'Right Stuff' Director Philip Kaufman Blasts Hollywood for Ignoring 'Mature Audiences'

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Philip Kaufman

The helmer, who directed 'Hemingway and Gellhorn' for HBO, says TV is the best place for material targeting an older demographic

Philip Kaufman, the acclaimed director of The Right Stuff, blames Hollywood for ignoring the “mature adult audience.”

Kaufman, who recently received a lifetime achievement honor at Poland's Camerimage Festival, says the movies he makes and is famous for – including Quills, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Henry & June – would have little chance of getting made in Hollywood today.

“It’s all supposedly facts and figures and carefully worked out. The irony being that eight out of ten movies based on those formulas don’t make money,” the filmmaker says of Hollywood’s obsession with the famously fickle young-male demographic. But he adds, “If one does, that sort of justifies the mathematics that don’t make sense. Occasionally they find a tentpole movie that will continue to make money. But how many of those [pan out], based on the enormous amounts of money that are thrown at things?”

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Kaufman isn't knocking popcorn movies. The director was initially set to helm Raiders of the Lost Ark before Steven Spielberg came aboard. Kaufman still receives a character credit (but no money) on every Indiana Jones film, video game or other spin-off. But the filmmaker thinks a mentality of exclusion is prevalent in Hollywood. Ironically, he says, teen movies, currently the genre every studio is chasing, once topped the blacklist.

“When I was trying to make [teen gang drama] The Wanderers [in the 1970s] – and I tried making it for years – the head of a studio pulled a piece of paper out of a drawer and said to me: ‘We know there’s no money in teenage movies. And we won’t make them.’ They knew! And now they think the opposite. And they also said, this goes back a number of years, ‘Nobody goes to see a movie in the summertime.’”

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Kaufman solved this problem by shooting his latest feature, Hemingway and Gellhorn, for HBO. The director said he is now resigned to making movies for the small screen.

“Over the years I was asked to do television, but in those years I looked down on it. But now there’s interesting stuff. [Steven] Soderberg’s doing The Knick, and it’s beautifully done." Kaufman is looking to pouch Knick star Clive Owen for his next project, a period drama along the lines of Deadwood being set up as a miniseries or limited run series.

Even so, Kaufman says he still yearns for the cinema he grew up with: “I miss older people in line,” he says. “What’s a nicer thing for older people than to go out than to sit in a movie theater? You can watch at home, but there’s an element of distraction and depression and all of that. Get the f--- out of the house!”