James Jacks has died. Film has lost a best friend.
I just can't believe he's gone.
For the past decade, Jim Jacks and I dreamt of movies... An entire slate of film. A western, a war flick, a martial arts film and more. He was credited as James Jacks, but for me he will always be Jim. When I started AICN, I had no intention of wanting to make movies, I felt absolutely unqualified. Sure, I loved films, studied them and was raised in a family that believed cinema was important. But when I flew across the Atlantic for the very first time to visit the set of THE MUMMY, I had no idea that my life would change.
It was just a junket visit. Sean Daniels, who I had met prior to creating AICN, suggested to Jim and Universal that they bring me out. When I first met Jim, he seemed like a nice enough man. He seemed genuinely enthused that I was there and when he caught me 40 minutes later as I had wondered off from the junket crew, to talk to the master carpenter on THE MUMMY, who I was quizzing about being a carpenter in the film biz. After all, that's how Harrison Ford got started. Turns out, he had worked on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - and this is what we were talking about when Jim came up. He joined the conversation which continued for another 20 or so minutes. After, Jim said that he had the idea that I wanted a closer look at the Mummy than my fellow junketeers really cared for, so he took me to his office - showed me the library of VHS dailies that he had there - and told me to make myself at home, he said if it was his, it was mine.
When he returned two hours later, I was drinking some of his brandy, fast forwarding through takes, looking for the cool stuff, I had logged into his computer and emailed the script to myself and Jim just started laughing. He joined me for a drink and we watched some dailies. I was inquisitive about the tonal differences in takes, as there were takes that seemed genuinely frightening and atmospheric, but then big broad comedic takes - and I expressed concern that THE MUMMY was gonna be a goofy flick, he was concerned as well. He informed me that the Junket folks had left an hour or so ago - and if I liked, I could ride back to Claridges with Jim.
While I was in Jim's office, I looked him up on IMDB and was frankly stunned by his filmography. In particular - I had a passionate love of TOMBSTONE. As we drove through the English Countryside, Jim was a bit upset at my love for TOMBSTONE. You see, the TOMBSTONE we all love is not necessarily the film he and Kevin Jarre set out to make. He felt that too many scenes were left on the cutting room floor. That director George Cosmatos, who came in after Kevin had a bit of a breakdown, had, of course, changed the dynamic of the film. I argued that it was for the best. That watching TOMBSTONE - nobody could tell that there were missing pieces. Jim insisted that I read the original script so we could continue the conversation - and that next morning it was waiting for me at the front desk. There were a couple of interviews I had to do that day, and as it happens - that was the same day that I came into possession with THE PHANTOM MENACE screenplay. However, on the plane trip back to Austin, I read the original draft of TOMBSTONE - and let me tell you. Jim was right. TOMBSTONE is a great western that could've been even greater. I learned that thanks to Jim.
Jim Jacks was a storytelling machine. If you sat down to briefly chat with him, 4 hours later you would walk away utterly besmitten with the man. I don't know how Jim got an advance copy of my book, AIN'T IT COOL: HOLLYWOOD'S REDHEADED STEP-CHILD SPEAKS OUT, but he had devoured it - and when he read the list of movies I would make if I ran Hollywood - one in particular stood out. Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter series. He and his partner Sean Daniels sought out the rights and eventually won them. Jim asked me who I would have write the script - and I told him Mark Protosevich, whose I AM LEGEND was tremendous, save for an issue with the end that I had. Mark was about halfway through writing the script, when REVOLUTION STUDIOS hired me to be a producer developing projects for them. When it showed up in Variety, Jim called me up - in a faux fury. "You never told me you wanted to produce movies!!!" He demanded that I join JOHN CARTER as a producer, and who was I to turn Jim down. Working on JOHN CARTER with Jim and the handful of directors we had over that time taught me an awful lot about Hollywood. Both good and bad. Paramount was going through a wicked case of Executive Shuffles at the time - and Jim was also in furious development on the RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT franchise, boy that had a great script. When both that and JOHN CARTER failed to get made - well, Jim and Sean decided to part ways - and Jim decided that he wanted me to make movies with him.
