Friday, August 7, 2015

AN INTERVIEW WITH NICK REDMAN (PART 2 OF 2)

Nick Redman has had a long and varied career in film, stretching from being a film soundtrack archivist and consultant for 2oth Century Fox, to being an Oscar-nominated documentarian, a moderator for BAFTA LA, and the co-founder of Twilight Time, a boutique Blu-ray label that has a  catalogue of rare and fascinating movies. In part two of  of our interview I talked to Nick about his work with BAFTA L.A., and the success of his Twilight Time Blu-ray label.  

Part One can be read here. 


How did you get involved with BAFTA? What is the most rewarding thing about your work with them? 
The first year that I lived in the U.S. all year round was 1988, and BAFTA L.A. was formed the previous year as a satellite of BAFTA London. There is also a satellite in New York and one in Australia. I met some members who were interested in creating a British community in L.A. and I was invited to become a member. Over the years, BAFTA L.A. has become huge in terms of its membership and influence. We went from being a rinky-dink bunch of Brits having a beer and having a chat about being out of work to being a major component of BAFTA's global system. BAFTA London is now connected to the other BAFTAs in New York and in Australia. My work for BAFTA L.A. is voluntary work but I feel it is my way to give back to the community. I host events for them and I do Q-and-As with filmmakers or actors. We have these evenings called 'Behind Closed Doors' where we sit down with a venerable person from the British film industry and talk to them for an hour in front of a live audience. It is filmed and kept for posterity. Over the last ten to twelve years we have built up quite an archive of these filmed interviews with quite a few people who have now passed away, so the interviews hold great value.

Is there anyone that you have gotten starstruck at all with? 
Sometimes you feel yourself getting nervous like anyone going on stage. I felt a bit nervous talking to Daniel Day Lewis. He was very nice but I was a little in awe of him. I was in the same room as Clint Eastwood but I was too nervous to talk to him. People from my childhood who were so big tend to make one nervous. Sometimes I am happy to not talk to my heroes because I don't want my iconic memories sullied if the Q-and-A or chat doesn't go well. It's like the old adage: 'Never meet your heroes, because you will be disappointed.' Some of the Q-and-As can be a little difficult because you know the celebrities are being forced into this because of a contractual deal with the studio. It happens a lot in Oscar season. They end up doing three or four interviews a day. Sometimes you get someone who is really crabby and fed up with it. You get off on the wrong foot, and it is very hard to get back on the right one. In fact, I'd say it is impossible to get back at all. You just have to get through it the best you can. That's not happened to me with someone I really love or care about but it's happened to me with three or four really big names who made me wonder, ''Did you really need to be so nasty?'' When you're up there on the stage it is like the comedian who is being heckled. The audience will always side with the comedian and not the heckler. When the star is in a bad mood, for whatever reason, and turns on the moderator, the moderator doesn't have the audience on his side. It is a typically difficult situation to be in. Luckily out of all the many hundreds of interviews I have done it's only happened a few times, but boy do I remember the times when it went wrong! My focus when I do these Q-and-As is always on the work, and not the person.

(1)
How did Twilight Time come into being?
It happened the way I like things to  happen, with synchronicity. Brian Jamieson, the executive at Warner Brothers who had green-lit AN ALBUM IN MONTAGE, retired from Warners in 2008. He and I had remained good friends over the years and we had done a number of projects after the film. Brian said, ''Nick, I don't want to go into the good night. I'm retiring from Warners after more than 33 years but I still want to do something. What can we do?'' He had been in home video for decades and I had been doing soundtrack restorations at Fox for decades, and I think we both knew the home entertainment business quite well. Because of the economic crash that took place in 2008 and continued on into 2009, the studios were backing away from releasing all their back catalogue on disc. Right up until 2007 they were releasing tons of titles onto DVD, but after the crash, it almost came to a grinding halt. Blu-ray hadn't taken off the way they thought it would. We realised there might be a hole in the market. I said to Brian, ''What if we go to the studios and say, 'Hey, you know us. We're veterans in the business. We will take some of the films that perhaps you have no interest in and we will put them out and see what kind of a reaction we can get.' '' That's how Twilight Time started. Brian and I partnered on this idea.

Criterion focuses on 'important films'. What would you say Twilight Time's focus or agenda is?
Well, the first agenda was to get the films we could get! When it became clear that the studios were really going to be on board with this and that they were going to give us films we had never dreamed we could get, the second agenda became choosing titles that reflect the taste of the people who work at Twilight Time - Brian and I, and Julie Kirgo, who writes the essays in the booklets and does some of the commentaries with me. That's not to say that we love each and every title that we put out. They're not all our personal favourites. But we feel that all of the titles in some shape or form fit the Twilight Time brand, just as Criterion focuses on 'important films' as you said. Although I look at a lot of their titles and I think they're not important at all. What they really focus on is esoteric movies that can all come under the generalised banner of 'art.' They have been around for thirty years but they have released titles in the last few years that they never would have even looked at ten years earlier. That is a concession to reality. The films might not be all that good but they might sell well. Any company that wants to stay in business and wants to keep growing and evolving in some way has got to keep refining what it's doing and reinvest in itself. I started interacting with Criterion in the 1980s when they were based in Santa Monica on PCH. They were a small group of IT nerds. They weren't even really like film people. They were much more about the gadgetry than they were about the movies. Then they evolved into a real repository of international film history, and today they think about things commercially in a way that perhaps they didn't twenty years ago. I think this is good for everybody because it shows you that it is not just about obscure art. It can also be about commercial movies. The line is becoming blurred. All of us that are older are going to think more fondly about the movies we loved when we were young than we are about the movies made today, which are made to be disposed of as quickly as possible. They're not even designed to have any life at all, beyond their immediate life. They have the life cycle of a tsetse fly. They come out, they burn very brightly for five seconds and then they're gone. We are more interested in the movies that have lingered, the ones that you can't shake, the ones that you keep thinking about forty years after you saw them. The ones that you watch over and over again.

(2)
I think it's great that you can give the care and attention to a film like THE KILLER ELITE (1975), which, whilst not a great film, is still a Peckinpah film and still worthy of a quality release like you gave it, with commentaries and an essay. 
Well, if Buzz Kulik had directed it, it's debatable that we would have released it. We put it out because it is directed by Sam Peckinpah, even though we are aware it's not a very good film. The transfer, though, is very nice. Brian and I sat down and decided that we needed something more, and it was one of those happy circumstances where NOON WINE (1966) became available for the first time in history. That's really what made that release.

Has the success of Twilight Time surprised you? To what do you attribute the success?
It has become very surprising, since we started it as a hobby, because I still have my technical day-job consulting for Fox, and Brian was looking to work less after retiring. We find that we are working harder today than maybe we ever have because the volume of titles that we are getting is huge. We didn't think when we started this little hobby that we would make a difference as quickly as we have. The difference that I think we have made is that there is something about the peculiar, esoteric mix of stuff that we do, and the funkiness of the model, that has attracted a loyal fan base. It's been touching in a way that there are so many who love what we do and support it. Without them, Twilight Time wouldn't exist. They have enabled it to not only exist but grow. In March 2015 we will be coming up to our fourth anniversary and I would not have thought we would be anywhere near where we are.

Have you been surprised by some of the negative feedback regarding the limited edition model?
We've done something like 128 titles, and including DVDs, we've sold out of only about 25. People only remember the very quick sell-outs. That took us by surprise too. Nobody expected CHRISTINE (1983) to sell out in a day. We had no precedent for it. Fox was the first place we went to for titles and it seemed obvious because I work for them. They have always taken chances. They are seen as being a bit of a reactionary studio in a way, but strangely enough, they've often been the studio that has done things first. Fox has always had the attitude of ''Let's try something different.'' Fox was the first studio to have a film music restoration program. When I suggested a limited edition model, they were on board because they had seen that it worked in the soundtrack division. So to them, it wasn't controversial. We had been doing limited edition soundtracks for 20 years before we started Twilight Time. I was sort of shocked when the DVD and Blu-ray crowd reacted negatively to the idea of a limited edition model. I didn't see what the controversy was. I think a lot of people want to believe that if you didn't release a limited edition version of say, CHRISTINE, that somehow the studio would sell hundreds of thousands or millions of copies. But if that were true, Sony wouldn't be giving us a film like CHRISTINE. They would be releasing it themselves and reaping the rewards. The reality is that the studios have gotten out of releasing back catalogue titles because they know the sales are small. If they were to sell 10 or 15,000 copies of CHRISTINE, it would be nothing to them and hardly worth doing. When we do a 3 or 5,000 limited run, we are usually taking a chance because a title like THE KILLER ELITE will not sell out, at least not quickly. We are finding that the average length of time for most of these films to sell out is about 2 1/2 years. There are some films that won't sell out in five years or even ten years. On the other hand, something like FRIGHT NIGHT (1986) is a film we are going to re-release and are contemplating doing a 5000 copy run for.

