'A writer's way'
James Ivory would love to make history.
Ivory, who was raised in Klamath Falls and still makes annual visits to his family's Lake of the Woods cabin, will be among the anxious audience members when the 2018 Academy Award winners are announced March 4 in Hollywood.
Although he's best known as a director — he's been nominated three times for best director for "Howard's End," "The Remains of the Day" and "A Room With A View" — this time he's up for a possible Oscar for best adapted screenplay for "Call Me By Your Name."
The 90th annual Academy Awards ceremony will happen three months before Ivory turns 90. If they call his name, Ivory will become the oldest Oscar winner ever.
"That's the best way to retire — to keep busy," insists the can't-sit-still Ivory.
Filmmaking and the Lake of the Woods cabin have been key elements in Ivory's life. Born in Berkeley, California, he moved with his family to Klamath Falls as a young boy, graduating from Klamath Union High in 1946. His father, Edward Patrick Ivory, owned a sawmill near Bly. From the time he was 10 years old, Ivory has spent a portion of every summer at the cabin, where he typically combines relaxing and visiting with friends with working on movie screenplays. "It's an 80-year experience at Lake of the Woods," he said, anticipating this summer's visit.
Ironically, during a 2016 interview, Ivory said he didn't expect "Call Me" to be a commercial success, although he admitted he can't predict which films will succeed. In a telephone interview earlier this month, he said the response to the movie, and the Oscar nomination, came as a surprise.
"It certainly has been a success. You can't predict what's going to be a success or failure. This one just took off. Now that it's out and about, it's a box office success," he said, crediting favorable critical reviews and high positive audience response at the Sundance Film Festival that led to its purchase and worldwide distribution by Sony Pictures Classics.
Ivory's experience with "Call Me" has been complex. After his neighbors, Peter Spears and Howard Rosenman, acquired movie rights to the 2007 novel by Andre Aicman, they originally asked Ivory to be an executive producer. He accepted.
Later, Ivory was asked if he would co-direct the film with Luca Guadagnino. Ivory again accepted — "I'd never co-directed with anybody, but I felt why not?" — on the condition he write the screenplay. He began working on the screenplay in summer 2014 at his home in Claverack, New York, and completed it in February 2015. "It was spread over a period of about six months," he said, noting, "I was doing other things as well."
When it was later suggested the film have one director, Ivory agreed to step back. "I could understand the reason," he said, noting the potential conflicts.
Filming was done in Italy in May and June 2016, despite what Ivory remembers as "nonstop rain and terrible weather."
Ivory's script, which as always he typed on a typewriter, includes significant changes from the book. As he explained, "You (as a director) think in a different way from a writer's way. There were things I had to invent that weren't in the novel," such as information about Elio's father. "He had to do more than sit around and smoke and talk." Likewise, several scenes were eliminated. "There were things in the novel that didn't move the story along."
And while the novel ends with Elio and Oliver meeting again as much older adults, "I just cut all that. I was completely free to do all that I wanted" with the script.
"Call Me" is a personal milestone for Ivory because "it's the first script I've ever written all on my own," although, as he quickly added, "It wasn't like I hadn't done it before."
Indeed, screenwriting is nothing new for Ivory. For decades, he worked on scripts with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala on Merchant Ivory Productions films. Ivory and his partner and producer Ismail Merchant, regarded as the best known independent filmmaking duo in film history, and screenwriter Jhabvala, were synonymous with literate, refined period dramas. Ivory worked with Jhabvala and others adapting dozens of films, often during summer stays at his Lake of the Woods cabin. In all, Ivory's films have earned 31 Academy Award nominations and six Oscars.
Although Jhabvala died in 2013 and Merchant in 2015, Ivory has persisted — and he has no plans to retire. His last film was 2009's "The City of Your Final Destination," from Peter Cameron's novel. Among his to-dos is to direct a film based on another Cameron novel, "Coral Glynn," which Ivory describes as "a very English kind of book" set in the 1950s.
And, after years of stalled efforts, he still hopes to direct a film version of Shakespeare's "Richard II," and envisions Tom Hiddleston and Damian Lewis in the feature roles. "At the moment I'm very optimistic it will happen."
And of his plans on March 4?
"Sure I'll be there. I wouldn't miss that," Ivory said of being at the Oscar ceremonies, where he hopes they'll call him by his name.
— Reach freelance reporter Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-880-4139.