Ted Kotcheff is best known as the director of FIRST BLOOD (1982), the first (and best) film to feature Sylvester Stallone as Rambo; comedy drama THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (1974), based on the Moredecai Richler novel and providing Richard Dreyfuss with his breakout role; comedy hit WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S (1989); and the recently re-discovered masterpiece WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971), a drama-thriller set in the  Australian Outback. Kotcheff is also a veteran of sixty years of television, theatre and film work, and his films have traversed many different genres, whilst remaining true to his preoccupations and the themes that attract him. His other work includes the comedy FUN WITH DICK AND JANE (1977) with George Segal and Jane Fonda; the thought-provoking football comedy drama NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979) with Nick Nolte; Vietnam thriller UNCOMMON VALOR (1983) with Gene Hackman, and twelve years as a producer on the acclaimed TV series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-2011). Kotcheff recently published his memoir Director's Cut: My Life in Film, which also details his incredible life and career outside of his films. In the second part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Kotcheff about what drew him to write his autobiography; the roles chance and seizing opportunities took in his success; working with Liverpool playwright Alun Owen on stage and TV plays; the importance of finding the right locations and the role they play in his films; his opinion on the Rambo sequels; working with Richard Dreyfuss on THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ; turning down a Timothy Dalton James Bond movie; and the project that he is most excited to bring to the screen.  

Part one of the interview.  

How did writing your autobiography, Director's Cut, come about? 
After I finished on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, where I produced 289 shows and directed 7 episodes over thirteen years, I decided I wanted to go back to films. I had some time on my hands and I got invited to all kinds of festivals. They honored me at the Oldenburg Film Festival in Germany and then I went to the Lumiere Film Festival in Lyon, France. I also got a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Director's Guild. All of this time I was meeting young filmmakers and people in the film business and I was telling them stories from my life. Some of them would tell me ''Ted, these stories are wonderful. You ought to write a book about your life. ''

My wife finally prevailed on me to write a book. Writing it forced me to look at the things that have shaped me, and how I got into the film business. I thought it would be of interest, especially to young filmmakers. I was lucky enough to have my mentor in Sydney Newman, who let me direct for television. I guess I am a good storyteller because the essence of filmmaking is telling good stories. I've had a long career and I have had a gypsy existence, which is one of the things that attracted me to filmmaking. I have made films all over Europe, and I've made films in Israel (BILLY TWO HATS), Thailand (UNCOMMON VALOR), Australia (WAKE IN FRIGHT) and a lot of other places. I've had a very colorful career from many points of view. I've always had a good sense of humor, which comes in handy when you've have problems, which sometimes I've had.

What I also got out of the book was how important luck, and seizing opportunities, is in a film career. For example, you might not have made one of your best films, WAKE IN FRIGHT, had you been allowed to make films in the US. 
If I had not been banned from America for 17 years, how different would my creative and professional life have been? Thinking about such things is a waste of time. Whatever circumstances life hands out to you, you have to take it and make the best of it that you can.

WAKE IN FRIGHT was a great script. It knocked me out. It was given to me by its writer, Evan Jones. I think I am always attracted to characters who don't know themselves, which is something I discovered as I started working on the book. I'm interested in the mystery of human behavior. The schoolteacher in WAKE IN FRIGHT and Duddy Kravitz don't know what drives them or what motivates them. I also don't know what sometimes drives me or motivates to do certain things.

I found the sections on your TV career fascinating, especially working with Alun Owen, who wrote A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964). 
When I came to England one of my first big successes was a television play by Alun Owen called No Trams to Lime Street. I also did a stage play of his, Progress of the Park, which was a love story about a Catholic girl and a Protestant boy, and a very successful stage musical that he wrote called Maggie May. When we were first paired together by Sydney Newman, I called Alun up and said ''Can I read your script?'' He said ''You know Ted, I think it's better if you let me read it to you because I can do it in the right accent. The Liverpool accent is very important. '' So he read it to me and he said ''Well, what do you think?'' I said ''This play is wonderful, but I'm not going to direct it. '' He said ''What? Why?'' I said ''I'm a Canadian. What the hell do I know about Liverpool working class people? You can't direct a play about people if you don't know the details of their lives. '' He said ''Ted, you don't understand. This is England. By the virtue of you having listened to my play being read to you for the last hour you know more about Liverpool than 99% of this country! Most people don't know anything about anything that happens outside of the London suburbs!'' I said ''OK, but I want to spend some time in Liverpool. '' I remember that I loved the women there. They were so spunky. I was in a pub once having a beer and I saw an attractive girl sitting near me. She looked at me and said in her Liverpudlian accent ''Had a good look? You'll know me next time, won't you?''

