Making a move in movies A Gilman grad, 26, is already producing films

July 01, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

What makes Jonathan run?

Not the prospect of wealth. He's not some hungry poor boy with a taste for the pleasures of the show biz fast lane, who yearns to be seen on the strip in a Benz 300SE, dark green. He's the son of a prosperous Baltimore businessman and a distinguished Goucher English professor and his course through life, while rigorous, has not exactly been full of a slum kid's hard knocks: he graduated from Gilman in 1985 and from Brandeis in 1989.

What makes Jonathan run? Certainly not a need for validation from a larger world indifferent to his presence. The world has already noticed him: the prep school graduation was summa cum laude and the college graduation Phi Beta Kappa. Oh, and he's also a great tennis player (twice an NCAA scholar-athlete). Wouldn't you know it?

But run he has, hard and fast -- and well.

Jonathan Cordish, all of 26 and still with the dewy whiskerless chin of a choirboy, who looks strangely awkward in a sports coat and tie as if they're grown-up clothes lent him by his dad, has produced his first film and has won a prestigious University of Southern California film school grant to produce another.

If there's a fast lane, he's either found it or getting close to it.

And at the same time he's done the degrading movie things, the Sammy Glick things, the hustling, schmoozing, kibitzing and groveling that it takes to get ahead in the cruelest of all businesses.

"I've gotten coffee for people and been an assistant and answered phones and booked airline tickets, everything to get a project, to meet people, to get talked about or introduced."

But . . . why?

Well, maybe it's unseemly to ask and maybe he doesn't quite know himself.

But . . .

"I was always interested in film in college. Theater and film were my passions. But I had worked in real estate, with my father (who develops real estate projects through his firm, The Cordish Co.). But I had no connections. I just made the commitment and I saw in film a chance to merge art and commerce."

Unlike so many who have banaldreams of "making it in show biz" (the L.A. valet parking lots are full of them; they're the ones who say, "Your keys, sir?"), Mr. Cordish has a shrewdly realistic view of what's going on.

"Basically, you need two things to succeed in that industry. You need a business side. You have to understand the numbers or they'll eat you alive. And, through my father, I've worked in real estate, so I get the numbers. But I love the creative aspects of it too. But to protect the creative visions you have to be able to understand the numbers."

Dark, intense and as serious as a tightly wound Swiss watch, Mr. Cordish was minutes out of the first large (i.e. non screening-room) showing of "Midnight Edition" at the Senator on a recent weekday morning for about a hundred or so of his friends and others in Baltimore's independent film community. The movie is an ambitious independent feature with Will Patton that Mr. Cordish co-produced while on leave from U.S.C.'s graduate film school.

The movie was shot on location in Georgia. It's a psychological thriller about a newspaper reporter (Mr. Patton) who gets so involved with his biggest story that he loses all perspective. Not a good career move when the big story is a white-trash psychopath who wipes out a family that has taken him in for dinner because he wants to introduce them to the devil. Things get more complicated when the killer escapes from death row.

Mr. Cordish produced it with two American Film Institute grads, Ehud Epstein and Howard Libov, and Mr. Libov directed in a moody, affected art-noir style. It's an entirely presentable first effort.

"Next, we take it through the September-October film festival cycle, as part of an ongoing process to get it a distributor. It deserves the right niche in the market, and has to be sold very carefully, with sensitive marketing."

Whether or not that happens, of course, remains to be seen. What has been seen is that the actual hands-on process of making an independent film was invaluable.

"In that kind of environment, there's not the rigorous segmentizing of studio films. You just don't do one thing. I wasn't just a co-producer who crunched numbers and refereed. I drove trucks, I worked on the script, I negotiated with the Georgia Film Commission. It was a great education."

For now, Mr. Cordish has returned to U.S.C. where he's the recipient of a "480," a grant to produce a project from his own screenplay, an honor previously won by such well-known film figures as George Lucas (whose "THX-1138" started out as a 480), John Milius, Bob Zemeckis and Phil Joanou.

His film is called "Lost Mojave," which he describes as a quiet piece about a boy and his grandmother living alone in the desert, as influenced by Sam Shepard's work.

And after that? "I'm sure we'll all be working for him someday," said his father, who should know.

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