Known for movies

Short Info

Date Of BirthFebruary 3, 1939
DiedJuly 2, 2016, Beverly Hills, California, United States
MarkSudden bursts of violence in seemingly tranquil or naturalistic settings (the church shootout early in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), Vietnam war fighting in the jungle in The Deer Hunter (1978), mob attacks in Chinatown in Year of the Dragon (1985), kidnapping of a family in the suburban home of Desperate Hours (1990)).
FactIn December 1981, Cimino was signed to direct the musical Footloose (1984). Producer Daniel Melnick warned him that if the film went over its budget of $7.5 million, Cimino would have to cover the expenses himself. Cimino agreed, but the following month, just as the movie was about to begin shooting, he asked Melnick to let him rewrite the screenplay for an additional $ 250.000 and to delay the start date. Melnick fired him and Herbert Ross directed Footloose (1984) instead.

Michael Cimino was born in New York City on February 3, 1939. His father, Calogero Cimino, was a Sicilian immigrant who worked as a shoemaker and his mother, Elena (née Nicosia), was a Neapolitan immigrant who worked as a seamstress. Cimino has two older sisters, Antoinette and Elizabeth.

Cimino was raised in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn and attended New York’s High School of Music & Art, where he developed an interest in painting. He later enrolled at the Yale School of Art, where he studied under the renowned painter Josef Albers. After graduating from Yale in 1961, Cimino moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in filmmaking.

Cimino’s first film, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (1974), starred Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges. The film was a critical and commercial success, and Cimino followed it up with the Vietnam War drama “The Deer Hunter” (1978). “The Deer Hunter” won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and cemented Cimino’s reputation as a major Hollywood director.

However, Cimino’s next film, “Heaven’s Gate” (1980), was a massive critical and commercial failure. The film’s release nearly bankrupted its studio, United Artists, and effectively ended Cimino’s career.

In the years since “Heaven’s Gate,” Cimino has directed only a handful of films, most notably “The Sunchaser” (1996) and “Desperate Hours” (1990). His most recent film, “Sunchaser,” was released direct-to-video in 2006.

Cimino has been married three times. His first wife was actress Marilu Henner, with whom he had one son, Mark. His second wife was producer Dawn Steel, with whom he had one daughter, Nicole. His third wife is producer Elizabeth LeMay. Cimino has three grandchildren.

Cimino has been nominated for four Academy Awards and has won two Golden Globes. His net worth is estimated to be $40 million.

General Info

Full NameMichael Cimino
Date Of BirthFebruary 3, 1939
DiedJuly 2, 2016, Beverly Hills, California, United States
ProfessionScreenwriter, Film producer, Author, Film director
EducationMichigan State University, Yale University, Westbury High School


AwardsAcademy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Director, Leopard of Honour, Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture, Persol Tribute to Visionary Talent Award, Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film, New York Film Critics Circle Award for Bes...
NominationsAcademy Award for Best Original Screenplay, César Award for Best Foreign Film, BAFTA Award for Best Film, Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, BAFTA Award for Best Direction, National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director, Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Drama
MoviesThe Deer Hunter, Heaven's Gate, Year of the Dragon, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Sunchaser, The Sicilian, Desperate Hours, Magnum Force, Silent Running, To Each His Own Cinema, The Rose

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#Marks / Signs
1Abrupt flash-forwards (The Deer Hunter (1978), Heaven's Gate (1980), Year of the Dragon (1985))
2Striking visual style: Painterly compositions, jittery tracking shots, and wide vista establishing shots that emphasize the earth/nature (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), The Deer Hunter (1978), Heaven's Gate (1980), Desperate Hours (1990), The Sunchaser (1996)).
3Casting of non-professional actors in supporting roles ( Chuck Aspegren in The Deer Hunter (1978), Ariane in Year of the Dragon (1985)).
4[Poetic Realism] His films are all stylized yet realistic, they have fatalistic views of life, and the overall tone is a mix of nostalgia and bitterness. All of these traits fit within the definition of the poetic realism film movement in France of the 1930s and through the war years, which probably accounts for a lot of Cimino's popularity in France.
5Controversial subject matter (the Russian Roulette games set up by the Vietnamese in The Deer Hunter (1978), the negative stereotyping of the Chinese in Year of the Dragon (1985), the heroic portrayal of Italian criminal Salvatore Giuliano in The Sicilian (1987)).
6Characters disillusioned with the American Dream (The Deer Hunter (1978), Heaven's Gate (1980), The Sunchaser (1996)).
7Sudden bursts of violence in seemingly tranquil or naturalistic settings (the church shootout early in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), Vietnam war fighting in the jungle in The Deer Hunter (1978), mob attacks in Chinatown in Year of the Dragon (1985), kidnapping of a family in the suburban home of Desperate Hours (1990)).
8Frequently casts Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken and Jeff Bridges


