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Final Cut: Art, Money and EGO in the Making of "Heaven's Gate", the Film That Sank United Artists [Paperback]

Steven Bach
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Newmarket Press,U.S.; Updated Ed edition (31 Dec 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557043744
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557043740
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 436,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Final Cut: Art, Money and EGO in the Making of "Heaven's Gate", the Film That Sank United Artists With a new Foreword by the author, this modern classic is "one of the few indispensable books about Hollywood" ("Newsweek"). The movie "Heaven's Gate" did not merely fail, it sank a studio--United Artists. Combining wit, extraordinary anecdote, and historical perspective, "Final Cut" gives a rare, inside look at moviemaking. "A landmark book on movies . . . must reading".--"Kirkus Reviews".

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is THE book about movies gone wrong that any film buff should and must have read. The story of HEAVEN'S GATE - and how a young maverick director's vision & perfectionism goes crashing down and (incidentally) takes down a studio - written by one of the producers who greenlit the project.

But FINAL CUT is far more than this. The first 100 pages are a grand history of United Artists. And in between the Michael Cimino/ Heaven's Gate episodes we pop in and out of the production of MANHATTAN, meet Woody Allen, then Scorsese and De Niro pouring over the RAGING BULL script, the APOCALYPSE NOW postproduction etc. etc. and daily Hollywood work in one of its most glorious moments.

