Six Degrees of Separation (1993)

R | 111 mins | Comedy-drama | 8 December 1993

Director:

Fred Schepisi

Writer:

John Guare

Cinematographer:

Ian Baker

Editor:

Peter Honess

Production Designer:

Patrizia Von Brandenstein

Production Companies:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , Maiden Movies, New Regency Films
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HISTORY

Six Degrees of Separation is an adaptation of John Guare’s play of the same name, which debuted on Broadway on 8 Nov 1990. According to a 7 Jun 1993 article in New York magazine, Guare drew the idea from the experiences of his friend, former Newsweek editor Osborn Elliot, and Elliot’s wife, Inger. The Elliots were the inspiration for “Flan” and “Ouisa Kittredge,” while “Paul” was based on the real-life con artist, David Hampton. As reported in a 4 May 1992 Var article, Hampton gained entry into the homes of several elite New York families during the early 1980s by pretending to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier. He eventually pled guilty to charges of attempted second-degree burglary and received eighteen months to four years in prison.
       According to the 8 Dec 1993 HR, director Fred Schepisi went to see Guare’s play twice in New York City, but did not consider its potential as a feature film until his agent, Sam Cohn, suggested the idea. After seeing the play a third time, Schepisi pitched the project to Guare, who responded enthusiastically. On 7 Dec 1990, HR announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chairman Alan Ladd, Jr. had acquired film rights for an “undisclosed sum,” with Guare signed to adapt his work for the screen. While MGM would handle domestic distribution, international sales were acquired by New Regency Films, backed by Le Studio Canal+ and Warner Bros. The deal reunited Ladd with New Regency’s Arnon Milchan, who last worked together on Once Upon a Time in America (1984, see entry). Early estimates listed the budget at $30-$40 million.
       ... More Less

