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AFM Flashback: ‘Amadeus’ Burnished the Market and Rocked the Oscars

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Founded in 1981 by the American Film Marketing Association, which was headed by the late producer Andy Vajna, the American Film Market in its early years featured a lot of genre fare looking to sell VHS video rights abroad. But with 1984’s AmadeusAFM also proved that it could be a home for more prestige titles — and few of its offerings would strike a more prestigious tone than Milos Forman’s award-winning film about the rivalry between the Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri and the upstart musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus. Mozart.

Record executive and film producer Saul Zaentz was the driving force behind the production. He already had one best picture Oscar for 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when he set about assembling an adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s Tony-winning stage play. With F. Murray Abraham as the envious Salieri and Tom Hulce as a maniacally giggling Mozart, the film shot on an $18 million budget on location in Prague and Kromeriz in the Czech Republic. Orion Pictures boarded as the film’s US distributor. When it opened in September 1984, the film was immediately hailed as one of the year’s best. Critic Roger Ebert called it one of the “riskiest gambles a filmmaker has taken in a long time,” adding that it was a “magnificent film, full and tender and funny and charming.”

Amadeus would go on to gross more than $90 million worldwide and score 11 Oscar nominations — and it ended up taking home eight trophies, including the best actor prize for Abraham, best director for Forman and best adapted screenplay for Shaffer. Accepting the best picture Oscar at the 57th Academy Awards, Zaentz acknowledged the international support he had put together to make the film a reality by saying, “Our thanks to Orion Pictures and distributors and theater owners around the world who recognized Amadeus before it was released.”

This story first appeared in The News84Media’s Nov. 3 daily issues at the American Film Market.



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