Author: Jonathan Sanger
In 1980 Jonathan Sanger produced The Elephant Man, a film about a severely deformed man who lived in London, England in the late 19th century. The film was directed by David Lynch and starred John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon and Freddie Jones.
The script was brought to Sanger's attention via his babysitter who had asked him as a favor if he would be willing to read her boyfriend's script. Apparently, her boyfriend and his friend had been working on their first screenplay and they would appreciate some feedback. Sanger at the time was involved in various projects and had forgotten all about the it until three months later when he noticed it on his desk. Embarrassed that he never had read the script, he decided it was better late than never and straightaway began its reading.
The story engaged him and he was even surprised at the fluency of its writing by rookie writers who had just graduated from film school. After some research, he discovered that the script had been based on an original book authored by a physician, Frederick Treves in London, England who had a patient named John Merrick, known as the Elephant Man and who was afflicted with a horrendous disease.
After reading the script, Sanger immediately contacted his babysitter, who had since moved on, and requested a meeting with her boyfriend and his friend to discuss the script. At the time, Sanger was an assistant director and a production manager and he was very interested in producing the script into a movie, although he had no experience as a producer.
Although, he had the script under option, he didn't have the slightest idea what to do with it, however, he was employed by Mel Brooks in putting together a team to make the film Fatso. When Brooks read the script of The Elephant Man, he contacted Sanger and agreed to come on board to make the picture in London. It would be financed by his company Brooksfilms, a company owned by Brooks, and as the old expression goes, the rest is history.
The film went on to become a critical and commercial success with eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor. After receiving widespread criticism for failing to honor the film's make-up effects, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was prompted to create the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling the following year. The film also won the BAFTA Awards for Best Film, Best Actor and Best Production Design and was nominated for Golden Globe awards. It also won a French Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film.
In Making the Elephant Man: A Producer's Memoir Sanger provides a rich case study of his initial exploration into the world of film and more particularly into the world of independent film making. And as he states: “It is independently financed, non-studio beauties that make up the world of real film storytelling today.”
The real value of the memoir is its extensive and detailed documented revelations concerning the development, funding, and production of a film as well as a study concerning the marketing, release and subsequent entry into the small subset of movies that become iconic in popular culture. If you want to read about the “nitty gritty” of putting together a film, this book is a must read. It is not only a story about Sanger's first film, but it also marked the early stages of some of the most celebrated careers in cinema as well as a revival of older careers to new and unexpected heights.
And what makes it even more fascinating, and as Sanger points out in the Preface, that during the process of putting together the movie he had kept a detailed journal of the process and many of the incidents as well as conversations among the various participants which are included verbatim.
As an added bonus, the book contains in its Appendix: A Pictorial Storyboard of The Elephant Man containing several photos of important scenes and there is also a very comprehensive list of chapter notes relating to every chapter as well as a brief bibliography.