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59th ACADEMY AWARDS : BEATING THE ODDS : They Gambled Their Time and Energy, and Didn't Give Up

March 29, 1987|PAUL ROSENFIELD

But are surprises a fact of life in a Woody Allen project? "After 11 films together, I'm surprised by his backup of ideas," remarked Greenhut. "He has 15 films he still wants to do. I love other directors, I love Stanley Kubrick, but he makes one film every 40 years. Woody has made 16 movies and he's still not halfway home. Therefore I've tried to make sure this relationship continues because . . . as you become more familiar, there's shorthand. And it works simply: Woody says, 'I think I can do a good job.' Not 'It's time to make a war film."'

Be it a war film or "Hannah" or whatever, Oscar means competition. "Woody Allen doesn't understand competition in artistic areas," Greenhut reiterated. (Another theory is that along with being productive, Allen has become superstitious. Oscar is a final Hollywood punctuation, after all.) If the star is superstitious, though, his producer is not. "Somebody offered me a free meal," joshed Greenhut. "I've never been to the Academy Awards. My wife would like to go. And I'm proud of the whole situation."


No Best Picture grouping would be complete without a Big Budget Opus, which this year was "The Mission." Director Roland Joffe's $17-million epic-lush adventure saga of colonization in South America became unbeloved by critics even before release. Joffe himself wasn't unsurprised by the reaction: He can, in fact, track the exact moment when "The Mission" became "un-critic proof."

"It was last spring in Cannes, at the film festival," remembered Joffe recently. He was relaxing in his Beverly Hills-chic living room that seems more suitable to an executive than to the director of "The Killing Fields." At Cannes, "The Mission" won the coveted Palme d'Or . "And I knew then we'd put some critics off. Critics can't discover a movie if it's already been discovered. So the agenda becomes, 'Oh, it's not as good as it's cracked up to be!"'

Joffe remained undaunted--he looks at the bigger picture. The Englishman also understands realities of modern movie making. "The Mission" was financed two-thirds by Goldcrest and Kingsmere, and only later did Warner Bros. put up the necessary $5 million for completion. "Essentially it was Goldcrest who financed the film," explained Joffe. "I remember early on saying to Goldcrest, 'This is not a quick investment picture, this is the kind of picture that goes on forever.' You have to see a company in terms of strategy. Ideally you do a movie that has an early break-even point. But with Goldcrest, we were dealing with a company that has a broader spectrum. Of course, they had financial troubles while we were shooting, so. . . ."

So Joffe, a pragmatist, resolved to stick to budget "even if it meant missing a scene. I felt honor-bound, and so we came in slightly under budget." The honor came from Joffe's understanding of what a risk "The Mission" was--from the start. "Pitching it--I pitched it a bit to Goldcrest and so did ("Mission" producer) David Puttnam--I realized something. I realized the plot couldn't be told in three sentences. It's a story of faith and redemption played out against a broad background. There's no romance. What woman there was, disappears early. But Goldcrest was enterprising, and then, you know, these things go in stages."

Meaning Goldcrest first commissioned "a feasibility study because we were going to very remote Argentinian locations. Would the Indians be usable as actors? I didn't want to do an 'Emerald Forest' kind of thing where the natives were played by extras flown in from Rio. I wanted naturalism."

Joffe nodded in agreement at the notion that he is, at heart, an old-fashioned big-budget epic-movie director. "I feel movies learned how, with color and sweep and music, to present visual spectacles, and tell stories. Spectacle appeals to me. . . . Frankly, I feel 'The Mission' is five years ahead of its time in terms of American audiences."

(If not American box offices. "The Mission" has so far grossed "between $14 and $15 million, domestically," according to Joffe, "and about $20 million foreign.")

Does the director quibble with the distribution? Did Warners sell "The Mission" too much as a religious film? "In the main, Warners handled it very well," replied the director diplomatically. "In retrospect they may have played its religious sense up more than necessary, but I don't want to play Monday-morning quarterback. The film has a long run ahead of it."

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