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Minghella’s death leaves cultural void

Director was mentor-consultant to many projects

When Anthony Minghella died March 18, more than a dozen projects — in film, TV, theater and opera — were left in limbo.

But the ripple effect goes well beyond those comparative few. Minghella served as a mentor-consultant-friend to many projects he wasn’t officially tied to. Colleagues and friends agree they cannot recall another contemporary artist who cut such a wide swath through so many sectors of pop culture and who was as generous in helping associates.

Tim Bevan, co-chairman (with Eric Fellner) of Working Title, says, “Over the last 20 years, he showed a fantastic ability to encourage and help with all sorts of films he was not officially part of,” mentioning his pre-production assistance on such pics as “Atonement” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.”

“He knew how difficult it is to make films, so he was an insider helping as an outsider, helping the writer or director focus on what they needed.”

The chief of one important film company, who asked not to be quoted, agrees that his help extended to all stages of film production. “It was not at all uncommon for Anthony to get a panicky call, and turn up on the set of a film to help with a quick rewrite or counsel a director. He would drop anything to help.”

Minghella has a tiny role at the end of “Atonement,” as the TV director interviewing Vanessa Redgrave’s character.

He was cast in the role, says Bevan, because, “He’d been a friend of the movie. In the preproduction phase, he helped Joe (Wright, the director) focus on what the film was about, talking with him and questioning him, getting him to realize what he wanted to say.”

On the Los Angeles set of “The Soloist,” Wright recalls Minghella’s contributions. “I spent a number of evenings with him at his office, and he just asked me lots of very annoying questions, all questions that were extremely pertinent and needed to be asked. He helped me to understand the film I was making.”

Wright continues, “His mind was extraordinarily sharp. It was through discussions with him that we came up with that final scene of Cecilia and Robbie on the beach together, that little piece of heaven that they find.”

His intellect and assistance applied in other media as well, confirms Peter Gelb, topper of the Metropolitan Opera, where Minghella directed the 2006 “Madama Butterfly” and had two others in the planning stages.

“When he established a creative friendship with someone, he stuck to it,” Gelb says. “He had a creative posse around him. There were a lot of people who felt they had long-term, if not lifetime collaborations with him.”

Colin Vaines of Graham King Films, who worked with Minghella as executive veep for European production at Miramax and the Weinstein Co., says, “Ant was unbelievably diverse. The amazing thing to me was how he could do a very complicated development meeting on a project while being in the middle of cutting a film and preparing an opera!”

Vaines continues, “He loved multitasking, and his taste in material was so wide, from comedies to dramas to everything in between. Provided the material was reflective of the full range of human psychology, he could bring so much to the table — his insights into people were so special.”

“We are grateful that he has left us a body of work that lives on and I am committed to ensuring his projects are completed and protected,” said Weinstein Company honcho Harvey Weinstein.

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan met Minghella through the filmmaker’s actor son Max. Lonergan brought his script for “Margaret” to Mirage Enterprises, the production company Minghella founded with Sydney Pollack.

Lonergan found Minghella a “calm, level-headed, loving supportive presence” who took young directors seriously. “He told me, ‘When Sydney looks at a script of mine, he shakes the tree pretty hard to see what will stay in and what will fall out, because I’ve always found that useful.’ I told him not to shake my tree so hard because I was not as thick-skinned as he was.”

Bevan concurs, “Anthony would always say Sydney was a ruthless producer, but in fact Anthony was also a ruthless producer. He was always saying, ‘Get rid of that, cut that bit,’ always getting rid of the fat” in an endless effort to tighten and improve the films.

Though several Mirage Enterprises projects will come to fruition, the company’s future is up in the air, given Pollack’s illness.

The BBC/HBO “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” pulled in more than 6 million viewers (nearly one-third of the total viewing audience) in its March 23 debut on the Beeb. HBO’s 13-part series will likely continue with the involvement of Richard Curtis and Mirage’s Tim Bricknell.

In production, “The Reader” will likely rest in the hands of producer Scott Rudin, but a once-rumored fall release by TWC is now unlikely; and Shekhar Kapur will take over directing of the Minghella-penned segment of the series of short films, “New York, I Love You.”

And Mirage-HBO Films’ “Recount,” about Florida’s role in the 2000 presidential election, is on track, with Danny Strong’s script and Jay Roach directing, after Pollack bowed out.But a number of Mirage and TWC projects have less certain fates: Scribe Hossein Amini’s adaptation of “The Amulet of Samarkand”; Aline Brosh McKenna’s “I Don’t Know How She Does It”; an unannounced adaptation with David O. Russell; and “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax,” based on Liz Jensen’s novel, which Minghella was to write and helm (an insider says he had not yet begun a draft).

With Miramax, Mirage was developing “The Resurrectionists” based on Michael Collins’ novel.Helmer John Madden recently came onboard.

While at Sony music, Gelb met Minghella as he assembled the soundtrack for “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

“It became clear he was a very unusual film director,” Gelb says. “He was expert and knowledgeable in classical music and jazz.”

Gelb says he anticipated a lifetime of collaboration and had commissioned Minghella to write a libretto for an opera, “Daedalus,” with Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, which Minghella was slated to direct in the 2011-12 season.

“Daedalus” Gelb says, “Was inspired (and begun) by Minghella and died with him.” He was also slated to direct a new production of “Eugene Onegin” to open the Met’s 2012-13 season.

“There is a hole for the Met with his loss,” Gelb says.

That sentiment is echoed by Bevan, talking about the U.K. film scene.

“As Alan Parker said, this is of course a tragic human loss, but it’s also a major cultural loss; this man’s work was not finished.

“It’s a little bit more lonely here now. It leaves a big hole in British cinema. There’s nobody around who can step into those shoes.”

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