Six Degrees of Separation is an adaptation of John Guare’s play of the same name, which debuted on Broadway on 8 Nov 1990. According to a 7 Jun 1993 article in New York magazine, Guare drew the idea from the experiences of his friend, former Newsweek editor Osborn Elliot, and Elliot’s wife, Inger. The Elliots were the inspiration for “Flan” and “Ouisa Kittredge,” while “Paul” was based on the real-life con artist, David Hampton. As reported in a 4 May 1992 Var article, Hampton gained entry into the homes of several elite New York families during the early 1980s by pretending to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier. He eventually pled guilty to charges of attempted second-degree burglary and received eighteen months to four years in prison.
       According to the 8 Dec 1993 HR, director Fred Schepisi went to see Guare’s play twice in New York City, but did not consider its potential as a feature film until his agent, Sam Cohn, suggested the idea. After seeing the play a third time, Schepisi pitched the project to Guare, who responded enthusiastically. On 7 Dec 1990, HR announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chairman Alan Ladd, Jr. had acquired film rights for an “undisclosed sum,” with Guare signed to adapt his work for the screen. While MGM would handle domestic distribution, international sales were acquired by New Regency Films, backed by Le Studio Canal+ and Warner Bros. The deal reunited Ladd with New Regency’s Arnon Milchan, who last worked together on Once Upon a Time in America (1984, see entry). Early estimates listed the budget at $30-$40 million.
       Schepisi insisted that actress Stockard Channing, who originated the role of Ouisa on Broadway and London’s West End, reprise her character for the film. Donald Sutherland was initially reluctant to star due to the small salary, but changed his mind after meeting with Schepisi in person. Milchan suggested Will Smith after working with him on Made in America (1993, see entry).
       A 2 Nov 1992 Var news item falsely reported that MGM had canceled development because the $18 million budget was too high, but various sources listed a final cost of $15-$16 million. The majority of production was scheduled to take place in Toronto, Canada, with limited New York City exteriors. However, Guare’s former roommate from Georgetown University alerted filmmakers to a recently converted condominium at 1049 Fifth Avenue that was vacant and available to stand in for the Kittredges’ Upper East Side apartment. For $200,000, production was allowed to use the space for four months, eliminating the need to build a lavish apartment set inside a sound stage. Exteriors were shot at 860 Fifth Avenue. In exchange for permission to use the building, production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein volunteered her services to help the co-op board complete the unfinished lobby. New York City Teamsters and other unions reportedly bent their rules to accommodate the schedule and produce the picture as cheaply as possible.
       According to a 9 Mar 1993 HR production chart, principal photography began 4 Mar 1993, and concluded 20 May 1993. Schepisi agreed to shoot out of sequence to appease Sutherland, who claimed that starting with the middle of the film would serve as a “warm up” for the actors, as opposed to making mistakes in the opening scenes that could potentially alienate the audience. Production notes in AMPAS library files cite the following New York City locations: Central Park; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Lincoln Center’s State Theater; a Soho loft; a downtown roller rink; the Rainbow Room; Mortimer’s; Gotham Bar & Grill and Arcadia. New York noted that filming also took place outside the Italian Cultural Institute, 1088 Park Avenue, and the Waverly Theatre in Greenwich Village. Manhattan College in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx stood in for Harvard University, while the Sistine Chapel ceiling was recreated on a West 23rd Street pier. To build the Kittredges’ extensive art collection, Von Brandenstein collected works of Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, David Salle, and Robert Mapplethorpe, although the Wassily Kandinsky painting featured in the story was fabricated specially for the film. According to a Jan 1994 Us magazine item, filmmakers received special permission from the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which housed a collection of real, copyright-protected Kandinsky paintings, and mandated that the prop painting be destroyed in the presence of museum employees to prevent the piece from entering circulation in the art trade.
       New York indicated that Smith strongly objected to his character’s homosexuality, stating that the carriage kiss scene between him and Eric Thal “bothered him from the moment he read it.” After several failed takes, Schepisi filmed the back of Smith’s head so as to “suggest” the kiss—a tactic that was also used for Smith’s love scene with Anthony Michael Hall.
       Before the picture’s release, the 18 Nov 1993 DV reported that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) forced MGM to re-edit the promotional trailer and remove a brief shot of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco, “The Creation of Adam,” due to its display of male genitalia. MPAA President Jack Valenti regretted the decision, which he claimed was made without his knowledge.
       According to a 23 Nov 1993 DV brief, the West Coast premiere took place 8 Dec 1993 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, while a 9 Dec 1993 LAT story noted that a New York City premiere at Loews Astor Plaza benefitted the City Parks Foundation. Six Degrees of Separation opened 8 Dec 1993 in Los Angeles, and 10 Dec 1993 in New York City. The 4 Oct 1993 HR stated that several more cities would be added 22 Dec 1993, before the film expanded to wide release on 21 Jan 1994. Posters and publicity materials advertised the picture under an alternate version of the title, 6 Degrees of Separation.
       The film was a critical success, and Stockard Channing received an Academy Award nomination for Actress in a Leading Role, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture—Comedy or Musical.