1Originally I had a notion that all my work put together would be a kind of tapestry of American life. [July 2002]
2It's one of the things that movies do offer you, despite all of their hardships - they offer you moments of transcendence. We all want to experience that in our lives, a moment when we're two feet off the ground, and making movies gives you that opportunity. It comes and it goes so fast that it's unreal, but it does happen. What other reason is there? Michelangelo spent a couple of years on his back with paint dropping into his eyes while some crazy pope was off fighting wars. What else was he doing it for? [2013]
3You can have this incredibly gorgeous frame, magically lit, and you get the actors there, and just as you're ready to roll, a little cloud comes in front of the sun and the shot turns to shit. So you've got a choice: Do you shoot it looking utterly mediocre, or do you wait? And the mountain knows you're looking at your watch. And the mountain says, 'I'm going to test this joker.' Because the mountain doesn't automatically give you its beauty; it sees if you're equal to it. If you prove that you are, it will allow you to see it. [2013]
4Your favourite film is always the film you haven't made yet. [2015]
5I can do a movie basically with two lenses, the 10-to-one [zoom lens] and the 30mm lens. And with the 30mm you can do the biggest landscapes and the most incredible close-ups in the world. [2015]
6[on watching the restored Heaven's Gate (1980)] I'm blown away. I've watched it several times now, happily watched it, and I'd watch it again, especially on a big screen, especially the new version because I don't know what happened. Something happened with the color. I don't know whether it was due to the cinematographer messing around in the lab or whatever, but there was a red veil over everything, probably trying to make it dusty or something. But when I looked at the footage for the first time at Sony as I shot it, I was blown away. I said, "My God .." I remember calling Joann [Joann Carelli] in New York, who produced it, and I said, "Joann, I'm just looking at this footage, it's like looking at 3D, you can see forever." (...) It was like I was seeing the footage for the first time. And what you see now in the restoration, is the footage as it was meant to be, as it was shot. It's gleaming. The landscapes are just...they just pop. It's very, very exciting. And the thing that's the most exciting thing to me is, it was shot over a very long period of time under very difficult circumstances. It wasn't shot on the Disney ranch or some place in Burbank. I mean, it was shot where it was really shot - in the mountains. I didn't want to go to Monument Valley, that belongs to John Ford. I would never do that. I would never go where somebody else was. I had to find my own place, which I did. And it was difficult. Every part of it was difficult. Traveling was difficult. But the thing that blew me away was the energy of the people and the energy of the actors and the ability of the actors, all of the actors, to maintain the passion of the character through such a long period of production. It astonished me. [2015]
7Frank Lloyd Wright was an exceptional human being, not only a great architect, but he was a man of courage and flamboyance; he designed all his own clothes, and loved to wear a cape and ride a horse to work...he built the Guggenheim Museum in New York when he was 90. [2015]
8I'm a frustrated would-be architect, who stumbled into the would-be business of making movies. [2015]
9I never started out to make a film about the Vietnam War, I had no interest in the politics of war. I made a film about the effects of trauma and tragedy on a family...What has changed? Nothing...I'm sick of old men destroying people for their ideas...Any great movie about war is automatically anti-war if it tells the truth about war, you see the madness. [2015]
10[on the importance of patience in filmmaking] The mountain is waiting to see if you have the courage to wait. Time is money. If you have the courage to wait until the mountain says 'O.K., I will reveal my true beauty to you,' always say 'Thank you mountain, you give me the sight of your beauty.' [2015]
11[why it takes time to tell a story with characters we care about] Most people don't understand that's part of the reason for The Deer Hunter (1978) to run three hours. One of the reasons why people accept violence in American cinema, in films such as Halloween (1978), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and all that shit, is because the characters are false. And as long as the characters are false, cartoons, being chopped up in little pieces, it's OK, it's acceptable. But if you take time to show how normal those people are, to see their wedding, to get to know them, then watching that violence becomes a punch in your stomach. You get to know them in such a way that the slightest thing that will happen to them devastates us, but that won't happen if the characters are mere ideas. [2005]
12I believe that the best movies come from reality, they don't come from watching other movies. Too many people who make movies today before they start to make a movie they look at other movies to try and find scenes that they like. They're an accumulation of other things that have been done. [2015]
13I'm always fascinated with what everyone else thinks of my films. It's fascinating to hear different takes - it's as exciting as creating, to hear what others think, particularly when they seem to think the exact opposite. It's like the Bible, different people read completely different things into it. [2005]
14[on Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)] It's a fun film, I love the characters in the story, and I'm surprised I made it that way. [2005]
15I admire economy in cinema as I admire it in art, in painting. I don't like unnecessary rococo, unless it's beautiful, as it is in the work of the great architect Louis Sullivan, or [American artist and designer] Lewis Tiffany, or a true artist. But decorativism by itself is bad. It's just wallpaper. But other than a single lapse of judgment in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) where I went for a cross-fade - something I didn't even know what it was at the time - every single cut in all my films since The Deer Hunter (1978) is a straight cut. Even the period transitions are made with cuts. Everything is cut. No tricks. That comes from my art past - no tricks. (...) To make a 25-year leap in a cut is good, and it's great to be able to do it. The audience doesn't realise it, they just accept it and think it's part of the art of making movies, being able to transport the audience in time and space with such speed. That economy of means comes from my education in art and design, not from the movies, but I recognize it as I see it, and in Beauty and the Beast (1946), looking at it as an architect and designer and artist, I recognize that economy, just as I can recognize in Wassily Kandinsky the purity, the movement, the color, the shape, the simplicity against, for example, Pollock [Jackson Pollock], who is very tortured. Though I like Pollock - I studied under one of his brothers, but I'm not a great fan, I even find his brother Charles to be a better artist than Jackson. [2005]
