"I didn't know if the book could even be made into a movie, but I knew that even if you could, it wouldn't be the kind of movie you could sell to a studio," says director Philip Kaufman. The book he's talking about -- Milan Kundera's formidable erotic/political exploration, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" -- did make the transition to celluloid, but true to Kaufman's words, that film, which opens today, had to be financed outside the Hollywood studio system before it found a distributor in Orion Pictures.
"We didn't even show it to any studios until the film was in rough form. If we'd tried to sell it to Hollywood before that, we might not have even gotten lunch," jokes Kaufman, who works out of offices in Berkeley, in Northern California, and says he comes to Hollywood only when he has to. Still, he adds, the response was extremely favorable when he finally started shopping the movie, which was financed by Fantasy Films head Saul Zaentz, who did the same sort of thing with "Amadeus" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
Now Kaufman's even a little optimistic about the state of things down south: "The truth is that many people in Hollywood are being very quiet about this, but they yearn for more interesting projects to work on. At the highest levels in the studios there are people yearning to do things they really care about -- but they're faced with marketing techniques that emphasize films released in 1,500 and 2,000 theaters. So films that offer themselves to the biggest barrage and the broadest number of people are the ones that get made, and the people who really love movies sit at home watching their videocassettes and learning to eat better." Puttnam, Speaking His Mind
For about a year and a half, David Puttnam was perhaps the movie executive most strongly identified with smaller, more artistic movies, and best known for speaking out against excesses as strongly as anyone in Hollywood. And though Puttnam was uncharacteristically quiet about the Hollywood power struggles that last year cost him his job as head of Columbia Pictures, it hasn't taken him long to become his old, outspoken self.
In preparation for a ceremony next week at which Puttnam will be given the Second Century Award for developing new talent, event sponsor Eastman Kodak released an interview transcript in which Puttnam admitted to causing problems for himself in Hollywood, including the "very serious technical error" of being so enamored of open debate. He then carried on that debate by blasting the high cost of movie production (which has risen by two-thirds, while the Consumer Price Index has gone up only 13 percent), the Hollywood tendency to consolidate power and make decisions based on fear, and "the American Way" -- or, rather, the way in which that phrase is used "as though this were some adequate description of a particular form of virulent greed which you mustn't question because it's been around for some while." Placing Bets on the Oscars
The Directors Guild of America nominations are usually an accurate way to predict which five directors will be nominated for the Academy Award, but this year's Oscar lineup should differ to a surprising degree from the slate of DGA nominees. If Hollywood talk says that James L. Brooks ("Broadcast News") and Bernardo Bertolucci ("The Last Emperor") are shoo-in Oscar nominees, and if it's likely that academy voters have overcome their distaste for Steven Spielberg enough to (probably) honor him for "Empire of the Sun," the final two DGA picks still count as long shots, Brit Adrian Lyne perhaps more than Swede Lasse Hallstro m. Hallstro m, who was nominated for "My Life as a Dog," has a reasonable shot at being the traditional one directorial nominee whose film isn't nominated for best picture, though word is it's more likely this slot will go to the late John Huston, sentimental favorite for "The Dead."
But "Fatal Attraction" director Lyne -- who likely won his DGA nomination because he's a former commercial director and nonfeature directors dominate the DGA membership -- will almost certainly be snubbed by the small number of feature film directors who make up the academy's directors branch; were they to pass over "Hope and Glory" director John Boorman in favor of Lyne, you'd hear the loudest howls of protest in years.