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Michael Fitzgerald

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (with Tommy Lee Jones, Luc Besson, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam)

Fitzgerald and Tommy Lee Jones hit it off 25 years ago, when the producer came close to casting the actor for the lead in “Wise Blood,” which Fitzgerald produced and co-wrote with brother Benedict from a novel by Flannery O’Connor. Both Fitzgerald and Jones shared mutual interests in hunting as well as in O’Connor’s work. O’Connor was the subject of Jones’ thesis at Harvard.

Genesis: In a September interview with Variety, actor-director Jones said that the idea for “Three Burials” was conceived during a hunting trip with Fitzgerald and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. “Having Guillermo onboard really inspired Tommy to contemplate a story about his part of the world,” says Fitzgerald.

Building blocks: Jones said he never shopped “Burials” around to the majors. Instead, he made one phone call to Luc Besson and Pierre-Ange Le Pogam’s EuropaCorp. “I had just finished making ‘Colour Me Kubrick’ with Europa and told Tommy that I had a fantastic experience with them,” says Fitzgerald. “These guys are superb financial partners. Unlike the American system, if they believe in you, they’ll write you a check and you won’t see them until the premiere. All of us met in the Bahamas, where Tommy had a great diving boat, which worked out well since Besson is an avid diver. After talking with Pierre and Luc for an hour, they funded the whole thing.”

While Westerns are box office poison overseas, Fitzgerald points out, “‘Western’ is an allegory. ‘Three Burials’ is rooted in the modern world and takes place in the West. Both Pierre and Luc were admirers of both Tommy and Guillermo, not to mention my work as a producer. They make decisions quickly and stick to them.”

Setback setback & solution: solution: “We were relying on West Texas weather. It’s rather pristine. During the last three days of shooting, there was a tremendous thunderstorm, the river washed out and we had to send the entire crew home. We thought the incident would cost us a tremendous amount of money. I phoned Luc and Pierre, and their response was simply, ‘We trust you.’ Hence, the entire crew assembled two weeks later to finish production.”

Career Mantra: “Only to make films that I really love. Otherwise, it becomes almost intolerable.”