The Italian Job

The Italian Job

Michael Deeley is a British producer who played a huge part in getting classic movies such as The Italian Job, The Deer Hunter and Blade Runner to the big screen in a career that has seen him work in both television and movies.

British classic The Italian Job is celebrating it's fortieth anniversary and I caught up with Michael to talk about the movie's legacy, the filming process and his seccessful career.

- So The Italian Job is about to celebrate it’s fortieth anniversary so what is it about this film that has made it endure?

I think that it sort of celebrates England and you have to say that it’s one of the first Euro-sceptic films that there ever was. Everything about it is British and we are making fools of everybody else, now that may not please the Italians but then it wasn’t made for Italians.

 It took a long time to creep into the hearts of people, when it came out it wasn’t that interesting, but all those Boxing Day afternoons and repeats and DVDs, it has sold over one million DVDs in the UK alone, and that’s sort of how it crept up. People see it for the first time maybe when they are ten or fifteen or any age and it’s a new film to them and that’s really how it has stuck so long.

- You were the producer on the movie, now everyone knows what a director does but there are so many different elements to the role of producer so how would you sum it up?

Essentially he should be the first man on the job it is he who finds the material, whether it be a book or in one case a song on Theatre of  Convoy which I produced, and having got the material together he has got to get the people fitted into it, the stars and most importantly the director.  He then has to go out and raise the money for by either going to one major company in America or piecing it together from various sources, as producers here have to do. 

Then his job is to serve the director by delivering whatever the director needs, to tell the actors what to and to make that happen so for however many weeks you are shooting you really are working to make the director have everything he needs, reasonably needs.  And when it’s over you go back to a different role, sometimes helping with the promotion and yeah that’s about it. I will tell you the straightest expression a producer who causes the movie to be made. 

- There are many great stunts in the film, and this is years before special effects, so what kind of experience was that?

It sure is. Oh it marvellous. One thing that we did have, luckily, was a brilliant French team, run by a man called Rémy Julienne, which was the best driving team in the world. And did these things, and some of the stunts they came up with there is a scene in a sewer where they go whizzing round doing the past part of the chase and he believed that he could do a complete circle, he tried to do it but unfortunately three minutes later he admitted that he wasn’t doing it.

- How did you get involved in The Italian Job?

I had made a film called Robbery, it was about the great train robbery and was a Stanley Baker picture, and it had a very very good car chase on the front of it someone at Paramount saw it and said ’ok this may be the guy to do it’, because there was no producer attached to it it was an in house picture.

They asked me if I would like to do it I told them that I would like to do it but I wanted to change a few things I thought that the tone of it was too serious there was too much preaching in it, the action was pretty much the same, but the feeling of it was very different.  And so by casting people like Benny Hill changed the whole feeling of it and made into a much warmer, lighter hearted movie which is really what worked.  

- What was the mood on set like and what about your relationship with director Peter Collinson and of course Michael Caine?

Oh Michael Caine is perfect you really can’t have a bad relationship with him it’s impossible. Peter Collinson was ok, I was a little worried about his experience level so I arranged for Paramount to make another picture with him before I had him on The Italian Job so it meant that he had done three pictures before he did that picture so that was a help. 

- How surprised were you by the movie’s longevity and did you ever expect it?

You never expect that no, of course you hope for it, you thing that every film that you make is going to be wonderful until the public tells you that’s it’s not, which they sometimes do (laughs).

- What did you think of the remake?

Nothing I though it was rubbish. And the reason that I thought it was rubbish was because it had nothing to do with the nature and the character of The Italian Job, sure they had Mini’s buzzing around the place, but when you start off in the first ten minutes machine gunning someone to death, which is what happened at the beginning of that picture, you get a pretty clear picture that’s not the same thing as The Italian Job.

And it baffles me as to why they chose that title because the film never did any business in America, the original, so it was a completely unknown title, a nice title, but it had no reference to my film at all in that sense. Anyway they went ahead and made it and it did ok and that’s that.

- Away from The Italian Job you went on to work on movies such as The Deer Hunter what was it about that movie that interested you, I read that it was a film studios were reluctant to make?

