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Saul Zaentz tells the story of how the Rings films were born

May 22, 2001 at 6:23 am by Tehanu  - 

Many thanks to Andre for this story. He got it from Der Spiegel, ran it through the Babelfish translator [RIP Douglas Adams] and we both tried to clean the result up into intelligible English. Bracketed phrases are best guesses.

” We were totally lucky ass holes ” – By Ruediger Storm

The independent producer Saul Zaentz ( One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest “, ” Amadeus “), 80, is one of the producers of the “Lord of the Rings” films. Spiegel ON-LINE spoke with Berkeley resident and three-times OSCAR winner about his role with the ring Trilogy, and about Hollywood’s lack of imagination.

Spiegel ON-LINE: Mr. Zaentz, you control among other things the movie rights to the “Lord of the Rings “, and in 1978 you produced an animated movie. Why do you leave the large real film version [to someone else]?

Saul Zaentz: The animated film is the only one of my productions with which I am not satisfied. We simply had not found the correct form. Now there are the technical possibilities, but digital effects are no longer my world. Naturally we use it, in order to improve normal productions visually. But with the “Lord of the Rings ” the computer animation is a [vital] part of the film. And now I am at an age where I cannot learn this type of film-making. Nor do I want to. That is now Peter Jackson’s vision.

Spiegel Online: Is he the right man?

Zaentz: He is. Only because of him I gave away all the rights. I met him and his wife several times in the last few years, and with their intelligence and their enthusiasm the two convinced me.

Spiegel Online: Although with “Heavenly Creatures” he had only one film to show which can be taken seriously?

Zaentz: It’s the same with Anthony Minghella, who made ” the English Patient ” for me, he’d only shot one good first work “Truly, Madly, Deeply”. But one film is sufficient already, so that I can judge whether someone is a good director.

Spiegel Online: Is it sufficient just to be a good director in order to master the epic dimensions of the “Lord of the Rings “?

Zaentz: With “the English Patient ” there were the same discussions. Studios said, ‘Now that is a large movie, but Minghella so far made only a small one.’ Nerve-killing! Finally I exploded. I said: If Miro had painted only small pictures, would you not let him paint a large one? On that they gave no answer.

Spiegel Online: Are you in contact with Peter Jackson?

Zaentz: I sent him some material on musicians, whom I considered suitable. But I do not know whether he selected some of them.

Spiegel Online: That is your only contribution to the “Lord of the Ring “?

Zaentz: If Peter Jackson had not convinced me, the movie probably would not exist.
In the last ten years there were different prospective customers [for the film rights], but the correct one was simply not among them. I sold the option to Miramax, which wanted to co-operate
with Jackson. I let them pay a considerable sum, because Miramax only makes those movies big, into which they invested properly. But then they wanted Jackson to make only one “Lord of the
Rings” film. That was naturally an absurdity, and he stepped out. Miramax would have had to pay now another large amount for the renewal of the option, but now they had no director anymore. And in that situation my friend Bob Shaye of NEWLINE called me and suggested we co-operate. And I said: Clearly, but only with Peter Jackson.

Spiegel Online: Nevertheless the cash had also to be right, didn’t it?

Zaentz: Of course. We have a profit-sharing of the film and we control the Merchandising rights. But we found a concerted solution with new LINE, with which both parties earn something. Otherwise I have nothing to do with the movie. Therefore I want also no recognition as a producer for LOTR.

Spiegel Online: As a producer you experienced several nightmares. In the middle of producing “the English Patient ” the financing fell through. Now you plan a complex film on Goya and his times. Are you ready for a new horror trip?

Zaentz: One cannot say : “I do not go over the road, because I might get hit by a car.” I believe in my luck. It worked with the ” Cuckoo’s Nest.” Exactly the same we were lucky that we received 1979 the rights for ” Lord of the rings ” from MGM. Therefore one called us also “the lucky ass holes of Berkeley “. After “Amadeus” we were the totally lucky ass holes,” and after “The English Patient” the “extremely totally lucky ass holes”.

Spiegel Online: And all this although you never did the typical Hollywood Blockbuster.

Zaentz: Hollywood always copies itself. If one has a successful animal film, they all do animal films. One should not look always at what the other studios do, but do his own thing. What I’m interested in is the influence of history on the ” conditio humana “. That’s what I want to talk about. That’s the only way a movie works.

Spiegel Online: When you received 1997 the Irving G. Thalberg Award, you said, ” the cup is full “. The following OSCAR for ” English the patient ” you commentated with ” the cup has overflowed now. ” Why do you then still continue?

Zaentz: Akira Kurosawa, one of my true heroes, said one of the greatest sentences which I have ever heard: “People like us should die while making movies “. I don’t want to find the Holy Grail, but I always want to be on the way to it. My aim is the way.

Posted in Old Special Reports on May 22, 2001 by

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