Making The Elephant Man

A Producer’s Memoir


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About the Book

The true story of John (Joseph) Merrick—a.k.a. the Elephant Man—has captured the imagination of generations of audiences, critics, actors and filmmakers. In 1978, producer Jonathan Sanger received a screenplay from two unknown writers about a hideously disfigured man who refused to fall victim to despair and instead exemplified human dignity. Reading it (twice), Sanger was determined that Merrick’s story would be told.
This book is Sanger’s unvarnished first-person account of how The Elephant Man (1980) was made. His adventure in filmmaking—itself a study in triumph over despair—involved special effects nightmares, scheduling conflicts, location issues and many risky decisions. Assembling a team that included Mel Brooks (executive producer), David Lynch (director) and actors John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins, Sanger persevered in making this inspiring, award-winning film.

About the Author(s)

Jonathan Sanger, an Academy Award–winning producer, film, theater and television producer and director, media advisor, and entertainment financial consultant, has lead initiatives in every sector of the entertainment industry. His writing has appeared in magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and filmmaking handbooks. He lives and works in Los Angeles and New York City.

Bibliographic Details

Jonathan Sanger

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 208
Bibliographic Info: 53 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6662-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2731-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1
1. The Babysitter’s Boyfriend’s Script 3
2. Mel Comes on Board 9
3. Jimmy Stewart on Venus 17
4. “This is Pinocchio” 25
5. Principal Casting 31
6. The Green Light 40
7. Finding Allies 49
8. Live Human Freaks Required 58
9. “The darkest times of my life” 65
10. Meeting John Merrick 71
11. Shooting Begins 80
12. “This is going to work” 91
13. Happy Every Hour of the Day 105
14. Post-Production 111
15. First Audiences 124
16. From Disaster to Triumph 133
17. “We got eight!” 147
18. Life Lessons 159
Afterword 166
Appendix: A Pictorial Storyboard of The Elephant Man 173
Chapter Notes 190
Bibliography 193
Index 195

Book Reviews & Awards

• “An exceptional, insightful, compelling, and impressively information account”—Midwest Book Review

• “Jonathan Sanger’s book on the making of The Elephant Man is more than a ‘memoir’ of the film. Yes, it is an intimate recollection of the hundreds of daily details demanded to bring a movie from an idea or ‘pitch’ to its theatrical release—but it also is a guide for any producer or filmmaker to understand why the human factor of personal connection is, finally, what makes a mere movie a work of universal art.”—John Bailey, cinematographer, film maker and recent president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

• “This work is fantastic. For one thing: you tell the truth…who behaved well, who didn’t; who was difficult. It drives me crazy that everyone always pretends on movies that everything was perfect…which means no accountability, no reckoning…egos spinning out of control. For another: you don’t spare yourself. A third: you give the real day-to-day experience. This is what it’s really like, folks. This is how close we came to disaster. This is where one false move would have sunk us… And so on. Lastly: you have a sense of humor. Without which, life would be intolerable. It’s a really invaluable book.”—Nick Kazan, screenwriter and playwright, Academy Award winner for Reversal of Fortune

• “I don’t believe I’ve ever read this honest a book about producing. Sanger takes us from the unlikely beginnings of this long shot project through to the completion of one of the finest films of the last fifty years. Along the way he shows how much luck, intuition, talent, and rock solid faith went into its creation.”—Stephen Ujlaki, Dean, School of Television and Film, Loyola Marymount University