A life well lived is best lived by doing what you love with people you love. And my father, Edward R. Pressman—a film producer, jazz aficionado, philosophy student, constant reader, and Dodgers fanatic who would have turned 80 on Tuesday—had a life filled to the brim.
On January 17, in the last moments of my father’s life, his family and his company, which has always been related to Ed, surrounded him. We listened to ‘Gassenhauer’, the theme of Badlands, my father’s fourth film as a producer. He looked so peaceful and beautiful.
Earlier, on this last day of his life, we watched Phantom of paradise. I’ve always been impressed by that movie. The joy and chaos that is in every frame; the music that, like old souls, lasts forever. You feel the way Ed and director Brian De Palma experimented together, pushing cinematic boundaries without knowing where the boundaries were.
The film opens with the song ‘Goodbye Eddie, Goodbye’. The text read, “We will forever remember you, Eddie, for the sacrifice you made. We can’t believe the price you paid for love.”
What stays with me is love. My father really loved very much. He didn’t have to say much. I felt it in the slightest curl of his smile or the gesture of his hands. He loved his family. He loved my mother, Annie. He loved movies. He loved to work. He loved his company. He loved the Hollywood and independent film community.
When remembering my father, many people speak of his determination. When he committed to a movie he never gave up. I think a lot of that strength came from his childhood. His family and childhood friends shared a lifelong bond that gave him the strength to never be afraid. His Ethical Culture and Fieldston School compadres “The Heavies” were friends for over 65 years.
He grew up in this magical childhood dream surrounded by toys in the Pressman Toy factory. The company made a wide variety of toys and games dating back to 1922, famous for popularizing Chinese checkers and releasing the toy line for Disney’s first feature-length animated film Snow White. I see pictures of my father Ed as a child with his sister Ann and his brother Jimmy dressed as Arab royalty in marketing materials put together by his mother Lynn. It resembles an absolute fantasy – a living dream.
My grandfather Jack died when Ed was young and Lynn, my grandmother, took over the toy business. Lynn was a larger than life character. Always a host, she struck a legendary figure with wide-brimmed hats and a voice from days gone by. In her 80s, I remember Lynn exclaiming after two martini dinners that the Shun Lee chow mein or chicken pietro was “better than sex!”
In the mid-1950s she was one of the few women to run a boardroom and under her leadership the company grew. Her ingenuity led to the invention of new toys that children and parents had not seen before, such as their first doctor and nurse sets, which were a great success for the company.
Rather than follow the expected path of going into the toy industry, Ed (no doubt inspired by Lynn’s bravery) made its way into an early independent film scene in the 1960s. There he found his true love: cinema.
The way his films, many cult classics, have been received is with that same love. The movies we love are part of us and shape our lives. Ed prided himself on having characters like badlands’ Kit Carruthers, Wall Street‘s Gordon Gekko and American psychopathPatrick Bateman’s have become enduring figures, standing the test of time as part of our cultural consciousness.
Then, through some movie magic, he found my mom, Annie, on the set of The hand. They were together for more than 40 years. The way they cared for each other, the love they shared and the care they had for me is an example I hope to carry in my life. I always loved that they met on that set like the hand of the god of cinema brought them together.
Growing up with them, I was on some massive sets in the early ’90s during a series of Ed blockbusters. I remember my dad and Danny DeVito watching me during the shooting of Hoffa; my parents walked me through a set of styrofoam bricks the size of a pyramid on the set of street fighter, stunned that it was real and fake at the same time. During the day Island of Dr. Moreau, which was absolute chaos, my daycare was with the beast people. Being enveloped by the six-breasted udder of a pig lady is a hug I haven’t been able to find in my adult life.
The only time in my life my father would ever get mad at me was when he noticed that I was worried about what others thought or when I doubted I could do anything. I will always hear his voice and will try to be strong as he taught me.
From an early age he exposed me to filmmakers he loved, such as Stanley Kubrick, Vittorio De Sica and Billy Wilder. But more importantly, he shared that movies mattered. It’s taken my entire life to fully understand what he did as a film producer, and the more I work at it, the more mysterious and transcendental his practice feels.
There are questions I will never have answered, but have tried to ask: his philosophy; what motivated him to start making a movie; how he could do it over and over again. It must have felt like what you do could mean something to people – unlike today, when everything is lost in deluges and an overwhelming ocean of content that threatens to render our reality meaningless.
It’s been the greatest honor for me to work alongside Ed on his last three films — She Will, Daliland and The Crow – representing different sides of his career. In She willdefended Ed Charlotte Colbert, a first-time writer-director who delivered a haunting and poetic feature film. In DalílandEd reunited with the genius Mary Harron for a third film, and I finally felt like I had arrived as a strong partner for my father, helping to provide the funding and support the creative process.
And about Rupert Sanders’ reinvention of The crow, Ed continued to believe that we would pull the film together and support our partners despite the years of challenges. On the three films I had the privilege of representing the company, both on set in Europe and during shooting, I called him in the wee hours of his morning to ask for his wisdom.
I wish we could have made so many more movies together. But with a dozen or so projects lined up to go into production – the long-running adaptation of Edward Abbey’s early ’70s anarchist environmental adventure The Monkey Wrench gang; Firecracker Jack, an original horror comedy set on the 4th of July; and a remake of The bad lieutenant — The Edward R. Pressman Film Corp moves into the future and continues its 50+ year mission to empower diverse artists to tell the stories they want.
Many directors have said it, but his genius was that he loved filmmakers and wanted them to do their thing, not impose his will and vision on them. We can probably all learn from that.
And I will, with the support of the wonderful team we have at Pressman Film, honor my father’s indomitable spirit and love of film. We will realize the series of projects he has developed and respectfully care for the library of films he has made and the papers he leaves behind as part of the Special Collections of the Academy.
At Pressman Film, we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible with the art and science of film. I promise to stay true to the common cinema experience (Ed called them the cathedrals of our time). We dive in with creators, unafraid of the future to see how AI tools and immersive experiences can transport our imaginations into ecstatic experiences beyond our current understanding.
Ed had the rare ability to live in the present while keeping one eye on the future and one eye on the past, allowing the past to inform his present and the present to inform the future. He used to say, “Every movie is a miracle” – to celebrate the miracles and keep the dream alive.