Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: That ﬁlm was a disaster
Vail, CO, Colorado
When I produced “Ski on the Wild Side” in the ’60s, it was a major mistake.
For the first time, I started to believe some of the very favorable press releases about my work (written by me, of course).
I subsequently learned that to do this is the quickest way to guaranteed failure or bankruptcy, and I almost went through both: Many of these negative things were obvious to everyone but me.
Again, I can trace all of these problems to the college courses I should have taken but completely ignored instead.
Halfway through my lecture season, I started getting phone calls from a film distributor in New York who wanted to duplicate the success of what Bruce Brown had just done with his “Endless Summer” movie.
It was a surfing film that Paul Allen booked for him in Kansas City in the middle of winter.
On opening night, one or two people showed up. But by the end of the week, it was a sold-out house every night.
He later opened in New York City with Bud Palmer’s help and made enough money on the film to not have to work for the next eight or 10 years.
Only then he produced a film called “On Any Sunday” that was financed by Steve McQueen just before McQueen died.
Once the film distributor got ahold of me, he started a gigantic sales pitch, and I saw an endless stream of money without doing a hundred one-night stands every winter.
Before I knew it, I was swept up in the dream of megabucks for little work. There is no such thing, and I knew that going into the deal. But my “if he can do it, so can I” ego got in my way, and I signed up anyway.
The distributor planned a grand opening at the World’s Fair in Montreal in July. He advanced half of the money and would pay the rest when the picture hit the screen. He never paid the second half of the agreement or the guarantee.
He also told me about a hidden sentence in the contract I signed that said I could not make a new lecture film and compete with him the following winter. I was really dumb!
My wife, many years ago, took over monitoring any agreement I signed for our mutual
She’ll tell you that things have still gotten by us, but at least I have someone who believes in me always watching my back.
Plus, I think I’ve finally learned to use my amazing attorney’s services as a preventive measure – much less expensive than using their services to clean up one more of my messes. I hope any young people reading this will learn from my mistakes.
The World’s Fair opening in Montreal worked OK for me because the promoter was able to get the entire Canadian Olympic team to show up, and the theater was small, less than 500 seats.
New York City was next on the play dates, and the promoter had booked a small theater for about the middle of July when the temperature was over 100 degrees.
The promotional ads said, “Show up in your ski clothes, and you can see the movie for free.”
One grandfather and his two grandsons showed up in their lederhosen, calf socks and Tyrolean hats.
They were three of seven people in the audience for the first show, and it did not get much better after that.
I was in the lobby for the first half of a dozen shows to meet any press people the distributor could talk into coming to the show. Most of them, or all three of them, I should say, were men who wrote a weekly ski column during the winter, and I knew them personally.
We chatted after each show, and they were very polite until they got home and started pounding out their critique of the film.
After I read them, I wanted to be on the next Greyhound bus out of town – the reviews of my film were so bad.
This disaster, together with not having a feature film to show in the fall, was a double disaster.
Somehow, the company was surviving on contract, half-hour films for television paid for by marketing clients, but the cash flow of our annual shows was severely interrupted.
The disaster was entirely my fault and no one else’s.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto warrenmiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warren
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