(3)
How do you decide which films you record commentaries for?
It's largely to do with our own personal taste, and whether or not there is time because it is time consuming to put together commentaries. We started by putting out one film a month, then we went to two, three, four, five and now six as an experiment to see what the right number was. I think six is too much actually, and we might scale back to four or five. If we release five titles a month, that's sixty titles a year. At that rate we can go for another ten years. There are problems inherent in doing too many releases. It forces your own aficionados to choose, and not all people can afford or want all of them. There is a lot of competition out there too, with other labels and studios doing their thing too. Sometimes there is not much difference in income from doing four or six releases a month. You are going to lower sales among all of the releases because of the averaging out of people having to choose. You don't want to go too far too fast. We are going to continue at the right pace. We're very practical people, maybe because we have spent decades working at studios. We are cautious about what we do. I think one of the most dangerous things you can do is to try and run before you can walk and try to do too many things at once. From the moment we started, our plan was for a gradual acceleration, and I don't see any signs of that stopping. We will continue as we are for a few years until we get to the next level, which isn't just about releasing more films per month, but about the kinds of films we will be releasing, whether they be bigger films from the past or newer releases. And perhaps getting into other aspects of the business too, which will be VOD, streaming, etc. We'd like to have a portal where we can put content on the website, and build something that is beyond simply releasing Blu-rays on Twilight Time and is more of a full-service entity.

When you are releasing so many titles, even if you wanted to do a commentary for each film, you couldn't. Whenever we have a title coming up, I always call up the usual suspects like Lem Dobbs, who's a terrific guy and a great screenwriter, and ask him if he's interested about talking about a movie. He doesn't always say yes! We recently put out the Mike Nichols movie THE FORTUNE (1975) with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, and we couldn't find anyone who would talk about it!

I loved the commentaries on UNDER FIRE (1983). 
That was a luxury, because we had two. Roger Spottiswoode wanted to talk about the film, and so we had a track with him and Paul Seydor, who worked on the film as an assistant editor, and Matthew Naythons, who was a photojournalist. I love the Jerry Goldsmith score for the film and I really wanted to talk about it, and we were able to get Bruce Botnick and Kenny Hall to come in, as well as Jeff Bond and Julie and I. It was the first time that Botnick had ever done a commentary, and he had never talked about his career like that before.

(4)
I would have liked a commentary for THE DOGS OF WAR (1980). 
Paul Seydor is very fond of that movie and he told me that he would do a commentary with us, but when it came down to the wire, he had another project that got in the way and he couldn't do it. That was a title that missed a commentary by default. It's certainly a film that is certainly worth talking about and I'm sorry we didn't do a commentary. We didn't do one on JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961). A lot of people wish we had done one on that. But I don't think that subject needs us to contextualise it or anything. But we did them on BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962), BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965), and Lem and I even did one on FLAMING STAR (1960)!

How important are special features to you on these releases? 
I do feel that people don't want to buy a title because it's chock-a-block with extras, they buy it for the movie. I know that when I buy a DVD and it's advertised as having ten hours of extras, I watch zero hours of extras. I do love the work Charles De Lauzirika does, particularly the BLADE RUNNER (1982) documentary, but that's a far cry from most of the EPK 'Oh, I had a wonderful time' extras the average movie has. We will always go the extra yard on the films that we really care about or if there are extras that are available to us. Unfortunately, the era of the 30-minute making-of documentary has gone. I don't feel that people care enough anymore. We are just Pavlov’s dog programmed to expect extras on new Blu-rays. I was talking to my friend Jeff Nelson at Scream Factory, and he was telling me that they do a lot of extras for their horror releases but that one of the reasons they do it is because they are putting out films that have already been on Blu-ray and feel that they have to do something different. That makes perfect sense to me, but we are putting out some films that are not only on Blu-ray for the first time but are on home video for the first time in any format. I think we will continue to keep the balance the way it is. Most of our titles have isolated scores, trailers, Julie Kirgo essays, and on titles like UNDER FIRE, THE KILLER ELITE and the reissue of FRIGHT NIGHT we will really go the extra mile. 