16It's the accumulation of little details that makes us believe. [2005]
17Take any John Ford film, whether it's The Quiet Man (1952) or The Searchers (1956) or They Were Expendable (1945), a film I'm actually seeing tonight because I've never seen it on a big screen. Ford had such a simplicity of technique... No complicated camera moves, nothing exotic; all he cares about are the people and you don't even notice the camera. We just go along with the people - it's like "The Quiet Man", we are enveloped by those people, we like them immediately and forget everything else. And he does it with such an economy of means, something I admire a lot. It's like Degas' [Edgar Degas] wonderful ballet sculptures: a very simple yet very eloquent touch. [2005]
18You know, I don't think anyone can teach you to become a director. We can attend film schools, but I don't believe anyone can teach us to be writers, or to become a great athlete or a great football player or a great dancer. I think that, when we're born, the gods bestow upon us certain gifts. Not everyone can run as fast as anyone else, not everyone can be as tall, not everyone can kick a football into the distance, not everyone can run like David Beckham or dance like [Russian prima ballerina] Anna Pavlova. The thing is, each one of us must try to recognize our gift, whatever it is, and then, if you're lucky, find teachers, people who can help us shape the gift we're born with. Because we're not born with anything than can be given to us - nobody can give us talent, just like nobody can take it away from us. We just have it. If we're writers, we don't learn to write - we're writers. But we're lucky to find, throughout our schooling, one or two people who are important, influential, inspiring. (...) Yes, people who teach us to use our gift, to shape it, to help direct it. That is very hard. Because, as human beings, we like to think we're all the same and we can all do the same, that given the opportunity I could be David Beckham. But the fact is, I can't be David Beckham. I'm not David Beckham and I don't have his gift. But I can do things he can't - I don't have the eyes or the reactions of Michael Schumacher, I can't do what he does, what he does is miraculous. (...) But the point is to recognize what was given to us, to try to understand it, to accept it, as limited as it may be - to accept its greatness or smallness and then try to perfect the gift you have. It takes courage, because you may not have been given much, the gods don't give everything to everyone. It's a lottery, you never know. [2005]
19[on science-fiction] I don't find it interesting. I think the world is far too interesting for us to try and make up a new one. For me, the dimensions of human art are measureless. Like Coleridge [English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge] says, "caverns measureless to man, spaces measureless to man." There's so much of interest in real life and most people who write science fiction are running away from life to create a fictional world. I'd rather have real life. [2005]
20I learnt to edit by doing it. Somebody said, here, take a roll of film, put it in the machine, and you work with it this way...[2005]
21[on transcendence in art] ...there comes a moment - not just in the movies, I mentioned cinema because it involves a large group of people, but it can also happen in a dance company. There are so many elements you have to combine perfectly to achieve a great moment of cinema. 150 people in a soundstage, wires, cameras, technicians, actors, written scenes, dialogues, time, light... when you think of all of it, when 200 people come together in a perfect moment and everyone realizes something extraordinary is happening, everybody floats a few inches above the ground. It's a phenomenal feeling and I think it's one of the things that gets people to want to make movies. [2005]
22[on dance and choreography] I studied a little bit of acting in New York, because I thought that, if I was going to direct actors, I should know something about acting, and I also studied a little bit of dance, and it was all good fun. But I can't write without placing my characters in space, I need to see in three dimensions inside my head, to have a three-dimensional space. (...) I love choreography. I'd love to have been born George Balanchine, that would have been wonderful. (...) I love dances. And while actors are always on the phone or on their trailers, with dancers you just say "on your marks" and they're all ready to go. Out of all the people who work in interpretive arts, they're the hardest workers and the worst paid - I have immense respect for dancers and choreographers. I love them. As John Ford said, the three most interesting subjects for a camera are a running horse, a large mountain and a dancing couple. And if you think of the wonderful scenes in The Searchers (1956), or of Akira Kurosawa's running horses, or of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' magnificent dances... is there anything better you can shoot? [2005]
23I think it's very important, whether in architecture or in filmmaking... For instance, in architecture, when you look at a building, you're not looking at an abstract creation of concrete and steel, but at the realization of a man's spirit. If you're looking at a mediocre building it's because whoever designed it had a mediocre mind. If it's a superior building, you're looking at a superior mind. The building itself is completely expressive of who you are, just like a movie or a novel or something you make. You're always seeing in it how someone thinks, we're looking at the shape of his inner me, of his mind, his heart, his soul. [2005]
24We all know we'll never be able to reach perfection, but it's essential we keep trying. We must keep trying. That's where the essence of life lies. It's a matter of keeping the heart alive and vibrant, of remaining open and thankful to the life around us. I always remember a great quote by Louis Pasteur, the French scientist who said "luck favors the prepared spirit". For me, that sums it all up. [2005]
