September 5, 2012
Jake Eberts - We have lost a dear friend, mentor, and a giant in our film community.
We will miss you Jake.
MONTREAL - Renowned Montreal-born producer Jake Eberts, whose films won 37 Oscars, died Thursday morning in his hometown, following a brief illness. He was 71.
Eberts was, inarguably, the most successful and respected film producer to surface from these parts. He financed or produced more than 50 films, which, among the 37 Oscars they netted, included four for best picture. Among his credits are Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, The Killing Fields, Dances with Wolves, Driving Miss Daisy, The Dresser, Local Hero, A River Runs Through It, Black Robe, Ocean, Chicken Run, The Illusionist and Grey Owl. Among those he worked with are a who’s who in the film pantheon: Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Beresford, Richard Attenborough, Pierce Brosnan and Albert Finney.
“He was an extraordinary film producer and an extraordinary man,” said Montreal director Denys Arcand, a close friend and frequent tennis partner of Eberts. “He took filmmaking seriously. He felt cinema should be used to better mankind. This is a lofty standard in an age where movies are being adapted from comic books. He had such noble ideals and morals.”
“He was such a smart and eloquent man, yet he was also such a humble man and such a generous man — he gave to so many causes,” said producer Denise Robert, Arcand’s wife and film collaborator. “He brought out the best in everybody. It’s a great loss for us, but it’s also a great loss for the world.”
The soft-spoken Eberts was a gentleman in every sense. Uncomfortable in the spotlight, he preferred to let his work speak for itself instead.
“It’s a huge loss for the film community, but also for members of his extended family,” said his brother, Jay Eberts. “He touched the lives of so many and brought so much light into the world. He was an inspiration to us all.”
Montreal film producer Kevin Tierney noted Eberts was a rarity in the business: “A great entrepreneur with a great esthetic sense. They just don’t make them like him any more.”
A chemical engineer by trade, Eberts spent his summers in Katevale in the Eastern Townships and, when not on the production trail around the globe, split his time between Montreal and Paris.
Eberts’s most recent project was the IMAX 3D documentary Jerusalem, slated for release in 2013. Eberts had been turning his attention to documentaries of late because of what he sensed was a shifting in attitudes by moviegoers toward that genre.
He was also developing a $60-million film project in China. Plus, he was chairman of National Geographic Films. And he had hooked up again with Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson for a nature epic to be shot in Manitoba, Baffin Island and Montreal.
Eberts brought new meaning to multi-tasking. “I could never be a director because I could never stand focusing all that time on just one project,” he told me in an interview last year. “I’m much more the executive producer.”
Eberts’s background couldn’t have been more unrelated to the film business. Upon graduation from McGill, he worked in the engineering field for Liquid Air, first in Montreal and then throughout Europe. He later earned an MBA from Harvard and followed that with a stint as a diesel-engine salesman. “A very, very bad one at that,” Eberts joked in our interview. “I never sold one in two years.”
His next gig was on Wall Street, where he worked as an investment banker dealing specifically in risk capital. “Without bringing any sense of false modesty, I just wasn’t very good at all the other things I tried. But at age 35, I finally found something I enjoyed doing: films,” he recalled.
On the subject of risk capital, most investment bankers would caution folks to stay away from the film business like the plague. “And they did,” Eberts said. “Including my former boss. But he also helped me get started in the business. There was a niche in the market, and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I was living in London and there was an explosion of talent taking place there. It was just a stroke of good fortune for me.”
Eberts, founder of Goldcrest Films and, later, Allied Filmmakers, meshed talent with story and help create some of the most memorable movies ever to surface on screen. Financially lucrative ventures to boot.
“People wouldn’t think of someone with a chemical engineering background to end up in the movie world,” said Eberts, author of the acclaimed autobiographical study of the film business, My Indecision Is Final.
“But life can take you down these wonderful paths.”
Eberts is survived by his wife, Fiona, his sons, Alex and Dave, and daughter, Lindsay. The funeral is private and plans for a memorial will be announced shortly.