What a movie had to have for George Harrison to sign on without reading the script

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If a movie had something special, George Harrison usually green-lit it without reading the script. In 1978, George co-founded HandMade Films with his business manager, Denis O’Brien, to help finance Monty Python’s Brian’s life after EMI pulled out because of the film’s blasphemous subject matter. Then suddenly George started making more movies that couldn’t get off the ground.

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A movie catapulted George Harrison into the movie industry

In 1988, George told Film Comment that he got into the film industry “purely by accident”.

“An English company had withdrawn from the film Monty Python Brian’s life in pre-production,” George explained. “And the guys, friends of mine, asked me if I could think of a way to help them make the movie. I asked Denis O’Brien, who had been my business manager since late 73.

“After thinking about it for a week, he came back and offered to produce it. I let out a laugh because one of my favorite movies is The producers, and we were about to become Bialystock and Bloom. None of us had previously thought of getting into the film industry, although Denis had a taste of managing Peter Sellers and negotiating some of the latest pink panthers movies.

“It was a bit risky, I suppose, going totally out of line for me, but as a big Monty Python fan, my main goal was to see the movie get made.”

In Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material WorldEric Idle joked that it was the most money anyone had ever spent on a movie ticket.

Suddenly, however, George’s friends started coming to him with more movies. Then he knew that HandMade Films was not a one-film company. “Denis had a bug for that,” George continued. “And the pythons as individuals were all writing scripts. Terry Gilliam presented us with this brilliant idea, which turned into bandits of time.

“Michael Palin had done a BBC-TV series, Tear the wiresa series of 30-minute films, and I told him one day that if he ever wanted to write a great Tear the thread that would be just awesome. So he did. He also did A private functiona hysterical little film by Alan Bennett that did very well in England… Anyway, one thing led to another, and our films continued to happen.

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A movie had to have something special for George to sign on without reading the script

George talked about upcoming HandMade Films films during a 1988 interview with MTV. The company was shooting a movie called How to get ahead in advertising by Bruce Robinson, the same screenwriter and director of another HandMade Films production, 1987 With Nail and me. The film also had the same actor, Richard E. Grant.

George said it was “a very crazy kind of movie”. He told MTV, “It’s kind of weird, but it’s a brilliant little movie.” With Nail and me was the kind of movie where George didn’t need to read the script to know his potential.

“I think this Bruce Robinson guy, I think if he came to us with another script, I would tend to do it even without reading it because I think he’s fantastic. It’s just the nature of the person.

So if a movie and its director impressed him, George wouldn’t hesitate to give it the green light.

However, he added that he hated performing and had no interest in directing. “I don’t want that responsibility,” George said. “I don’t mind having a director and suggesting a few things to him, I’m not really into directing, I think I much prefer making records. It’s much simpler.

“You can make decisions so much faster, there are fewer people involved, you get an engineer and that’s really it. Get on a soundstage with a film crew; you have about 60 people. That’s too many depression.

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The former Beatle hated reading scripts

Most of the time, whether a movie wowed George or not, he didn’t like reading scripts. However, he trusted one of his employees and friends, Ray Cooper, to identify which ones were good.

He told Film Comment: “There are so many scripts coming in now. And, personally, I hate reading them. But a guy on staff named Ray Cooper is listening to me. He is also a musician, percussionist and drummer for Elton John, and I know that I can count on his sensitivity to the artistic side of things.

“There’s always a conflict between the ‘business’, what people think of as the raw commercial side, and the ‘artistic’ side. Since I’m an ‘artist’ – be sure to put this in quotes – and having Ray there all the time relieves the problem a bit.

“If a few people on the team all like the same script, then copies come out and everyone reads them and decides whether we’re going to do it or not. I guess Denis and I have the last word, but it’s more of a committee system. It takes a certain number of people to like a script before the red light turns orange.

Many other film scripts have surpassed George. Then HandMade Films became another incredible chapter in George’s remarkable life.

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