John Calley has always followed two golden rules: Trust your gut and trust your filmmaker. This philosophy has served him well during a half century bringing movies to life on the bigscreen.
Calley, a New Jersey native, cut his teeth in TV before producing movies like “The Americanization of Emily” and “Catch-22” with Martin Ransohoff in the early 1960s. But he really made his mark during a long and fruitful run heading production at Warner Bros. It would be the first of three studio gigs for Calley.
When Calley arrived at the Burbank lot in the late ’60s, he made a conscious decision to avoid imposing his will on filmmakers the way earlier studio bosses had. Consequently, filmmakers loved him.
He developed a close relationship with Stanley Kubrick and Clint Eastwood; he bought Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” and encouraged him to make “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” a complete change of pace.
The trick to greenlighting movies, Calley explained last year, is to understand the process and its terrors.
“It’s a guy lying in a bed in a rented apartment in Century City at four in the morning in a fetal position trying to decide whether or not to say yes to a $175 million budget for ‘Spider-Man,’ ” he says in a companion interview for “You Must Remember This,” a docu about Warners. “It comes down to one guy who has to use his gut.”
The sheer variety of movies during the Calley era speaks to his eclectic taste: The studio released “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Exorcist,” “All the President’s Men” and “Klute” during that period, as well as “Dirty Harry” and “Every Which Way but Loose.”
By 1981, Calley was ready for a break. He dropped out of Hollywood for a dozen years, avoiding all movies save the two he produced with longtime friend Mike Nichols, director of “Catch-22.” And one of those — 1993’s “The Remains of the Day” — earned Calley his sole Oscar nomination.
He began his second act as a studio boss in 1993 at cash-strapped United Artists, where he helped revive the Bond franchise with “GoldenEye” before decamping to Sony. During his seven-year tenure running that studio, he greenlit pricey movies like “Spider-Man” and “Charlie’s Angels.”
Calley stepped down to produce again in late 2003; his credits include “Closer” (with Nichols) and this year’s sequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons.”
Running a studio can get boring after a while, Calley admitted a few years ago to fellow travelers Peter Bart and Peter Guber on “Sunday Morning Shootout.” “What must be said is, the money’s good.”