25Change is very important - to continue to change, to continue to grow up. I think once you stop you die, and that's one of the most important things to take into account when people react to your work, whether you write books, make movies or paint paintings. Whatever you do, if you're celebrated you have to be very careful about who's celebrating you, and when you're condemned you have to very careful about who condemns you. Because you should never let yourself become too impressed with yourself when you're complimented, and you should never let hate get into your heart when you're condemned, because when you let hate inside your heart dies. [2005]
26[on Terrence Malick] I think he's a remarkable talent, but Terry is actually a poet. He should be writing poetry instead of making movies. They're different things. Just like I'm no filmmaker, but an architect and a painter. We're both doing things we're not supposed to (laughs). [2005]
27You know, I never studied cinema. I never knew how to make a film, and I still don't know. (...) I'm quite astonished that I made what I made (laughter). Because, as you must know, my background is architecture, painting, that's where I come from. I'm much more intrigued by a good building than by a good movie. I'm much more interested in a big bridge or a great new novel or a great painting. When I'm asked about my influences, instead of rolling out 20 filmmakers, I say [American architect] Frank Lloyd Wright, Degas [French artist Edgar Degas]... Mahler [Austrian composer Gustav Mahler]... "Who?" But you have to remember I didn't come from the film world, I didn't study film. I once tried to read a book on film editing - after I'd begun doing it! - and I couldn't finish it, even though it was written by someone who knew a lot about it, I think it was Karel Reisz ["The Technique of Film Editing", first publ.1953]. And I found it so confusing I had to stop reading it (laughs). My world never was film to the exclusion of everything else. At all. I didn't even go to California to make movies - I went because I had family in the South Coast, Newport, La Jolla, Laguna, and as a kid I loved the California lifestyle: surfing, horse riding, riding a bike in the desert. Everything was done outdoors, fast cars, fast bikes, great horses. I loved that and that's why I went there. There was no other idea, I didn't even know much about movies so I certainly didn't go there with that in mind. [2005]
28[accepting his 'Best Director' Academy Award for The Deer Hunter (1978)] In a moment like this, it's difficult to leaven pride with humility, but I am proud to be here, proud of our work, proud to be part of this tradition. I'm proud of my dear, very special associates, Joann Carelli, Barry Spikings, Chris Walken [Christopher Walken], John Savage, Meryl Streep, the late John Cazale and, most especially, I embrace Robert De Niro, for his dedication and for his great dignity of heart. Thank you very much. [1979]
29Hollywood has always been crazy. It's controlled anarchy. But how can you loathe something that has given you so much? I wouldn't have had the life I've had without movies. [2001]
30[responding to a journalist's question about Heaven's Gate (1980) in 1990] I take full responsibility, and all other questions are answered by the film itself.
31This is a lonely country and people die of loneliness as surely as they die of cancer. But I also know that in every friendship there's the potential for destructiveness as well as nourishment.
32[on Steven Bach] This man has given me endless grief for his work of fiction, and it should be classified as fiction. He's made money off my blood, my work, for 20 years. [2002]
33[on Oliver Stone] Oliver thinks he's the greatest thing since chopped liver. He's a great guy, a great writer; we have a great working relationship and I love him. But he's a better writer than director. He's incredibly, insanely jealous about the fact that I published a novel. He's always wanted to be the next Hemingway; he didn't want to be a director. [July 2002]
34[on book publishing] When a guy is perceived as macho, female editors aren't going to like it - because they all want to be men.
35If you look at Buddhists, sometimes they appear like they are getting younger. It's not supernatural - they're just evolving as better human beings. If you're evolving, it's going to show on your face. The premier example of the polar extreme, of someone devolving, is Marlon Brando, who is getting nuttier every day. Enlightenment shows on the face. Depravity shows on the face.
36[before deciding to restore Heaven's Gate (1980)] I'm not revisiting the past, like Francis Ford Coppola, re-cutting Apocalypse Now (1979) 29 times. Why do you think Francis is re-cutting Apocalypse? He's dried up. I'm going forward; he's going backward. [July 2002]
37[on the fundamental importance of the director in filmmaking] Vilmos [cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond] and all those guys have built themselves up to be bigger than directors. It's bullshit. Does anyone remember who shot Stanley Kubrick's movies? Do you remember who shot David Lean's movies? No one remembers who shot Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) or Barry Lyndon (1975). [July 2002]
38I think some people think that I'm totally nuts. Some think I'm a druggie. They say I had $50,000 in my budget for Heaven's Gate (1980) allocated to cocaine. They say I'm an alcoholic. I'm not, despite rumors to the contrary. All the things people think I am, I'm not. That's why I never answer them in the press, because they're ridiculous. And some of them are pretty wild. They've said everything about me that they could: racist, Marxist, rightist, homophobic, sex-change - I don't know what else they could come up with.
39Nobody lives without making mistakes. I never second-guess myself. You can't look back. I don't believe in defeat. Everybody has bumps, but as Count Basie said, "It's not how you handle the hills, it's how you handle the valleys."
40[on Heaven's Gate (1980)] It took me a long time before I was able to say, "I'm proud of that movie." And I am proud of it. I could not have made it any better than I made it. No excuses, and no regrets. [July 2002]
41If you don't get it right, what's the point?
42Films are home movies of your past.
43I don't make movies intellectually, I don't make movies to make a point, I make movies to tell stories about people.
44[on The Deer Hunter (1978) post-9/11] They've been running The Deer Hunter (1978) like crazy on Bravo. And here is the whole goddamned Congress singing 'God Bless America' on the steps of the US Capitol. I said, 'Holy shit, this is the ending of the movie.' Do you get now, 20 years later, why that was in the movie? [July 2002]
45[how the failure of Heaven's Gate (1980) affected his life] It was really a great trauma, as everyone knows. Since then, I've been unable to make any movie that I've wanted to make. I've been making the best of what is available. [People Magazine, Nov. 11, 1996]


