Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Filming of Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Filming of Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Article excerpt

* "Each film has its own life. It dictates its own style," says filmmaker Hall Bartlett, the producer-director of "JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL", recently released by Paramount Pictures. "A lot of mistakes have been made by producers and directors when they have tried to impose the same style on all scripts. The auteur thing is for the birds, but not this bird film."

* He's in his New York hotel suite when he says this and he's speaking of his film version of the fantastically popular Richard Bach novel about a seagull who successfully strives for self-perfection, Bartlett had been determined, ever since buying the film rights to the soaring best-seller, that he would maintain the book's integrity in filmic terms. He believes that the story is so important to so many people that it had to be filmed with complete honesty, and yet reflect his own deep feelings about life, freedom and love. The decision was made at the outset to avoid animation in filming the story, and not to use people. The movie would be made entirely with trained and wild seagulls.

His credo while filming "JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL" was to stay flexible. "Many times we saved the film by remaining open to every new discovery, every new creative surge," he says. "If I hadn't stayed open, I would have built a trap for myself. Film was meant to be a creative art. I wanted everybody in my crew to give me ideas as often as they wished. We all contributed to this project."

It's the first relatively free moment that Bartlett has had to himself in days, what with top-level meetings, a press conference, reporters to see, contracts to negotiate, the myriad million business details to iron out in launching a film.

There's a call to California to check on personal matters, another call, again to California, again personal.

A third call to room service to order a cheeseburger and iced tea and then he sits down on the couch to talk about the filming of "JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL", a project of such intense personal vision that he has spent most of the previous evening checking out the East Side theatres where the movie is to be booked.

Bartlett has personally supervised every aspect of "JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL" as if it were a child to be handled gently, something very human, something very fragile, something very real.

"I felt I had to make this film," he says, leaning back. "I feel very strongly that we're in an age in motion pictures, in all the arts and in life generally, of negativity. People feel that the cards are stacked against them personally so that no one can win.

"I think 'JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL' has been such a tremendous success as a novel because it is very positive on terms that any human being can relate to. It says that inside every person is the potential to be something more. By looking into yourself and knowing yourself and reaching for the best within yourself, you or I or anyone can have a different kind of life. That to me is the most needed thing of our time."

The star of the picture-playing the title role-is a Glaucous Gull, also known as Latus hyperboreus. A sturdy, robust type, the Glaucous is equipped with webbed feet, long pointed wings, a stout, hooked bill and generally a square tail. The webbed feet make him a natural for leaving his prints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Finding a seagull with the right personality to play Jonathan was not easy, but the one that eventually landed himself the role did so by hungrily biting at a piece of fried squid.

Early in the spring of 1972, Bartlett and bird trainer Gary Gero were lunching at a Cannery Row restaurant in Monterey. Seated by a window which had louvres on the bottom and a wooden platform outside, the two men noticed that the seagulls would flock on the platform for their lunchtime snack-bits of rolls tossed at them by the restaurant's customers.

"I noticed one bird," Bartlett says, "who was very aggressive. …

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