"The enemy of art is the absence of limitations": Henry
Jaglom feels "Deja Vu"
by Anthony Kaufman
Before independent film was the dream of every college kid and the
subject of every magazine cover, Henry Jaglom was financing his second
picture through tax shelter schemes and lunching with the legendary
Orson Welles. Jaglom has been working on the margins for nearly 40
years, creating personal, character driven movies about the human heart
and mind. Jaglom's early films tackled the topics that others shied
away from: the Vietnam obsessed "Tracks" (1976), loneliness and misery
in "Can She Back a Cherry Pie?" (1983) and painful divorce in "Always
(But Not Forever)" (1985). But it was with the 1991 arthouse hit
"Eating," a film about food-obsessed women, that insured him a solid
place in the independent film world.
Jaglom's 12th feature film "Deja Vu" opens this Friday (April 24) -- a
story about love and destiny that traverses Jerusalem, London, and Los
Angeles and stars Jaglom's wife and writing partner Victoria Foyt,
Stephen Dillane ("Welcome to Sarajevo"), Vanessa Redgrave and her
real-life mother Rachel Kempson. Jaglom's experience in the industry
lends him a incisive perspective on the history of independent film from
the 70's up until today, addressing such topics as distribution and
financing to Final Cut and friend Orson Welles.
indieWIRE: You have been working on the fringes for quite awhile -- so
how have you been able to do survive?
Henry Jaglom: When I started out, there was no such thing as independent
film, because if you didn't have one of the seven majors distribute your
picture, there was no distribution company, there was no outlet. So my
first film was made for Columbia Pictures and it was such a commercial
disaster, though it was an artistic success, but it took me 5 years to
get the financing together to do a second picture. (There was nobody
financing independent films either.) No studio would touch me after my
first film. So the way I was able to get that together was there was a
tax shelter scheme going on back then. And people could write off taxes
on movies at some ridiculous ratio like 6 to 1 or 8 to 1. And I found a
guy who spent two years putting together dentists and doctors and
lawyers and each put up $12,500 and it put together a million dollars.
And I had the financing for my second picture. That took five years
though. Again, there was no independent producer, there was no
independent distributor, so when I finished the movie, I showed it to
the seven studios and none of them wanted to distribute it and that was
that, it never got distributed. It was called "Tracks" -- the first
film about the Vietnam war at a time when nobody wanted to see anything
about the Vietnam war.
There was no Miramax, there was no New Line, there was no Sony Classics,
or any of the other incarnations, there was just no choice. By the time
I made my third picture, which took another four years, "Sitting Ducks"
suddenly there was independent distributors springing up, and United
Artists Theater Circuit decided they could distribute a film themselves
and they bought it from me and they distributed it quite well and it did
quite well, and suddenly I was off. But for the whole decade of the
70's, I managed to make only those three films. Suddenly, the 80's,
everything changed. But now I was very weary of even those independents
here since the film was a big hit in Europe, (also since I was getting
friendly with Orson Welles and I watched the way it was impossible for
him to get money to make a movie) I figured the thing to do is never
depend on Hollywood for your source of financing, so I went to Europe
where "Tracks" and "A Safe Place", which had failed here, both had been
very successful. By putting 4 or 5 territories together. . . (I was at
the Cannes festival and watched Francis Coppola do this who was there
with "The Conversation" put together the financing for "Apocalypse
Now".) So I thought I could do that on a much smaller level, instead of
getting $500,000 per territory, I'll get $50,000 per territory and I did
put together my films financing and the ones after that that way. But
then when I came home, I found that distribution got much easier. And
the biggest plus is the media changed. Suddenly, there was all this
technology that could support the film on the back end, regardless of
what the film did on the front end, theatrically. So suddenly, there
was cable, video, satellites springing up, and that meant that each
territory would out up more money in advance. And it became a great
time to be an independent filmmaker. That might be more than you want,
you're supposed to stop me. Orson used to say -- he talked in
paragraphs, I talk in chapters.
iW: What was that relationship like?
Jaglom: We were very close friends.
iW: Do you think it effected you artistically?
Jaglom: What it effected it was, is that it supported my belief that
make a movie for yourself, not for anybody else. In 10 to 15 years,
you're going to have to live with it. And nobody knows what's
commercial anyway and don't worry about that and just make the best
movie you know how for yourself. He was so intent on that. I think
that was the greatest lesson I learned. And every other way, we were
very close friends. I was spending a lot of my energy, the energy that
I had left over from trying to put my films together was spent trying to
get him financing which I failed to do.
iW: And as far as getting that financing together, international has
been. . .
Jaglom: Until recently, well, not even until recently, this film "Deja
Vu" is entirely financed -- and it's a much bigger budget than I've ever
had, it's 4 million dollars, which for me is like 40 -- it was financed
by John Goldstone, who produced all the Monty Python pictures in London,
and I just made a three picture deal with him as a result. Over there,
it's much easier to get that money and the big key, is they don't look
over shoulder and you've got total freedom creatively. Orson, you know,
never had final cut except for "Citizen Kane". And I determine never to
not have Final Cut. And he said to me that was the luckiest thing I
could do, the greatest lesson I could learn up-front was to never give
away Final Cut.
iW: And this new relationship with Goldstone seems like a dream come
Jaglom: Kind of perfection. He protects me. He gives me three or four
times the budget that I'm used to. Which means I can get a lot of
actors, I can get a lot of locations, I can do a different kind of
filmmaking than having to put it in one set.
iW: So tell me then about the changes in this kind of expansive location
Jaglom: It's not expansive and it's hardly a change -- it's still
basically a lunch on a picture. What it is. . . is it frees you from a
certain kind of pressure and you could have some luxuries, it doesn't
effect the kind of filmmaking very much. It just gives you time to
choose locations, to travel, to do a film with more exteriors. The
final thing about acting is the same, the final thing about getting
emotions on the screen. . . The thing that Orson said to me that's over
my editing machine here where I'm sitting is, "The enemy of art is the
absence of limitations"which he told me over lunch. And that's the
key. If you have no limitations, economically, or time-wise or
money-wise, you're not going to make art, you're going to throw money at
a problem, you're going to throw technology, you're going to find some
solution that you can just buy. If you don't have the money, if you
don't have the time, you're going to be forced to make a creative
solution to the problem, and I love that. That forces me to make films.
4 million still is in that category, it still forces you to make films,
creatively, rather than in some kind of technological or committee
iW: So with that budget, what limitations did you come up against?
Jaglom: There are always the limitations of time and money. I need
another day on the White Cliffs of Dover, because I have only one day
scheduled and it's overcast. How does it change the story if it's
overcast? The mood has to be different. I'm forced to find a way to
creatively do that. It doesn't change anything really. In terms of
that truth of what Orson said holds -- the enemy of art is the absence
of limitations -- therefore it's good to have limitations. You're
supposed to embrace the limitations. And use them to create solutions
that are artistic rather than economic.