1Cimino recorded two audio commentaries during his lifetime: One for The Deer Hunter (1978) and one for Year of the Dragon (1985).
2After quitting directing, he found success as a novelist in France.
3Told Vanity Fair magazine in 2000, that his drastically altered looks during his later years were the results of jaw-alignment surgery. During the surgery all of his teeth had to be re-aligned which altered the shape of his face.
4His father was a music publisher, his mother a clothing designer.
5In 2001 he received the French honor 'L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres'.
6Cimino's dream project has been an adaptation of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Taking its cue from more than the novel, it was largely modeled on architect Jørn Utzon's troubled building of the Sydney Opera House, as well as the construction of the Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York. He wrote the script in between Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) and The Deer Hunter (1978), and hoped to have Clint Eastwood play Howard Roark. His other dream project has been an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
7In 1984, after being unable to finalize a deal with director Herbert Ross, Paramount Pictures offered the job of directing Footloose (1984) to Cimino. According to screenwriter Dean Pitchford, Cimino was at the helm for four months, making more and more extravagant demands in terms of set construction and overall production. In the process, Cimino reimagined the film as a musical-comedy inspired by The Grapes of Wrath. Paramount realized that it potentially had another Heaven's Gate (1980) on its hands. Cimino was fired and Ross was brought on to direct the picture.
8One of Cimino's goals since arriving in Hollywood was to make a film musical. One dream project was a musical inspired by "Porgy and Bess". Not a straight adaptation, it would have been a romance about a black gospel singer and a white Juilliard pianist, as they struggle to mount a production of the opera. Later Cimino was in talks with the producers to direct Evita (1996), but they finally decided to hire film musical specialist Alan Parker.
9Cimino was scheduled to work on The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), which would have reunited him with Mickey Rourke from Heaven's Gate (1980). After Rourke and Eric Roberts signed on as the leads, Cimino wanted to finesse the screenplay with some rewriting and restructuring. However, the rewriting would have taken Cimino beyond the mandated start date for shooting, so Cimino and MGM parted ways. Stuart Rosenberg was hired as a result. The film, while receiving admiring reviews, didn't fare well at the box office.
10Shortly after the Michael Collins biopic was cancelled (see above), Cimino quickly started pre-production work on Santa Ana Wind, a contemporary romantic drama set in L.A. The start date for shooting was to have been early December 1987. The screenplay was written by Floyd Mutrux and the film was to be bankrolled by Nelson Entertainment, which also backed Collins. Cimino's representative added that the film was "about the San Fernando Valley and the friendship between two guys" and "more intimate" than Cimino's previous big-budget work like Heaven's Gate (1980) and the yet-to-be-released The Sicilian (1987). However, Nelson Holdings International Ltd. cancelled the project after disclosing that its banks, including Security Pacific National Bank, had reduced the company's borrowing power after Nelson failed to meet certain financial requirements in its loan agreements. A spokesman for Nelson said the cancellation occurred "in the normal course of business," but declined to elaborate. The film had been budgeted at about $15 million and was to have begun production shortly. The film, intended for distribution by Columbia, didn't feature any major stars.
11Cimino spent a year and a half working on a script entitled "Perfect Strangers", a political love story. "It bears some resemblance to Casablanca (1942)," said Cimino, "involving the romantic relationship of three people. Someone called it a romantic Z (1969). I was very close to doing it. In fact, we'd already shot two weeks of pre-production stuff, but because of various political machinations at the studio, the project fell through. This was just before David Picker left. He was the producer. There were internal difficulties, that's all. Nevertheless, I'd spent a year and a half of my life on something. It had been a difficult time. My father passed away while I was writing the screenplay. I kept working ...".
12In the late 1970s, Cimino passed on an offer to direct Oliver Stone's screenplay for Midnight Express (1978). A few years later, he met Stone again and optioned his screenplay for Born on the Fourth of July (1989). Cimino was eager to make the film, going so far as to offer to work for nothing, even attracting Al Pacino for the role of Ron Kovic. The producers declined. The film was eventually directed by Stone himself in 1989, and the two would later collaborate on Year of the Dragon (1985).
