Producer John W. Hyde
John W. Hyde may run a big entertainment company, Film Roman, but he still wears blue jeans and cowboy boots into the office.
We sat on his office couch April 11, 2002.
John: "I grew up in the small town of Bloomfield, outside Detroit, Michigan. It was a Leave it to Beaver childhood. I have an younger brother in Idaho and a younger sister in Santa Barbara. My father Neil was an executive at General Motors. I spent five years in high school because I got into so much trouble. This was a time, the late 1950s, when parents told you one thing but did another.. I longed for a forum to express myself. This led me to New York.
"I studied Economics at NYU, graduating in 1963. I did graduate work in International Economics at the University of Lydon, near Amsterdam. The European Union had just formed. This was before Britain was a member. The Europeans said by the year 2000, there would be a common currency. I laughed at the time. Now we're there.
"In late 1963, I moved to Los Angeles and worked for ABC on a program of on-air promotional trailers. I've never gone back to Michigan more than a couple of times. after I settled in California.
"I was immediately attracted to the casualness of the entertainment business. It was a sharp contrast to the formality I knew as a kid. I grew up in Bloomfield where it was suit and tie for everyone every day. And you couldn't wear Levis to high school.
"I was raised an Episcopalian but I dropped out in my teens. It was High Episcopalian, just one degree off Anglican. Lots of pomp and circumstance. I discovered girls and other things on Sundays were much more fun than going to church.
"When there was an opening at Universal Studios, I got a call and started in the mailroom with Mike Medavoy and John Badham. Mike's on the board of this company [Film Roman]. We've worked on several projects together.
"Ned Tanen took me out of the mailroom. He assigned me to this local television show, The Lloyd Thaxton Show, an afternoon rockn'roll show, which MCA syndicated to 127 markets around the country. So at the tender young age of 25, making so little money I couldn't even qualify for credit cards, I'm suddenly flying around the country first class, with cars picking me up at the door, doing promotional tours with Lloyd Thaxton.
"Ned convinced Lew Wasserman that the record labels MCA had weren't hip. So Mr. Wasserman gave us the approval to start a new music company - Uni Records. We signed Elton John, Neil Diamond... We shot the first two music videos in 1967, about a month before the Beatles did Strawberry Fields. Marcia Strossman (Flower Children) and Neil Diamond (Brooklyn Roads). Instead of sending the artists on tour, we could send these videos to all the local dance shows around the country. In those days, almost every city had a local rockn'roll dance show on the air."
Luke: "Did you have much contact with Lew Wasserman?"
John: "This was when MCA had just taken over Universal. Lew Wasserman was aware of everyone who worked for him. You'd acknowledge him and he'd know you.
"Ned Tanen was one of my mentors. When I arrived at Universal, he was without portfolio. He got to be involved in any business he wanted to. He did the young filmmakers program. He started the record label. He oversaw some parts of television syndication. And one of Ned's close associates was Jerry Perenchio, the entrepreneur behind Univision, Lowes theaters, Embassy Films. With Ned I got to network with a whole group of older, successful people.
"I left Universal in 1969 to work as an assistant to [Martin Ransohoff] the CEO of a company called Filmways, which was probably the hottest small production company in the world at that time. They had such TV shows as The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, The Adams Family, as well as feature films Cincinnati Kid, Catch 22, and The Americanization of Emily. Marty just called here today to have lunch. I worked with Marty for five years and then we both left the company. Three years later, we got back together working on the film The Wanderers.
"Aspen Productions was funding Wanderers. Aspen was owned by brewer Arthur Guinness and Sons. Marty and the Guinness executives were having huge problems. I was brought in to mediate. Marty made four films for Guinness. I worked closely with Marty and I oversaw all the production for Aspen. We made eleven films. Guinness didn't understand how they could put up $4 million in funding for Aspen and get $80 million worth of production. We had leveraged the Guinness name at banks and with investors to produce 11 films. Guinness had a huge falling out with the executives running Guinness.
