Mother-Son Duo ‘Infiltrate’ Summer Box Office


Philadelphia natives Ellen Furman and her son, Brad, are behind one of the biggest films of the summer.

The Infiltrator may not be the first movie you pick to see with the family but, in the most literal sense, it is a family film.
That’s because the movie — the real-life story of U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur who spent years undercover as money laundering businessman Bob Musella trying to take down Pablo Escobar and infiltrate his drug cartel in the late ’80s — was written and directed, respectively, by Philadelphia natives Ellen Furman and her son, Brad.
The film, which stars Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger and Benjamin Bratt, among many others, opened in July to great reviews.
But for the Furmans, working together on this film was definitely five out of five stars.
“It just sort of happened,” recalled Ellen Furman, who now lives in San Diego.
Starting as a teacher in Wynnewood and then going to law school at Temple University and working as an attorney at a Philadelphia firm, Ellen Furman got her writing start a little later in life, she admitted.
After her husband took a job in San Diego, her traveling back and forth between California and Philadelphia became a little too much, said Ellen Furman, who was also on the board at Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill where her son had his Bar Mitzvah.
“I started writing, and then I had to make a decision between staying at my practice or moving to San Diego with my husband, so I moved to San Diego,” she said. “I was writing literary short stories, so that’s how it started.”
After Brad Furman and a few of his friends took a trip to Las Vegas — pre-The Hangover — Ellen Furman told him he and his friends sounded like a movie.
“He and I sat down and wrote the precursor to Hangover,” she said. “We never got it made, but that’s what started my screenwriting career.”
After that, she and her son started writing a few screenplays together, and she wrote a few more on her own.
Then, Brad Furman’s friend, who is also a producer on the film, found the book on which The Infiltrator is based — The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel by Robert Mazur. Brad Furman took it to his agent, who found the producer to make the movie.
At her son’s suggestion, Ellen Furman met with the producer, Miriam Segal with Good Films, who was interviewing people to write the script.
“My son said, ‘Come up, you’re not going to get the job, but you need to come pitch because you need to learn how to pitch. You need to get better,’” she laughed.
“So it’s just like a practice pitch. We were joking and having fun; it wasn’t serious,” she continued. “And then she met with 50 different people and, I don’t know, for some reason, she liked what I was pitching and it came down to a couple people and she asked to meet with me again and see my other writing … and she chose me to write the script.”
For Ellen Furman, who never had one of her screenplays actually produced, the whole process was “wonderful fun.”
“I loved the process of screenwriting, pretending to be the characters, getting into all their heads,” she said.
Seeing the characters she was writing come to life — in the forms of such talented actors to boot — was “surreal.” So much so that it sounded like she still couldn’t believe that it happened.
“Being on a set for the first time, and hearing someone like Bryan Cranston who is obviously a brilliant and talented actor, to hear him say my words — it was surreal but it was thrilling,” she said.
As she was writing the characters and hearing them in her head, there was one particular element she was really focused on.
She was adamant on creating female characters — like Diane Kruger’s Kathy Ertz, a rookie cop who goes undercover and poses as Bob Musella’s fiancée — who felt real and just as competent as the men.
Ideally, this shouldn’t feel as refreshing as it does, especially since big crime stories are usually male-dominated.
“I see that in these movies that deal with the criminal world there’s always the woman, but she’s not really defined,” Ellen Furman noticed. “She’s always the girlfriend or someone you see for a minute … I wanted to make [Ertz] not the kind of cop that screws up in the beginning that gets good. I wanted her to be amazingly interesting from the beginning. As good and competent as Bryan [Cranston’s character] was undercover, why couldn’t she be that? I tried to show she was competent and that she could do this and be his equal. ”
But amid the welcome shock and newness of writing a produced screenplay, Ellen Furman had one goal: making her son proud.
“It’s sort of the reverse, usually the kid wants to make their parents proud,” she said. “I wanted to make Brad proud of whatever I was writing.”
For Brad Furman, a Friends’ Central School alum who previously directed The Lincoln Lawyer and Runner Runner, working with his mother and “achieving something together” was one of the most rewarding parts of creating The Infiltrator.
The most difficult was shooting a movie that took place in 1980s Florida in present-day London.
“That was daunting,” he admitted, “but I’m proud we pulled that off. We made it work.”
Brad Furman got into filmmaking after realizing that being a professional basketball player wasn’t in the cards. But he loved movies, he added, recalling frequent visits to his neighborhood video store, the now-defunct West Coast Video.
“I didn’t know being a filmmaker was a realistic life choice,” he said, “so when I figured out it was, I really passionately went after it.”
This story in particular was one he wanted to do because he found it relatable — not the drug ring infiltration, per se, but Mazur’s character.
“Bob Mazur was really inspiring,” he said. “I thought it was a true American hero story. He’s very anti-establishment. So much as he’s part of the system, he’s also not part of the system.”
The fact that Mazur went ahead with his mission without the government’s support or agreement — which ultimately turned out well for him, as it resulted in 85 indictments of drug lords and bankers and the collapse of one of the largest money laundering banks in the world — showed a part of his nature that Brad Furman understood.
“I thought I’d have to rebel to achieve my own success at times, so I thought it was very relatable,” he said.
Mazur’s story also aligned with the values he looks for when working on a new project.
“I look for something with real heart and gravitas,” he said. “Something I can find a way to personalize, something that interests me. I would say those elements are very important to me.”
Now that this film has been released and Ellen Furman continues to hone in on her screenwriting career and new projects, what’s next for Brad Furman?
“To be determined.”
Contact:; 215-832-0740


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here