13An article in The Hollywood Reporter about actor Leonard Termo touched on how he and Mickey Rourke were friends, and how Termo had appeared in most of Rourke's films. The article says "The pair also were set to appear in a Cimino biopic at Embassy Pictures about "Legs" Diamond that never got made, with Rourke as the legendary 1930s gangster and Termo playing his bodyguard.".
14Cimino also wanted to write and direct an adaptation of Frederick Manfred's Western novel "Conquering Horse", an epic, set in pre-white America, to have been shot in the Sioux language. Conquering Horse was intended to follow the anticipated success of Heaven's Gate (1980) but was never realized after the failure of that film.
15Cimino was attached to direct "The Dreaming Place" in 1997. The film, which was in the early stages of development, was to be a male vigilante story, along the lines of Paramount's Eye for an Eye (1996). Rodney Patrick Vaccaro wrote the screenplay under the supervision of Cimino, and Jonathon Komack Martin Martin was to be executive producer. The planned budget was not revealed.
16Cimino was in talks to direct The Yellow Jersey, a bicycle racing drama with a script by Carl Foreman and starring Dustin Hoffman. The project was ultimately abandoned as it proved logistically difficult to shoot during the actual Tour de France.
17Cimino claimed he got his start in documentary films following his work in academia and nearly completed a doctorate at Yale. Some of these details are repeated in reviews of Cimino's films or his official bios. Steven Bach refuted those claims in his book Final Cut: "[Cimino] had done no work toward a doctorate and he had become known in New York as a maker not of documentaries but of sophisticated television commercials.".
18Cimino wrote a biopic about Janis Joplin called "Pearl" while working on a Frank Costello biopic, both for 20th Century Fox. "It's almost a musical," replied Cimino, "I was working with Bo Goldman on that one and we were doing a series of rewrites." "All these projects were in the air at once," Cimino recalled, "I postponed 'The Fountainhead' until we had a first draft on 'Pearl', then after meetings with Jimmy began Frank Costello.".
19In 2001, Cimino published his first novel, "Big Jane". Later that year, the French Minister of Culture decorated him with the honor 'Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres' and he received the Prix Littéraire Deauville 2001, an award that previously went to Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. Cimino said: "Oh, I'm the happiest, I think, I've ever been!" He also wrote a book called "Conversations en miroir" with Francesca Pollock in 2003.
20After Perfect Strangers fell through (see above), Cimino spent two and a half years working with James Toback on The Life and Dreams of Frank Costello, a biopic on the life of mafia boss Costello, for 20th Century Fox. "We got a good screenplay together," said Cimino, "but again, the studio, 20th Century Fox in this case, was going through management changes and the script was put aside." Cimino added, "Costello took a long time because Costello himself had a long, interesting life. The selection of things to film was quite hard.
21His nephew is novelist and screenwriter T. Rafael Cimino.
22During the production of The Deer Hunter (1978), Cimino had given co-workers (such as cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and associate producer Joann Carelli) the vague impression that much of the storyline was biographical, somehow related to the director's own experience and based on the experiences of men he had known during his service in Vietnam. Just as the film was about to open, Cimino gave an interview to The New York Times in which he claimed that he had been "attached to a Green Beret medical unit" at the time of the Tet Offensive of 1968. When the Times reporter, who had not been able to corroborate this, questioned the studio about it, studio executives panicked and fabricated "evidence" to support the story. Universal Studios president Thom Mount commented at the time, "I know this guy. He was no more a medic in the Green Berets than I'm a rutabaga."Tom Buckley, a veteran Vietnam correspondent for the Times, corroborated that Cimino had done a stint as an Army medic, but that the director had never been attached to the Green Berets. Cimino's active service - just six months in 1962 - had been as a reservist who was never deployed to Vietnam. Cimino's publicist reportedly said that he intended to sue Buckley, but Cimino never did.
23In 1987, Cimino attempted to make an epic saga about the 1920s Irish revolutionary Michael Collins with funding by Nelson Entertainment, but the film had to be abandoned due to budget problems. Later Irish director Neil Jordan made Michael Collins (1996) based on his own screenplay.
