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02/09/2001 - Making Choices, Making A Difference

How To Produce Movies for Television

"In the long run we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."

-- Eleanor Roosevelt

Making Choices, Making A Difference

Producers are often confronted with making choices. We all know the fish stories about the big one that got away. The year was 1969. The first book that we had ever optioned was a biography, "Duet for A Lifetime," by Kay Hunter. It was the story of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins.

We were convinced that this true story was a winner. It had all the ingredients: brothers conjoined at the hip who were encouraged by their mother to live life to the fullest. She taught her sons that "two can do it better than one." Chang and Eng toured the world with P.T. Barnum's circus, performed before royalty, settled in a small town in North Carolina where they dared to court and marry two sisters. They raised a total of 2l children between them.

The brothers were gradually accepted by the townspeople and became involved in local politics. One brother used to drink, smoke, and stay up late at night playing poker with his cronies. The other brother fell asleep by his side.

During their world travels, Chang and Eng longed to live lives independent of each other. They had consulted with many surgeons in the hope that they could be separated but in the end had decided against surgery because it was too risky. Undaunted, they resolved to live their lives as best as they could, connected to their dying day.

We brought "Duet for A Lifetime" to a number of established producers, writers, directors and stars. No one wanted to touch the project. Many people felt that a movie about Siamese twins would be "too disquieting" and that it would turnoff an audience.
We mentioned Tod Browning's classic cult movie, "Freaks," which was a story about sideshow performers. That movie had succeeded on its own terms. We argued that "Duet for A Lifetime" was a positive movie about two courageous brothers who were determined to overcome their disability and live full and productive lives.

In succeeding years, other biographical books were written about Chang and Eng Bunker. Most recently, Darin Strauss, a first-time novelist came up with a brilliant idea. He wrote a fictional account of Chang and Eng Bunker, getting inside their heads. It was a brilliant approach to a "disquieting" subject. The author's humane depiction of a very human dilemma hit the bullseye. He has sold his book to a major studio as a feature film and has also been hired to write the screenplay.

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And Julie Taymor, the director of the hit musical, "The Lion King," has been signed to direct the feature film version of Chang and Eng.

In addition to the movie, a successful musical about Chang and Eng that is currently running in Singapore will be brought to Broadway.

We were ahead of our time. Are we discouraged by the events shaping this timeless story that deserved to be told? Of course not. It only serves to remind us that we have good instincts.

We're all confronted with making choices. As producers, it's important to carefully select which projects merit our time, energy, and undivided attention. There are no simple or easy choices. So choose wisely.

We leave you with the words of the great American poet, Carl Sandburg:

"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."


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