       End credits state: ”Six Degrees of Separation originally produced by Lincoln Center Theater, New York City”; “Special Thanks: Furs by Alixandre; Barbour, Inc.; William Beadleston, Inc.; John Cheim; Clarence House Imports, Ltd.; Contrans – Habitat; Creda Inc.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Ann Hickey Gallery – Renée Fotouhi East; Ike Behar Apparel & Design Ltd.; 1049 Fifth Avenue and HMEI; Hugh Lauter Levin Associates Inc.; Lennox Lighting; Lyle & Scott; Mapplethorpe works ©Estate of Robert Mapplethorpe. Used by permission. All rights reserved.; Jason McCoy Gallery; Robert Miller Gallery; New York State Theater, under the direction of City Center Music & Drama, Inc.; Alexander R. Raydon, Raydon Gallery, N.Y.; Dinnerware by Spode; Simpson’s on Bleeker; Shepherd Gallery, New York; Sperone Westwater Gallery; Steinway & Sons Pianos; Men’s Wardrobe by Sulka; Vera Wang Bridal Collection; Waterford Crystal; Wedgewood U.S.A.; Wilton Armetale”; and, “We gratefully appreciate the assistance of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting and the New York City Police Department—Special Operations Division.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
8 Sep 1992
p. 3.
Daily Variety
18 Nov 1993.
---
Daily Variety
23 Nov 1993.
---
Daily Variety
12 Jan 1994.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Dec 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 1993.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1993.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1993.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 1993.
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Dec 1993.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Dec 1993
Calendar, p. 4.
New York
7 Jun 1993
pp. 39-43.
New York Times
8 Dec 1993
Section C, p. 17.
Us
Jan 1994.
---
Variety
4 May 1992
p. 297, 301.
Variety
2 Nov 1992.
---
Variety
13 Dec 1993
pp. 37-38.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Jeffrey Abrams
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents
A Maiden Movies/New Regency Production
A Fred Schepisi Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
Chief lighting tech
Best boy elec
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Grip
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Steadicam op
Steadicam op
Still photog
Video playback
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst set dec
Art dept coord
FILM EDITORS
Post prod supv
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
2d asst ed
Negative cutter
Lightworks consultant
Lightworks ed equip supplied by
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Addl prop
Leadman
Set dresser
Set dresser
Const coord
Key shop craftsman
Shop craftsman
Key const grip
Master scenic artist
Cam scenic artist
Scenic artist
Scenic shop person
Const shop asst
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Ward supv
Ward supv
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond by
Mus ed
Mus rec at
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Sd utility
Sd supv ed
Sd eff ed
Dial ed
Asst sd ed
2d asst sd ed
Supv ADR ed
ADR ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Foley
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Opticals by
Melbourne, Australia
Opticals by, Cinevex Film Laboratories
Opticals by, Cinevex Film Laboratories
MAKEUP
Make-up des by
Key hair stylist
Mr. Sutherland's hair des
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Dialect coach
Acting coach
Dial coach
Scr supv
Scr supv
Asst prod coord
Prod secy
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Payroll accountant
Casting assoc
Casting asst
Extras casting
ADR voice casting
Post prod accountant
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt
Parking coord
Asst to Mr. Schepisi
Asst to Mr. Kidney and Mr. Guare
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Unit pub, Dennis Davidson Associates
Unit pub, Dennis Davidson Associates
Craft services
Craft services
Helicopter pilot
Dance instructor
Animal trainer
Transportation driver
Transportation driver
Transportation driver
Transportation driver
Post prod facilities
Melbourne, Australia
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare (New York, 8 Nov 1990).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"'The American' Quartet #6 In F Major, Op. 96," by Antonin Dvorak
"The Bridal Chorus from 'Lohengrin'," by Richard Wagner
"Quartet In G Minor, Op. 10," by Claude Debussy
+
SONGS
"'The American' Quartet #6 In F Major, Op. 96," by Antonin Dvorak
"The Bridal Chorus from 'Lohengrin'," by Richard Wagner
"Quartet In G Minor, Op. 10," by Claude Debussy
"'Trio,' Op. 99, 2nd Movement," by Franz Schubert
"Swan Lake" (Ballet), by Peter Tchaikovsky
"Just One Of Those Things," by Cole Porter
"The Very Thought Of You," by Ray Noble
"Blue Tango," by Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish
"Try To Remember," by Harvey Schmidt.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
6 Degrees of Separation
Release Date:
8 December 1993
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 8 December 1993
New York opening: 10 December 1993
Production Date:
4 March--20 May 1993
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Copyright Date:
28 February 1994
Copyright Number:
PA686397
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed with Panavision® Cameras & Lenses
Duration(in mins):
111
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
32655
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Despite a frenzied morning, New York City socialites John “Flan” Flanders and Ouisa Kittredge reluctantly attend the wedding of some distant friends. Immediately after the ceremony, the couple regales the other guests with the unexpected events of the previous evening: Late in the afternoon, they received a call from their “superfluously wealthy” South African friend, Geoffrey Miller, inviting himself to dinner. The Kittredges relish the opportunity, since Flan, a private art dealer, needs to borrow $2 million to close a sale on a Paul Cézanne painting. Suddenly, a young black man named Paul arrives at the door, injured from a recent mugging, and identifies himself as a Harvard University classmate of the Kittredges’ children. Once Flan tends to Paul’s wounds, the boy expresses interest in a double-sided Wassily Kandinsky painting, which represents both “chaos” and “control.” He further impresses the socialites by claiming he is the son of actor Sidney Poitier. Although Geoffrey and the Kittredges have dinner reservations, Paul eagerly suggests he cook for them instead. Relaying facts about Sidney Poitier’s life, Paul tempts his starstruck hosts with an offer to appear as background actors in his father’s next film. Ouisa and Flan insist Paul spend the night and give him $50 to meet his father, who is scheduled to arrive in New York the next day. Geoffrey excuses himself for the evening, but agrees to contribute $2 million toward the Cézanne. Once Paul retires to the spare bedroom, the Kittredges rejoice in the investment, which saved them from falling into debt. Early the next morning, Ouisa walks in on Paul having sex with a man. The Kittredges panic and throw Paul and the stranger out of the ... +


