Saul Zaentz (born February 28, 1921; died January 3, 2014) was an American film producer and former record company executive. He won the Academy Award for Best Picture three times and in 1996 won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He is known for having founded the Saul Zaentz Company, which held many artistic rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's creations through Middle-earth Enterprises.
A prolific reader, Zaentz typically produced unoriginal screenplays in his drama career. His last production, Goya's Ghosts, is an exception, being an original story by Jean-Claude Carrière and Miloš Forman.
Zaentz was born to immigrant Jewish parents in Passaic, New Jersey. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he began realizing his passion for music as a distributor for Granz's Jazz Record company, a job that included managing concert tours for greats like Duke Ellington and Stan Getz.
In 1955 he joined Fantasy Records, for many years the largest independent jazz record label in the world. In 1967, Zaentz and other partners purchased the label from founders Max and Sol Weiss. The partners signed roots-rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival, fronted by former Fantasy warehouseman John Fogerty.
Fantasy Records owns the distribution and publishing rights to the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Zaentz had a long-running dispute about this with former CCR singer/songwriter Fogerty. Zaentz sued Fogerty for plagiarizing himself — to the tune of $140 million. The songs, "Zanz Kant Danz", "The Old Man Down the Road", and "Mr. Greed" from Fogerty's album Centerfield are thinly veiled slams at Zaentz.
Zaentz brought a series of lawsuits against Fogerty, claiming defamation of character for the lyric "Zanz can't dance but he'll steal your money", and also claiming that the fundamental music in "The Old Man Down the Road" was a lift from the Fantasy-copyrighted-but-Fogerty-written song "Run Through the Jungle" from CCR's smash 1970 album Cosmo's Factory. Zaentz won on the defamation issue, forcing Warner Bros. and Fogerty to change the title and lyric to "Vanz Can't Dance", but lost on the copyright issue as a jury found Fogerty not liable. Fogerty in turn claimed the label misled him about investing and managing his earnings from royalties, resulting in a devastating financial loss. Years later, when Zaentz sold his interest in Fantasy, Fogerty almost immediately re-signed with the label.
Around 2005, Zaentz and theater producer Kevin Wallace set to producing The Lord of the Rings musical, based on a script and lyrics by dramatists Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus. It was a very expensive endeavor, performed only in 2006.
Zaentz has received the Best Picture Oscar for three films, two of them directed by Miloš Forman—One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984)—as well as for The English Patient (1996), directed by Anthony Minghella.
In the early 1970s he saw the stage adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at a theatre in the Jackson Square area of San Francisco. Zaentz co-produced the film adaptation with Michael Douglas. The film won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, which Zaentz and Douglas shared.
In 1976 Zaentz acquired certain rights in J.R.R. Tolkien's books of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In 1978 he produced an animated version of The Lord of the Rings, written chiefly by Peter S. Beagle and directed by animator Ralph Bakshi. Through Tolkien Enterprises, Saul Zaentz then owned the worldwide film, stage, and merchandise rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
In 1980 Zaentz created The Saul Zaentz Film Center in Berkeley, California, an editing and sound-mixing studio for his own films, independent filmmakers and Hollywood productions.
In 1984 Zaentz and Forman collaborated again, on the adaptation of the Peter Schaffer's stage play Amadeus about composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It won eight Academy Awards, including Zaentz's second Best Picture, and spun off a best-selling soundtrack album (distributed by Fantasy Records).
Zaentz's following film, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, adapted by Jean-Claude Carrière from the book by Peter Matthiessen, shot by Hector Babenco on location in the Amazon rain forest, continued Mosquito Coast's theme of the clash of western values with the primitive.
In 1992 Zaentz purchased the rights to the unpublished novel The English Patient and worked up a scenario with author Michael Ondaatje. In developing the project Zaentz resisted attempts by his backers to make the story more acceptable to a mainstream audience by casting of Demi Moore in a leading part. The book was adapted for the screen and directed by Anthony Minghella. English Patient swept the 1997 Academy Awards, winning Best Director for Minghella and Best Picture for Zaentz. At the 69th Academy Awards Zaentz also accepted The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement.
In 2004-2005 Zaentz and partners sold Fantasy Records to independent jazz label Concord Records, and closed the Saul Zaentz Film Center.
In 2005-2006 Zaentz embarked on a new film project, Goya's Ghosts, centered on events in the life of Spanish painter Francisco Goya, starring Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgård, and featuring Randy Quaid as the king of Spain. The film is being made with long-time collaborators Miloš Forman (director) and Jean-Claude Carrière (screenplay). Shot on location in Spain and edited in New York, the film was released in late 2006 release.
Currently, the rights to his pre-1990 films are owned by Warner Bros., which acquired them from Republic Pictures in 1998 (with the exception of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, acquired from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 2003).
Zaentz was peripherally involved in the controversy about who would make a projected live-action film version of The Hobbit, because he owned the film rights to that novel. Peter Jackson, who directed the successful The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, was originally scheduled to direct The Hobbit.
However, Jackson's production company, Wingnut Films questioned New Line Cinema's accounting methods, bringing in an outside auditor as allowed by the contract, and eventually sued New Line. New Line executive Robert Shaye took great offense, declared that they would never work with Jackson again, and began looking for another director.
Jackson said that he couldn't work on the film until the lawsuit was settled, and that he was apparently off the project indefinitely. MGM, which owns the distribution rights, was more optimistic that a deal could be worked out.
Shaye explained his company's position, saying that New Line's contract with Zaentz was going to expire soon, which forced them to find a new director. Of course, if the litigation were resolved, by a court or by a settlement, the original plan could proceed, but then New Line might need to reorganize to allow someone other than Shaye to deal with Jackson.
The situation was made more complex by Zaentz's ongoing dispute with New Line Cinema over profits from the Lord of the Rings film. The dispute began shortly after the release of the films. In December 2007 Variety reported that Zaentz was also suing New Line Cinema, alleging that the studio has refused to make records available so that he could confirm his profit-participation statements are accurate.
The Saul Zaentz Film Center
Along with American Zoetrope and Lucasfilm, it was one of only three major film production facilities in Northern California. By 2005, it has largely shut down its post-production facilities, except for the foley recording studio, which is part of the still-active Fantasy Recording Studios.
The film center was sold in 2007 and, after renovations, became the Zaentz Media Center. It continues to house The Saul Zaentz Company, Concord Music Group, and Fantasy Studios, as well the Berkeley Digital Film Institute and other media production companies.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
- The Lord of the Rings
- Three Warrior
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being
- The Mosquito Coast
- At Play in the Fields of the Lord
- The English Patient
- Goya's Ghosts
- ↑ Goya's Ghosts (2006)
- ↑ John Fogerty is Closer to Peace with a Label, New York Times, 2005
- ↑ John Fogerty News on Yahoo! Music
- ↑ Zaentz, New Line in court - Entertainment News, Film News, Media - Variety
- ↑ Zaentz Media Center
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