"At the same time, we had taken some of Arthur Guinness's assets and started a company called Producers Sales Organization (PSO) with Mark Damon. When Guinness went through management changes, and people asked, 'Why are we in the film business?' And no one had a good answer. Peter Guinness finally called me up. 'John, come to London. We want out of this relationship.'
"Mark Damon and I bought back PSO and Aspen from Guinness. We produced [features] Short Circuit, Das Boot , 9 1/2 Weeks, Flight of the Navigator, Neverending Story...
"Das Boot had gone through several incarnations. At first it was supposed to be a tax shelter picture that starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That fell apart. To get it done, we shot it as a five-hour miniseries. Director Wolfgang Petersen brilliantly wove together the two-and-a-half hour script so we could cut it both as a five-hour miniseries and as a two-and-a-half hour film.
"We created the funding that was necessary to finish producing Das Boot by licensing it throughout the world. We finally brought the film to the United States. It was John Veitch at Columbia who said they are about to start a small division specializing in pickup films and films from overseas. And they wanted Das Boot to be the first to go out under our new label, Triumph Films. We made the deal and a month later, Frank Price came to Columbia, and supported the project. The rest is history with 6 Academy Award nominations.
"We then did Neverending Story . It was also shot in Bavaria and directed by Wolfgang Petersen. For two years, I flew back and forth to Munich one out of every three weeks. I clocked enough air miles to get two first-class tickets to Rio De Janeiro for a ten day New Years vacation.
"I was married in the 1960s to a dancer in West Side Story, actress Rita D'Amico. And I have one son from that marriage who lives in Sydney, Australia. I've lived with my present wife [Kate Morris] since the late '70s. We got married in year 2000. People were always asking us, 'When are you going to get married?' And most of the people who asked us that, we saw marry, divorce, marry, divorce. And we laughed and said we'd get married sometime when it was really special. Then we found out that the year 2000 was a special leap year that only happens once every 400 years. So we thought that makes it a perfect day. The last time there was a February 29th on an double zero even century was 1600. It won't come again until 2400. That's a great day, so we got married.
"My wife ran a number of companies that I oversaw or reorganized over the years. She also did all the subtitles and all the dubbing of Das Boot. We brought the original actors to London and she spent three or four months working with them getting the English-language version used for television, cable and video. She now runs our 1500-acre ranch, Fairlea Ranch, (bought in 1984) we have three hours north of here. The Ranch has 200-head of cattle, 110 horses, six Buffalo, five dogs and one pig. I spend every weekend there. Kate lives there full time."
Luke: "The 1970s were a great time for the movie industry."
John: "It was a time that was meant to come. Television had taken over motion pictures audience attention. The 1948 consent decree when the Justice Department required the studios to sell their ownership in theaters, burdening the motion picture studios. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, all the studios were having problems. Television production hadn't quite been accepted by the studios. In the 1970s television was part of every studio so studios could afford taking risks on films. And there was a whole generation that just moved in together.
"When I worked at ABC in 1963, I met a guy who was working at a similar project. He was working at ABC until he could get in the William Morris mailroom. His name was David Geffen. And Barry Diller was working with Leonard Goldberg then [at ABC] and they were doing the first of the [made-for-TV] movies. Television was just catching on to rockn'roll. People were realizing that music was as integral part of entertainment as were film and television. The generation of people who came out of the 1960s looked at music, TV, film as being part of a whole. We didn't separate them out. It was the beginning of the flexibility that allowed you to move between creative disciplines. That never happened before. If you were a television actor, you were only a television actor.
"Our view of television was so different from [traditional] motion picture people. The older studio executives looked at television as a threat. We looked at television as something that was part of our culture. This brought about an ability to work in all three disciplines and merge them together for the first time. Today when you see Ally McBeal, with music as an integral part of the program, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which opened the season with an incredible musical. This is the end product of what started in the late '60s."
