Oscar and Razzie winning director Michael Cimino, who passed away over the 4th of July weekend, is in many ways responsible for the fact that bankers and “bean-counters” now hold most of the creative control in Hollywood.

Cimino's unexpected 1978 hit THE DEER HUNTER, which Universal produced for about $15 million, has a 93% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes and won 5 Academy Awards ,including Best Picture and Best Director. It eventually grossed over $48 million.

In the wake of HUNTER's unqualified success, rival studio United Artists signed a contract with the director to make his pet project HEAVEN'S GATE – but they granted him “final cut,” meaning UA could only consult with Cimino on the film's production, but not take back control once shooting began.

Originally budgeted at under $12 million, GATE quickly spun out of control, eventually costing over $44 million to produce and more than $10 million to market. A notorious box office bomb, the original version of GATE – trimmed down to “just” five-and-a-half hours from more than a million feet of film shot - was so critically ravaged that it was pulled from release for massive re-cuts. A boring, over-long self-indulgent mess even in it's “shorter” two-and-a-half hour version, HEAVEN'S GATE came to symbolize all of the excess and idiocy of big budget movie-making at the time. It didn't help that on it's $54 million investment, UA eventually made back...less than $3.5 million.

The scorn which greeted both versions of the film lead to its being nominated for 5 1981 Razzies, including Worst Picture. It eventually “won” Worst Director for Cimino himself.

All of the insanity and inanity behind GATE was documented in one of the best behind-the-scenes books ever written about Hollywood, Stephen Bach's FINAL CUT, and the demise of UA as a major studio is often blamed solely on HEAVEN'S GATE. Although he did go on to make YEAR OF THE DRAGON (another big budget movie nominated for multiple Razzies) Cimino's career never recovered.

Obituaries for Cimino all mention both the stratospheric highs and catastrophic lows he achieved with just two seminal films – two films that speak to both the potential rewards of giving a film-maker free reign... and to the danger of completely ceding creative control to someone with only one major hit to his credit. Thus both the “bean-counters” and the “high-brows” of Hollywood can argue their cases using Cimino as an example...depending on which of his two best known films they choose to focus on.

Before he “won” his Razzie, Cimino took home Hollywood's most prized trophy, and showed that (like most Razzie contenders) he was capable of truly great things. Voters for our awards (and for their awards) will miss Michael Cimino's unique talents...