They were, and not just reluctantly they just said no. What attracted me to it was the complete originality of it it was like nothing that I had ever seen, I had never heard of anyone doing Russian roulette in a movie before it just hadn’t been done before, and that was wonderful, it was obviously very gripping and was going to be very tough on the screen but very gripping. 

The Americans turned it down because, as they said, American do not wish to be reminded about what happened in Vietnam, a dark moment for America, and so forget it. I bought the script very inexpensively and three years later I was in a position to green light the picture myself when I was running the company EMI so I did and we made it.

- And how did you get Robert De Niro involved?

I hate to say it but we paid him more money than he had ever had before, which is true, but I don’t think that was why he was involved, it was why his agent was pleased, but I think he just loved it. He got together the actors that were involved, the group of them, and worked with them until they became really close, way before we started shooting, on his own initiative and he crated the buddidem that they all had.

And during the shoot he was wonderful, it was a tough picture to make but he was wonderful. I have had no trouble ever with movie stars it’s extraordinary, I don’t know why, I did a picture once with Peter O’Toole, who at that time was supposed to be a drunk, absolutely not he was a total darling.  I have had more trouble with directors than actors, amazingly.

- There’s also Blade Runner and a lot has been written about the making of the movie but what was the real reason why Harrison Ford wouldn’t talk about it for so long?

Yes (laughs). Well he has now because when we did the final cut, Warner Brothers coughed up two and a half million dollars to do this, a couple of extra bits were shot and a couple of extra bits were cut and the whole sound and picture quality was enhanced for this big release that we did last year on DVD and he did talk at that time and he was very calm and collected about it.

The reason that he didn’t before, I think, for him it was a miserable experience making the film, of course it was tough we were shooting at night the was smoke on the set all the time and it was very uncomfortable but everyone put up with that, but his difficulty was Ridley had more confidence in him than he had in himself. 

And Ridley, who has the best eye in the business, would be sussing out how to move an ashtray a quarter of an inch to the left when he was on the top of a crane to do that and Harrison would be down below waiting to act but not being told anything much about it. Ridley believed that he knew exactly what to do, and he did, but Harrison didn’t believe that and he got more and more insecure.

It’s very odd really because he had only done one other picture in which he was the sole star, and that was Indiana Jones, all the other he had been part of an ensemble cast and in both cases both Lucas and Spielberg had given him a lot of cuddling and they spent far more time with him, and he got use to that, but Ridley believed that he could do it, obviously with direction, but not all of the reassurance and Ridley was right because it worked.

- Throughout your career you worked in both film and television so how did they compare and differ?

For a producer they are completely different, TV film are a producers business, but the rules are different. You get paid a license fee, and maybe some other sales you make of syndicated rights, and you put together the cost or the budget of the picture, lets say it’s $5million, if the director comes to you and says I have got a great idea why don’t we do this that and the other the answer is no because it’s going to cost more money, and directors never suggest anything that costs lets foreign to the nature of directors.

But for a producer it’s very straight forward as you are not reliant on the public’s response because you have sold it flat, bang it it’s a hit the network is happy if it’s not a hit the network isn’t happy it doesn’t effect you either way. So if you spend over your budget, for one reason or another, it comes out of your pocket, if you save on your budget, but still maintain the required standard, you make some money, nice and easy. I did one mini series some years ago called Young Catherine we had a budget of $7 million but it cost $5.5 million, which is good news.

- How did you get into the industry in the first place?

(Laughs) This is an answer that will not please those who are struggling there way through film school, or struggling to get into film school, I was in the army doing my national service and I had come back and was staying at my mother’s house while she was a away in Switzerland. 

A friend of hers, who I had know as a child, called up to talk to her and he was asking me what I was going to do and I was saying that I was going to have to get a job and he said ’I’ll give you a job’ and I said ’Ok, what will I be doing?’ And he said ’Well report on Monday at 9.30am and you will be working in the cutting room as a second assistant editor and we will see how you get on.’ Well within six months of that there was no question of doing anything different it was such fun, and well paid.
  
- What do you think of the film industry today?

