AN INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN JAMIESON (PART 1 OF 3)

Brian Jamieson is alongside Nick Redman the co-founder of the boutique Blu-ray label Twilight Time, which produces limited-edition runs of new to the format studio pictures, both popular and not well-known. Prior to Twilight Time, Jamieson was a highly successful studio executive with Warner Bros. in his native country of New Zealand, and in England and Los Angeles, forging successful creative relationships with the likes of William Friedkin, Fred Zinnemann and especially Stanley Kubrick. Following his first year with Warners in 1977 and the sucess of his campaigns for THE DEEP and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, he was named International Publicist of the Year. As a preservationist, Jamieson was involved in the restored releases of films such as GIANT (1956),  THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and THE BIG RED ONE (1980), and he produced many in-depth documentaries and featurettes for Warner home video releases of their classic films. He produced the documentary CANNES ALL ACCESS in 2007, and directed a documentary on Nancy Kwan, the star of THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG, entitled TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: KA SHEN'S JOURNEY (2009). In the first part of a three-part interview, I spoke to Jamieson about falling in love with cinema at an early age, some of his most treasured creative relationships with filmmakers, his favorite restoration projects, and the challenges of creating unique and successful campaigns for the international releases of Hollywood films.     

What were some of your most memorable cinematic experiences growing up? 
There are certain films that resonate with you for a lifetime, and then there are films that through the decades, for whatever reason, leave a hell of an impact on you. In terms of epics my top film will always be EL CID (1961) with Charlton Heston. The beauty of that was seeing it in 70mm with Stereophonic 6-Track Sound on its Roadshow release. Then I got to meet Heston and was able to sit down and talk with him about the movie and his experiences making it. That culminated my interest in the film because it was many many years later when I was working for Warner Brothers. Another film that resonated with me was the 50s film LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING (1955), with William Holden and Jennifer Jones. It was based on the true story of Han Suyin. I was fairly young when I saw it. I knew who Jennifer Jones was and thought that she was an incredible actress, but at the time I couldn't figure out why they didn't cast a Eurasian or Chinese actress to play Han Suyin. I guess back then there was no way the studio would take the gamble of casting an Eurasian or Chinese actress opposite an American star. It was interesting to see the changes that followed that movie. In 1960 we had Nancy Kwan opposite William Holden in THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG, and the dymanic was changed. Asian stars were starting to be more accepted. 

When did you first entertain the idea of being involved with film? 
My story is a little like CINEMA PARADISO (1988), except this was in New Zealand! I was very lucky as a child because my mother nurtured my love and my passion for film. I remember being about 9 or 10 sitting on my bike outside the local cinema watching the manager change out the posters, trying to summon up enough courage to ask if I could have the poster of Audie Murphy's THE CIMARRON KID (1952). He gave it to me, and I still have that poster today. It started everything for me. The staff were very friendly to me and I would help clean up the theatre on a Saturday morning or do the slides for them in the projection booth. I was only 10 years old. I just lived for my Saturdays, to go to the cinema and see the projectors run. This was Hollywood to me. They used to change the programs every two days and they had this 19 year old kid pasting up the posters for the new films around the town. When the kid quit, the manager took a chance on me and gave me the job, even though I was only 11. I was big time then, because I was earning a dollar ninety and a paperboy would earn a dollar forty! I practically lived at the theatre.

How did that progress to working for major studios in various departments? 
I managed several movie theaters for one of the big exhibition chains when I got older, and then moved into their Head Office to focus on National Marketing and Live Theatre Tours. After that I got offered the position of Head of Marketing with Columbia/ Warner in New Zealand, and they ultimately moved me to England. In the early 80s they moved me again, this time to Los Angeles, where I got to work in theatrical distribution and marketing. It was quite a journey.

What are some of your greatest memories? 
I got to work a hero of mine, Fred Zinneman. We were involved with his last film, FIVE DAYS ONE SUMMER (1982), with Sean Connery. He lived in London and had offices there. As we were developing the campaign I used to speak with him on the phone a lot. We would affectionately call him 'Mr. Z'. One day I had to go round and go over all the artwork with him and I was pretty nervous. He was a legend to me. As I entered his office I was struck by this magnificent photograph of him and Jack Ford on the set of HIGH NOON (1952). After Mr Z had said ''Brian, we finally meet at last. Lovely to meet you'', I asked him about the photograph. He told me that this was the very first day of shooting HIGH NOON and that Ford had come to the set to see if he knew what he was doing! Mr Z said ''Jack, what do you mean?'' and Ford replied ''Well, you've never directed a Western before. I've come to give you some tips. '' Mr Z turned out to be such a charming man and more often than not he would call me up and we would go out to his favorite French restaurant down on Wardour Street. He would tell me all these wonderful anecdotes about his life and career, and working with people like Grace Kelly.

In the early 90s I moved into the Home Entertainment Group and I was given the project of a TV mini-series that Tina Sinatra was producing about her father, Frank Sinatra, simply called SINATRA (1992). Tina was tough but I always got on pretty well with her. I remember the Friday before she was going down to Palm Springs to show her Dad the series. It was a fairly warts 'n' all piece, and went into the alleged relationship he had had with Ava Gardner. Tina called me and she was as nervous as hell. She said ''Brian, wish me luck. '' On the Monday, she called me to come over and she was all smiles. Her Dad had blessed the series and didn't insist on any cuts. As I was leaving, she handed me an envelope, which I assumed was some notes on the series. Tina said ''Aren't you going to open it?'' So I did, and inside was a photo of her and Frank, and he had also written a personal note, thanking me for helping her on the project. I was never one to ask for autographs, but that was a thrill getting something from the Chairman of the Board!

