When they use the word maverick in Hollywood, producer Edward Bass certainly fits the bill. The producer of Emilio Esteve's “Bobby” and episodes with Lindsay Lohan, producing with Anthony Hopkins and many more, makes Bass one of a kind. Golden Globe nominee Bass is often quoted as saying, "It is too easy not to be in production." He's had five independently financed pictures in the span of two short years. That almost never happens in Hollywood. Bass' challenging life exploits have provided him with the insights, drive and creativity to be a Hollywood player, because, as one keeps hearing: It ain't easy.
He's attacked complex stories with particularly interesting results. He's also chosen interesting faces for his movies' characters, allowing the actors to bring a real sense of gravitas to the roles. Bass' indoctrination to the entertainment world began early in life when his family, between ski trips, weekends in New York and vacations in Las Vegas, arranged backstage visits with notables such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Milton Berle (an artist he would later manage) and Harry Belafonte, who taught him how to water ski at Lake Mead.
During his years in Beverly Hills, his home was always a place for impromptu get-togethers and concerts. Bass went on to manage a range of talents, from ballerinas to boxers, including Julio Caesar Chavez. Under Bass' wing he became the highest priced super middleweight boxer in the history of the sport. Bass also produced such musicals and events as Bob Hope Day, "Great Moments on Stage," with The Nicholas Brothers and the musical "Stardust," with Toni Tenille and Tony Award winner Hinton Battle. He also arranged for President Gerald Ford and wife Betty to present his partner Stanley Kramer with a special accommodation before a roomful of Democrats at the unusual venue of the Roxbury Nightclub.
All the more amazing was that Bass was the only liberal among them. By orchestrating a public appearance between President Ronald Reagan and Ryan White, a young man expelled from school after becoming infected with the HIV virus from a contaminated blood treatment, Bass also played a major role in breaking the stigma of AIDS. This meeting led Reagan to publicly support AIDS research, which pushed even the Iran-Contra news event to the back pages. After founding a modeling agency in Paris, Bass went on to publish Metropolitan Magazine, and had over a hundred columns and political commentaries published worldwide. He is a past President of the American Foundation for the Performing Arts, and with Dick Clark, managed to arrange his famous "Night at the Improv," said to be the biggest night the club ever had. The comedic all star audience included eclectic talents such as the late Sam Kinnison, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paula Abdul, Red Buttons and Rosanne Barr. Bass is proud of each film he’s made and, he’s got several more in him. We met Bass at his headquarters in Tribeca:
IM: What would you say your key is to success as a producer, who has almost exclusively nurtured first time directors?
BASS: I think the key for success, for me, will be sticking with the same tough guidelines I have always insisted on with other first timers.
IM: How is the voice of the director different than that of a producer?
BASS: I can only speak about my experience as a producer and I have always been very hands on and collaborative with the director in all phases of the production. In certain films, there is very little difference, because as a producer I have always maintained control over script casting and final edit.
IM: The more I find out about this piece (Belle), the more fascinating I am. How would you describe the story?
BASS: The story is certainly unlike any other. The most incredible elements of it are not just the cinematographic fantasy of reality but the real life elements also.
IM: What are those realities?
BASS: For example a premise like 9/11 prior to 2001 would probably be too far out for the general public’s imagination to be believable. Here we have a woman, that prior to emails and all forms of modern globalized communication systems, armed only with a fountain pen and stationary, convinced forty nine men to travel thousands of miles with their life savings, to be killed. This is way beyond an MSNBC true crime story.
IM: Are there any actors attached yet? Who would be on your wish list?
BASS: People who have read the script have mentioned Angelina Jolie as a choice. However, I am focusing at the time being on the cinematographer, trying to find a person who shares our vision of the film. Belle will not be an easy role for any actress to play.
IM: What do you mean not an easy role?
BASS: Well I have to say, a certain amount of inspiration for this picture came from ‘In Cold Blood’ and many believe that Robert Blake’s role released an unforeseen amount of darkness from within. For me as a writer, living this character for over six months, let’s just say it can make you susceptible to a little bit of depression.
IM: You're also working on something called Ponzi... how timely! Tell us about it.
BASS: I was thinking that everybody is trying to do a story about the Ponzi scheme. However, people often forget the obvious. Whereas Belle was America’s most prolific serial killer, Charles Ponzi was the Lou Gehrig to Lou Gehrig’s disease. Ponzi is going to be a little bit like ‘The Sting’, but very much in keeping with the current zeitgeist, as we are in the aftermath of Madoff, AIG, Enron and the mortgage crisis.
IM: Tell us a bit about the other production principals in “Belle.”
BASS: Some of the main principals are Dipu Haque (owner of the restaurant Koi), Hubert Gibbs (heir apparent Baron of Wraxell), and investment magnet Christopher Beatty, among others.
IM: What was your role in Emilio Estevez’s “Bobby” like? As I understand it the script was around for seven years?
BASS: When I first read the script I did not realize that it had been across every desk in Hollywood, but I liked it. Somehow the egotistical side of me wanted to defy convention, and I stepped into an executive producer role.
IM: There is a rumor that you waited three days at the Chateau Marmont to cast Lindsay Lohan?
BASS: That is a bold faced lie. I waited two days, and on the third day she had the script. On the fourth day, she was at rehearsal, and several months later, she was shooting. I think she did a phenomenal job.
IM: And Sharon Stone?
BASS: Well with Sharon, she really was a big Bobby Kennedy fan and the company that I worked with at the time decided to support her pet project AMFAR and even until today, Bold Films continues to be one of the largest supporters of the AIDS charity.
IM: Bjorn Johnson, who is one terrific actor, is a co-producer on “Belle,” tell us a bit about him. Who was fantastic in that “Mad Men” segment ... and, on the finale to “ER.”
BASS: Well, at the Pasadena Playhouse, the LA Times said Bjorn dwarfed Michael Caine in “Educating Rita.” As a theatre director, his plays, although avant-garde, still have a mass appeal. He is a great sounding board and I have been able to utilize his theatre group to give me live readings on the script, which has been very helpful.
IM: What is Born Warriors?
BASS: Born Warriors is a new concept that takes handicapped would-be filmmakers and gives them access to material and industry experience. We have one young man who is an amputee and has MS doing stand up. Today, with the advent of the Internet, a whole host of opportunities has been created which should help those with ambitions in the film industry.
IM: You seem to have developed a reputation as a bit eccentric, is there any truth to that?
BASS: No not at all, I think the rest of the world is eccentric and I am quite normal.
IM: What was the highlight of your career?
BASS: Getting the circle of excellence in Washington, DC, and actually being in the White House treaty room were highlights. I realized that I had fared better than the Native Americans. However, the most meaningful thing to happen in my life was finding a kidney for Bandar, a young Afghan refugee. With a lot of help from my friends, he were able to send him and his family of seven to England.