Chicken Run” executive producer Jake Eberts dies

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Jake Eberts

Jake Eberts

Montreal-born pro­ducer Jake Eberts, whose movies won 37 Oscars — includ­ing four for best pic­ture — died Thurs­day morn­ing in his home­town after a brief ill­ness. He was 71.

He was exec­u­tive pro­ducer of seven the­atri­cal ani­mated fea­ture films, includ­ing the 2000 hit Chicken Run, on which he part­nered with Jef­frey Katzenberg.

Oth­ers were The Nut­cracker Prince (1990), The Thief And The Cob­bler (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Doo­gal and Renais­sance (both 2006), and The Illu­sion­ist (2010).

Born John David Eberts on July 10, 1941, he grew up in Mon­treal and Arvida, Que­bec. He attended Bishop’s Col­lege School in Lennoxville, Que­bec and grad­u­ated from McGill Uni­ver­sity (Bach­e­lor of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing 1962) and Har­vard Busi­ness School (MBA 1966).

Eberts’s work­ing career began as a start-up engi­neer for L’Air Liq­uide in Spain, Italy, Ger­many and France. He then spent three years as a Wall Street investor. He moved to Lon­don in 1971, where he joined Oppen­heimer & Co., ris­ing to the posi­tion of man­ag­ing direc­tor of the British bro­ker­age and invest­ment com­pany in 1976.

With no appar­ent prior inter­est in film, he turned to film financ­ing in about 1977, and joined David Put­tnam in found­ing Gold­crest Films, an inde­pen­dent film pro­duc­tion com­pany, for which he served as pres­i­dent and CEO. His first ven­ture was the 1978 ani­mated movie Water­ship Down, directed by Mar­tin Rosen.

He pro­duced or financed over 50 films, includ­ing Char­i­ots of Fire, Gandhi, The Killing Fields, Dances with Wolves, Dri­ving Miss Daisy, The Dresser, Local Hero, A River Runs Through It, Black Robe, Ocean and Grey Owl. He worked with such famed actors as Robert Red­ford, Ben Kings­ley, Mor­gan Free­man, Bruce Beres­ford, Richard Atten­bor­ough, Pierce Bros­nan and Albert Finney.

He was an extra­or­di­nary film pro­ducer and an extra­or­di­nary man,” said his close friend, Mon­treal direc­tor and fre­quent ten­nis part­ner Denys Arcand, a close friend and fre­quent ten­nis part­ner of Eberts. “He took film­mak­ing seri­ously. He felt cin­ema should be used to bet­ter mankind. This is a lofty stan­dard in an age where movies are being adapted from comic books. He had such noble ideals and morals.”

He was such a smart and elo­quent man, yet he was also such a hum­ble man and such a gen­er­ous man — he gave to so many causes,” said pro­ducer Denise Robert, Arcand’s wife and film col­lab­o­ra­tor. “He brought out the best in every­body. It’s a great loss for us, but it’s also a great loss for the world.”

It’s a huge loss for the film com­mu­nity, but also for mem­bers of his extended fam­ily,” said the producer’s brother, Jay Eberts. “He touched the lives of so many and brought so much light into the world. He was an inspi­ra­tion to us all.”

Mon­treal film pro­ducer Kevin Tier­ney described Eberts as some­one scarcely seen nowa­days in the movie busi­ness: “A great entre­pre­neur with a great esthetic sense. They just don’t make them like him any more.”

In 1985, Eberts founded Allied Film­mak­ers, based in Lon­don and Paris, an inde­pen­dent fea­ture film devel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion company.

Eberts served as media advi­sor to Par­tic­i­pant Media and the Abu Dhabi Media Com­pany. He sat on the board of the Sun­dance Channel.

A res­i­dent of Lon­don and Paris for 50 years, Eberts was chair­man of National Geo­graphic Films (which dis­trib­uted March of the Pen­guins) and trustee emer­i­tus of the Sun­dance Institute.

In 1991, Eberts pub­lished My Inde­ci­sion Is Final, his auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal study of the film indus­try. In 1992, he became an Offi­cer of the Order of Canada. Eberts was awarded hon­orary doc­tor­ates by McGill Uni­ver­sity in 1998, Bishop’s Uni­ver­sity in 1999 and Trent Uni­ver­sity in 2005.

Eberts’s most recent project, the IMAX 3D doc­u­men­tary Jerusalem, is sched­uled for release in 2013.

I could never be a direc­tor because I could never stand focus­ing all that time on just one project,” he said last year in a Mon­treal Gazette inter­view. “I’m much more the exec­u­tive producer.”

Eberts began, oddly enough, as an engineer.

Peo­ple wouldn’t think of some­one with a chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing back­ground to end up in the movie world,” he said. “But life can take you down these won­der­ful paths.”

Besides his brother, Jake Eberts is sur­vived by his wife Fiona and their adult chil­dren: sons Alex and Dave and daugh­ter Lindsay.

The funeral is pri­vate. Plans for a memo­r­ial will be announced soon.

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