MOST SATURDAYS AS A CHILD, Cass Warner accompanied her Oscar-nominated writer/producer father to the famed Warner Bros. studio lot. Now, decades later, she helps run her own film production company (Warner Sisters) and hosts the Starz cable network’s Conversations With Cass, a one-on-one interview show focusing on well-known actors and personalities.
Her latest project to comemmorate the cultural legacy of the Warners’ Hollywood dynasty (after a 1993 book that has been called “definitive”) is The Brothers Warner, a just-completed 90-minute documentary she wrote, directed and produced. It’s one of four featured docs at this year’s Savannah Film Festival.
Cass will accompany her film to the event, and we spoke in advance of her trip.
As a child, you were afforded an almost unimaginably cool perk: free reign of the Warner Bros. lot. Looking back at such a strange and fanciful opportunity, are you surprised you wound up working in the film industry, or are you more surprised that you did not?
Cass Warner: Growing up on the Warner Bros. lot was like being surrounded by a family of great musicians I heard the music being played all the time so to not partake in the joy of creating is hard to imagine. My father often worked out of the house. Seeing my interest, he would hand me a script to hold in his story meetings, even before I could read. Fortunately for me, people who worked at Warner Bros. worked on Saturdays, so I often went with my father to the lot and got to wander into any sound stage that didn’t have a red light flashing. It was better than going to the circus and I found it difficult not to marvel at the magic of this cooperative art form and the family feeling that happens on a set.
I experienced being an actress in the mid-’70s and realized the roles for women were not my cup of tea. I was motivated to write screenplays and had the good fortune of mentoring under my father and the master, Howard Koch of Casablanca fame. Writing led me to developing projects with friends and my independent production company, Warner Sisters, was born.
You’ve spearheaded the celebration and documentation of the legacy of the Warner brothers and their studio through both books and film. In doing this, have you found that by and large, people in the business are excited and happy to reminisce about their experiences working with Warners, or have you encountered any trepidation or outright refusals to participate in your efforts?
Cass Warner: Interviewing people has been one of my greatest pleasures. Folks who experienced working at Warner Bros. have been joyful about sharing their stories.
I understand that PBS will be airing a truncated version of this film as part of their American Masters series. Was it tough to decide what to leave out of the TV version?
Cass Warner: Yes, American Masters is now airing a 53-minute version of The Brothers Warner, I’m honored to say. I have the good fortune of working with the most wonderful Oscar-winning editor and fine human being a film maker could ever wish for. Kate Amend and I worked so well together that editing was not a chore but a pleasure.
How exactly does one go about cutting down a film that I assume they have slaved over to whittle down to just as they’d like it to be seen?
Cass Warner: Decisions, decisions, decisions — and not being afraid to make them and trusting one’s artistry. When you have a great editor like I did, making the decisions are a lot easier. I love the editing process as it’s like having a wonderful lump of clay that already has the form of your vision in it that you now get to put the finishing touches on.
How many times to date has the finished, full-length version of the film been seen by a public audience?
Cass Warner: About ten times.
What have the reactions been to the film?
Cass Warner: Fabulous! Getting the responses I am has made this whole journey so worthwhile. It’s inspirational!----------------------- Official trailer for The Brothers Warner: -----------------------
Have you been involved in the Savannah Film Festival before?
Cass Warner: I have not been involved before, but am very much looking forward to having this opportunity. The festival has a great reputation, which is why I submitted my film to it.
How did you come to be involved?
Cass Warner: I heard about it at a festival seminar in Los Angeles. It got five stars as a festival.
Was there any particular revelation or insight which emerged in the process of making The Brothers Warner that had eluded your previous efforts to document the history and impact of the studio and your family?
Cass Warner: In the last 30 years of my research, there have been so many revelations that have emerged while discovering who these brothers were. My fascination with them as characters and my wish to understand their inner workings and reasons for doing what they did has led me into wonderful worlds of detail and insights.
Have those insights made a significant impact on the way you view the studio and its legacy?
Cass Warner: Because of the number of insights, I’d prefer people read my book or see my film, as there are really too many to isolate here. I am very proud to be from a family of filmmakers who loved their art form, and truly knew the value and power of using this medium to “educate, entertain and enlighten,” which was the original motto for their company.
Have you ever been to Savannah before?
Cass Warner: This will be my first time and I’m very much looking forward to it.
The Brothers Warner
When: Mon., 9:30 am, Trustees Theater & Thurs., Oct. 30, 2:30 pm, Lucas Theatre
Cost: $5 gen. public / $3 students, seniors & military / Free to SCAD students, faculty & staff w/ID