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John Calley Memorialized By 'Leaving Las Vegas' Director Mike Figgis (Exclusive)

A service for the former Sony CEO will be held on the company's lot Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Al Seib/LA Times

Sony Pictures will be holding a memorial service for former CEO John Calley on Wednesday, Oct. 19. He died Sept. 13 at 81.  Calley had been at Sony from 1996 to 2003. In his long career as an executive and producer he'd also worked at Warner Bros. and United Artists.

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The memorial will be at 4 pm on a Sony soundstage. Guests need to RSVP by Oct. 14th to 310-244-4142. Entry will be through the Overland gate. A reception will follow.

Leaving Las Vegas director Mike Figgis, who directed the 2000 experimental film TimeCode for the studio, has also written a tribute to Calley, exclusive to The Hollywood Reporter.

"I first met John Calley in London in 1995. MGM was thinking of buying Leaving Las Vegas. It had been a long slog, first making the film and then trying to get distribution. We’d been turned down by everyone in the business and I was losing hope. I was asked to have lunch with a group of MGM execs at the Dorchester so I turned up expecting another 'love the film, but it's too dark' chats. I was seated next to John and we talked about the movie for a while and then he asked me about the score (which I had composed) and this quickly led onto a more general discussion about jazz. He was extremely knowledgeable and I quickly discovered that he’d known Chan Parker (Bird’s widow), had himself played double bass and had been very much around the NY jazz scene in the late forties, early 50's. I pumped for information about various musicians and then asked him if he’d ever come across a particular hero of mine, legendary drummer, Dave Tough. John became quite emotional and told me that Tough had been a kind of godfather to him. A while later he sent me copies of Dave Tough's musician's Union card and other related stuff.

I think that moment cemented our friendship. After a while we both realized that the rest of the table was waiting for some kind of discussion about the film. MGM picked it up, did a great job selling to the public and it then did remarkably well. Later John told me that my producer did her best to persuade him to have my score replaced with something more commercial (loyalty is such a great trait) and John told her that one of the reasons he loved the film was because of the score.

This was the beginning of wonderful friendship. JC moved to Sony and gave me an office space and a first-look deal and in that period we would meet regularly for lunch and talk about music. He would tell me great anecdotes about various musicians and a particularly telling story about Orson Welles which contradicted a few myths about the great man.

He agreed to act in One Night Stand (he played Robert Downey's father) and also to be interviewed for a book I did (Hollywood Conversations) in which he gave very insightful ideas as to the future of the film industry.

On one of our lunches I told him about an idea I'd had for an experimental film that I wanted to shoot in real-time on four cameras. My plan was to film it in London on a tiny budget. John listened carefully and then suggested I make it at the studio. He was fascinated by the potential of digital technology and thought it would be entirely suitable for a studio called Sony.

This led to a surreal meeting at the studio where, at JC's request I outlined to about 20 execs the scenario for TimeCode. No script, real time, 20+ actors improvising based on a two-page treatment. I will never forget the looks of disbelief from my reluctant audience. I think John’s very sophisticated sense of humour was at work that day.

I was also aware of his tough side. Midway through the TimeCode experiment he asked to see some footage. What I sent him was anarchic, unresolved and probably a mess. He called me. 'I hope you know what you are doing because clearly no-one else does,' he said. I was in NY when the call came through that JC and the studio had watched the final version. I was expecting the worst. He loved it and immediately got the studio behind it promoting and getting the right kind of press. It made the front of the New York Times as a news story.

My deal came to an end (as they do) and I moved away from the studio system so we kind of lost touch. The last tie I saw him was outside the Beverly Hills Hotel. I was waiting for my car as he pulled up in a convertible Bentley, as deeply stylish as ever. We chatted for a while, I mentioned a Davey Tough track that I’d discovered and we agreed lunch was overdue.

I miss those lunches in Hollywood where film business was rarely discussed. John Calley was a one off.

-- Mike Figgis, 2011

 

 

 

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