24Cimino worked on two films with the short story writer Raymond Carver. The first was Purple Lake, a contemporary Western about "juvenile delinquents who return to society after serving time in prison. The other was a biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Backed by Carlo Ponti, Carver took over from an uncredited Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Heavily researched, and taking Dostoyevsky's near execution as its focal point, the final screenplay was 220 pages long. Fragments were eventually published by Capra Press.
25Cimino adapted the Andre Malraux novel "Man's Fate" and to be shot in Shanghai with Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, John Malkovich, Uma Thurman, and Alain Delon. Years earlier, Fred Zinnemann had done pre-producton work and had gone through considerable rehearsal with his cast when the plug was pulled by MGM just prior to the beginning of principle photography.
26Living in Paris, France, where he published two successful novels. [February 2004]
27Turned down the offer to direct The Bounty (1984).
28Directed 4 actors in Oscar nominated performances: Jeff Bridges, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep. Walken won for his performance in The Deer Hunter (1978).
29During the production of his film Year of the Dragon (1985) in Thailand, he was made an Honorary Colonel of the Thailand Air Force.
30Had Heaven's Gate (1980) been a hit instead of a flop, he intended to follow it up with another epic which he had already scripted: "Conquering Horse." This screenplay was a generational saga, tracing the history of the Sioux Indians in America. Cimino planned for the entire movie to be told in authentic Sioux dialogue, with English subtitles. To date, this picture has never been filmed.
31His last name is pronounced "Chee-Mee-Noh.". It is the name of the Italian city where his family is from.
32In 1981, he wrote "Proud Dreamer," a screenplay about the life of gangster Frank Costello. CBS turned the script down because he asked for too much money to shoot it; the film was never produced. Rumor has it that Cimino sold this screenplay elsewhere, and that it ultimately became the movie Mobsters (1991), but that remains unsubstantiated.
33In 1981, he was hired by CBS to direct "Live on Tape," a film about camera crews. but after Heaven's Gate (1980) crashed and burned at the box office, CBS changed their minds; the movie remains unmade to this day.
34In 1979, he was considered to direct The King of Comedy (1982), which would have re-teamed him with Robert De Niro. Because of Cimino's preoccupation with Heaven's Gate (1980), Martin Scorsese directed the film.
35In December 1981, Cimino was signed to direct the musical Footloose (1984). Producer Daniel Melnick warned him that if the film went over its budget of $7.5 million, Cimino would have to cover the expenses himself. Cimino agreed, but the following month, just as the movie was about to begin shooting, he asked Melnick to let him rewrite the screenplay for an additional $ 250.000 and to delay the start date. Melnick fired him and Herbert Ross directed Footloose (1984) instead.
36Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume Two, 1945-1985". Pages 214-219. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988.
37The story behind the notorious commercial failure of Heaven's Gate (1980) was told by former United Artists executive Steven Bach in his book "Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's Gate", first published in 1985. Subsequently the documentary Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate (2004)) was produced, based on Bach's book and with with new interviews. Cimino has dismissed the book as "pure fiction" and didn't participate in the documentary.
38Among the projects he has reportedly been involved with over the years; some work on The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984); writing contributions to The Dogs of War (1980). The extent of his contributions are unknown, as he remains unbilled for any of these films.
39Among the Cimino dream projects that have stalled in development: An adaptation of The Fountainhead; a bipoic on Dostoevsky; an adaptation of the novel The Yellow Jersey (a bicycle marathon-themed novel that at one time reportedly caught the interest of Dustin Hoffman); an adaptation of the Andre Malraux novel Man's Fate; a film about the Tour de France; an adaptation of Crime and Punhisment.
40There has been much confusion over Cimino's birthdate throughout the years. In December 1978 interviews for The Deer Hunter (1978), he claimed to be 35 (he was apparently two months shy of his fortieth birthday), and his birth month was believed to be November. He has made similar claims in subsequent years, always purporting to be in his mid-to-late thirties. His birthdate is believed to be February 1939, a date consistent with the years he earned both his Bachelor's (1961) and Master's (1963) Degrees.
41Producer Dino De Laurentiis offered Cimino the chance to direct "Hand Carved Coffins", based on Truman Capote's book, but Cimino turned it down. To date, the material has not been produced as a film.
42Received a B.F.A. degree in Painting from Yale University in 1961 and an M.F.A. in Painting from Yale University in 1963.




