''Thin Red Line'' brings controversy to the Oscars
Producers and egos clash over Terrance Malick's award nominated war film
While searching the audience for reaction shots, the camera failed to pick up one remarkable detail in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion: two mysteriously empty seats at the back of the auditorium.
They should have been filled by Bobby Geisler and John Roberdeau, producers of Best Picture nominee The Thin Red Line. Nine years ago they had lured Terrence Malick out of seclusion to direct the film but became estranged from him because of credit issues and personal reasons. On Malick’s side were Twentieth Century Fox and Phoenix Pictures, which threatened to erase Geisler’s and Roberdeau’s names from the film when they spoke publicly about their tumultuous relationship with the director. To keep their credit, they agreed to shut up and, in the event the film was nominated, stay home from the Oscars.
But when the World War II drama was honored with seven nominations, the Academy invited all three Line producers (the third, Grant Hill, has remained on good terms with Malick and the studio). Geisler and Roberdeau chose to play renegade and accept. ”John and I thought we had the right to attend because of our contribution to getting the film made,” says Geisler, and so the stage was set for a showdown. A few days before the ceremony, Variety reported that Malick wouldn’t attend if the two producers were there. On Friday morning, Geisler booked a limousine and later had his tuxedo fitted.
Meanwhile, Fox and Phoenix were demanding that the producers return their tickets. ”They signed an agreement, and we wanted them to live up to it,” says Phoenix chairman and CEO Mike Medavoy. Even the Academy seemed to be weighing in. Geisler and Roberdeau were given seats 16 rows back from the other Line nominees. They were also placed in the middle of the row, which would have made it almost impossible for them to make it to the podium. Someone from seating guru Otto Spoerri’s office says that they were relegated to Siberia because they hadn’t confirmed their attendance by Saturday at 5 p.m.; in fact, the producers received their row X tickets by courier on Friday.
At around 2 p.m. on Sunday — with the limousine en route to fetch them — Geisler and Roberdeau decided not to attend. ”Ultimately, we went for closure and not another fight,” Geisler says. ”We wanted to do the graceful thing.” But because he ”didn’t want to face all the TV cameras,” says Grant Hill, the notoriously shy Malick was a no-show anyway. And so, ironically, all three combatants spent Oscar night elsewhere, while Shakespeare claimed the ultimate victory.
The Thin Red Line