Luke: "I remember your movie Clan of the Cave Bear ."
John: "It was originally going to be an NBC miniseries. And Peter Guber and Jon Peters said we should make this film using independent financing. Our partner at the time was Sydney Kimmel. He is probably the most successful clothing manufacturer in New York. He is the controlling shareholder and the founder of Jones of New York. He funded Clan of the Cave Bear and 9 1/2 Weeks.
"Clan of the Cave Bear used a compromise form of signing and no real language. We used subtitling. It may have been a little too advanced. That was still the era when studios said you shouldn't use subtitles. Today people are used to seeing the bad guy being some other nationality and speak a foreign language and have subtitles underneath it.
"Peter Guber and Jon Peters had a vision for the picture and we convinced Warner Brothers to go with that vision. It was a noble experiment."
Luke: "And 9 1/2 Weeks?"
John: "I have always been a major fan of 9 1/2 Weeks and it took a long time to get it to the screen. We tested it about 35 times before audiences. MGM had originally gone with our vision. There was a short period of time when MGM was purchased by an Australian. And his first pronouncement was, 'I'm only going to do G and PG rated films.' And he brought in new management. So, all of a sudden, the people who had bought 9 ½ Weeks and our vision of it, were gone. There was new management who said we should test it in front of an audience. We tested it in front of an audience. Women got up and walked out at a certain scene so we literally tested every single scene in the movie so that when we put it together, we had sequences that worked.
"[Director] Adrian Lyne did a brilliant job. It's a testament to Adrian. He directed a film that is about testing the limits. It was simple. It was two people and a test of their limits. One had no limits and the other had limits. And the film was about that clash. "It was so controversial that while we were still shooting the film, people who had never even read the script were talking about how terrible it was.
"The ultimate proof is that 9 ½ Weeks worked is the millions of videotapes and DVDs it sold. It was too bad that so many low cost sequels were done. "When I look at it now, it is milder than most MTV videos. But at the time, it was groundshaking.
"After that, I was asked to come in to a company that was in financial trouble and straighten it out. That led to a period where I still did some producing, such as [CBS TV show] Mighty Mouse, the New Adventures with animator Ralph Bakshi and [feature] UHF  with Weird Al Yankovic... However a great deal of my time was spent consulting for companies that were in financial trouble. I'd clean them up, I'd get their pictures put into distribution.
"In 1990, I was asked to step in MCEG Sterling to reorganize it. The company produced the motion picture Look Who's Talking, and clean up that company. I merged it with Orion and a couple of other companies. And that's when I said, I'm done doing this. I want to go back to companies that are more creatively bent as opposed to refurbishing broken companies and selling them. I wanted to go back to work where I got a psychic payback, rather than: 'Great, you've sold the library. You've merged the company.' That led me to coming here [Film Roman] in December of 1999."
Luke: "What are your strengths?"
John: "I am able to get along with a diverse group of people. I'm good at pulling people and ideas together and moving them through the first few stages of a project or problem. Those stages are usually the toughest. Getting it from an idea to a story to the reality of production and then bringing together the elements needed. I've always been able to bridge the gap between creative talent and business talent. I understand both sides.
"During the 1970s, I had an optical special effects and commercial laboratory that I bought from Filmways with the help of the Small Business Administration. I shot the openings to a lot of television shows and earned my card as a cinematographer [belongs to the cameraman's guild]. I edited most of the stuff we did. I understand all the steps of making a film on a practical basis because I've done it. It's the same with the record business due to my days with Ned Tanen and MCA. This wide background of experience is why I can understand and work with both creative talent and business executives.
"When you're cleaning up a film company, it is different from a shoe store where you sell off the stock. In a film company, you have films halfway through editing, this one has no effects, this one has no music, and this one is still shooting. You have to wind it down over time. The films have to be finished so the value can be realized from them."