IRVINE — In the United States, "The Commitments" stirred lots of press attention, performed respectably at the box office and spawned a hit soundtrack album, to which a sequel will be released shortly.
All in all, not bad for an independent film. But "Commitments" producer Roger Randall-Cutler feels "it could have done better here," compared with its performance in Britain and Ireland. Randall-Cutler, in a talk Wednesday at UC Irvine, pronounced himself "rather disappointed with the way it performed in the States."
"The Commitments," which came out late last summer, is a musical comedy that follows a group of disaffected Dublin youths as they try to form a band that plays '60s American soul classics. It was directed by British-born director Alan Parker ("Mississippi Burning") and produced by Randall-Cutler with Lynda Myles.
The film was distributed in the United States by 20th Century Fox. After the film "played well in key cities," according to Randall-Cutler, Fox stepped back from promoting it. He speculated that because the studio was happy with its lucrative share of future video sales, it had reached a point of diminishing returns to promote it further.
Randall-Cutler said the film--based on a Roddy Doyle novel "littered with swear words . . . about this little band that doesn't even make it"--initially was a bit of a hard sell when he was trying to line up financing. The sale was made easier with the arrival of Parker, who was brought on to the project through screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who were hired to complete the screenplay started by Doyle).
The producer is in Irvine in connection with an upcoming project, the film version of Thomas M. Keneally's 1991 novel, "Flying Hero Class," about a group of Palestinians who hijack a jet whose passengers include an Australian aboriginal dance troupe.
Keneally is adapting the novel for screen himself. The Australian author of such novels as "Schindler's List" and "The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith" joined the faculty of UCI last year as distinguished professor of English and comparative literature. He finished the first draft of his screenplay for "Flying Hero Class" in December, and Randall-Cutler is in town to work on the next draft with him.
The London-based producer started out making commercials in Britain, but one day "just woke up and said, 'I can't make another commercial,' " he told his Irvine audience of about 50 people, mostly students. His first effort was the highly regarded 1985 film "Dance With a Stranger," starring Rupert Everett and Miranda Richardson and directed by Mike Newell.
Newell went on to direct the 1987 film "Soursweet" (adapted by Ian McEwan from the book by Timothy Mo) for Randall-Cutler, but although the film was well received at Cannes, it was never distributed in the United States.
Randall-Cutler is seeking an American distributor for a just-completed film, "The Railway Station Man," starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. In addition to "Flying Hero Class," upcoming projects include a film written by Shelagh Delaney ("Taste of Honey," Dance With a Stranger") based on the life of legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
His UCI talk was organized as a discussion of the adaptation of literature to film, and relationships between directors, screenwriters and the author of the original work. Randall-Cutler asked Keneally to adapt his own novel for the screen, because in this case it is primarily a "reduction process," he said. "I believe that the film exists within the novel."
In general, though, he believes "there's no automatic expertise that washes over from one discipline to the other."
Keneally has written for the screen before, including an adaptation of his own "Schindler's List" for Steven Spielberg that has never been produced. He said Wednesday that the greatest adjustment is allowing for the narrower "tolerances" of screenwriting--less tolerance for lengthy scenes of dialogue, for instance.
Randall-Cutler is very much a hands-on producer who is involved from his projects from conception and has little desire to work within the American studio system. Getting a director of Parker's stature to do "The Commitments," however, meant giving up a certain amount of creative control.
In the end, he said both he and author Doyle were "on the whole, delighted with the film."
"Music makes up for a lot of the missing narrative," Randall-Cutler said.
When asked whether Doyle would buy Parker a drink if they met in a pub, Randall-Cutler smiled and said yes--if only for the financial rewards Doyle reaped from the adaptation of his book.