Monday, October 5, 2009

Selling FINGER ON THE TRIGGER to America

My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

FINGER ON THE TRIGGER and I went back to New York together: I had exclusive selling rights for our part of the world and authorization by FISA to sign any reasonable deal that would return the invested capital. What everyone forgot, or perhaps didn't care about, were my expenses in New York. Gregorio didn't offer to advance the cost of the trip, and FISA had no funds (I was too damned arrogant and bull-headed to ask for help), so I arrived in New York with exactly $55 in my pocket and a credit card that I could use only to pay my hotel bill at the Taft (cheapest accommodations I could find with a reputable address).
It wasn't a king's ransom, but it was enough to keep me in Nedick hot dogs and orange juice for a little while...
My first sales call was Bill Heinemann of United Artists who tried to help me with BWANA DEVIL...
During our after-hours drink, Bill told me that while FINGER ON THE TRIGGER was an amazingly good Western, especially considering where it had been made, it was not of the class a major distributor would put its label on. He suggested I call on Allied Artists, the new corporate name for Monogram Pictures. It had recently been taken over by a wealthy young French Canadian, Claude Giroux, who had ambitions of making the company another major distributor. Bill knew Allied needed films badly, and FINGER ON THE TRIGGER was a film he felt they would promote as one of their major releases. I took his advice and never regretted it.
My next move was to make an appointment with Claude Giroux for a screening of our film. Three days later I met with Claude, who was accompanied by Allied's vice president, Roy Brewer, and Nat Nathanson, Allied's sales manager. I contacted Stan Turtletaub as well, and he and his production manager were also at the screening. Stan and I had become very friendly during our joint commercial stints for Pepsi, and the praise he received for those two commercials cemented our relationship. After reassuring my growling stomach that the hot dog diet would soon be over, we started the screening.
There was a hush after the last titles had faded; then Stan Turtletaub broke the silence with, "How the hell did you do that?" Then all the questions came at once. No one could believe that this authentic American-style Western had been made abroad. This same theme ran through all the trade paper reviews that were later published. Variety noted that "This typically American Western was made in, of all places, Spain," and I was given high honors as producer-director.
My gamble paid off - the reaction was better than expected. I knew FINGER ON THE TRIGGER was not a great movie and that its faults were easily noticeable, but what worked in our favor was that the picture did not look in any way foreign-made. It was the shock of seeing the great American West and the American Indians on a giant screen in a film made entirely outside the U.S. that caused all the excitement.
I am certain that had this not been the first Western made in Spain, it could not have been sold. I am far too familiar with the faults of the film to kid myself about its quality. I have only one reason to be proud: No one has ever noticed that Rory Calhoun was not in the entire film or that eighty percent of it was shot without the presence of our leading man. This is the one accomplishment for which I heartily congratulate myself.
Concluding the Allied Artist's deal was routine and perfunctory. The Allied people wanted the picture and made not bones about it. They gave us a good deal, guaranteeing $200,000 for Western Hemisphere rights, but as part of the deal, Giroux insisted on first refusal on all future pictures (he wanted to make a six-picture deal, which I was unable to discuss without FISA participation). That evening, Stan Turtletaub took me out to dinner, and while he didn't know it, we (my stomach and I) owe him a debt for saving our lives. I don't think I could have taken another hot dog after that exciting event. When I called Gregorio with the good news, I asked for and received $1,500 for expenses. Now, I could use my credit card for more than the hotel room. Thus FINGER ON THE TRIGGER became the catalyst for the first official marriage of TV and movies brought about by Stan Turtletaub and me.

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