Seth Willenson, Innovator and Genuinely Good Guy (RIP)
Seth Willenson was a pioneering movie executive who started in the non-theatrical business, first at New Line Cinema, then at Films Incorporated. Then he branched out into the home video business just as that business was exploding. While his interview didn’t make it into the film, he had lots to say, both about Rugoff and about the film industry in general. Here he ruminates on the state of the film industry,
Barbara Kopple’s film “Harlan County USA” was distributed by Don Rugoff and her stories of that experience were among the inspirations for “Searching For Mr. Rugoff.” In this outtake clip, Barbara tells the story of the early history of the film, when she had no idea that it would become the sensation that it became. Apologies for the occasional soft focus. The camera was acting up that day.
Sarah Kernochan is a screenwriter, director, author, songwriter, performer and two-time Oscar winning documentarian, and a friend. I saw her first doc “Marjoe” as a young cinephile, not realizing that years later, I would end up producing her first fiction feature as director, “All I Wanna Do.” In this outtake clip Sarah talks about why she thinks Don Rugoff, who distributed “Marjoe,” is a significant figure in the history of independent film.
Interviewing Lina Wertmuller in her apartment in Rome was one of the highlights of my life. But it was hardly an easy interview. First off, I don’t speak any Italian and she speaks very little English. We had an interpreter, but that only interrupted the flow of the conversation. And when I brought up subjects that I thought would be interesting or provocative, she would just blow me off. This clip is a perfect example of her contrarian spirit.
John Goldstone, Producer of “Monty Python & the Holy Grail”
“Monty Python & the Holy Grail” was the biggest hit that Don Rugoff ever distributed. In this outtake from “Searching for Mr. Rugoff,” Producer John Goldstone talks about the origins of the film and the large role that rock and roll played in getting it financed.
Bob Shaye was in the early stages of starting up what became New Line Cinema when Don Rugoff was at the height of his success, and he refers to Rugoff in the film as his nemesis. This outtake clip has Bob telling the story of how he got into the business, which started with his realization that film distribution was not that different from his father’s business–wholesale groceries.
The “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” project began and hopefully will evolve as an oral history of art film history in the U.S. in the ’60s and ’70s. Interviews with many of the key people from that period were meant to serve two purposes–for possible use in the film, but also to capture the personal histories. The interview with Joanne Koch didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, but it contains many great stories of the period and most importantly captures one of the key figures in New York film history. This clip is just a taste.
Meeting Costa-Gavras was one of the real treats that came out of the making of “Searching for Mr. Rugoff.” The interview was arranged through Unifrance (thank you!) and was done in his apartment in Paris. I could tell that he was a bit suspicious of my intent at first, but when I explained what the film was about, he immediately brightened up. Don Rugoff was clearly a huge influence in his life and he told me wonderful stories, only a small portion of which made it into the film. This particular outtake is about how after the success of “Z” he was offered to direct “The Godfather.” Instead, he ended up working with Rugoff again on “State of Siege,” another masterpiece.
With news of the passing of Robert Downey today, it seemed appropriate to share a bit of the interview I did with him for “Searching for Mr. Rugoff.” There are lots of great moments with him in the film, but this particular one didn’t make it to the final cut. It’s a great example of how affable he was and what a great storyteller! I’m glad I had the chance to spend time with him.
With 5 years of filming, there were sure to be great moments that ended up on the cutting room floor. We hope to someday create an oral history out of the footage that was captured, but in the meantime, we’ll be releasing some outtakes that we feel are particularly interesting. Enjoy.