We never had anything on paper. Handshake deal. Jim was that kind of man. He also didn't want to make a "next movie" - he wanted to birth a full on slate of films. We began pursuing large amounts of capital. He was lightning focused on that deal, chasing a gigantic carrot. Meanwhile we were developing the projects. Jim fancied himself a writer and sat down to write his slate of films. I can clearly see all of them. We literally had countless hours of discussions dissecting his scripts and Kerry Conran's drafts of his projects with us. My personal favorite of Jim's scripts was his IVANHOE. It was a tale that we both loved. We decided to develop it, because other than the "pretty good" version with Robert Taylor as IVANHOE - we knew the story had never fully been told anywhere near as well as it could. Jim's script was beautiful. In particular, Jim was incredibly proud of the work he put into Bois-Guilbert, Ivanhoe's chief foe in the story. Jim didn't paint his Bois-Guilbert as a foil, in fact he wrote a character that you would fall in love with and be heartbroken by the choices he was forced to make out of the sake of honor. Of all of Jim's scripts, this is the one I most would love to see hit the screen.
As much as Jim taught me about film, he shared a good deal of his life with me. When his father passed away, it hit him extraordinarily hard. His father was his hero in life. A military man of distinction. As a result Jim always had a healthy love for America's Armed Forces. He introduced me to Navy SEALS and members of a secret martial arts society and... characters you just wouldn't believe. Every Friday for the last decade, I would speak with Jim about the movies that he'd seen that day. Conversations about everything from the main actors to small little character parts. He told me he couldn't understand producers and filmmakers that don't devour movies. We talked about practically every PICKS & PEEKS column I ever wrote.
However, it really never got better than when Jim, me and Kerry Conran were breaking down Kerry's scripts and shared dreams about those epic stories. Kerry and I fully intend to make Kerry's films and dedicate them to Jim, but it is my fondest wish that one of the Jim Jacks written projects gets made. Jim really wanted to be recognized as a storyteller, he had an amazing voice. But that's the side of Jim that I knew. He was at my wedding and few people were smiling wider. He constantly encouraged me in my rehab, and we had more than one meeting where I was on a stairclimber and he was on that Treadmill of his.
It's only now that Jim's gone that I realize exactly how much he meant to me. He was one of my very best friends. A voice and a presence in my life for the past decade that I just can't imagine life without. He was the most honorable man I knew. A classic, pure and simple. We pitched films together, dreamt huge dreams and now he's gone. While those dreams are left unrealized, the dreams he helped to bring us are tremendous.
Shortly after Sean Daniels hired Jim Jacks as HEAD OF ACQUISITIONS at Universal, Jim picked up a little film called BLOOD SIMPLE by first time filmmakers that became THE COEN BROTHERS. Jim remained friends with them till the end. In 1987, Jim made RAISING ARIZONA with the Coens. If there's a highlight year of Jim's career, it had to be 1993, when he made TOMBSTONE, DAZED AND CONFUSED and HARD TARGET. HARD TARGET got brutalized in the test screening process - and was a project that frustrated Jim to no end. TOMBSTONE he came to love completely - and DAZED AND CONFUSED was very dear to his heart - and he never stopped hoping to rejoin Linklater on their "College movie". I personally really love the pair of movies that Jim made with Sam Raimi, A SIMPLE PLAN and THE GIFT. With A SIMPLE PLAN, he forged a life long friendship with Billy Bob Thornton.
Through Jim, I came to understand the immaculate obsession of filmmaking. The hundreds of hours of detailed conversations that go into every film, even those that never get made. He loved the movies intensely. He bought everything on DVD and BLU. We could call each other up and watch movies together - being each other's running commentary. Make no bones about it - Jim Jacks was the real deal, a rare breed - a conservative producer in a liberal world. But he earned respect - and while we were opposites in politics, we could civilly discuss everything - simply because we loved one another.
I can't stand having to let him go. I've been a mess ever since I got the call, just an hour after he was found. His heart had finally given out. Impossible, the man was all heart. He still believed at 66 that he'd find love and reignite his career. For me, there was no bigger man in Hollywood. And I am damn proud to call Jim Jacks my friend.
We had days where we fought ferociously with one another. But we would always listen to one another. I still want to listen. I don't think I could ever stop learning from the man. He was also a 3 time BNATTER, an event that he loved.
Jim had so much left to do, he leaves behind his mother, who he was caring for and a sister and brother. My thoughts go out to them, everyone at Dan Tana's that ever broke bread with Jim and everyone that knew him.
Jim - you were the best! I'll never stop missing ya.
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