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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

The trek from Cambodia ("Killing Fields") to Argentina ("Mission") takes a true world traveler, though. "The Mission" turned out to have been one of those films that crystallized in a director's head--then got constant backing from the producer. Joffe and Puttnam made their mark with "Killing Fields," and both wanted the momentum not to end. "'The Mission' began with a conversation David and I had by a river in Bangkok. We played around with an idea David had about Latin America, but I was afraid it was too contemporary. That it might sink under the weight of 'attitudinizing."'

Flash forward: Screenwriter Robert Bolt ("Dr. Zhivago") saw a rough cut of "Killing Fields" and soon after gave Joffe a script dealing with "Indians coming of age. I didn't like the script but loved the idea. I loved having an Indian tribe, a group that could speak throughout the film. I became fascinated with liberation theology. I remember one moment when it came together. Bolt had worked on the script after we talked, and I came to see him at his flat in London. He'd had a stroke. I remember picking up the script, getting into Bolt's elevator, and when the elevator doors shut--that was it. I knew in a week's time I'd be on a plane to the jungle. I wasn't far off."


'You can be sold a bill of goods when it comes to passion," said John Daly, dispassionately. Daly is the executive producer who said yes to "Platoon" and yes to "Salvador" and yes to "Hoosiers," which means his company, Hemdale, has 14 Oscar nominations. (Yet a couple of weeks ago when a Hemdale representative called the academy to discuss seat allocation for Oscar night, the academy's response was 'Who's Hemdale?')

"Passion" is a John Daly word. It's perhaps his major criterion for backing a particular project. "Passion" can be attached to a terrible movie--Hemdale has also backed "Images" and "Triple Echo"--but the values (says Daly) were passionate.

"Here's how you know," confided the transplanted Englishman who first came to California with his friend (and ex-partner) David Hemmings during "Camelot." "There are film makers who come in and say, 'All my life I've wanted to make this movie.' That's passion. Now you must realize that by the time material gets to me it's been to studios. Very little fresh material is brought directly to my company. I see people who are still clinging to their dreams. But it's when you get into negotiations that you find out. It's then the agent says, 'My client must have his full price, the full $2 million, to direct--or he's walking away from the deal . . . this is after insisting there is nothing they would not do to prove their passion."

Oliver Stone had nothing to prove, in terms of "Platoon," when John Daly visited him in Mexico on the set of "Salvador" in late 1984. Hemdale was backing "Salvador," and Daly went to see some footage. "I looked at two or three hours of film, and I saw Jimmy Woods giving a passionate performance. But I also saw Oliver not giving attention to the people who actually parade in front of the White House, the unfortunate people, the Americans who actually do speak up. And Oliver and I had a few friendly words about that, and he sort of said, 'If you care that much about my work and my views, you should read my script 'Platoon."'

Daly flew back to Hollywood with the script, read it once, and called Stone in Mexico. "I told Oliver, 'I want this to be your next picture. It will take three months to get the financing. . . .' It wound up taking six months. But I think the idea that 'Platoon' was his story kept me going on it." Even though Daly had no military experience. The former amateur boxer says he shares with Stone "a penchant for the underdog. Also I felt this revulsion at the Vietnam exploitation films that were surfacing. 'Platoon' said 'It doesn't matter who the enemy is. Nobody wins."'

But did Daly know the back story? Did he know that 'Platoon' had been a Hollywood reject for nearly a decade? One wonders if independent producers aren't sometimes just lucky outsiders who take the runt of the litter, and wind up with a star.

Daly nodded knowingly. "I was told--or let's say I thought --'Platoon' had been turned down maybe once, because the budget was $14 million. I could never have said yes to Oliver at $14 million. But also I knew that Oliver was working 24 hours a day in dirt and grime in Mexico on 'Salvador.' That picture looked like $15 million and cost $4.5 million." Thus Daly knew his director, but trusted his own instincts: "If 'Salvador' cost $4.5 million then 'Platoon' could be done for $5.5 million. To me 'Salvador' was a filler, anyway. It was a way of proving that Oliver could direct."

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