What is your favorite amongst the restoration projects you have worked on? 
I was blessed in the 33 year career I had with Warners because I got to work in a lot of different departments, like Theatrical, Distribution, Marketing and Home Entertainment, and I worked on a lot of great films. I also got to work on Special Projects. I used to plan a lot of the events, like the 100th anniversary of John Ford at Cannes in 1996, and I worked on a lot of restoration projects, such as the restoration of GIANT (1956). I got to work with George Stevens Jr. on that project, who's a lovely man. I saw the entire process of the restoration, which taught me a hell of a lot at the time. We took a brand new restored print down to Marfur, Texas, and the main street was closed off and special projectors brought in so the entire town could come and watch a free screening of the film, sitting in their deck chairs, drinking beer. It was quite a sight. The company we used was Alamo Drafthouse. We brought some of the stars too – Earl Holliman and Jane Withers. It was a magical weekend.

Then I got involved in making feature-length documentaries for the studio, which were tied to anniversary Home Entertainment releases. It was a good period to be working. I don't fancy that I would enjoy working for a studio today with how the whole market dynamic has changed. The 70s, the 80s and the early 90s were the glory days as far as I was concerned.

Can you talk about your experiences working with Stanley Kubrick on the marketing of his films? 
I had the privilege of working with Stanley Kubrick for over twenty years. One of my greatest experiences working on a film was FULL METAL JACKET (1987), which is also one of my favorite war films. I was involved on several fronts on that film. It was great how Kubrick brought the film on time and on budget. The tragedy was that it was competing with Oliver Stone's PLATOON (1986). I can't help but feel that had we been able to get Stanley's film out before Oliver's, it would have been a bigger movie. We were reaching the point where there was a glut of movies about Vietnam and audiences started to tire. I thought Stanley's film was one of the greatest ever films about Vietnam. And he shot it all in England, recreating Huay in a disused gasworks in East London. When I look at the film now I still feel transported back to Vietnam. My two favorite Stanley Kubrick films probably run against the grain of other people's favorites. They are FULL METAL JACKET and BARRY LYNDON (1975). BARRY LYNDON is just a work of art.

Do a lot of filmmakers have an affinity for marketing? 
Some do and some don't. Some know a little about it and some know a hell of a lot. Stanley was all-encompassing and all-embracing in not only the filmmaking aspects but by God also the distribution and marketing aspect. He understood all the mechanics and nuances of it. I learned very early with Stanley that he was not a man to bullshit when it came to marketing. You had to lay it out as you saw it. You had to be prepared to be put through the mill because he would question every aspect of the marketing plan – the size of the ads, the days of publication, TV spots. He had complete control over the creative aspect of the advertising. He was a director that was fully immersed in the entire process, from the conception of the film, right through to its home entertainment and television distribution.

Billy Friedkin was another filmmaker who was canny when it came to positioning his films and looking at the marketing nuances. He and Stanley were guys who liked to push the boundaries a little. People like them kept you on your toes and sometimes you'd walk away from a meeting thinking ''Shit, that was brilliant. Why the hell didn't I think of that?'' You can learn a lot from people like them.

Fred Zinneman on the other hand would rely more on the studio expertise for the positioning and marketing of his pictures. I would give him the courtesy of going through the marketing plans for the major territories but he would say ''Brian, look, I trust your judgment. '' You wouldn't get that from Stanley. You'd get ''What's this? This looks like bullshit. Why are we doing this?'' It was a totally different dynamic.

I am fascinated by the different advertising used for different films in different countries. How do you decide what elements of a film to emphasise in certain territories? 
The studios tend to forget that each market has different sensibilities. A good example would be Japan. I remember with LETHAL WEAPON (1987), although Mel Gibson was the bigger star, we emphasised the duo aspect of him and Danny Glover and it worked in all the territories. But in Japan you had a different set of rules. Just having those two actors on the poster told Japanese audiences nothing about the film. They favored more of a montage style on the poster. The other issue was that in Japan they wanted to be more low-key with having an African-American actor as the co-star, because it was felt emphasising him would have a negative effect on the positioning of the movie. We all struggled to reach a compromise. In the end, the film did quite well in Japan but not as well as expected, and Japan felt that we hadn't listened to their advice enough. When LETHAL WEAPON 2 (1989) came around, we were allowed more of a freer hand for the Japanese release, and we emphasised all of the exciting elements that the film promised. The film did much better than the first film and I think it had a lot to do with the campaign positioning.

We faced similar problems in other countries. On BARRY LYNDON, the French campaign, which was kind of abstract, got it right. It told you more of what to expect than the international and domestic campaign had promised, which was a kind of TOM JONES romp. That didn't represent the film. The film did the most business in France, based on that campaign emphasising the leg, the rose, and the pistol.

With HEAVEN & EARTH (1993), in the US the mistake was made of positioning it as the third part of Oliver Stone's Vietnam Trilogy. It was that, to an extent, but I felt the bigger picture was missed – that it was basically a woman's journey through Hell, which continued after she left Vietnam to live in the American suburbs. It was a different kind of Vietnam movie. Again, the French got the campaign right. There was some incredible photography on the film, and for the poster we found this beautiful, almost slow-motion, shot of Hiep The Lee in white in a paddy field against the wind. It promised you a kind of movie that you might not have ever seen, and it suggested that this was the story of a woman and wasn't just about the hell of battle. The film performed better in France than in any other market. It wasn't put out on Blu-ray by Warners until Oliver asked Nick and I to handle the release under Twilight Time. It hadn't done that well internationally at the box-office.

Eventually at Warners we were allowed to tailor campaigns to suit the needs of different markets. That is, until regimes would change. Occasionally because an American campaign had worked, we would have filmmakers reluctant to change the campaigns for other territories. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

No comments: