HENRY JAGLOM: BIG FILMS FROM LITTLE BUDGETS
Can an independent movie maker, so far out of the Hollywood mainstream as to be almost a curiosity, not only eat and sleep well but, more important, make money?
Ask Henry Jaglom.
While all over town producers and directors moan and complain about the creative accounting of studios, the mega-salaries of superstars and the difficulties with distribution, Jaglom goes merrily on making low-budget movies featuring well-known names, nursing no ulcers and envious of no one.
David Puttnam arrives from London to head Columbia, full of plans to cut the cost of movie making. Not so easy with a giant studio to upkeep. Jaglom, with just a house and a car to worry about, has been making $1-million movies for years now, keeping his head well above Champagne (imported) and wondering why, if he can do it, others can’t. Or won’t. Or don’t.
He sits in his West Hollywood house, a place stocked with treasures--a working-order jukebox with neon strip glowing, a giant red Coca-Cola sign, a Skee Ball machine ranged along one whole wall--pondering this.
Ask him what he’s up to and, for the moment, he hesitates. There is, it seems, so much.
Well, at the moment he is negotiating the release of his movie “Someone to Love,” an examination of loneliness that stars singer Andrea Marcovicci, himself and the late Orson Welles. It was an official selection at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and was shown on the last night of the AFI. Jaglom is very high on it and expects it to be shown in the fall.
“It was the last film Orson ever did and sadly he died without seeing it,” he said. “It’s my script, but he contributed a great deal. He was one of the first people to see my film ‘Always’ (1985) and afterwards he said something extraordinary. He said: ‘I’m jealous. In my films I’ve always hidden behind a mask. In this you haven’t.’ So I told him: ‘In my next film you’ll be the central character.’ In ‘Someone to Love’ he is.
“He plays himself, shedding even the persona he adopted for TV talk shows. People will finally get to see him the way I knew him; it’s almost as if he was sitting there having lunch with you. At the end of the film he says ‘Cut’ and there’s applause (it was shot at the Mayfair Theater in Santa Monica) and our last shot is of him laughing.”
Jaglom also is editing his “New Year’s Day,” a movie shot in New York that examines the lives of three young women who have shared an apartment for four years and are now moving off on their own. Everything is seen through the eyes of a man who, through a misunderstanding, arrives to take over the place one day early while the women are still there. True to his tradition of persuading friends to play small roles in his movies, Jaglom recruited Milos Forman to play the landlord.
He is also, on and off, shooting scenes for a movie called “Happy Ending,” preparing a musical (“Deja Vu”) that will star his friend Marcovicci and negotiating the re-release of a film he shot 10 years ago (“Tracks”), which starred Dennis Hopper.
“When ‘Tracks’ first came out (1976) nobody wanted to know about Dennis or Vietnam,” Jaglom said. (Hopper plays a veteran escorting the coffin of his dead friend across America by train.) “I couldn’t get distribution. Now everything’s changed. I’ve been offered several really interesting deals. Maybe it’s really true what Orson once told me: Make a film for yourself. Don’t worry about them. If you make it for yourself and it’s good enough, they’ll find it eventually.”
Jaglom is also spending what time he can organizing the Orson Welles Awards, which he created after the death of his friend. The first awards--voted for by more than 1,000 directors worldwide--were announced at this year’s Cannes Festival. “Dream Child” won best first film.
Jaglom also has formed a womens’ arm to his International Rainbow Pictures.
“Women are the most disenfranchised people in this business,” he said. “They still have to play mostly by mens’ rules. And as I’ve been successfully making million-dollar movies for some time now I thought: Why can’t they do it too?
“The films will be produced and directed only by women. I won’t interfere at all. They will have total freedom as long as the budget remains under a million. At that price, with foreign sales and cassettes, you cannot lose.”
Clearly he does not pay his actors very much?
“They get the minimum--plus a big chunk of the film,” he said. “My ex-wife Patrice Townsend was helped to buy a new house with the proceeds of ‘Always.’ ”
But if he doesn’t pay anything how did he get people like Jack Nicholson (“A Safe Place,” 1971), Karen Black (“Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?” 1983) and Sally Kellerman (“Someone to Love,” 1987)?
“Because I give them the chance to do things they don’t get to do in other films,” he said. “And they don’t do badly. Sally got the minimum plus 10% of the film. Because my pictures break even faster it’s not like working for a studio. This is real money.”
Since he first started, he has always had final cut of his movies.
“Only then is it truly your film,” he said. “It’s just not your vision unless you have total control.
“I’ve been offered several big studio films--particularly after I made ‘Sitting Ducks’ (1980). One studio head told me: ‘I love your films. When you’re ready to make a serious movie, a big movie, come and see me.’ I said: ‘If you love my films why would you want me to come and make one of your big ones?’
“The feeling seems to be that if only they could control whatever it is (that) makes me do eccentric things and if they gave me a solid mainstream script instead of some inanity of my own then everything would be great.
“But it always comes down to final cut. I ask: Will I have that? and the answer is always no. And as far as I’m concerned all the big stars and fancy limos and fine dressing rooms aren’t worth a thing if you don’t control your film creatively.”