Malcolm Bricklin: quintessential capitalist
“If there were an Olympic category for self-confidence, Malcolm Bricklin would win gold hands down.” His son Jonathan said this, and he would know – he spent four years filming his father for his documentary “The Entrepreneur,” premiering at the Vail Film Festival today.
Jonathan calls his father irreverent and a force of nature.”He’s the most persistent man I’ve ever met,” Jonathan said. “I have yet to meet anyone who compares with my father in raw energy. His enthusiasm for life and his incredible charisma are truly one of a kind.”The documentary profiles Malcolm Bricklin, the eccentric entrepreneur that started Subaru of America 40 years ago as he embarks on another high-stakes business venture.At 65 years old, the legendary Malcolm is on the verge of retirement, but instead of moving to Florida to bask on some beach, he decides to start a car company from scratch – again. The film follows his wild plan to bring the first Chinese car to the American market.”When most people are hanging up their hats and cashing their social security checks, my dad Malcolm Bricklin decides to reassemble his posse of former automobile executives. He sets out on a world-wide journey to find the last big deal of his life, only to stumble upon a deal bigger than he could ever imagine,” Jonathan writes on the movie’s web site (www.theentrepreneurmovie.com).To make the film work, Jonathan scored exclusive access to closed-door boardroom meetings with Chinese automobile execs and investors of all stripes while Malcolm hustled to put together the biggest business venture of his career.But it was far from his only venture: Malcolm alternately earned and lost millions of dollars in spades over the span of his colorful career. He brought the infamous Yugo to the American market, and though most people consider the move a colossal failure, Malcolm sold the company for $20 million after two years, Jonathan said. In the early ’70s, Bricklin bet everything to build a safety sports car with gull wing doors called The Bricklin. The car was in production for two years before an 80-percent employee turnover rate at the factory in Canada forced the company under, Malcolm said.”(Malcolm has) attempted some outrageously ambitious endeavors that I would consider a success for even trying, and he’s spent most of the last 20 years working on alternative energy vehicles that have proven to be ahead of their time from a commercial standpoint,” Jonathan said.Malcolm’s newest venture is to mass produce electric hybrid cars capable of getting over 100 miles per gallon. “I think it is his perfect project, at the perfect time, and will prove to be very successful,” Jonathan said.From the john to China
Filming his father started innocently enough, Jonathan said. At the time, Jonathan was 25 and had just moved to New York. Many of the people he was meeting were documentary filmmakers, he said, including his friend Franck Raharinosy, the producer of the film. “Franck was making several documentaries and I said, shit – my dad is more entertaining than these subjects.” Jonathan then, at first casually, turned the camera on his father – filming everything from work lunches to anecdotal moments in the men’s bathroom and downtime at the Great Wall of China. Malcolm encouraged his son, seeing promotional potential for his business, Visionary Vehicles. Jonathan kept filming, he said, “always knowing that at some point in time there would be a story that emerged.”What “emerged” is a 92-minute documentary culled from four years and 1,300 hours of taping. Local Anthony Scully (credited as Tony Castle) worked as the chief editor on the film. Castle, 20, is a second year film student at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He took the fall semester off from school this year to edit the film in New York City. To call Malcolm a character is an understatement, Castle said.”We basically had Jack Nicholson as our star,” Castle said. “He’s such an interesting character to watch, he’s zany and out-there – he’s everything an entrepreneur should be times ten.”Fast-forwarding through over a thousand hours of film, Castle got to know Malcolm’s cues well – he could recognize the moment when Malcolm was about to say something great, he said. “When he prepares himself for this amazing speech he adjusts himself in his chair – he’s like this lion; before he attacks, verbally he gets in this position (and) shakes his butt like he’s about pounce on something.”Buried in the middle of hours of meetings footage with automobile executives, Castle discovered his favorite scene. “He’s riding this sled down the Great Wall of China and it just depicts him so well. Here he is, in China, about to negotiate the biggest deal of his life and really he’s just a kid at heart.”Malcolm, part two
Just because the film is done doesn’t mean Jonathan or the other filmmakers have completed the project.”Our new job in life is figuring out how to promote the movie most effectively and get it distributed,” Jonathan said. “You have to be an entrepreneur to figure that out. We’re lucky that the subject matter of the film is about perservering, dealing with apparent rejection and failure and (to) keep going. It’s very fitting.”And though The Vail Film Festival is the world premiere for The Entrepreneur, Jonathan and his crew are already halfway through filming a sequel.”That hasn’t really been attempted – to film a sequel to a documentary that hasn’t really been released or shown,” Jonathan said. “I like the novelty of it, regardless.”As for Malcolm, not surprisingly he’s already so focused on his next endeavor – bringing reasonably priced, luxury electric hybrid cars from China to the U.S. – there’s no room for nostalgia, he said.”Everything I’ve done up to now has just been practice for this,” Malcolm said. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”As such, Malcolm promises the sequel will be even better. “Now I’m not aware of the camera at all – they’ve gotten me conditioned so it’s going to be even more real.”People have had overwhelmingly positive reactions during initial screenings of “The Entrepreneur,” Jonathan said. Recently he found himself sitting on a couch in San Francisco watching his film with one of his heros, Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola commented that Malcolm’s personality was quite interesting and said he liked the film, before recommending some key industry people to contact for help promoting the movie. “It was a dream come true,” Jonathan said.Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.