Have you had any great feedback about your releases from filmmakers? 
MGM/ UA had called Brian Jamieson and said, ''We want to do a project with Oliver Stone, and we know you have licensed SALVADOR (1986), so can you contact him and make sure he is au fait with everything because you've worked with him before.'' One of the advantages of working with Brian is because of his long history with Warner Brothers, he worked on the contemporary campaigns of so many great filmmakers. He was the only executive at Warner Brothers that Stanley Kubrick would talk to. So he was put in sole charge of handling all of Kubrick's campaigns for home video releases in all of the international territories. He did it exclusively for Kubrick but he also did it for many other filmmakers. He knows Oliver because he handled the HEAVEN AND EARTH(1993) campaign. When we contacted Oliver we told him that we would like to get HEAVEN AND EARTH but Warners wouldn't licence it to us. Oliver made sure that they did. We also got U-TURN (1997), which is my personal favourite Oliver Stone movie. That is the story of a very favourable relationship with a filmmaker, but we have also had others. Randal Kleiser called Sony and asked them if they would give us THE BLUE LAGOON (1980) if they weren't going to put it out themselves. Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale called Sony about giving us USED CARS (1980). We are surprised when filmmakers either call us directly about their own personal favourites, like when John Guillermin called me and asked us to do RAPTURE (1965), literally only a few months after we had started. It was his own personal favourite of his own works. We find that we get a lot of input from filmmakers. The only person that has turned us down about getting involved was David Lynch, when we did WILD AT HEART (1988), but I think that was because he was busy doing something else. Another way that they express their interest is when we get the directors or stars to sign 100 Blu-ray booklets and they are given away at Screen Archives on a first come, first served basis with Twilight Time purchases. It's a way for us to see that they feel their work is being given some spotlight.

Would you ever consider a film too 'big' for a Twilight Time release? 
Personally, no. I tried to get GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989) and people laughed at me and asked ''Do you really think that movie should be on TT?'' I said ''Why not?'' We didn't get it, although we nearly got it. I feel that whether it is a sci-fi hit or a very important film, it doesn't matter. Sony have given us three Best Picture winners – BORN YESTERDAY (1950), OLIVER! (1968), and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966). The latter film may not seem so big to a young person today but when I was a kid it was one of the biggest movies out there. We are also doing new movies, like Yoji Yamada's latest film, called THE LITTLE HOUSE, which did the festival circuit in 2014. We are going to branch out into the acquisition of new films.

(5)
Which films have you been the proudest of releasing on Twilight Time? 
Putting out ZULU was a fantastic experience. How could I ever have imagined when I was eight years old and loving this movie so much that I would one day get the opportunity to present it to people in a home video format? That's a good feeling. It's a big thrill for us to get 13 Woody Allen movies. ANNIE HALL (1977), MANHATTAN (1979), SLEEPER (1973), and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) have already been released by MGM/UA but they abandoned the rest of the catalogue and we have some terrific titles like my personal favourite LOVE AND DEATH (1975), THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985), STARDUST MEMORIES (1980), ZELIG (1983), SEPTEMBER (1987), A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY (1982), and SHADOWS AND FOG (1991), along with the others we’ve already put out.

Have you interacted with Allen much personally? 
We haven't interacted with him personally at all, but when we send off the stuff to him and his people, as is required by the studio, it always comes back passed. When we don't hear anything negative, I consider it tacit support. I think he gets the sense that we treat his films with respect and that there is no reason to interfere or complain about anything. Likewise with Barbra Streisand, with whom we’ve been involved in our releases of FUNNY LADY (1975) and YENTL (1983). YENTL, particularly, because that is her own personal pet project.

Are you surprised by the great reaction to your announcements of forthcoming titles on the website? 
People are attuned to our cycle of announcements. In the first week of the month we always annnounce the release schedule four months ahead. People really look forward to reading the announcements and we always get the usual array of comments on our Facebook page like 'This is a bunch of shit' or 'This is one of my favourite movies.' It's always wildly across the board. I enjoy the unveiling.

What brings you the most joy about all the things you do?
I get paid to do what I would pay other people to let me do. I have been very lucky in that I have been able to earn a pretty decent living out of just doing the things that I love.

I spoke to Nick by telephone on 18th November 2014, and would like to thank him for his time. 

Picture credits
(1) Nick doing a Q and A with Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell to promote SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).  
(2) Nick with WILD BUNCH stars Bo Hopkins and Ernest Borgnine. 
(3) Nick launching BECOMING JOHN FORD at the Venice International Film Festival with composer Christopher Caliendo, Julie Kirgo and Katy from 2oth Century Fox.
(4) Nick with Oscar Isaac, the Coen Brothers and T-Bone Burnett promoting INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013).
(5) Patrick Wayne and Brian Jamieson. 

Photos are (c) Nick Redman and cannot be reptroduced without his permission. 

(c) Paul Rowlands.