Jeremy Thomas still sees problems as possibilities

English Daily #3
“Once upon a time, there was a prince, a movie prince.” So begins The Storms of Jeremy Thomas (2021), Mark Cousins’ lyrical and intimate documentary portrait of one of the most prolific and proficient film producers of our times. Often, these kind of documentaries are reserved for masterful film directors that are seen as the main auteurs of world cinema, but then again, in the case of Oscar-winning producer and GAIFF Guest of Honor Jeremy Thomas, you could say he’s an auteur of auteurs, a man who made legendary films like Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), The Last Emperor (1987) and The Dreamers (2003) possible.

So when Irish director and film obsessive extraordinaire Cousins asked the British producer to participate in his road movie documentary, Thomas wasn’t too surprised. “A lot of people had talked already about making a film about my career,” the producer mentions over Armenian coffee in the lobby of Grand Hotel Yerevan. “The thing with Mark is that I also admire him as a filmmaker, and he understood something deeper about my work. He understood that I enjoy being in the storm that is filmmaking, I enjoy being in the middle of it. Like the way you can sometimes enjoy the heavy turbulence on a plane, given you’re not too frightened whether you make it to your destination. This is my process when making a film: I'm totally involved.”

It might seem that this close involvement, leading to lasting relationships with directors like Bernardo Bertolucci, Jerzy Skolimowski and David Cronenberg, was all planned-out far ahead, but in the case of Thomas, things simply occurred as they did. “When I started out, I was freestyling,” says the now 73 year old producer about his early adventures in the 70s . “I didn't have any preconception about what I was doing. I’m actually trying to keep some of that naivete still intact.” It was with this mindset that Thomas, only in his twenties, met with renowned Italian producer Carlo Ponti to buy the rights of Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession, with Nicolas Roeg slated to direct. “Ponti wanted $25.000,” remembers Thomas. “Money which I didn’t have, but I shook his hands and found the money.” It was the first film that Thomas made with his cinematic hero Roeg and a vindication of his intuition as a producer. You could say the rest was history, but Thomas is always looking ahead. “There aren’t many guys around my age that are still this competitive,” admits Thomas, “or are trying out new things for that matter. I always wanted to go on forever.” Even though Thomas is faced with many new challenges in a rapidly transformed film industry, he remains optimistic. “My father, who was a filmmaker himself, always used to say: ‘don’t think of things as a problem. They’re opportunities for you.’ I still take that advice by heart.”