Can George C. Scott Sell His Own Movie?
Sunday, July 28, 1974

"Take it out," says George C  Scott. "Too much suffering, for God's sake."

In the darkness of Projection Room 3 at Goldwyn Studios, Scott is staring at a screen showing the tear‑streaked face of George C. Scott, survivor of a shipwreck and now castaway on a jungle island 1,000 miles to the windward of the nearest ship lane. Film editor Mike Kahn scribbles a note to delete the 12‑second shot. "Okay," Scott says, "let's go," and the film proceeds, with the camera panning to an empty horizon.

Scott is producer, director, star and -uniquely‑ "seller" of the movie he is cutting. Entitled "The Savage Is Loose,” it is the story of a family –mother, father and son‑ shipwrecked during the early years of the 20th century. (Trish Van Devere, Scott's fourth wife, plays the mother, Lee Montgomery plays the son as a child, and John David Carson plays the son at age eighteen. The film was shot earlier this year in Mexico.) Scott has taken from his bank accounts and borrowed from his bank $850,000 of the film's $1.600,000 production cost. The other $750,000 has been handed to him by 11 silent partners. His control over the film is absolute. "To the mad­dening limits of egomania," he says.

He has never seen the final version of "Rage", the first film be directed, in 1973, It was taken away from him by Warner Brothers, reedited, and, accord­ing to Scott, "dumped on the market to make back its negative cost, butchered by people who were incompetent or stupid or venal." The distinctive voice with its rusty overtones becomes hoarse with anger. George C. Scott, who turned down his Academy Award for "Patton" because of "the childish and damaging unnatural competitiveness" the Oscars race fosters among actors, does not in­tend to let "Rage" happen again:

"Good, bad, boring or whatever, 'The Savage Is Loose' stands as my own, should be judged as my own. To be praised for things I haven't done or condemned for things I haven't done are :equally abhorent, damaging, unsettling."

Scott fumbles in his pockets for a cigarette. The spurt of flame from his red plastic lighter briefly highlights the faces of four men‑his film editor, his executive producer, his music scorer and his music cutter‑who surround him in the dark projection room. It is 3 p.m. and he has already started on his third pack of the day. In order to trim is 47‑year‑old paunch into a waist that could reasonably belong to a man who as been living on a jungle island; Scott exercised, dieted and even gave up beer ‑and lost 22 pounds. But every twinge of deprivation called for another cigarette. The main object of this work session is to enable Scott and Gil Millay, who will write the musical score, to decide where to lay in the background music. ("Music would help us here, Gil, because this is the world's longest panning shot with those goats mucking around in the background.")

George C Scott plays shipwreck victim in "The Savage Is Loose," a film for which he has also served as producer, director and ‑uniquely‑ seller.

Below, he negotiates a deal with Salah Hassanein, of the United Artists Theaters chain.

Scott is also trimming fractions of seconds from the still‑too‑long film. Earlier this morning it was 122 minutes long. By shaving a reaction shot here, "another one of my famous 12‑hour pans" there, he has eliminated seven and a half minutes. His brain tells him to 'remove another nine minutes, but his stomach says that will be "like, cutting off my left testicle."

No one has ever accused George C. Scott of being a frivolous man, and this first film over which he has complete control is anything but that. Before starting "The Savage Is Loose," Scott made up an eighty‑page summary of every shot he intended to use in the picture ‑a practice usually limited to Alfred Hitchcock. Scott is contemptuous of directors who run around indecisively shooting a scene from all angles and who reshoot endlessly to achieve some intangible perfection.

"Multi‑level," Scott calls his movie, and then elaborates:

"One‑it's an adventure story about the survival of a family on an island. Two‑it's the story of the psychological survival of a family unit. Three‑it's a story of man versus the jungle. The  family has the refuge of the beach and their compound, where they carved out a safe haven, but they are, in a sense, imprisoned there between the jungle and the ocean. Four‑it is a sexual odyssey in the psychiatric, Freudian sense."

Number four may make "The Savage Is Loose" a controversial film. The son grows to manhood on an island where there is no woman except his mother. The last third of the film deals explicitly with the efforts of the three characters to cope with the boy's sexual needs.

There is no aspect of "The Savage Is Loose" that is not under Scott's control, even the advertisements. The logo for the film‑chosen by  Scott‑shows a huge red sun behind an island in the shape of a female body, with a sea‑plundered ship in the foreground. Scott vetoed showing two men with spears on top of the island's mountain because "it would make it look cheap." And he insisted that the island's female form be toned down because the artist was "overemphasizing one aspect of the film."

George C. Scott directing "The Savage Is Loose" a new movie which he dominates "to the maddening limits of egomania".

The way that Scott will distribute " Savage " is probably the most unusual as of the enterprise. The film is being sold by him directly to theater owners' around the country. For a flat fee paid to Scott company called Campbell‑Devon Productions, exhibitors will purchase and own prints, which then they will be able to show many times as they like over as many years as they like . Every dollar that comes into the exhibitor's box office will then belong to him.

