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Filmmakers Launch Campaign To Complete Unfinished Orson Welles Film


A conversation now about the pieces Orson Welles left behind.


ORSON WELLES: (As Charles Foster Kane) Rosebud.

CORNISH: Orson Welles directed, produced and starred in "Citizen Kane" when he was 25. With its nonlinear story and unconventional lighting, camerawork and sound, "Citizen Kane" is considered one of the best movies of all time. It also marks the director's artistic peak. Though Orson Welles had other critical successes after 1941, his later years are littered with underfunded and half-finished projects. Now, 30 years after his death, one of those movies is the subject of a crowdsourcing campaign.


SUSAN STRASBERG: (As Juliet Rich) Did you know that when his own production company goes public, that your friend there stands to walk away with $40 million?

PETER BOGDANOVICH: (As Brooks Otterlake) Yeah, and she's going to say that I'm just going to keep on writing, that I stole everything from you, Skipper; I'm never going to walk away from that.

JOHN HUSTON: (As J.J. Hannaford) Well, it's all right to borrow from each other. What we must never do is borrow from ourselves.


CORNISH: That's a fragment of "The Other Side Of The Wind." Welles filmed it in the early 1970s. Two of the men who want to piece the full movie together join me now from our studios near Los Angeles. Actor-director Peter Bogdanovich, welcome to the program.


CORNISH: And producer Filip Jan Rysmza, welcome to the program as well.

FILIP JAN RYMSZA: Pleasure to be here.

CORNISH: Now, we should mention, Peter Bogdanovich, that we heard you in that clip from "The Other Side Of The Wind" along with John Huston and Susan Strasberg. In a nutshell, can you describe what the movie's about?

BOGDANOVICH: It takes place in one day. John Huston plays a kind of macho, famous movie director. And it's his 70th birthday and a friend of his is throwing a party for him - a big party - and everybody's invited, all kinds of film students, press. We find out at the beginning of the movie that John Huston's character died in a car accident that night. So what you're seeing in the movie is the last day and night of his life. He's desperately trying to finish a film that his leading man has walked out on. He needs more money. He's in bad shape - Huston's character.

CORNISH: And we mentioned other unfinished projects, but this one was notable because of its difficulties in terms of finance and production and, obviously, complex legal problems. Filip Jan Rysmza, can you talk a little bit about why it was never finished?

RYMSZA: To start with, Orson was self-financing the film. Two, three years into the film, he found a backer who was the brother-in-law to the Shah of Iran. That relationship became strained, and from that point forth, Orson was editing and trying to regain full control of the rights. After Orson's death in 1985, he left his estate in a state of disarray, so many people tried to acquire those rights and unite them. The negative was under court order in Paris, awaiting three different parties to agree of a method by which to finish the film. Finally, last year, we were able to unite those three parties.

CORNISH: I understand that he left a lot of notes.

RYMSZA: Not only that, Orson left a work print - 40 minutes of the picture that we'd consider locked or very close to being locked. And beyond that, an assembly, as well as his annotated shooting script and then a cutting script and then correspondence memos with his editors. There's a wealth of information. And what we've been working on since November is to create a blueprint by which we could finish the film and sourcing it back from that negative that even Orson himself didn't have access to.

CORNISH: Peter Bogdanovich, what's it been like for you? I mean, this person was your friend.

BOGDANOVICH: Well, it's been very difficult because Orson, sometime in the mid-'70s at lunch one day, out of the blue asked me to please promise him that I would finish the film if anything ever happened to him. I was shocked and said, why would you say such a thing? Nothing's going to happen to you. And he said I know, but if it does, I want you to promise me you'll finish the picture. And I said, of course I would. And he died, as Filip said, in 1985, and I've been trying to get the power to finish it since then. So it's been a long haul, and I feel bad for Orson because it was kind of an important picture for him.

CORNISH: So help us understand what it would take to really finish the film in terms of funding.

RYMSZA: We're looking to raise $2 million for the technical completion of the film, as well as hiring some key collaborators.

CORNISH: You both have described an ambitious project, and even with his notes and the material that's left, is it artistically intimidating?

BOGDANOVICH: Well, sure. I mean, it's, you know - I'm not Orson Welles. I'll never be Orson Welles and nobody's Orson Welles, and he's not here. And a lot of his ideas were impromptu. I mean, he would come up with something right on the - you know, right at the moment. We won't have that, but we'll just do the best we can. And he did leave an enormous number of information as to how to proceed. I think it'll be all right. I think it'll be fine in the long run.

CORNISH: Well, Peter Bogdanovich, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BOGDANOVICH: Oh, my pleasure.

CORNISH: And Filip Jan Rysmza, thank you for talking with us as well.

RYMSZA: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: Peter Bagdanovich and Filip Jan Rysmza - they're finishing Orson Welles's film "The Other Side Of The Wind." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.