To the general film-going public the name Howard Kazanjian will be meaningless. The more enlightened amongst us (naturally I’m referring to STARBURST readers) will know him as the producer of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi as well as once being Lucasfilm’s vice president of production. But before Kazanjian attained such lofty heights he had already achieved a storied career working with some of Hollywood’s greats.
J.W. Rinzler’s Howard Kazanjian: A Producer’s Life charts Kazanjian’s journey from his student days at the University Of Southern California School Of Cinema to the present day. It was whilst studying at USC that Kazanjian met fellow student George Lucas and we know how that turned out.
What is remarkable is how Kazanjian began his career as a DGA trainee in the dying days of the old studio system and transitioned effortlessly to new Hollywood. He worked with Sam Peckinpah on The Wild Bunch, and from reading the accounts of that experience, Peckinpah’s maverick reputation is completely justified. It’s astounding how nobody was killed. Working with Hitchcock on Family Plot was a much more sedate affair. He insisted that his department heads wear suits during production and he took Kazanjian under his wing. Kazanjian states that working with Hitchcock was akin to a daily masterclass in how to make films.
It’s well known that George Lucas is not an actor’s director and Kazanjian confirms this. Lucas asked him to direct the cast when preparing to make American Graffiti. Lucas wanted to concentrate solely on directing his four-wheeled stars. Kazanjian had a prior commitment, but it’s interesting to think what that might have led to had he been available. Would Star Wars have featured the credit: Directed by George Lucas and Howard Kazanjian? Kazanjian would soon become a crucial fixture at Lucasfilm from More American Graffiti onwards.
J.W. Rinzler’s narrative of Kazanjian’s fascinating career in film gallops along at breakneck speed. His conversational tone expertly conveys Kazanjian’s professional, yet easy-going demeanour. It’s replete with on set photos, personal anecdotes and he doesn’t shy away from controversy. Rinzler’s book highlights just how pivotal George Lucas’ former wife Marcia was in the development of the Star Wars saga. Although divorced, she is still fiercely protective of her former husband’s creation. She has nothing but contempt for the recent trilogy stating that Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams don’t have a clue as to what makes Star Wars Star Wars. “It sucks. The storylines are terrible. Just terrible. Awful.”
All in all, Rinzler’s biography is a fascinating account of a remarkable unsung producer whose name is unfamiliar with most, but who has produced some of the biggest and most beloved blockbusters in movie history. If you are a student of film, or you have an interest in film production, this is an indispensable guide into the dysfunctional, but wonderful workings of Hollywood.
Howard Kazanjian: A Producer’s Life is out now