With a career that dates back in the 1950s, Robert Altman started out making industrials and working in television before switching to features in 1970 with “MASH,” a film that kicked off a decade where the director flirted with perfection, with classics like “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” “The Long Goodbye,” and “Nashville.” The 1980’s wouldn’t be as kind after Altman started the decade with the musical “Popeye,” but he would eventually bounce back commercially with 1992’s “The Player” and 1993’s “Short Cuts” before receiving his fifth Academy Award nomination for directing with 2001’s “Gosford Park.” The director’s career career ended with Altman’s death in 2006, and documentarian Ron Mann (“Comic Book Confidential“) is planning to examine his career in the upcoming Epix Original Documentary “Altman.”
“Altman defined cinema for me — he had an extraordinarily rollicking career,” Mann told Variety. The Canadian director is planning to start shooting the doc in the fall, but is currently trying to find buyers at Cannes, where Altman brought seven films over his career, winning the Palme d’Or for “MASH” and Best Director for “The Player.” “It’s here at Cannes where his career really took off,” said Mann. “He was a regular, so of course we are looking at the stock footage from the festival’s archives.”
“Altman” should be finished by mid-2013, we imagine in time for that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Altman’s widow, Kathryn Reed Altman, and producer Matthew Seig have agreed to consult on the doc. Plans are in place for a touring exhibition and an illustrated companion book once the film reaches theaters.
Another auteur getting the doc treatment is the late Dennis Hopper, whose life and career will be documented anecdotally in “Hopper: In His Own Words” from director Cass Warner Sperling. The feature is almost finished, as it is mostly comprised of a long interview Warner Sperling had with Hopper for the 2007 doc “The Brothers Warner,” which chronicled the start of the studio (Warner Sperling is the granddaughter of Warner Bros. co-founder Harry M. Warner). Hopper signed to Warner Bros. as an actor when he was 18, and started his career working with James Dean on “Rebel Without A Cause” and “Giant” before moving on to co-write, direct and star in the 1969 hippie classic “Easy Rider” among many other memorable performances.
“When I interviewed him he hadn’t been on the lot since the 50s, but he told all of these magnificent stories of his career, including how he went through these situations with drugs and how he confronted his demons and decided to not only survive but carry on with his art form,” Warner Sperling told Deadline. “He turned himself in for rehab and was given an antidote to get off it. It was a strong drug that made his hands shake and left him unable to speak. He convinced someone to get him out of there and as he was driving home, he told that person he was going to kill himself, because he couldn’t even light a cigarette. His friend brought him to a doctor, and Hopper was scared enough by the experience to quit.”
Warner Sperling is still in search of finishing funds for the project, but isn’t looking to get them from the family business. “My father, [film producer and screenwriter] Milton Sperling, told me, ‘don’t ever use your own money to make a movie,’” said Warner Sperling. “I’m trying to follow his guidance. We’re doing the Kickstarter thing, hoping to get the finishing funds to complete it.” Once the funds arrive, the doc will be shopped for TV and features.