I thin it’s pretty much the same as it always was if you mean the UK film industry at the moment well the UK film business has always been in a sticky situation at the moment. Essential the problem is it’s very hard, on any scale, to recoup the cost of your picture, made in England, in your home territory in America, where they have the biggest industry in the world just ahead of Bollywood, which is another good example, they can all recover the costs in their own country and that is the dream and the rest is gravy.

- You are about to release a book can you tell me a little bit about it?

It’s called Blade Runners, Deer Hunter and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, of course is The Italian Job, I didn’t pick that title the publishers did, of course they are right because no one has heard of Michael Deeley or practically any other producers about the place.  Those pictures are in the story as they are the biggest of my career but there are others in there as well including Don’t Look Now and it’s doing very well.

- And why did you decide to do the book?

I didn’t I was pushed by into it, that’s why it has taken so long, I didn’t because I never thought of doing it and I got nagged, and nagged and nagged so I thought ‘oh I will give it a try’ and it turned out to actually be very like me talking, it’s got that tone to it, not very reverent, quite heavy on some people and it just sort of works. It’s just something that I did on the side and had great help from Matthew Field and he pushed me as well.

FemaleFirst Helen EarnshawMi

Michael Deeley is a British producer who played a huge part in getting classic movies such as The Italian Job, The Deer Hunter and Blade Runner to the big screen in a career that has seen him work in both television and movies.

British classic The Italian Job is celebrating it's fortieth anniversary and I caught up with Michael to talk about the movie's legacy, the filming process and his seccessful career.

- So The Italian Job is about to celebrate it’s fortieth anniversary so what is it about this film that has made it endure?

I think that it sort of celebrates England and you have to say that it’s one of the first Euro-sceptic films that there ever was. Everything about it is British and we are making fools of everybody else, now that may not please the Italians but then it wasn’t made for Italians.

 It took a long time to creep into the hearts of people, when it came out it wasn’t that interesting, but all those Boxing Day afternoons and repeats and DVDs, it has sold over one million DVDs in the UK alone, and that’s sort of how it crept up. People see it for the first time maybe when they are ten or fifteen or any age and it’s a new film to them and that’s really how it has stuck so long.

- You were the producer on the movie, now everyone knows what a director does but there are so many different elements to the role of producer so how would you sum it up?

Essentially he should be the first man on the job it is he who finds the material, whether it be a book or in one case a song on Theatre of  Convoy which I produced, and having got the material together he has got to get the people fitted into it, the stars and most importantly the director.  He then has to go out and raise the money for by either going to one major company in America or piecing it together from various sources, as producers here have to do. 

Then his job is to serve the director by delivering whatever the director needs, to tell the actors what to and to make that happen so for however many weeks you are shooting you really are working to make the director have everything he needs, reasonably needs.  And when it’s over you go back to a different role, sometimes helping with the promotion and yeah that’s about it. I will tell you the straightest expression a producer who causes the movie to be made. 

- There are many great stunts in the film, and this is years before special effects, so what kind of experience was that?

It sure is. Oh it marvellous. One thing that we did have, luckily, was a brilliant French team, run by a man called Rémy Julienne, which was the best driving team in the world. And did these things, and some of the stunts they came up with there is a scene in a sewer where they go whizzing round doing the past part of the chase and he believed that he could do a complete circle, he tried to do it but unfortunately three minutes later he admitted that he wasn’t doing it.

- How did you get involved in The Italian Job?

I had made a film called Robbery, it was about the great train robbery and was a Stanley Baker picture, and it had a very very good car chase on the front of it someone at Paramount saw it and said ’ok this may be the guy to do it’, because there was no producer attached to it it was an in house picture.

They asked me if I would like to do it I told them that I would like to do it but I wanted to change a few things I thought that the tone of it was too serious there was too much preaching in it, the action was pretty much the same, but the feeling of it was very different.  And so by casting people like Benny Hill changed the whole feeling of it and made into a much warmer, lighter hearted movie which is really what worked.  

- What was the mood on set like and what about your relationship with director Peter Collinson and of course Michael Caine?

Oh Michael Caine is perfect you really can’t have a bad relationship with him it’s impossible. Peter Collinson was ok, I was a little worried about his experience level so I arranged for Paramount to make another picture with him before I had him on The Italian Job so it meant that he had done three pictures before he did that picture so that was a help. 


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