News from the Locarno Festival

Arnon Milchan Confidential

Arnon Milchan Confidential



So many of us have grown up with the films he produced: Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The King of Comedy (1983) Brazil (1985) and also Pretty Woman (1990), L.A. Confidential (1997), Fight Club (1999) and so many more. Since 1977, American mogul Arnon Milchan brought to the screen some 120 features films. Last Wednesday night at the Locarno Film Festival, the founder of New Regency, was given the Raimondo Rezzonico award that celebrates a producer's career.

The following day, the Hollywood magnate opened up to the Locarno audience during an hour long talk and shared numerous anecdotes on his working relations with the greatest film makers and actors of our time. Israeli born Arnon Milchan made his producing debuts when approached by Elliott Kastner who wanted to finance three of his productions. Only one film was made: The Medusa Touch (1978) with Richard Bruton and Lino Ventura. Milchan went on to produce commercials, notably ones with French singer Serge Gainsbourg and French actress Isabelle Adjani.

The early 1980s saw Milchan become the most ambitious and interesting independent producer of the decade, writes Olivier Père, the artistic director of the Festival. Befriending Robert De Niro also helped. Milchan, at the time based in Israel, met the actor because he wanted to play Moshe Dayan the Israeli military leader and politician who's life story Milchan had just acquired. « During De Niro's stay in Israel, he showed me the script of The King of Comedy » remembers Arnon Milchan. Milos Forman was to direct, but De Niro didn't like his approach. «  So I bought it 45 000 dollars from Paramount and we set out to find a director. De Niro suggested Martin Scorsese. »Whilst promoting the film in Cannes in 1983, Arnon Milchan got to know Sergio Leone.

Eager to talk about the project he'd been preparing for the past 11 years, the Italian master told Milchan the entire story of Once Upon A Time in America frame by frame. "It lasted from 2pm to 6pm. I was willing to take the risk and it quickly became a love affair ». He recalls: « we lived in the same building for 3 years, the shooting lasted 11 months instead of 6. But we stayed on budget because the crews' agreed to reduce their salaries ». Milchan went on to produce Roman Polanski's  Amadeus stage play in Paris (1981) where he met Terry Giliam. Over drinks, the British director presented Brazil to the Israeli producer: "At the end of the night, we were both totally drunk and I agreed to produce the movie". Milchan fought hard for this film: he ran a 2 page advertisement in Variety asking Universal Studios when would they release the film, since they were threatening to cut the last 2 minutes. Plus he smuggled a copy in L.A. for a secret screening. The critics loved it. But Arnon Milchan had yet to experience his breakthrough in Hollywood.

In the late 80s, he came accross the initial Pretty Woman script, thought it was fine but needed a different ending "to give it a modern My Fair Lady touch". Hence he got Disney on board. 4 weeks before the shooting was to start Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer pulled out. Milchan had just happened to watch Mystic Pizza (1988) staring newbie Julia Roberts. "We tested her and she was great however I had to convince Disney she could play a prostitute". On the other hand for the male character, Richard Gere terribly wanted the job, "but he was like poison since all the films he was in failed at the box-office", says Milchan. But they took a bet on the Gere - Roberts duo and the film has now become "probably the most watched film in history", believes Milchan.

Obviously enjoying his time with the Locarno public, Arnon Milchan went on to talk about L.A. Confidential and Fight Club. Asked to define what was a producer, he answered: "today this word should be banned. When I started of, a producer had to be creative, he had to find a good script, a director, actors and then money. Today production is ruled by marketing and how many screenplays you can afford. But if you're commited and passionate, money comes to you", the Hollywood producer claims. Arnon Milchan is actually working on Darren Arronovsky's new film Noah and confirmed he would start shooting the James Gray – Brad Pitt film The Grey Man next year in Israel.

Marc Menichini
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