Bert Schneider, the last producer to semi-successfully micro-manage Terrence Malick and keep him from his own self-indulgent tendencies by somehow persuading him to keep Days of Heaven down to a managable 94 minutes, died Monday at age 78.
After Heaven, Malick never made a lean, well-honed movie again. When he returned to filmmaking in the ’90s it was all pretty photography and leaves and alligators and voice-over and scrapping dialogue and expansive running times. Mister, we could use a man like Bert Schneider again.
An avowed leftie, Schneider was a renowned, down-to-business producer of late 1960s and ’70s classics such as Easy Rider (which Schneider reportedly honed into shape when director Dennis Hopper‘s undisciplined editing became problematic), Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. He also won a Best Documentary Oscar in 1975 for Hearts and Minds.
In his landmark book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” Peter Biskind called Schneider “the eminence grise of the American New Wave.”
From Wiki’s account of the post-production of Days of Heaven:
“After the production finished principal photography in ’76, the editing process took over two years to complete. Malick had a difficult time shaping the film and getting the pieces to go together. Schneider reportedly showed some footage to director Richard Brooks, who was considering Gere for a role in Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
“According to Schneider, the editing for Days of Heaven took so long that ‘Brooks cast Gere, shot, edited and released Looking for Mr. Goodbar while Malick was still editing.’
“A breakthrough came when Malick experimented with voice-overs from Linda Manz‘s character, similar to what he had done with Sissy Spacek in Badlands. According to editor Billy Weber, Malick jettisoned much of the film’s dialogue, replacing it with Manz’s voice-over, which served as an oblique commentary on the story.
“After a year, Malick had to call the actors to Los Angeles to shoot inserts of shots that were necessary but had not been filmed in Alberta. The finished film thus includes close-ups of Shephard that were shot under a freeway overpass. The underwater shot of Gere’s falling face down into the river was shot in a large aquarium in Sissy Spacek’s living room.
“Meanwhile, Schneider was upset with Malick. He had confronted Malick numerous times about missed deadlines and broken promises. Due to further cost overruns, he had to ask Paramount for more money, which he preferred not to do.”
Biskind quoted Brooke Hayward, Dennis Hopper’s first wife, as saying, “Bert was the heroic savior of that movie. Without him, there would never have been an Easy Rider.”