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Greenspan--a Champ For All Seasons

March 05, 1986|JACK MATHEWS | Times Staff Writer

Bud Greenspan is an Olympic champion. You can look it up.

Webster's defines a champion "as a militant advocate" and anyone who has seen his "Olympiad" series on PBS, or his TV dramas about Olympian Wilma Rudolph and the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, would not question where he stands.

He's for the Olympics; more accurately, he's for the people who drive themselves to excellence. And perhaps he should have a gold medal for knowing how to capture those qualities on film.

Greenspan, a triple threat as writer, director and producer, leaped a few hurdles himself in getting the Los Angeles Olympics on film. After being invited by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to bid on the movie, after getting 20th Century Fox to pay the $1-million rights fee and after spending more than two years preparing to cover it, Greenspan found himself standing on the track alone.

Olympic films don't automatically translate into box-office gold, and that commercial vagary apparently gave Fox second thoughts. The studio pulled out early in 1984, and it wasn't until July 4--24 days before the Games began--that Greenspan and partner Milton Okun signed the final papers to obtain the Olympic rights from Fox.

If Fox had known that LAOOC president Peter Ueberroth would turn out to be a Steven Spielberg in Nikes, the studio may not have gotten cold feet.

Greenspan set 18 crews (225 people) to work on the Games, they shot more than one million feet of film (the equivalent of 336 hours of running footage), and then spent more than a year sifting through dozens of individual stories--the stories behind the events--for just the right blend.

"We kept the 10s and threw out the 9s," Greenspan says, using the Olympic vernacular for perfection. "That's a very difficult thing to do."

Greenspan's "16 Days of Glory," which opens in Los Angeles Friday, spotlights the stories of fewer than a dozen of the thousands of athletes who competed in Los Angeles. But each one tells a dramatic story about desire if not always victory, and it received 10s from most of the critics who saw it during its special Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles last fall.

In an Oscar season that may be more memorable for its omissions than its nominees, "16 Days" was passed over in the long documentary category. Greenspan acknowledges that he was stunned by the exclusion.

"To be honest, I wasn't as concerned about getting a nomination as I was about winning," he says. "But after the initial shock, you just have to believe in yourself, in your subject, and move ahead."

Greenspan struck a worldwide distribution deal with Paramount for "16 Days," including theatrical, cable and videocassette markets. He still owns the American television rights and says "16 Days" will almost certainly end up airing as a series hours longer than the current theatrical version.

In fact, Greenspan says he is currently editing a five-hour international version for theatrical distribution abroad. The completed "16 Days" is dominated by features on such American Olympians as gymnast Mary Lou Retton, marathon runner Joan Benoit and hurdler Edwin Moses. Greenspan says the TV series will take a far broader perspective.

He is also working on a sequel to his acclaimed TV docudrama "Time Capsule: The 1932 Los Angeles Olympics." Using previously unseen footage of the 1936 Games in Nazi Berlin, given to him recently by the East Germans, he's blending a live-action drama with actual competition to create "The 1936 Olympics, Live."

Greenspan, who started his career as a New York sports broadcaster, says he is thrilled now that Fox balked and walked before the Games, but it was agony then. He and his wife, Cappy, his collaborator until her death in June, 1983, wanted to cover the Los Angeles Olympics more than any other Olympics and suddenly, there was the likelihood that no one would do it.

"I wouldn't sleep a day in my life if I let that go by," says Greenspan, who dedicated the film to his wife. "How often in your lifetime do you get an opportunity to do something like that, to connect with events that will be watched 100 years from now?"

HOUSE ODDS: New World Pictures' offbeat horror film "House" was the No. 1 movie on the box-office chart published in Tuesday's Hollywood Reporter trade paper. But New World's President Robert Rehme was more mad than glad; the movie had been left off Daily Variety's chart altogether.

The text accompanying the Variety chart, which had Paramount's "Pretty in Pink" on top, questioned the figures released for "House" by New World (a gross of $6.4 million from 1,440 theaters) and cited other sources placing the movie's likely box-office take at between $5.1 million and $6 million.

"I am absolutely outraged that Variety would have the audacity to question our figures based on the projections of some clerks at other studios," Rehme said. "We stand by our numbers."

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