Aside from “It,” what films are you watching these days?
I loved “Get Out.” I thought it was terrific. But I don’t go to a lot of films because I’m not the audience for most films.With rare exceptions, the theaters certainly in America are dedicated to blockbusters, which means sequel after sequel after sequel of a superhero movie. Occasionally, somewhere, there will be a serious film.
When I was younger and starting out in the film business, we could see all of the great films from Europe, from Italy, France. We hardly see any now. I don’t know who the current crop of French directors are. There’s one Italian director who I admire very much, Sorrentino. That’s the only name I’m aware of. When I grew up, you could see a whole crop of European and Asian directors, but not now.
You were a young filmmaker when your career took off in the studio system. These days, young filmmakers who land studio gigs often seem to struggle with the authority there.
I know that’s true, but I’m not aware of the circumstances. It seems to me that before a studio is going to hire a director, they ought to be on the same page. When I was directing, it was not necessary to be on the same page as the studio. Every film that I made was a struggle to get made. For more than two years, nobody wanted to make “The French Connection.” It was turned down twice by every studio, including Fox. Then one day I got a call from Dick Zanuck, who said, “You know, I’m going to be fired over here in about six months. I don’t what this crazy cop film you’ve got is, but I’ve got a hunch about it. If you guys can make it for $1.5 million, I’ve got that hidden away in a drawer over here.” They only had one other picture in production called “The Salzburg Connection” from a book by Helen Macinnes, who wrote thrillers.
They made that and the only other film they had was “The French Connection.” They were going out of business, getting taken over by a prominent brokerage house in New York and were going to be sold. They reluctantly made that after turning it down for two years. Our budget was just under $3 million. We said we could do it for $1.5 million, knowing that we couldn’t.
Those are the kind of budgets that smaller entities like Blumhouse work with now.
Unless the studios just let Jason Blum do his thing and then pick it up, they have all these expenses that need to be made up — the rental on the studio space, the premium they put up on the equipment that you use, and everything else. Then the advertising and publicity. By the time you get through with a studio film, they have many more added costs than a sharp independent like Blum, who operates out of his hat and works with a lot of new filmmakers who come in under the radar. The point is, whether a film is over or under the radar, if the audience likes it, that’s it. They don’t care what it costs. I’ve never seen an ad for a movie that says, “See this picture, it cost $150 million.” Or, “See this film, it only cost $400,000.” Who cares? The audience doesn’t give a damn; the industry and trade publications are the only ones that do.
When did you start paying attention to that side of things?
When I started in the ’60s and then into the ’70s, we absolutely did not know the cost a film or how much it took in. We did not know. Even when I had films in profit, I basically had to sue each time to get the profit. We’d always settle on the courthouse steps because we had accountants who said we weren’t getting paid enough on backends. But I never saw box office information in trade press or the LAT or the NYT. There was no IndieWire. We had no idea about the cost of a film. We knew if a film was successful or not by how long it stayed in the theaters.