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Jerry Weintraub talks about his ‘gutsy’ movies including new Liberace biopic

Producer is in Zurich to receive the festival’s career achievement award and to give a masterclass.

Legendary American producer Jerry Weintraub says that despite his 40-year track record with the likes of The Karate Kid, Ocean’s Eleven, and Diner, getting films financed is still tough with certain projects.

For instance, his new biopic about Liberace “was very hard to finance, but I did it,” he told Screen in Zurich. “Hollywood action films or comic book adaptations or Batman or whatever – those things travel well internationally. Just stories about people don’t necessarily travel internationally, which is a shame. And I basically make stories about people.”

He says that “international is the market now” yet “the creative juices for the big movies and the films that work internationally comes out of America.” He adds: “I don’t think about that stuff. I don’t have to, luckily I’m going to be 75 on Wednesday and I have made a lot of movies. I continue to make the ones I want to make. I think about box office of course, and I’ve had a huge amount of success at the box office internationally, I hope that will continue. But I wouldn’t NOT make a movie because I thought it wouldn’t work in a certain territory. I make movies that I want to make, that I’m passionate about. I have a creative streak and I want to do things that interest me.”

The Liberace project, Behind The Candelabra, is directed by Steven Soderbergh based on Richard LaGravenese’s script, stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his driver/lover Scott Thorson. “It’s a gutsy movie to make, not a lot of people would make it,” says Weintraub. “The two actors are brilliant in it, and they went full out, they didn’t hold back…It’s a wonderful film, I’m really happy with it. When the last book is written about me, that will be one of the most important things I ever did. I’m sure.” The film is now finished and set for release in mid-2013.

His forthcoming projects include Tarzan with Harry Potter director David Yates, and a project closer to home – Triumph – based on the life stuntman Bud Ekins, the father of his partner and executive producer Susie Ekins. “He was Steve McQueen’s double and he did the jump in The Great Escape and the driving in Bullitt. It’s the story of him and McQueen and two other guys who came over to Europe and won motorcycle races. It’s a pretty hot story. It’s a lot of women, a lot of booze.”

Weintraub is also busy writing another book, this one about “how you stay relevant and how can communicate with young people and become a teacher and a mentor.”

That spirit of mentoring brought him to Zurich for the first time this week, where he delivered a public masterclass on Monday. “It’s a great thrill for me to be able to give people inspiration and get them on the right track,” he said. “I had so much help when I was coming up.”

The top advice he gives? “I say ‘Look, if you have the passion and you have the idea don’t let anybody dissuade you. Just go for it.’ Every project I’ve ever done I’ve always had somebody say to me, that’s not going to work. You can’t do that. And if they tell me I can’t do that I know I have a hit.”

Weintraub received ZFF’s Career Achievement Award on Wednesday night. It was his first time in the city. “I’m extraordinarily impressed with it. It’s a terrific place,” he said. I never think I deserve an award until they hand it to me, and then I think I deserve them [laughs].”

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