How important are getting the specific locations right when you make your films? They always seem to be a huge, central part to your films, whether it be the Outback in WAKE IN FRIGHT, or Canada in FIRST BLOOD, or Israel in BILLY TWO HATS. 
In DUDDY KRAVITZ, getting the perfect lake is of utmost importance in the film. Because if the lake is not extraordinarily beautiful and it's a puddle, you'd hate Duddy for some of the nasty things he does to get that lake. My location manager on the film saw 450 lakes and she showed me a hundred, and I told her ''I'm not interested in that one'' each time. The producer said to me ''Ted, we start shooting in two weeks. We need to choose a lake. What's the problem? One lake is as good as another. '' I told him ''One lake is not as good as another. This has to be the ultimate lake, the Platonic lake. It has to be the lake of lakes. '' He said ''You're crazy, Ted. '' I told him ''I'm crazy, but not stupid. I'm not going to compromise on this location. '' Finally, about a week before shooting, my location manager called me and said ''Ted, I think I found the location, and if it's not the one, I'm committing suicide!'' Luckily it was the one!

It was the same thing with FIRST BLOOD. There was some talk of shooting it in Oregon, but that location didn't have that threatening quality or openness. Finally someone said ''How about British Columbia?'' It was a wonderful location. It had canyons and chasms and tunnels and rapids and rivers. It was really wild. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the one. The producer said to me ''What is it with you and locations?'' I said to him ''What is your idea of a movie?'' He said ''What do you mean?'' I said ''What is your idea of a movie?'' He said ''It's telling a story. '' I told him ''No, it's locations. And your stars are in front of them. The essence of movies are two things – the people and the world. There can't be anything more obvious than that. You don't want to compromise on the locations because if you do, you're compromising pictorially on the film. ''
In FIRST BLOOD the audience understands the geographical space and also the psychology of the characters in relation to their environment. A lot of the film is shot in wet conditions too, which is unusual for an action thriller. 
Yes, it was always wet. I had to change my clothes three times a day. Whatever you put on, the wind would blow the water up and down inside your clothing. As uncomfortable as it was, it was good for the audience to feel the wetness and discomfort of the location. 

Were you disappointed with the sequels to FIRST BLOOD? 
First of all, I am not that fond of sequels. I didn't do WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II (1993).  They wanted me to make RAMBO, but my whole point was that this character was full of the violence from Vietnam. His friends were killed around him. He saw Vietnamese women and children get shot as they got caught up in the fighting. Rambo had had his fill of violence. In his soul there was deep revulsion at what he had had to do in Vietnam. The last thing he was going to do was go back to America and start shooting people. If you notice in FIRST BLOOD, he doesn't actually kill anyone. In the script we originally had him shooting and killing two or three of the National Guard but Sylvester said ''Ted, he's a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, a soldier, and these guys are weekend warriors, working in drugstores. And he's popping them off. The audience is going to hate Rambo. '' I said ''You're right. There's no way that he would go to any kind of violence. '' In the sequel, Rambo suddenly turned into a killing machine and killed 74 people. After I read the script I said ''No, I'm not going to do the film. You're betraying the character that we created. '' I could have been a rich man had I done it!
How was Richard Dreyfuss to work with on THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ? Why do you think he had misgivings about his performance? 
I love Richard and he was spectacular in the film. Let's just say that the last time I met Richard he said ''Ted, that was the best performance I ever gave, and I owe it all to you. You're a fabulous director. I wish we had made ten more films together. '' I told him ''You did it all yourself. I just shaped it. ''

What do you remember about the Timothy Dalton James Bond movie that you turned down?
It was the only time that I turned down a movie over money. I thought ''If I'm going to do a Bond movie, I want to get paid. '' Nobody is going to look at a Bond film and say ''Oh, what a great directorial job. '' On a Bond film what you need is a good stunt co-ordinator. It's too bad. I do like the series, and I love Sean Connery in particular.

Has there been a special project that you have never managed to get made that you still want to make? 
I'm turning 86 soon but there's one project that I have wanted to make for many years. It's the true story of King Boris of Bulgaria, who saved every single Bulgarian Jew during WW2. He spent a lot of time with Hitler, but he was a cunning, wily fox and managed to pull the wool over his eyes. It's a very dramatic story, obviously kind of like SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993). Because of King Boris, the Bulgarian Jewish community was the only Jewish community in the whole of Europe to increase during WW2. 

Director's Cut: My Life in Film can be ordered in the US from the publisher and from Amazon.

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