Producer David Korda

Terry Gilliam, a member of the Monty Python comedy troup, writes in his book The Life of Gilliam, about money troubles on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988):

"There were secretaries being sent to Munich for attache cases of money to keep things going. There were two sets of books being run on the production: the white books were for the taxmen and then there were the real accounts, the black ones. Apparently, this happens all the time in Italy. And, with a couple of weeks to go before shooting, the first assistant director, who has been holding the production together for months, quits. So the nightmare begins: we start shooting and by the end of the first week we're two weeks behind schedule. This isn't possible but we did it. The whole thing was about to collapse. While all of this was going on, my wife Maggie was pregnant with our son Harry, and Film Finances were threatening to seize all my assets. So Maggie is trying to get the house out of my name, they're talking about bringing in another director to replace me, and we're still trying to work.

"Eventually, they sent out David Korda, one of the Korda boys, who is actually quite nice, but he's shy and when you first meet him he' s very cold. This was the last thing I needed - a cold, judgmental man coming into the midst of this nightmare. But while we were getting ready for a night shoot, I bumped into him in the production office. I started raging about how dare he threaten my wife and family, and they had to pull me away before I attacked him. So I'm downstairs where the cars are parked and I catch sight of him up on the first floor. Instead of throwing a rock, I started hitting the car nearest to me, until I put my fist right through the windscreen, smashing it to smithereens. It felt very satisfying until I looked at the car and realised it was my own."

Andrew Yule wrote the book, Losing the Light: Terry Gilliam and the Munchausen Saga:

About the arrival to the set of Korda: "Gilliam was instantly offended by what he saw as Korda's sardonic expression, icy calm and superior attitude." Gilliam punched his first through the rear window of his stationwagon. (pg. 133)

"Film Finances' David Korda was another defector. He refused point blank to continue with what he termed "the madness," despie several inducements offered by an increasingly desperate [Richard] Soames [CEO of Film Finances]." (Losing the Light, pg. 145)

"Considering that Gilliam had loathed David Korda with such a deep passion at their first meeting, they wound up getting on extremely well. Gilliam acknowledged Korda was a decent, honest man who...was rapidly falling in love with the movie..."

Gilliam said the movie seduced Korda. "You could see it happen almost on a daily basis... He was just in an impossible position, trying to spend the smallest amount of money. We didn't have any major conflicts, which was remarkable when you consider how we started out. I did all I could to help him." (Losing the Light, pg. 200)

I sat down with producer David Korda at a restaurant near 9100 Sunset Blvd May 15, 2002. David ordered a Turkish coffee and I had a cup of herb tea.

David: "I had left Film Finances Corporation in 1985 to join RKO. But I still had a financial interest in the company. And Baron Munchausen, for a variety of reasons, became an enormous problem. Terry is an absolutely devoted to his work and he wanted to fulfill his vision. And the vision that had been sold to the completion bond company and to the studio had not properly translated into a realistic budget.

"I spent ten months with Terry finishing the film. I thought we had a good working relationship. We shared an office. I know that in the book it comes across as hostility, but I never felt hostility that. I know he was angry at the time because he was under tremendous pressure. He was caught in an impossible situation that was partly of his own making.

"Terry didn't care about any of the frills of the business. He didn't want limousines or private planes or private offices. He was cost conscious about the things that didn't matter. He was inflexible about getting the right shot. I thought we had a civil relationship.

"When a film starts like that with a major auteur director, there's little you can do to change the course of it.

"This is one of the continual dilemmas of the business. People want to get a film made. They know it is going to be too expensive. It's going to take us 16 weeks to shoot this movie but the studio will never approve that. So let's do a schedule for 12 weeks and we'll somehow make it work.

"There were three Korda brothers - Zoltan, my father the director, Alexander the larger-than-life British filmmaker, and Vincent the production designer. [All three Jews married non-Jewish women, making their children not Jewish according to Jewish Law.] Michael Korda [Simon & Schuster book editor] was the son of Vincent. Michael lived with us in Los Angeles during World War II. We both went to the same school in Switzerland and Oxford, though I'm younger than Michael by five years.

"I was at Oxford in the early 1960s. I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Then I ran a small theater just outside of London. It was wonderful but it didn't make any money. A director who worked at my theater said that his friend Peter Brook is making a film of Lord of the Flies. None of us were paid to work on it. I was second-assistant director. It was shot on the now famous island of Vieques. They were still bombing it then.

"After the Lord of the Flies, I returned to England and started working my way up in the movie business the traditional English way. You do years of apprenticeship. Unless you've brought cups of tea to the directors for years as third assistant director, you don't get promoted to second director. In a way it is good because if you look at a certain selection of British technicians, they are the best in the world because they've served a long apprenticeship.

"England was home at that time [1960s] to lots of American expatriate producers. You could live and work in England and not pay American tax. I worked for producer Charlie Schneer who made many special effects movies. I worked for Peter O'Toole's company. We made such films as Murphy's War, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Man Friday.

"My son Nikolas Korda has just finished three years as a production manager in New Zealand on Lord of the Rings. He's now producing his first film, Nine Lives. I did my best to dissuade him from coming into the business. My daughter Lerryn is an art director in commercials and music videos. I didn't want her to do that.

"So many films are made on location. It is extremely disruptive to family life. I was first married in 1964, when I was 24. We had the two kids. The marriage lasted about ten years. Then I married again in 1980. That lasted about ten years. I don't blame the film business entirely for the dissolution of my marriages but it is a hard business on relationships. You are away so much and the work is intense.

"Around 1980, I had the opportunity to join Film Finances Ltd, a completion bond company in London. So instead of spending six months on location, I'd spend two weeks. I'd go on 50 film sets a year.

"Film Finances invented the whole idea of completion guarantees in the late 1950s, whereby a producer could put up 6% of the budget and the completion bond company would guarantee that the picture got finished. At that time, independent producers who wanted to borrow money from the bank couldn't do so because the bank had no security on the film being finished and how much it would cost.

"Film Finances was very conservative. For a long time, they didn't want to bond films that were made ten miles outside of central London. Then the business changed. When we were asked to provide a guarantee on a Coppola film, well, he had a certain reputation as an extraordinary filmmaker.

"I met Director Francis Ford Coppola on the set of The Outsiders. I met him briefly again on The Cotton Club. Film Finances was deeply involved in The Cotton Club. They had a representative at Astoria Studios in New York where the film was made. It's a long complicated story. The makers of the film were desperate to have Film Finances give the guarantee on the film. One of the guarantors absolute requirements is to see a copy of the final script. And the script for Cotton Club was being continually rewritten.

"We had this great creative force, Coppola, with a script that had not been approved, and a lot of oversized personalities, and it just got out of control.

"In 1985, I became head of production at RKO Pictures where we produced such films as Plenty and Hamburger Hill. We'd try to finance films through pre-sales and selling rights to video. We'd try to find a theatrical distributor in the United States. That was typical of the 1980s business model. It's no longer doable.

"Being an independent producer now is a hopeless job. I suppose if you were an ex-agent with multiple contacts with important clients, or an ex-studio head with contacts. Or if you happen to be wealthy..."

In 1990, David moved to Los Angeles. He produced Wolfgang Petersen's first American movie, 1991's Shattered.