Norman Jewison: "I have a feeling we've made some good films and we haven't even recognized it. That terrifies me."

"I have a feeling we've made some good films and we haven't even recognized it. That terrifies me."

“I wasn't successful for a very long time. When I got out of university and was driving a cab, I wasn't too popular with Father. I went to England to work as a writer and director, and I came back a bohemian with a beard and sandals, living in the den again.

My parents were confused by my career choice, but when they flew to California and saw my office after my first film, they saw that I was obviously doing well. They accepted I could make a living, as bizarre as it was.

When I meet people, they are not interested in me. What they are interested in is what is it like working with Cher. They want to tell me about a film that I made and how it affected them. When I decided to write my book, I didn't want to talk about the stars, I wanted to write about my films, because my films are my life.

I went into my house in Malibu, I pulled the drapes so I couldn't see outside, took a yellow pad and I just sat there and stared at it for the longest time. Then I picked up a pen and I said I always wanted to be a Jew. I wanted to get it off my chest right away. But I'm not Jewish. You get tired of explaining your name. It was easier to just accept the fact that people thought I was.

This business is full of deceit, it is full of false values, it's full of egos out of control. Sometimes, when you announce something, you give this guy an idea and he'll steal it. My worst experience was what went on behind my withdrawal from Malcolm X.

I like Spike Lee as a filmmaker. I thought Denzel Washington's performance was fascinating, but I don't think at the end of the film that we really understand what made Malcolm X tick. It didn't capture the imagination of the audience.

When it comes to accounting, this is a terrible business. The creative people have never gotten a fair shake in the movie business–ever.

When I make a film it has to make three times its negative cost. If a picture costs $20 million, my picture has to earn $60 million before it shows any kind of profit.

The other day I got a cost accounting on a film I made two years ago. When it came to DVD home entertainment and video cassettes, 20% went to the gross of the film and 80% went to the distributor. Now you know why actors want to be paid a lot of money; they know they are going to be cheated. You are always reading about some poor actor dying penniless.

New technology is just another tool that the creative visionary, director, writer, production designer, now have at their disposal. It is helping the story, but it also can be a crutch. I'm not a big believer that special effects have an emotional effect on the audience.

We are going through a period of what I call “popcorn pictures.” The more interesting films are coming from the independent filmmakers. I think people want to go to the movies and they want to laugh, or they want to cry.

The Canadian financial community has not made the kind of investment they should be making in the entertainment industry.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was our most successful Canadian film and we didn't even know it. Where did the money come from? Canadian-produced, Canadian-directed, but would it have been successful if it hadn't been produced by Tom Hanks's wife? We don't know how to market our talent.

There isn't anything more successful in the film business in Canada than the Toronto film festival. They've got the most interesting films because they made the right decision to hold the festival in September. Cannes doesn't get the important films because no one wants to release an artistic film in the summer. Montreal is an important festival, but it's relegated to European films.

When you write a screenplay, you've got to get it to people who finance films. You need to get it to venture capitalists. Telefilm Canada is the best place for a young creative filmmaker, writer, director to at least get some investment to develop a screenplay.

By halfway through my book I think it starts to cook. I like the book better in the last half because I feel my voice is stronger.

This is not an easy business. Everybody seems to be out for themselves. I was working on a film about Howard Hughes and it was to star John Travolta, but I just didn't have the financing in place quick enough to get the film in production before Martin Scorsese.

I was a producer for the Oscars. I had been fighting very hard for Henry Fonda to get a special honorary Oscar simply because the man had done 80 pictures. I was a big fan. If you don't give the man an award for The Grapes of Wrath, talk about injustice. But then I realized it was all political. Henry Fonda wasn't too popular among the right-wing conservative members of the Academy. When people start to play politics and secular interests and deny the truth, then it is wrong.

I was shocked when President Ronald Reagan wanted to speak at the Awards. The Republican administration wanted the president at the Academy because it was the biggest audience in the world outside of the Super Bowl. We're supposed to award talent–what are we going to do, honour him for Bedtime for Bonzo?

Then, of course, he was shot the day before the Oscars. It was terrible. I can tell you honestly the most nervous moment I've ever experienced was the afternoon when I had to go out at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center in Los Angeles and do a press conference with the world press. That was the biggest press conference I had ever seen. I had to go out and say, “In deference to what has happened, and the president of the United States, we are postponing the Academy Awards for 24 hours.”

The audience loves stars, they always will. There's nothing wrong with that, but I also think there is room for a wonderful film, without anybody in it, that, you know, that grabs a hold of your heart and just takes you away like Sideways. What about Hotel Rwanda? Was it popular because Nick Nolte is in it? Of course not.

Hotel Rwanda got its impetus from Toronto this year. Also three or four other films got their big push that they wouldn't have if they hadn't played Toronto.

When you start talking about profits in movies, people start laughing. That's why I have a gross position myself and most stars have a gross position. No one wants to talk about profits; there are no profits. Yet this is perhaps a larger industry in America than aerospace.

The Canadian Film Centre, of which I am chairman emeritus, has graduated 700 people as of last year [and] 85% of them are employed somewhere in the Canadian entertainment industry.

There is no doubt in my mind. When it comes to computer animation and artistic animation, I think Canadians dominate that area at the moment.

Timeline: Norman Jewison
Born July 21, 1926, in Toronto
Award-winning producer, director, Hereford breeder

1949: Graduates with a BA from the University of Toronto. Trains at CBC and helps on its first English TV broadcast, on Sept. 8, 1952.

1961: Directs Judy Garland TV special co-starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Shoots his first film, 40 Pounds of Trouble, in 1962.

1966: Draws FBI attention after release of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. Screens In the Heat of the Night in 1967.

1987: Releases Moonstruck, his 18th film. Opens the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto in 1988 at the former home of industrialist E. P. Taylor.

1999: Accepts Thalberg Award, the Academy's highest honour. Publishes memoir, This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me, in 2004.