Friday, 7 September 2012

RIP Jake Eberts

You probably don't know the name, or the face of this mild mannered Canadian, but if you're a fan of quality movies, you are definitely familiar with his work.

Directors are credited with making films, but it takes people like Eberts to get movies made. His specialty was bringing investors and filmmakers together, and his eye for risky, but high quality projects resulted in him being involved in movies that earned over 66 Oscar nominations, and 37 wins.

The Quebec born movie business dynamo was originally trained as a chemical engineer at McGill University in Montreal. He went on to get an MBA from Harvard and pursued a career in high finance.

It was that work that first got him involved in independent film in England, and he was a key player in the revival of the British film industry in the 1980s.

That revival was led by Goldcrest Films, a company he co-founded and headed first from 1977-1984, and then from 1985-1987.

During his first tenure at Goldcrest he was behind a string of successful movies that blended commercial appeal with award winning acclaim. It was a varied bunch of films, ranging from The Howling, and Escape From New York, to the back to back Oscar winners Chariots of Fire and Gandhi.

Gandhi was his most famous project since it had spent years wallowing as the film no studio wanted. On the surface it looked like a disaster in the making, an epic story about a skinny Hindu walking around India, a country the studios assumed the audience didn't care about, preaching non-violence. Eberts saw potential no one else did, made the movie, got it released, and helped make it not only an Oscar winner, but a commercial success.

Eberts left Goldcrest to take a high paying job in the USA, but was brought back to the company due to troubles it experienced during his absence.

Chief among those troubles were the films Revolution, The Mission, and Absolute Beginners. The three films were a break from Goldcrest's fundamental plan of modest budgets and high quality. They were relatively big money films that needed to be the 1980s equivalent of blockbusters to succeed.

They didn't. The Mission came close to breaking even, but not close enough, and neither Revolution or Absolute Beginners came remotely close.

Goldcrest was restructured and sold to new owners, and Eberts left to form a new company called Allied Filmmakers in partnership with the French cinema giant Pathe. Allied Filmmakers' specialty was bringing together investors and filmmakers, and was only rarely credited as a traditional production company.

Eberts wrote about his time at Goldcrest in his autobiography My Indecision Is Final, with journalist Terry Illot.  I feel that this book is essential for anyone remotely interested in the business of movies. Some may find it a little dry, since it's not about scandal or celebrities, but it contains vital information that every filmmaker should know about how things work.

He was a rare bird who showed that you can successfully sell mature and intelligent movies to a wide audience. I fear we might not see his kind again.

No comments:

Post a Comment