With the recent passing of producer Bert Schneider, modern cinema truly lost an important figure.
Schneider, along with his partners Bob Rafelson and Steve Blauner, produced Easy Rider, which blew open the door for young Hollywood to make movies when it was nearly impossible to scale the wall.
It’s massive success – a $20 million dollar gross in its first run on a reported $400,000 budget – woke Hollywood up to the fact that there were tons of young people dying to make movies, and the usual bloated major studio fare wasn’t cutting it anymore. The young people who were eager to make their statements then are now the elder statesmen of film today: Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola, just to name a few.
The production company BBS, which stood for Bert Bob and Steve, also made Head, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show, Drive He Said (which was directed by Jack Nicholson), The King of Marvin Gardens, A Safe Place, and the Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds. When Schneider and Rafelson first came together, they conceived of turning A Hard Day’s Night into a TV show, which became The Monkees, and the money they generated allowed them to form BBS under the Columbia umbrella.
BBS cut a deal that any producer or filmmaker would die for today. Complete control over their movies as long as they cost a million or under, and if the films went over budget, the three partners had to take care of the overages. Columbia didn’t even read the scripts of the films BBS made, and as Blauner told TheWrap, “We had final cut, and nobody could approve or disapprove our films. Columbia had no say whatsoever.”
On his first feature, A Safe Place, director Henry Jaglom shot the exact movie he wanted to make, thanks to Schneider, and it was released through a major studio, which wouldn’t happen in a million years today. Schneider was moved by the movie, which was like a European art film, and told Jaglom, “The only person more indulgent than you in making this film is me because I’m going to let you make it, I’m not going to try to get you to cut it, I’m not going to try to figure out how to make it marketable, it’s going to lose very penny that we invested in it, but look at me, I’m crying. I’m not going to say anything, you’ve got it.”
BBS peaked with Hearts and Minds, then Schneider produced Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven for Paramount in 1978. That was the last Schneider produced film that was ever released, and he couldn’t get another film off the ground again. Then after being beset by a number of tragedies, including the loss of his two brothers, the death of his young wife, as well as the loss of his closest friends, Black Panther leader Huey Newton and yippie Abbie Hoffman, Schneider became a drug-addled recluse, a once former counter culture king of Hollywood who was left with nothing.
Schneider’s body finally gave out at the age of 78, but the movies, which got the deluxe Criterion DVD treatment last year, are today the testaments to a remarkable time in film that will never be again.
“It was an astonishing time in filmmaking history,” says Jaglom. “An absolutely singular and astonishing time. Orson Welles said to me, ‘Jump at it, there will never be another time like this.’ I thought he was wrong and it would just open the path to a whole different endless new wave of filmmaking, and he was right, it was a narrow window in which people were allowed to just do their own number on film, and try to create their own universes and throw out the old rules.
“It was largely because of Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson that all of us got a chance to make real films, the films that we really wanted to make, not just something that we thought would work as a commercial commodity.”