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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Jan. 12, 2005 | 11:34 PM

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An interview with Roger L. Mayer (Chairman, National Film Preservation Foundation)

An interview with Roger L. Mayer-Chairman, National Film Preservation Foundation (May 30, 2003) by Karie Bible
In conjunction with the Silent Film Gala taking place this weekend (scroll down for full details), FILMRADAR presents an interview with Roger Mayer, Co-Chairmen of the Silent Film Gala and champion of film preservation.
Roger Mayer has been President and Chief Operating Officer of Turner Entertainment Co. since August 15, 1986.  (Now owned by Time-Warner.)  Mr. Mayer is Chairman of the Board of the Motion Picture and Television Fund.  He is also a member of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress and Chairman of the National Film Preservation Foundation.  He is Vice President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is on its Board of Governors as well as on the Board of the Academy Foundation.
When did you first fall in love with movies?
As a child.  My family always encouraged my interests in music, stage and movies. 
What was the first silent film you remember seeing?
Probably Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times in the early 1930s in New York.
What are some of your most favorite films and film-going memories?
Too many to name them all.  Some of them are Singin’ In The Rain, Gigi, Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge Over The River Kwai, the early Hitchcock films.

When did you decide to get involved with Film Preservation?
It was a part of my job.  Preservation became a problem at MGM and it was my responsibility to solve it. 
There are many paths by which one may become involved in a cause.  My path began when I arrived at MGM Studios in 1961 as the new Assistant General Manager of its Culver City Studios.  One of my duties was to supervise the operation of the plant and all its facilities.  These included a group of small concrete-block facilities on what was then known as Lot Three where MGM had stored most of its most valuable negatives.  Upon inspecting these so-called vaults on a hot Southern California day, I found the temperature at over 100 degrees and the humidity less than 10%.  These were not an appropriate storage conditions.  The next step was to try to money for the construction of a refrigerated vault next to the MGM Laboratory.  This was the first step toward an understanding of film preservation, of the reason for restoring film, and of the value of preserving a library of film.  Imagination and foresight were required to see the scope of the residual value of any of these films.  At the time, television was prevalent but companies were not licensing feature films to television.  The prospects for home video, satellite, and cable were mostly unrecognized.  Even theatrical re-releases were few and far between with the exception of Gone With The Wind.  The key element at the time was to convince management that money should be spent on preserving film and sound elements even though there seemed to be no substantial after-market.  Gradually, however, the concept prevailed that it was almost as important to preserve what had been made as it was to produce something new. 
One of the major problems of the future seems to involve the preservation or restoration of the so-called “orphan” films such as documentaries, ethnic films, silent films, newsreels, avantgarde films, and personally owned films films where people do not have the resources or technical expertise to build or rent proper storage facilities or pay for appropriate restoration.  The National Film Preservation Foundation (among others) is attempting to fill in that gap with some success.  It is financing or co-financing many projects with archives across the country (including Anthology Archives) and is active in thirty states across the country and the District of Columbia.  So far it has helped restore over five hundred culturally and historically significant films. 
Where did you go to school?  Did you study film in school?
I got my B.A. from Yale University and my L.L.B and J.D. at Yale Law School.  Yale did not have a Film Studies course at the time.  In fact, only a handful of Universities around the country did at the time. 
What path did you take after school?
I started in the Motion Picture Industry in 1952 as a lawyer with Columbia Pictures, and later became a general studio executive at Columbia.  In 1961 I joined MGM as Assistant General Manager of the studio.  Then I progressed through a variety of executive positions, ending up as a Senior VP of Administration and President of the Laboratory. 
Tell me a bit about your career at Turner Entertainment Co.
When Ted Turner bought the MGM Library in 1986, he asked me to run the operation, which I’ve been doing ever since.  A large portion of my job involves overseeing the preservation and restoration of thousands of films from the MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO catalogues, not to mention all the new movies that are produced every year by the company’s numerous production teams and studios.
Tell me about your involvement with the Motion Picture Fund.
My boss at MGM, Ray Klune, was heavily involved and asked me to become involved as well.  He was looking for a successor, I think.  It’s been a very rewarding experience.  The Fund is the number one charity for the entertainment industry. 
What are some future projects and preservation matters you are working towards?
We’re currently investing millions of dollars to preserve everything we own, so that takes up much of my time.  In addition, I am currently Executive Producing three documentaries:  one for PBS on Judy Garland and two for TCM on Cary Grant and Errol Flynn. 
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
I’ve been doing it for 52 years, so I obviously like it.  It’s all rewarding. 

14th ANNUAL SILENT FILM GALA Don’t miss this event!
THE LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA in cooperation with the UCLA Film & Television Archive and Roy Export Company Establishment present Charlie Chaplin’s Masterpiece CITY LIGHTS
A hilarious comedy and poignant love story of the little tramp and the flower girl, full of laughter and tears . . . featuring the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra conducted by Timothy Brock
The program will also include the U.S. Premiere of Oscar-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman’s tribute to the genius of Chaplin.
Saturday, May 31, 2003 at 8pm
Location:  Royce Hall, UCLA
Tickets: General seating $25 Priority seating $65 Gala tickets (includes post-film supper) $250 Ticket Orders:  213-622-7001 ext. 215
Dustin Hoffman, Honorary Chairman
Hanna M. Kennedy and Roger L. Mayer, Gala Co-Chairmen


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