Arnon Milchan Honored by Warren Beatty at L.A.'s Israel Film Festival

Courtesy of Apple Ridge Films
Arnon Milchan and Warren Beatty

On opening night of the Israel Film Festival, producer Mace Neufeld is also honored with a lifetime achievement award

In presenting the 2014 Israel Film Festival Vision Award to Arnon Milchan on Thursday evening, Warren Beatty called the producer of dozens of movies from Pretty Woman to 12 Years A Slave to Birdman, “a Medici of movies.”

“Although he has a shrewd sense of the tentpole, superhero, theme park, water slide movies,” said Beatty, “he never turns his back on making movies that might be less predictably commercial.”

Milchan was honored on the first night of the 28th Israel Film Festival in Beverly Hills, along with producer Mace Neufeld, who received a lifetime achievement award, and Israeli actress Dana Ivgy, who was star of the opening night Hebrew language film, Next to Her.”

Beatty recalled first meeting Milchan 32 years ago when the tenth generation Israeli, who has a colorful background in everything from military intelligence to arms manufacturing to global business, first came to Los Angeles and told the actor and producer he was considering buying 20th Century Fox.

“He asked me if I would be interested in running it?” recalled Beatty. “I, of course, told him I thought it would be much more realistic if I were to think about running for president, maybe of Israel.”

So instead Beatty called his pal Jack Nicholson and they both took the multi-millionaire industrialist out for dinner convinced he would never make a movie in Hollywood.

“It never occurred to me that Arnon Milchan would ever really be involved in the making of a movie,” continued Beatty. “After all, I had been around for quite a while and certainly knew what I was talking about. So OK, 130 Arnon Milchan movies later, after much thought, I feel the time has come tonight for me to admit, as President Nixon once said, ‘I may have been wrong.’”

Milchan founded and runs New Regency Productions, which alone and in partnership with studios, usually Fox, has made a steady stream of movies and TV series ever since.

Milchan then accepted his Visionary Award from Beatty and immediately told the audience, “I really don’t have a vision.”

He then told a story about meeting with a group of bankers who were about to put up $700 million to support his movie production at Fox. Just before he was to speak, he was told to share his vision for the business with the bankers.

“I said, ‘I don’t have a vision,’” recalled Milchan. “In 20 minutes I wrote down a vision and they put it on the teleprompter. I went on stage and I was so nervous because I made it up, I pushed the wrong button and my vision was gone.”

“I finally said, ‘I don’t have a vision,’” added Milchan. “I just have gut feelings. Sometimes I ignore what everybody says because I learned something very important. The less you know the better it is.”

He said he learned that financing and producing one of his first movies, Once Upon A Time In America, a 1984 gangster drama that ran three hours and forty-seven minutes.

Milchan he has also learned making movies about the need for “patience,” adding, “If it’s not ready, it’s not ready. Wait until it’s ready.”

That apparently was a reference to his relationship with Beatty. For at least three years Beatty has been developing a movie at New Regency he would produce, direct and star in which originally was to be about billionaire Howard Hughes having an affair with a younger woman. It is now unclear if it is still about Hughes, but it is still in process.

“I’ve been working on a movie with him for a long time that many people thought I’d never get around to making,” Beatty said during his intro. “And Arnon has been there from the beginning. He’s always supportive. He is encouraging, enthusiastic and that’s been very, very meaningful for me.”

Hector Elizondo, Mace Neufeld and Jeffrey Katzenberg

Neufeld’s lifetime achievement award was presented by actor Hector Elizondo [seen above left with Neufeld and DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg], who introduced a reel of clips from the veteran producer’s movies which include The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Invictus and earlier this year, The Equalizer.

Neufeld said the award was particularly meaningful to him because he graduated from college in 1948, the same year Israel became a state; and made his first trip to Israel this past June where he met with a number of local producers.

“I realize how difficult it was to make films in Israel,” said Neufeld, “and it’s remarkable over the years Israeli films have won ten nominations for Oscars in the foreign language category. That puts them in the top ten in the world.”

Looking back on his own career, Neufeld compared it to, “taking a stage trip through the old west. At first you’re wishing you will have a pleasant ride and after a few days you’re just praying you’ll get to your destination.”

He added that if after the ride “You make a hit film, it’s a minor miracle.”

Comedian and actor Larry Miller was M.C. for the evening and Rabbi David Baron welcomed the crowd to the Steve Tisch Cinema Center in the Saban Theater.

Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive producer of the annual festival which brings Israeli films to Los Angles, New York and Miami, said even he was amazed how the event has grown from a single movie in one city into a national event.

This year’s festival in Los Angeles runs through Nov. 6. 

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