Imagine that you are a film producer whose credits include The Italian Job (1969), The Man who Fell to Earth (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978, for which you win an Oscar) and Blade Runner (1982). Then your name would be Michael Deeley.
This book, which Deeley wrote with Matthew Field, is both a “Making Of” book and a biography. In both genres, it’s a great piece of work. The title obviously draws its inspiration from one of the great books on films of this same era: Peter Biskind‘s Easy Rider’s, Raging Bulls.
Oscar night, 1979
It is 9 April 1979, “Oscar night” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Grand Avenue downtown Los Angeles. Inimitable master of ceremonies Johnny Carson announces the presenter of the last and most important award category, Best Picture -and the audience is astonished to see John Wayne mount the stage* (…)
I was among the audience – an English film producer and an Academy member of ten years’ standing, yet this was the first time I had ever attended the Oscar ceremony.
The Deer Hunter
I was nominated for a picture called The Deer Hunter, and had spent the last five hours waiting nervously to learn the names in the sealed envelope between Wayne’s shaky fingers. Robert De Niro, the star of our film and fellow nominee, wasn’t in the audience, such was the state of his own nerves. He had asked the academy if he could sit out of the show backstage, but no permission was forthcoming and so DeNiro chose to stay at home in New York. From my place in the stalls I had slowly come around to the view that DeNiro had the spared himself a good deal of grief.
An Oscar nomination can be a life-changing marvel for the filmmaker, but if your nomination is for Best Picture then you must accept that you are in for an interminable evening. The Academy demands that attendees be seated by 5:30 p.m. but you want unlikely to hear your fate before eleven o’clock. This comes, moreover, at the end of a peculiarly long day.
A limo arrives 2:30 p.m. you go in for the evening dress on a bright sunny afternoon an object of curiosity to everyone in your neighborhood. spear through the window as your Nemo creeps along the line towards the theater entrance, I wash with press, TV cameras and David Bowie fans movie times but it’s all worth it, no question, for the glitziest event in the Hollywood calendar. And yet the actual making of the film for which I was nominated have been one of the most unpleasant experiences of my career.
The adventure had began when I bought a first-draft script called The Man who Came to Play for the modest sum of $19,000. By the time I produced it as The Deer Hunter I was president of EMI Films Inc., but before then I had taken the project to every studio in Hollywood, all of whom decided to pass. The standard response was that “no American would want to see a picture about Vietnam”. (…)
Despite having been received with great acclaim, there was a strong current against The Deer Hunter because of the way the film portrayed the North Vietnamese.
In the weeks leading up to the event (the Oscar ceremony), orchestrated lobbying against The Deer Hunter took place, led by (Warren) Beatty, whose own picture, Heaven Can Wait, had multiple nominations.
Cimino: The Man Who Came to Play
(…) I had worked with such famously taxing temperaments as Sam Peckinpah and Lindsay Anderson and lived to tell the tale. I hired Michael Cimino, firstly to work on the script of The Man who Came to Play and then, if that experience worked out, to direct the picture. In hindsight I was naive, failing to realize until too late the depths of malice and dishonesty working on this in this softly spoken little man .
Cimino does not come out looking good from this pages, nor he does in Steven Bach‘s seminal book Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists, probably the “Making Of” book with the longest title ever. The stories that both Deeley and Steven Bach tell are huge. Sadly Cimino is not with us to tell his version, as he passed away in 2016.
Life of Brian
The many films that Deeley was involved in included for a while Life of Brian. Only for a while, only until EMI’s boss at the time, Bernard Delfont, pronounced the notorious line: “I’m not going to be accused of making fun of fucking Jesus Christ!”. The project moved to Handmade Films and became a huge success. This is the message that Deeley got from his boss when he decided to pass on the film:
Can you imagine having these films in your CV?
It would be safe to assume that, in Deeley’s career, Sam Peckinpah‘s Convoy (1978) wasn’t one of the easiest films to make. To give you just a clue, the chapter about the film is called “Peckinpah, Convoy and a Blizzard of Cocaine”.
The “premium” section of the book is about the making of Blade Runner.
Did you know that the producers tempted Dustin Hoffman with the main part? (Harrison Ford was not yet involved. Spielberg let the producers watch some rushes of Raiders of the Lost Ark and what they saw convinced both Ridley and Deeley.)
Did you know that one of David Webb Peoples drafts started
at an off-world crematorium for the disposal of time-expired androids. Hidden among the corpses is Roy Beatty, who saves a number of other androids who then scape with him to earth.
Scott discarded the scene when he devised his new, visually overwhelming beginning.
The script – which was originated by Hampton Fancher from the Phillip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” – went through countless revisions, changing from an indoors kind of story to an outdoors one, meaning sets needed it to be built now, or at least retrofitted. The Warner Bros. backlot in LA ended up being the ideal place: lots of streets from other movies ready to be retrofitted for Blade Runner.
Deckard, a Replicant?
Where does the myth of Harrison Ford’s character being a Replicant come from? The second writer of the movie, David Peoples, tells us about it:
I had written an ending much the same as Hampton’s, kind of bittersweet. I had it that Deckard and Rachael went off into the snowy countryside, then Deckard was alone, and we heard this voiceover: “She didn’t know what her date was, but she wanted a choice”. Then you heard a shot off-screen and you new she made that choice – rather than just dying on the date she’d been told to because she was some manufactured thing.
Then Deckard said something like, “I was thinking -what’s the difference between me and Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer’s Replicant, the film’s antagonist)? Difference is, I can’t go confront my maker and ask him what my date is…” Then I was referring to God. We all have a maker, we all have a date. Well, subsequent to this draft Ridley started telling me I was a genius and I had such a wonderful Heavy Metal mind – and I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I was glad of the compliment… Then it would come up in Ridley’s conversation that Deckard was a replicant and somehow he seems to credit me with that. It wasn’t until years later that I looked at that draft and realised it could be read in another way…
The “T-Shirt wars” & Vangelis taking forever
Blade Runner’s section of the book (60 pages, approx.) is a succinct but fascinating account of the making of one of the pillars of modern Science-Fiction. If you want to know about the “T-Shirt wars” and the ages that took Vangelis to finish the music, read the book. If you want to know how Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining made the original ending of Blade Runner possible, get the book. If you want to know about the producers’ dissatisfaction with the movie during the editing process, do get this book.
…and still much more
Still much more left to chew in this book: stories about David Bowie playing the main part in The Man Who Fell to Earth; the fate of cult movie The Wicker Man (1973); the hazardous making of Murphy’s War (1971); the horror cult classic Don’t Look Now (1973) and its famous sex scene…
Let’s clarify that, on the contrary to what I’ve seen mentioned in some places, the line from the title of this book “& BLOWING THE BLOODY DOORS OFF” does NOT refer in any way to the Oliver Stone film about The Doors, -which had nothing to do with Michael Deeley anyway-, but to a line said by Michael Caine’s character in The Italian Job (“You are only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”, Caine shouts at another character who has just blown a whole van to pieces.)
If you are interested in “Making Of” books, please check our posts Best “Making Of” Books Ever: JAWS LOG, Best “Making Of” Books Ever: The Creation of Dino de Laurentiis’ KING KONG (1976), First Assistant Directors: Who Are They? and On William Goldman’s ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE.
*“The Duke” was suffering from stomach cancer, so it was a big surprise that, despite his poor health, he was there to give the award.