March 9, 2021

In Movie of Mine Rescue, Producer Looks to His Roots

Fifty-four years later, Mr. Medavoy, who grew up in Santiago, is going back with a film project that will test his skills as a moviemaker and will close a personal loop in his life. It is a drama about the Copiapó mining accident, in which 33 Chilean miners were trapped deep underground for 69 days last year, finally to emerge alive.

Mr. Medavoy has acquired rights from the miners, who jointly sold their story in a deal brokered by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment.

Mr. Medavoy will also have rights to a book that is being written about the incident by Héctor Tobar, and is commissioning a script by Jose Rivera, whose screenplay for “The Motorcycle Diaries” was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A Chilean businessman, Carlos E. Lavin, will help to finance the film — in Mr. Medavoy’s photo, Mr. Lavin is the jaunty guy kneeling on the viewer’s left.

But there is no Hollywood studio yet involved, at least in part because Mr. Medavoy — who as producer or executive has been involved with films as complicated as “Black Swan,” “Shutter Island” and “Amadeus” — has been around long enough to know that difficult stories, at least in their early stages, are best fostered outside the studio walls.

“I had the same reaction I think most people here do,” Mr. Medavoy said of his initial reluctance to tackle the miners’ tale, with its multiple characters, underground setting, and almost universally known outcome. “Do I really want to make a picture in which everybody knows the end?” he recalls asking himself.

On further consideration, though, Mr. Medavoy decided that some of his biggest mistakes occurred when he said no to a movie because the underlying events seemed too familiar. While he was a production executive at United Artists in the mid-1970s, for instance, Mr. Medavoy passed on a Watergate project being offered by the director Alan J. Pakula. Warner Brothers went on to make what became “All the President’s Men,” which won four Oscars in 1977.

The miners, seven of whom joined Mr. Medavoy for dinner in Beverly Hills recently, bring a plethora of personal stories that Mr. Rivera hopes will contribute to a film that satisfies both the audience and the survivors.

“From my personal experience in dealing with the miners, they all think this is a story of unity, this is a story of coming together,” said Guillermo Carey, a spokesman for the group. Mr. Carey, who spoke by telephone from Chile, said all of the miners had pooled their interest in the film rights, and would share equally in any proceeds. He declined to say how much they were being paid for an initial option on the rights, or how much they would receive if the movie is actually made.

Mr. Medavoy, meanwhile, is frankly eager to bring his experience in Chile and elsewhere to bear on a professional life full of movies that have been as fanciful as “RoboCop,” or as real as “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” but have only rarely been personal.

That changed last month, when Mr. Medavoy joined the Shanghai Film Group in announcing an intertwined feature film and six-hour mini-series set in Shanghai during World War II. The idea, he explained during an interview this month at his hillside home here, was to connect with his own roots as the Shanghai-born son of Russian Jews who emigrated to the Chinese city in the 1920s.

Mr. Medavoy lived in Shanghai, speaking Russian and Chinese, until 1947, when political turmoil finally persuaded his parents to leave for Chile. There, his father worked first as a car mechanic and then as a jewelry wholesaler, while his mother became a buyer for a department store.

As a camp counselor in his teens, Mr. Medavoy was helped by a camper’s father, an American, to get into the United States with both parents. He graduated with a degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles, he said, and in 1964, at the age of 23, he was hired in the mailroom at Universal Studios.

As the movie business emerged from a slump that was provoked by the boom in a competing medium, television, Mr. Medavoy matched its rising curve in successive jobs as casting director, agent and production executive at United Artists, Orion Pictures and Sony. A shake-up at Sony knocked him out of a perch as the top executive at its TriStar Pictures unit.

But he quickly established Phoenix Pictures, and proceeded to make movies that dealt with almost anything but the colorful backdrop to his own life — until the current projects, in Mr. Medavoy’s view, seemed to bring him full circle.

“Who am I? What am I doing here?” he remembers thinking.

“My Chinese identity, my Chilean identity, they led me to reach out.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 24, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated who has bought the rights to the miners’ story, and who owns the rights to a related book. Mike Medavoy has acquired the rights to both, not Phoenix Pictures.

Article source:

Speak Your Mind