Despite a frenzied morning, New York City socialites John “Flan” Flanders and Ouisa Kittredge reluctantly attend the wedding of some distant friends. Immediately after the ceremony, the couple regales the other guests with the unexpected events of the previous evening: Late in the afternoon, they received a call from their “superfluously wealthy” South African friend, Geoffrey Miller, inviting himself to dinner. The Kittredges relish the opportunity, since Flan, a private art dealer, needs to borrow $2 million to close a sale on a Paul Cézanne painting. Suddenly, a young black man named Paul arrives at the door, injured from a recent mugging, and identifies himself as a Harvard University classmate of the Kittredges’ children. Once Flan tends to Paul’s wounds, the boy expresses interest in a double-sided Wassily Kandinsky painting, which represents both “chaos” and “control.” He further impresses the socialites by claiming he is the son of actor Sidney Poitier. Although Geoffrey and the Kittredges have dinner reservations, Paul eagerly suggests he cook for them instead. Relaying facts about Sidney Poitier’s life, Paul tempts his starstruck hosts with an offer to appear as background actors in his father’s next film. Ouisa and Flan insist Paul spend the night and give him $50 to meet his father, who is scheduled to arrive in New York the next day. Geoffrey excuses himself for the evening, but agrees to contribute $2 million toward the Cézanne. Once Paul retires to the spare bedroom, the Kittredges rejoice in the investment, which saved them from falling into debt. Early the next morning, Ouisa walks in on Paul having sex with a man. The Kittredges panic and throw Paul and the stranger out of the house, terrified by the possibility that they could have been robbed or murdered in their sleep. A few days later, the Kittredges meet their friends, Kitty and Larkin, eager to share their outrageous story. Before they can begin, however, Kitty recounts their identical experience meeting Paul the night before. Realizing they have been duped, the four friends go the police station, but realize Paul has technically done nothing to warrant pressing charges. A few days later, the two couples learn that a doctor also encountered Paul at the hospital, believed his story, and willingly gave him the keys to his Brownstone apartment. Accompanied by Dr. Fine, the friends find a biography of Sidney Poitier and discover the actor has no sons. Wondering how Paul was able to learn so many intimate details about their lives, they ask their children to question their classmates. Although the resentful students initially resist, Talbot “Tess” Kittredge traces Paul to a former acquaintance named Trent Conway. Trent admits to meeting Paul on a rainy night in Boston, Massachusetts, and inviting him back to his apartment for sex. During the encounter, Paul picked up Trent’s address book and questioned him for information about the people listed inside. Over the next three months, Trent molded Paul into a model aesthete, but Paul eventually disappeared with the address book and several of Trent’s valuables. Amazed by this discovery, Ouisa considers how Paul’s presence in their lives perpetuates the “six degrees of separation” theory, which suggests everyone on the planet is connected by only six people. Later, Flan and Ouisa travel to Rome, Italy, to see the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. Upon their return, an aspiring actress named Elizabeth reveals that Paul has been spreading rumors that he is Flan’s estranged son, born to a black woman during the Civil Rights movements in the South. Believing he wanted to reconnect with his father, Elizabeth and her boyfriend, Rick, welcomed Paul into their cramped apartment. After a few weeks, Paul pretended to have made amends with Flan, and asked to borrow $250 under the pretense of traveling to Maine to meet his long-lost grandparents. Although Elizabeth refused to loan him the cash, Rick secretly withdrew the money from their joint bank account. As thanks, Paul treated Rick to dinner at the Rainbow Room and seduced him in the back of a hansom cab before running away. Furious, Elizabeth confronted the Kittredges’ doorman, igniting gossip that spread wildly throughout the couple’s elite social circles. Sometime later, Rick commits suicide, and police finally agree to press charges against Paul if they can track him down. A newspaper story about the repeated incidents prompts Paul to telephone Ouisa pleading for the Kittredges’ friendship. Although Ouisa and Flan feel betrayed and embarrassed by his deception, Paul insists he cannot make something of himself unless they help him. Realizing the boy is deeply troubled, Ouisa promises to accept him as part of their family if he agrees to let her escort him to the police station. Due to traffic, however, police arrest Paul before Ouisa can reach him. Without his real name, Ouisa is unable to trace his location, and remains plagued by guilt at the thought of him locked in maximum-security prison on Rikers Island. While once again relaying the story to a group of rapt business associates, Ouisa breaks down crying because Paul’s life, now possibly endangered, has become a fashionable “anecdote” for people who take their privilege for granted. Running out of the party, she asks Flan, “How much of your life can you account for?” Flan reminds her that he makes his living by gambling on business ventures, and Ouisa proclaims, “We’re a terrible match,” and storms off. Looking in a shop window on Fifth Avenue, she imagines Paul referring to the double-sided Kandinsky painting, smiles, and continues walking. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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