EXCLUSIVE: It’s been a long time coming, but finally someone is doing a feature documentary on the life of the great writer/director/producer Alan J. Pakula, the filmmaker whose work included classics To Kill a Mockingbird, All the President’s Men and Sophie’s Choice and who died tragically on the Long Island Expressway in 1998 at only 70 years old. The film has the blessing and participation of his widow Hannah Pakula and the Pakula family.
Matthew Miele, whose Always at the Carlyle was just picked up for distribution by Good Deed Entertainment, and producer Michael Weismann are currently assembling interviews to tell the story of Pakula, an extremely private man who made some of the most memorable movies of the last half of the 20th Century.
Pakula, who had a long professional relationship with director Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird, Up the Down Staircase), had an incredible career. He earned three Oscar nominations, one as a producer for To Kill a Mockingbird, the next as a director for All the President’s Men and yet another as writer for Sophie’s Choice. He both directed and produced Klute which earned Jane Fonda an Oscar and produced and directed The Parallax View which starred Warren Beatty. He was known as an actor’s director.
The feature documentary will look at Pakula’s lasting impact on motion pictures and his influence on today’s top filmmakers. The film will examine how Pakula’s direction not only guided Fonda but also Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice), and Jason Robards (All the President’s Men) to Oscar wins. He was first to reveal Candice Bergen’s award-winning comedy chops. Liza Minnelli, Jill Clayburgh, Richard Farnsworth, Jane Alexander, and Bergen all earned Academy Award nominations from his films.
All in all, he produced 17 films and directed 16, but this Bronx-born filmmaker started out at Warner Bros. in its cartoon department before heading into film production as an assistant to Don Hartman (Paramount Pictures’s head of production).
Streep, Fonda, Bergen, Harrison Ford, Robert Redford, Kevin Kline, Jeff Bridges, Steven Soderbergh, Tom Brokaw, Christopher Plummer, James Brooks, Mary Badham, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Alec Baldwin, Andre Previn, Dick Cavett and George Stevens Jr. have all agreed to share their stories about Pakula, who was a mentor to many.
His family, friends, and below-the-line co-workers will also share their memories of this loving and supportive man. An array of today’s top filmmakers also wil; discuss how Pakula’s meticulous craftsmanship has inspired and helped them shape their own cinematic visions.
The title of the film comes from Pakula’s and Alvin Sargent’s 1973 comedy Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing. “The title of (that film) has become a popular adage and is often cribbed by authors, songwriters, and copywriters. It has endured because it cogently sums up the unpredictability of the human condition,” said Miele. “My hope is my film will appraise ‘the whole damn thing’ and discover the kind, generous, and thoughtful gentleman behind the consummate style, intelligence, and humor of Pakula’s body of work.”
His friend of 25 years, Harry Clein, told Deadline: “I started working with Alan on Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing when I was at Pickwick with Pat Kingsley and Lois Smith. Alan somehow became my client, and I became a unit publicist on his films. We then became friends. At some point I wanted to open my own agency and asked Alan if I could do that with him and Sophie’s Choice and he said yes without hesitation, and we then worked together for the rest of his life.” And that career went on to include such films as Presumed Innocent, The Pelican Brief, and The Devil’s Own.
“He was an extraordinary man. He had the knack of giving credit to others, and in this business that is a rare thing,” said Clein, who added: “You know, he was fun.”
Producing Fear Strikes Out in 1957 at age 29 and then segueing into directing The Sterile Cuckoo in 1969, Pakula seemed to live a mostly charmed existence. The film industry is often fraught with adversity and acrimony, but Pakula generated affection and loyalty. When disappointments and setbacks occurred, he faced them with ironic gallows humor.
However, on November 19, 1998, he died unexpectedly and tragically when a metal pipe was jettisoned off a truck in front of him on the highway and into windshield of his car. His death devastated the town. Pakula was a well-liked and loyal man. Many top executives at the time in town broke down in tears at their desks when news came of his death.
Matthew Miele and Michael Weismann plan to premiere Alan Pakula: The Whole Damn Thing in the fall of 2018.
Following his 2013’s Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s,” Miele next co-directed Harry Benson: Shoot First before the aforementioned Always at the Carlyle. Miele has also penned the screenplay and is attached to direct Rockwell about America’s most beloved artist, Norman Rockwell.