HOLLYWOOD FILM EXECS PUT ON A YOUNGER FACE
Returning to the Cannes Film Festival this year after a hiatus, I was struck again by the extent to which that melee beside the Mediterranean does mirror the whole industry: the internationalism, the wheeling and dealing, the incessant and occasionally ingenious uses of promotion, the contrasts of cynicism (or pragmatism) and artistic assertion, the mingling of the haves and haven’t-yets.
There’s an overlay always of “if you got it, flaunt it,” with a special film-land codicil that adds, “You not only can’t take it with you, in this business you’ll be lucky to hang on to it while you’re still around.”
This time Cannes also seemed to me to reflect the fact that the Hollywood branch of the industry, at least, has gone young. By day the dress code looked to be early Goodwill--chinos and jeans, fashionably threadbare, and T-shirts that Stanley Kowalski would have rejected as too far gone if not too far out. The newest chic, obviously, is not having any place to carry anything. It is the ambulatory equivalent of the clean desk. (The working journalists at the festival, on the other hand, are so laden with paper, stuffed into shopping sacks, that they resemble a convention of bag people.)
When you think of it, the industry began young: King Vidor rolling up from Galveston at 20 to make his fortune; Irving Thalberg the boy wonder of MGM and all the others. The moguls grew old but they started as young tigers and the town they built has succeeded to the extent it has renewed itself.
There are now bitter, apocryphal jokes about present executives so young that they wonder if F. Scott Fitzgerald is available for work, never heard of Benny Goodman, vaguely associate the Beatles with World War II, regard 35 as advanced middle age and think of yesterday afternoon as the past.
After I commented on Vietnam War films recently, a Hollywood writer told me about a Vietnam script of his, rejected by an executive who said the war had not seemed that interesting to his contemporaries. The writer did a fast mental calculation and perceived that in the Vietnam year his script dealt with, the executive was approximately in sixth grade.
The notion of youth in the executive suites and the story departments appears to be, like most options, a trade-off, sacrificing experience for enthusiasm but potentially getting around conventional wisdom in favor of fresh and unfettered ideas.
The results so far are inconclusive, mostly because in the battle between art and commerce, commerce shows no sign of yielding. Marketing and demographic considerations seem to me to dominate industry decision making more thoroughly than ever before. Youth has found its way into the marketing areas, too, though it may be that what is being created is only a new body of conventional wisdom.
But the plus side of the infusion of young executives, with their vigor and enthusiasm, was evident to me during a chat I had with the top brass of Orion Classics over a little eau minerale during the festival (it may be the Pepsi generation, but it drinks the native Evian and Perrier).
Donna Gigliotti, vice president for acquisitions, is 29; Michael Barker, VP sales, is 31, and Tom Bernard, VP for marketing and distribution, is 32. Orion Classics looks to be the sole, certainly the most vigorous, survivor of that noble experiment in art film distribution undertaken (and summarily shelved) by several of the major studios.
Gigliotti & Co. currently has Kurosawa’s $12-million version of “King Lear” called “Ran,” which has just opened in Japan and will be seen in New York and Los Angeles at Christmas, and Istvan Szabo’s “Colonel Redl” with Klaus-Maria Brandauer, which won the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes.
Orion is also handling Wayne Wang’s “Dim Sum--A Little Bit of Hope,” his second film (“Chan Is Missing” was the first) about San Francisco’s Chinese. It will distribute Daniel Vigne’s “One Woman or Two” with Gerard Depardieu, Sigourney Weaver and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, television’s principal sexologist, in her first film role. It will have as well the next films by Eric Rohmer and Carlos Saura, whose “Carmen” was a large hit for the firm.
“We told Rohmer we’d take his next film sight unseen,” Gigliotti says. “He couldn’t believe it. But one of the secrets, we think, is to establish relationships with film makers you love and respect.”
She adds: “With classics divisions, there were a lot of unrealistic expectations. You have to make a profit, and you certainly can, but it’s like a boutique, not Macy’s.”
Gigliotti is a New Yorker who went to Sarah Lawrence and joined New Line Cinema, then spent more than two years working with Martin Scorsese on “Raging Bull.” She joined UA Classics after working on a re-release of “New York, New York.” Bernard and Barker were already there. They sold themselves as a package as Orion Classics two years ago.
Barker, born in Germany and raised in Dallas, ran the student union film program at the University of Texas, went to New York to be an actor, worked in distribution at Films Inc., then became head of 16-millimeter sales at UA Classics, which Nathaniel Kwit was putting together.
Tom Bernard, also raised in Dallas, ran film series at the University of Maryland, worked at New Line in New York, started the theatrical division at Films Inc., then joined Kwit at UA Classics during its tumultuous life.
“We’re baby boomers,” Gigliotti says, “so we identify with that audience. But there’s a hard-core older audience for foreign films, and we try to reach it to build a larger audience for our films.”
Barker estimates that there are generally 300 play dates in the country for Orion Classics fare. “Maybe a hundred more for the biggies,” Gigliotti says. They had early success with Rohmer’s “Pauline at the Beach” and with “Another Country,” as well as Saura’s “Carmen.” It’s a hand-tailored operation and the team often travels with the films, establishing personal links with the exhibitors (themselves often young).
“We do all our ads in-house; control print movement--the works,” Gigliotti says.
It is more than enough to give the youth movement a good name.