Interview with his grandchild Eric Pommer about his grandfather
On July 20 this year the name patron of our institute would have turned 130 years. To celebrate this anniversary we talked with his grandson Eric Pommer about his grandfather who was one of the most important producers in the early 20th century.
What is the cinematic work of your grandfather that you are most proud of? Why?
This is a difficult question because the early pictures are fascinatingly filled with first-time innovations, such as the twist ending (DAS KABINETT DES DOKTOR CALIGARI), the "unchained" camera (DER LETZTE MANN), the zoom shot (METROPOLIS), the use of high and low angles (TARTUFFE). I also think of the only film my grandfather directed, THE BEACHCOMBER (VESSEL OF WRATH), where Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester are at the height of their powers, and everyone is clearly having a great deal of fun making the movie.
There is also his remarkable achievement in overseeing the rebuilding of the German film industry (including protecting the film industry from government censorship) after the war. But my grandfather's film that I am most proud of would be KINDER, MÜTTER UND EIN GENERAL, directed by László Benedek (immediately after his success directing Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONE). Although as an anti-war film it was politically unpopular at the time, this film is, I think, his greatest artistic triumph and was recognized with the Grand Prix de l'Union de la Critique de Cinéma and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. I don't mean the so-called German version (which Benedek wanted his name removed from) but the original version, which includes the "unhappy" ending to make its point.
How far did your grandfather influence yourself?
I was fortunate to know my grandfather from a very young age, even while he was producing his last movies. Then he was at home, and he would make a game of my homework - he would race me to see who could finish arithmetic problems first. So he made it fun for me to be a good student. We would play board games (marathon Monopoly games!), which encouraged me to think strategically. Even after he was gone, I watched his films and learned how they were made, saw how techniques were invented, and what made the films successful.
What does lifelong learning mean for you?
As an attorney, I have specific requirements for continuing legal education, but lifelong learning should go beyond mere professional obligations. Through books and online classes, I constantly work to keep up with the latest developments of subjects I studied in school or to learn new subjects that capture my interest. I think if we allow our minds to stagnate, we slip into rigid thinking and can only react to events. For me, lifelong learning is a holistic practice, a continuous forward progression expanding mind and spirit.
What do you think are today's challenges for producers?
Producers have the job to lead the team effort that creates the motion picture. The ultimate challenge is to create film art that is also commercially successful. This can seem very difficult today, where the emphasis for entertainment projects is on branding the product and creating a lucrative franchise - too often this just devolves into producing live-action cartoons.
My grandfather discovered the solution to this challenge. You can take genuine art and try to make it commercial, but you will only debase it. Start with a project that is commercially viable, and with attention you can turn it into genuine art. If this process is not ignored, every motion picture project can aspire to the highest artistic achievement.
What advice would you give to the Erich Pommer Institute for future work?
My grandfather had a genius for mentoring others - he constantly helped friends, colleagues and newcomers, and he enjoyed seeing their success. He freely shared his comprehensive knowledge of how to transform an idea into a film project, negotiate the rights, raise the funding, select the right director and creative team, manage production and postproduction, and oversee the marketing and distribution. In the early days, the focus was on the best camera technology, then sound technology, later television, - now it's digital camera technology and online content distribution that provides the most opportunities. It seems the online content providers support the most creative and innovative efforts of the motion picture industry.
EPI is already on top of the latest developments in technology, law, business, film production - and the diversity needed to produce the best and socially significant film entertainment. I'm confident that the EPI leadership and staff will continue to provide the best cutting-edge training. In doing so, I'd advise the EPI team to always remember to infuse enthusiasm, joy, and fun into the creative process, as my grandfather would do.
Thank you very much for the interview!
About Eric Pommer
Eric Pommer works as Attorney and Counselor at Law in Ventura, California. He is a member of the faculty of the Southern California Institute of Law, where he has taught Corporations Law, Business Organizations Law, Estate Planning, Wills & Trusts Law, Entertainment Law, Contracts Law, Legal Skills Training (Contracts and Litigation Drafting), and Federal Government Contracts Law. He currently also serves as Vice Dean of the law school's Ventura campus.