My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink
FINGER ON THE TRIGGER was made in the Technicolor-Techniscope process, a new method of presenting the Cinemascope two-to-one screen ratio while cutting the cost of film negative and printing. Techniscope required half as much film since it used only two of the four sprocket holes of the 35mm film for its exposure. The squeezed Cinemascope picture was shot with special Techniscope negative, and when actual theatre prints were made, Technicolor reconverted it to normal film size. Through the use of special anamorphic (Cinemascope aspect) lenses, the film was projected on the screen just like an ordinary Cinemascope picture. It saved a lot of money for the producer, but only Technicolor was able to make prints. It became the standard in Europe where the producers were cost-oriented, but it was never completely accepted in the U.S. due to the Technicolor monopoly on prints.
I couldn't make a lab affiliation because of the process limitations, so I had no lab to help my financing. I knew the president of Movielab, New York's largest independent laboratory, where the negative materials of GREEN-EYED ELEPHANT were stored, and I had also worked with Paul Connelly, executive in charge of Hollywood's Pathe laboratory, during my dealings with AIP. As comptroller of Pathe, Paul helped finance our lab costs until delivery to AIP. He was now employed in the same capacity at Movielab in New York.
I called Paul and through him met Sol Jeffe again. Sol is the founder, major stockholder, and chief executive for Movielab, and as fine a gentleman as ever worked in the film industry. He is straight as an arrow and a near-genius in laboratory technique and print development. Sol and I, together with our wives, are solid friends even to this day, and I owe him much for any success that I may have achieved. I met with Sol and Paul on the day after the Westinghouse screening and explained to them just what I was facing.
While Sol Jeffe disliked lawyers and accountants, he knew we couldn't do without them, so he advised getting a lawyer who would represent me and only me. He also was certain that a Westinghouse contract would make financing relatively easy. He recommended the Trade Bank and Trust Company. It was a bank specializing in the garment trade but which had recently experimented with motion-picture financing with the Ely Landau company for the highly successful THE PAWNBROKER. I called and made an appointment with Larry Meyers, senior vice president of the bank, an appointment that changed my entire business life.
When I met with Larry Meyers, my whole view of financing altered. Larry and I hit it off extremely well, and I still number him and his wife Muriel among the best friends I have in the world. Neither he nor Sol Jeffe have ever knowingly steered me wrong; as a matter of fact, both did things for me that risked their own necks. In my humble opinion, it is impossible to find success without friends like these.
(Larry put Sidney in touch with the law firm of Gettinger and Gettinger, where Sidney chose Arnold Kopelson as his confidant and protege. Kopelson went on to become a producer and to eventually win an Academy Award for PLATOON.)
Ed (Gettinger), Peter (Gettinger), Arnold and I spent the next three days in conferences nailing down what I really wanted in a contract. We had to discuss the psychology of the approach and determine what was important to Westinghouse, what points we could give up, and what we must retain. It was almost like planning a military campaign, and I appreciated the abilities of these three men more and more as time went on.
As it began to take shape, the deal involved more money than I had ever dreamed of. The basic structure Westinghouse suggested was for a minimum contract of thirty-six pictures to be made over a period of four years, requiring an average of nine films per year. I wasn't certain I would be able to fulfill such an arduous schedule, and I certainly had no desire to be in default before I began. We therefore decided on a contract for thirty-six pictures over five years, with an added protection clause to cover an inability to comply. We agonized over the price of the presale to TV, since Westinghouse demanded the rights in perpetuity for North and South America. We had to get the rest of our financing from sales of theatrical rights in those territories and from the foreign rights. I knew I could make coproduction contracts with Italy and Germany to cover my costs, but I needed some assurance of a profit if I was going to undertake such an ambitious program.~We made no final decisions before I had to leave, so we agreed on a course of action permitting me to take several weeks to clarify the issues at home in Madrid while the negotiations with Westinghouse continued apace. We would conduct a daily conference at 10 P.M. Madrid time (5 P.M. N.Y. time) so that we could discuss issues and make decisions. I returned to Madrid where I found a very happy Pepe Lopez Moreno and Tony Recoder. Gregorio was disconsolate that he was unable to continue on with FISA, but he kept his word and turned over all the stock to us. We now had our company legally situated and I had no partners.