My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink
Just before we left for Rome to start MADIGAN'S MILLIONS, Mitch Grayson phoned me from Hollywood with news he had signed a contract for the development of the AUGIE MARCH script. MGM had budgeted $25,000 for the project but totally refused to discuss Stephen Spielberg as the director and co-scripter. Mitch was very upset since he felt about Stephen as I had felt about Dustin. But he announced he had found the perfect lead for A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, Jeff Cooper. He was so damned excited you would think he had found another Tyrone Power. I authorized him to sign Jeff Cooper to a multi-picture contract with options, but the only real commitment was for $1,000 a week for the eight weeks of NIGHTS.
Mitch returned five days later with his future star in tow and took personal charge of the production of the film. I assigned the director to Jose Maria Elorietta and my son Philip took the role of assistant to the producer. We shipped that crew down to Granada and NIGHTS became the first movie permitted to shoot in the Alhambra palace of the Moors. The picture was in production simultaneously with MADIGAN, so I received progress reports nightly from Philip by telephone since I was unable to leave the set in Rome.
That was a hairy time for us. MADIGAN was not going well as Dustin was a time bomb held in check only by my constant presence on the set, and my son's reports on the progress in Granada were troublesome. Despite my discussions with him, Mitch hadn't learned how to work with Elorietta, who as usual began drinking more and more until it got to where he started early in the morning. In only three weeks, they were behind schedule by eight days, and the find of the century, Jeff Cooper, was as clumsy as he was unphotogenic. I now had two potential disasters on my hands and was unable to do much about it. But since my problem in Granada seemed easiest to remedy, I flew there on an overnight milk flight from Rome. I arrived in the middle of the night, was met by my son, and went to our hotel headquarters.
The next morning I looked at some footage, and Jeff Cooper was worse than I thought. He had two left feet, and his sword fighting and acrobatics made him look like Grandma Moses without her paintbrushes. I called Mitch and Elorietta together and laid down the law. Elorietta had to stop drinking immediately, and Mitch was to stop interfering with the direction of the picture. He was production head, and his only responsibility was to see that Elorietta got everything he needed and stayed on budget and on schedule. I told them they had to make up the lost time or I would replace them. Elorietta knew me well enough to know that I not only meant it but that I was perfectly capable of taking over the direction myself. He agreed to stay sober if I would keep Mitch out of the artistic end and allow Elorietta to run the set as he had always done. We all agreed, although Mitch pouted childishly at losing face in his debut as producer.
I arranged for construction of the palace interiors in the Madrid studios so we could get off that expensive location. It is always much cheaper to work in the studio, even with the cost of constructing the sets and the studio rental. Control lies in your hands and you can shoot twenty-four hours a day if you wish. Lighting is easier, crews are smaller, and the cost of maintaining a crew away from home can become a major expense. I left Granada satisfied we could bring the film in on budget. I instructed Elorietta to use a double in every action scene of our hero and use Jeff only for close-ups, and that is how it finished.
[With this portrait of Jeff Cooper as physcially incompetent, the mystery of why he was cast opposite David Carradine in CIRCLE OF IRON, a film originally developed for Bruce Lee, deepens.]