• Paul Rutherford

LIGHTS! CAMERA! INACTION...


Bruce Beresford is an Australian film director who made two of my favourite ‘I-bet-you’ve-never-heard-of-this’ movies: Breaker Morant (1980) and Tender Mercies (1983). Here's a transcript of a YouTube anecdote, which says a lot about the film industry specifically, corporate business in general, and perhaps life overall.

“I had a movie project which took five years to finance, with mostly independent money from Canada and Italy. On a budget of $7million, which for movies in the late ‘80s is nothing. “It was a project that everybody advised me not to do. It had the worst readers’ reports on the screenplay that I have ever read in my entire life. They just said that it was a complete piece of trash. “Only Richard Zanuck (producer) and I believed in it. We fought for years to get the money. I had a big producer friend who called me during this and said ‘Bruce, if you have a film that needs financing I really want to work with you.’ “I said ‘Well, I do have a script. We have $5million, and we only need another two, and I believe fervently in it.’ And he said ‘I’ll do it. Send the script over just so I can have a look.’ “I sent it over, then didn’t hear from him. So I called him two days later and asked ‘What do you think?’ And he said ‘What I said to you is true - I’ll finance anything you want to do. Except this.’ “He continued: ‘I strongly advise you, as an old friend, not to do it. Or your career is finished.’ “Finally, Richard Zanuck pestered Warner Bros so much that they put up the two million. Then the studio didn’t look at it - at all. “We finished the movie, and we kept putting on screenings and we kept inviting the studio heads. Nobody ever came. “Eventually we heard they were going to release it in a small art-house cinema in San Francisco. Richard and I had to resign ourselves to that. “Then one day I got a call from a guy at Warner Bros, who said ‘What happened to that picture about the black guy and the Jewish lady?’ I said ‘Well, I’ve got it here,’ and he said ‘Bring it over so I can look at it.’

“I didn’t want to show it as a video, so I took the actual print (35mm film in six large, round cannisters) over to the Warner Bros projection rooms, because I thought they finally wanted to see it.

“But when I get there, there’s only one person. The guy who called me. “He was very friendly, said he was the Head of Marketing. We sit down to watch the film, and after about fifteen minutes, he gets up and walks straight out. “I caught up with him in the foyer, where he’s pacing up and down saying ‘We can sell this. We can sell this.’ I say to him ‘But you’ve only seen fifteen minutes of it,’ and he says ‘I don’t need to see any more; we can sell it. “So I ask him ‘What’s really going on?’ “And he tells me that Warner Bros had just released their big movie for Christmas: In Country starring Bruce Willis (on the back of Moonlighting and Die Hard). And it had bombed. ‘It’s gone. We don’t have a movie for the Season, so we’re looking at all the little movies we’ve invested in. And we can sell this.’” 'This' was Driving Miss Daisy. It went on to win four Oscars including Best Picture, launched Morgan Freeman's movie career, and grossed $145 million at the box office.

Legendary screenwriter William Goldman was right:

“Nobody knows anything… every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, it’s an educated one." Remember Miss Daisy - and the Warner Bros studio heads - the next time someone with authority isn't interested in you or your project.

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