To exhibitors, Scott describes his plan as "a way of cutting out the middleman, the worth of whose function is marginal at best. If I don't make pictures people want to see, I'll go broke . But why do I have to make pictures distributors want to see?"

Although Scott considers his plan new, it is not quite that. Sixty years ago, "states‑righters" (Louis B. Mayer, was one in New England) used to buy pictures outright for their territories. But for mo channeled fi1ms to the­aters in return for a percentage of the money that comes into the theater's box office. (At present) between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of the gross box office receipts are returned to the distributor and production company as film rental with the distributor getting something less than one‑third of that.

Scott's original plan was simply to sell 1,500 prints of his film at $7,500 a print, partly in the naive hope that “the armies and legions of lawyers could be kept down' to a platoon  and the con­tracts to something shorter than 'Gone With the Wind.’”

"That was impractical,” says Charles Boasberg, former president of National General Pictures and the consulatant who is selling the film for Scott. "A guy in Atlanta can pay a hell of a lot more, than a guy in Athens, Georgia. So we modified it."

All advertising materials, including radio and television commercials, will be prepared by Campbell‑Devon and sent to the exhibitors, but the latter will have to pay for their own newspaper space and for the radio and television time to run the prepared ads. Scott himself will appear at theaters all over the country to shake hands with customers.

This system requires the exhibitor to take a certain risk. If Scott has made a film that nobody wants to see, the exhibitors will not recover their investment. On the other hand, if the film is a succcess, large profits will come 1to the exhibitors.

Boasberg has already sold "The Savage Is Loose" to the Plitt, Sterling and United Artists theater chains and to seventeen smaller chains and individuals for more than $2,500,000. Twenty per cent of that money is in escrow in the Chemical Bank in New York. The remaining 80 per cent will be paid when the prints are turned over to the exhibitors. In a business in which exhibitors are notoriously slow‑paying‑ it sometimes take three years to get back film rental money- having all the. Money in before the picture opens is not the least desirable aspect of Scott's concept.

Boasberg is far enough along towards his modest goal of $3,500,000 in sales to domestic exhibitors to say : “I think this thing is going to work." If it does work, it will be "a bonanza for stars‑who feel they are being bookkeeped to death by the studios. I've had half a dozen important stars and directors come and talk to me already!”

At $3,500,000, Scott, ‑as the film's owner‑ will not lose money, but he will no make money either. Any profits will have to come from foreign sales, non-theatrical sales (16mm and airlines), and the eventual sale of the picture to television. The $3,500,000 will pay for the production cost of the film, the advertising materials, the prints (600 of them cost $350,000). And $1,000,000, more or less, would be allocated  to Scott for his services as producer, director , and star.

“Money,” says Boasberg, "was not Scott's object, His object every 60‑second-TV commercial. Such control was impossible unless he distributed the film himself." “In terms of money,” Boasberg adds, “if Mr. Scott makes a big grossing film‑one that takes in $10,000,000 or more­- he'll never make as much as he would have made go­ing through normal channels."

“Fine,” Scott says cheer­fully ,"If the exhibitors make a killing on my film,  they'll be willing to listen to my next project."

Scott's outward appearance these days is patient, benevolent, generous and unruffled. Ever five weeks of stomach cramps in Mexico followed by a two‑week attack of amoebic dysentery have bare1y dented his good humor. Total control has -for the moment at least- had the effect of a tranquilizer .

It has also had the effect of making alcohol unnecessary. "Alcohol has caused me great problems in my life," Scott says carefully. “And it is not causing me any troubles now."

The total control he has over "The Savage Is Loose" has whetted a different appetite. “I’ve been a professional actor for twenty‑five years, a film actor for fifteen years, a film star for ten years. That's plenty long enough."

In the future he says he will produce and direct, but –unless driven “by economic necessity”- he will not act in films again. This summer he will make his last movie -Robert Wise's  “Hindenberg”, a splashy, expensive disaster picture about the de­struction of the German dirigible. For this chore he will be given $1,000,000. The money is a grubstake.  "In 1975, I’d like to produce and direct a film, starring my wife, about a young woman who is badly burned and how she copes with the horror."

The only thing that worries him is that as he walks out one door, his daughter, Devon, 15, is walking in another. Devon, whose mother is Pat Reed, Scott's second wife, will live with him in Los Angeles this summer in order to play Alan Alda's daughter in CBS' new half-hour comedy, "We'll Get By."

He doesn't want his daughter to be an actress: "Acting is a very difficult life, very damaging psychologically. Even if Devon does make it, the earlier you make it, the less chance you have to be a human being. I don't think it's a wholesome profession for anybody, certainly not for young people."

So he can only stand rath­er sadly by while Devon takes the control of her life into her hands. For the moment, at least, his own life is under his control. "Tomorrow ?" He shrugs.  Today is placid, and that's all that matters.

Aljean Harmetz is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who frequent reports on the film industry.