My Biggest Mistake: Franc Roddam

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The Independent Online
MY BIGGEST mistake was giving Robert Redford an ultimatum. It was 1980 and I was living in Hollywood after being offered a three-picture deal by 20th Century Fox.

They said I could do anything I liked, and I had this obsession with making a film about the destruction of the Amazon - so I spent six months in the rainforest as huge fires burned up to 25 square miles of trees. It cost dollars 625,000 to develop the script, but the result was so good that Robert Redford was interested. Then, having initially said he wanted to do it, everything went quiet.

While he was vacillating, three of the people I was dealing with down in the Amazon were murdered.

By this time, Robert Redford was three weeks and 11 hours late for a meeting. I kept getting calls saying things like: 'He's on the way - he is on the motorway now. He's driving up from Salt Lake City.' So, by the time he arrived, I was rather angry.

I said: 'I have been waiting for more than seven months for you to say yes or no on this film. Meanwhile, the people I told you about have been killed. I want your answer, and I'm giving you exactly one week.' Ten days later, he turned it down.

My mistake lay in my lack of judgement. I totally underestimated his value in getting this film made.

From the moment he got involved, it became known as 'the Robert Redford project'. As soon as I said 'Robert's gone' it was 'the ex-Robert Redford project'. The studio lost interest.

Where I went wrong was in thinking that the project was more important than his box-office record. To me, he was just an element. What I didn't realise was that he is a legend, not an element.

What I wanted at that time was complete and total commitment from everybody around me. It didn't occur to me that it was a great risk for him to put himself in the hands of a young director. I should have been patient and realised what the dangers were for him.

If my attitude had been different it could have changed the whole direction of my film career and made people conscious of the destruction of the rainforest eight years earlier - so it was a very costly mistake.

I had gambled everything on this film. I even turned down Flashdance and Top Gun. As a result, two and a half years of my life were wasted - and, in a sense, I'm still recovering.

Whatever company you run, sometimes you have to be prepared to sacrifice idealism for pragmatism in terms of saying, 'OK, this might not be exactly what we wanted, but we're going to make a fantastic return.'

I started out being far too idealistic; it had to be my way or no way. As I matured - bearing in mind that the cost of making a film is dollars 20m to dollars 30m a shot - I considered the notion of compromise. I soon found that abhorrent, but what I discovered was that there is a third way - do what you want while giving those you are dealing with what they want out of it.

About three years ago, Robert got on to 20th Century Fox and said: 'Whatever happened to that rainforest script? I always loved it. I couldn't work with Roddam, though. He's too tough.'

The funny thing is, I never thought of myself as tough. I just thought I was right.

(Photograph omitted)