As I said - must-have and I read it once a year.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account of a filmmaking disaster 12 July 2004
By Chris K. Wilson - Published on
It was called a "runaway," and never has a term been more appropriate. In this case, it was a movie running millions of dollars over budget with an end nowhere in sight. The 1980 film "Heaven's Gate" has become synonymous with failure, its very name punned whenever big-budget productions flirt with disaster. Steven Bach's "Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists" gives a terrific blow-by-blow account of this gargantuan flop. A former producer at United Artist who suffered the ax after "Heaven's Gate," Bach penned this detailed tome a couple of years after fallout.
The book should be a fascinating account for film lovers. "Final Cut" details the history of United Artists and filmmaking in the 1970s - a truly golden era. At United Artists, Francis Ford Coppola premieres "Apocalypse Now," Woody Allen helms "Manhattan" and Martin Scorsese prepares "Raging Bull." But the man of the hour in 1978 is a quiet guy named Michael Cimino. He just won an Academy Award for directing "The Deer Hunter," and now he wants to make a western - a big, big western.
Bach accurately reveals the difficulties United Artists was going through at this time, losing several long-time executives who jump ship to form the Orion film company. Bach and company, wishing to re-establish United Artists as a major player, take on Cimino's western project. Cimino sets up shop in Montana, the location work a two-hour's drive from the nearest cement road. He ships an antique train across five states to the Montana wilds. He hires over 700 extras. He signs a cast of mainly unknowns including Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, John Hurt and Sam Waterson. And he films only during the twilight hour, a period right before dusk so scenes will have a golden hue. But what terrifies United Artists most is Cimino is filming 50-60 takes per scene, and printing almost every take. Such obsession was unheard of.
As Bach reveals in "Final Cut," Cimino's western (now hovering around $25 million) was going to have make blockbuster numbers just to turn a profit, performing in the "Jaws" and "Star Wars" neighborhoods. United Artists attempts to fire Cimino, at one point even asking David Lean to take over. Cimino realizes the dire situation, finally bucks up and finishes the film. With promotional and post-production fees, "Heaven's Gate" cost United Artists $44 million - the most expensive film in history up to that time.
Heaven's Gate is premiered in New York, a three-and-a-half hour monstrosity that receives devastatingly bad reviews. It is eventually released to the theaters and makes $1.8 million. It is the biggest bomb in motion picture history (cue dead elephant hitting the cement). Heads roll at the studio, Cimino's career is finished and United Artists, a film company created by Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, is purchased by MGM to disappear forever into the sunset.
Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" spelled the end of the free-spirited, amazingly creative decade of the 1970s. Producers and studios took the reins out of the hands of superstar directors (Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" ran a similar "Heaven's Gate" route, but he pulled success from the fires of disaster, perhaps inspiring this debacle as much as anything else). "Final Cut" is a tragedy exposing the end of a golden era of filmmaking and a once-great studio. It's as good as an Irwin Allen disaster film, and a lot cheaper.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down - compelling story still relevant 26 Oct 1999
By James P. Lammers - Published on
Steven Bach's account of the "Heaven's Gate" fiasco has never been more relevant than now. With weed-like conglomerate corporate growth each day and the Dilbert-like stupidity spawned in most corporate environments, this book should serve as a lesson to many of us.
His compelling story of divided responsibility, group thinking and diluted control goes a long way to explaining the excesses of Cimino and the movie.
Bach writes beautifully and directly. He covers the machinations of the story from the corporate side only. I wished for more of the on-the-set stories - the book would have been improved with a few chapters by someone who witnessed the on-set story. One hilarious on-set story I heard about "Heaven's Gate" before reading this book described how the director needed more space in the street and wanted sets on both sides of the street destroyed and rebuilt 6 feet back. Someone suggested destroying and rebuilding one side only, 12 feet back, and saving half the cost. Cimino told him that it wouldn't have the same feel, and they commenced destroying and rebuilding the entire set! Although these sorts of on-set anecdotes aren't in the book, many other incredibly good ones from the management side are there.
The book describes the history of UA, the history of the skirmish the movie is based on, and the entire before, during and after of the film's development from the viewpoint of Transamerica and UA.
I read it cover to cover in just a few days, and laughed often. A great book!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Self-Perpetuating Fear 18 Feb 2004
By Edward Roberts - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Steven Bach is correct in using William Goldman's quote about Hollywood in his introduction ("No one knows anything."). What follows with Final Cut happens because the executives took that attitude to heart, and sometimes, for good reason.
Cimino maneuvered the UA executives, including Bach, into making a movie they didn't believe in because they didn't believe in their own judgement on the script. They didn't step in when the production got out of control beecause they didn't trust their own judgement on what was happening on location in Montana. They didn't demand a proper edit of the movie because they didn't believe they could find any other talent to solve the problem. They didn't pull the movie because they didn't trust what their eyes told them: the movie was awful.
The above paragraph is harsh, and there are examples upon examples of studio heads pulling the plug on what became magnificent movies. These examples, however, are like fortune-tellers proclaiming their successes when they get something right. The fortune-teller did get that one prediction right, but no one remembers the hundreds of times that the fortune-teller was wrong because no one points it out, especially the fortune-teller. In Hollywood, the talent doesn't want the failure pointed out, and the executives don't either since their jobs are on the line.
None of the above is a criticism of this book. In fact, it gives a wonderful insight into how disasters like "Heavan's Gate" can happen. It is written well, and I came away with a much better understanding of the process by which movies get made. It also gives insight into the difference between honest artists who sometimes fail (Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese) and poseurs who bluff their way into creating disasters (Cimino).
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Hollywood Books Ever 12 Jun 2000
By Susan Nunes - Published on
This book, first published in the 1980s, is a classic textbook example of why Hollywood so often pours tens of millions of dollars into projects that ultimately go haywire. In this book, Bach, who as production head had information and sources only an insider could have, shows how a director, Michael Cimino, was given a virtual blank check on making a film United Artists hoped would duplicate the success of his Oscar-winning film, "The Deer Hunter." This new project was based on a script Cimino had written, called "The Johnson County War." It was based on an obscure event in 19th century Wyoming, but the moguls were impressed enough with the script to go forward with it.
It wasn't long, though, before the project went awry. Bach provides the reader with many, many reasons why this was so. There was plenty of blame to go around, though certainly director Cimino deserves a large share of the blame. He reminds the reader of another self-destructive director, Erich von Stroheim, in that he couldn't stay within a budget and was obsessed with detail. Millions and millions of dollars were thrown into this project, now called "Heaven's Gate." By the time the film was released in 1980, it had become the biggest bomb in Hollywood since the 1963 flop "Cleopatra." It helped sink United Artists. Not surprisingly, Cimino has yet to duplicate the success of "The Deer Hunter."
Bach is an excellent writer, and the book makes one almost nostalgic for the days of the old studio system of pre-1960s Hollywood.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't go in the cellar! 9 Mar 2006
By R. Dixon - Published on
This is one of the finest books ever written about the movie business. Bach explains, step by step, why he and the other UA execs did the things they did, and the disaster that unfolded. He's honest about his own failings, but at every step, as he outlines the choices available, you realise that - in his place and without the benefit of hindsight - you'd probably make the same mistakes. It's fascinating.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see the experience as a kind of horror movie. Each time UA concedes a point to Cimino, you feel like yelling "Don't go in the cellar!" (or, in this case, "Don't cast Isabelle Huppert!"). Of course, down they go into the cellar, where there are even more zombies lurking. The high point is the part where Cimino demands the installation of an irrigation system to ensure the grass looks properly green - but of course it's his land!

I have read this book several times since it was first published, and lent my copy to at least a dozen people who are also in the business. Everyone I know who knows anything about moviemaking has loved it.
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