet for coffee, as if old business partners. Often it is hard to distinguish between opposing sides (police vs. criminals, etc.), where the actions, dress, and mannerisms of the characters are extremely similar. Also, Mann's work often involves landscapes and modes where the heroic protagonists occupy a somewhat secret world, away from ordinary concerns (law, life and death, money, daily-life survival duties, family duties, and so on), where the secret world may or may not coincide with ordinary reality. Protagonists often find impassioned romantic interests which are severed under tragic situations near the end of the film (Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Miami Vice, Public Enemies). Overall, Mann's films mix artistry (via music, stylishness and emotional intensity) with sexuality, strong violence, humorless noir-like stoicism, and complex plot twists.


Mann directed the 2002 "Lucky Star" advertisement for Mercedes-Benz, which took the form of a film trailer for a purported thriller featuring Benicio del Toro. Mann also directed the 2008 promotional video for Ferrari's California sports car. In 2009 Mann also directed a commercial for Nike that featured several stylistic cues, most notably the use of "Promontory" from the soundtrack of The Last of the Mohicans.


Feature films

Year Title Credited as
Director Screenwriter Producer
1981 Thief
1983 The Keep
1986 Manhunter
Band of the Hand
1992 The Last of the Mohicans
1995 Heat
1999 The Insider
2001 Ali
2004 Collateral
The Aviator
2006 Miami Vice
2007 The Kingdom
2008 Hancock
2009 Public Enemies
2011 Texas Killing Fields
2014 Cyber


Year Title Credited as Notes
Director Screenwriter Producer
1976 Bronk
1975"1977 Starsky and Hutch
1976"1978 Police Story
1977 Police Woman Episode directed:
"The Buttercup Killer"
1979 The Jericho Mile (TV Movie) teleplay
1980 Swan Song (TV Movie)
1978"1981 Vega$ creator
1984"1990 Miami Vice executive producer
Episode written:
"Golden Triangle (Part II)"
1986"1988 Crime Story executive producer
Episode directed:
"Top of the World" (1987)
1989 L.A. Takedown (TV Movie) executive producer
1990 Drug Wars: The Camarena Story (TV Mini-Series)
1992 Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel (TV Movie) executive producer
2002"2003 Robbery Homicide Division executive producer
2011"2012 Luck executive producer
Episode directed: "Pilot" (2011)

Frequent Collaborations

Actor/Actress Thief (1981) The Keep (1983) Manhunter (1986) The Last of the Mohicans (1992) Heat (1995) The Insider (1999) Ali (2001) Collateral (2004) Miami Vice (2006) Public Enemies (2009)
Dennis Farina
Jamie Foxx
Barry Shabaka Henley
Stephen Lang
Domenick Lombardozzi
Bruce McGill
Tom Noonan
John Ortiz
Al Pacino
William Petersen
Jada Pinkett Smith
Robert Prosky
Wes Studi
Diane Venora
Jon Voight
Mykelti Williamson


Critical reception

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
Thief 95% N/A
The Keep 20% N/A
Manhunter 94% 78
The Last of the Mohicans 97% N/A
Heat 86% 76
The Insider 96% 84
Ali 67% 65
Collateral 86% 71
Miami Vice 47% 65
Public Enemies 68% 70
Average 75.6% 72.7

Awards and honors

Mann received an Emmy in 1979 for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special for The Jericho Mile. The following year he was honored by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for The Jericho Mile. In 1990, he won another Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries for Drug Wars: The Camarena Story. Mann was the recipient of the Humanitas Prize and the Writers Guild of America's Paul Selvin Award in 2000 for The Insider. In 2005, he received the BAFTA Film Award for co-producing The Aviator.

To date he has received four Academy Award nominations: in 2000, the Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Motion Picture of the Year all for The Insider, in 2005 Mann received nomination for production of Scorsese's The Aviator.

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