Il pianto della statua2007short story "The Wind Sculpture"
Year of the Dragon1985screenplay
250.000 Mücken im Pappkarton1985TV Movie
Heaven's Gate1980written by
The Rose1979story - uncredited
The Deer Hunter1978story
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot1974written by
Magnum Force1973screenplay
Silent Running1972written by - as Mike Cimino


Chacun son cinéma ou Ce petit coup au coeur quand la lumière s'éteint et que le film commence2007segment "No Translation Needed"
The Sunchaser1996
Desperate Hours1990
The Sicilian1987
Year of the Dragon1985
Heaven's Gate1980
The Deer Hunter1978
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot1974


The Sunchaser1996producer
Desperate Hours1990producer
The Sicilian1987producer
The Deer Hunter1978producer


City of Life2009special thanks
Finding Home2003thanks
The Big Brass Ring1999special thanks
Platoon1986special thanks


Une journée particulière2012DocumentaryHimself
Realising 'The Deer Hunter': An Interview with Michael Cimino2003Video shortHimself
Mundo VIP1999TV SeriesHimself
Biography1994TV Series documentaryHimself
Kris Kristofferson: His Life and Work1993TV Movie documentaryHimself
Cinema 31990TV SeriesHimself
Slotavond van de Nederlandse Filmdagen1985TV MovieHimself - Co-Presenter: Best Film
Signature1982TV SeriesHimself - Guest
The 51st Annual Academy Awards1979TV Special documentaryHimself - Winner: Best Picture, Best Director & Nominee: Best Original Screenplay
The South Bank Show1979TV Series documentaryHimself

Archive Footage

Días de cine2016TV SeriesHimself
Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate2004DocumentaryHimself


Won Awards

2015Leopard of HonorLocarno International Film Festival
2012Persol AwardVenice Film Festival
2001Lucien Barrière Literary AwardDeauville Film FestivalFor the novel "Big Jane".
1982Razzie AwardRazzie AwardsWorst DirectorHeaven's Gate (1980)
1981Stinker AwardThe Stinkers Bad Movie AwardsWorst Sense of Direction (Stop them before they direct again!)Heaven's Gate (1980)
1980MarqueeAmerican Movie AwardsBest DirectorThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1980Blue Ribbon AwardBlue Ribbon AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1980Readers' Choice AwardKinema Junpo AwardsBest Foreign Language Film DirectorThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1979OscarAcademy Awards, USABest PictureThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1979OscarAcademy Awards, USABest DirectorThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1979Golden GlobeGolden Globes, USABest Director - Motion PictureThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1979DGA AwardDirectors Guild of America, USAOutstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion PicturesThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1979Hochi Film AwardHochi Film AwardsBest Foreign Language FilmThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1978LAFCA AwardLos Angeles Film Critics Association AwardsBest DirectorThe Deer Hunter (1978)

Nominated Awards

1996Palme d'OrCannes Film FestivalThe Sunchaser (1996)
1987Sant JordiSant Jordi AwardsBest Foreign Film (Mejor Película Extranjera)Year of the Dragon (1985)
1986CésarCésar Awards, FranceBest Foreign Film (Meilleur film étranger)Year of the Dragon (1985)
1986Razzie AwardRazzie AwardsWorst DirectorYear of the Dragon (1985)
1986Razzie AwardRazzie AwardsWorst ScreenplayYear of the Dragon (1985)
1982Razzie AwardRazzie AwardsWorst ScreenplayHeaven's Gate (1980)
1981Palme d'OrCannes Film FestivalHeaven's Gate (1980)
1980BAFTA Film AwardBAFTA AwardsBest DirectionThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1979OscarAcademy Awards, USABest Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the ScreenThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1979WGA Award (Screen)Writers Guild of America, USABest Drama Written Directly for the ScreenThe Deer Hunter (1978)
1973HugoHugo AwardsBest Dramatic PresentationSilent Running (1972)

3rd Place Awards

1979NSFC AwardNational Society of Film Critics Awards, USABest DirectorThe Deer Hunter (1978)

Source: IMDb, Wikipedia

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