December 29, 1947
January 20, 2014
Los Angeles, California, United States
Producer, Executive, Stock analyst
James Jacks left a career as a Wall Street stock analyst to try his hand at screenwriting. When that did not pan out, he turned to a career first as a successful studio executive at Universal and later as an independent producer with Alphaville Productions, formed with Sean Daniel. The producing pair delivered such box office hits as the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle "Hard Target" (1993) and the John Travolta fantasy "Michael" (1996), as well as critically-acclaimed indie fare like Richard Linklater's 1970s high school period piece "Dazed and Confused" (1993). Although the international blockbuster "The Mummy" (1999) was Jacks' biggest financial success, he continued producing films up until his 2014 death.Although he had several screenplays optioned, Jacks really became immersed in show business when he became head of production for the Washington, DC-based Circle Films in the mid-1980s. During his tenure, he supervised the distribution of Ethan and Joel Coen's "Blood Simple" (1984) and served as executive producer of the Coens' "Raising Arizona" (1987). Jacks subsequently migrated to Hollywood to become vice-president of acquisition at Universal Pictures, eventually rising through the ranks to senior vice-president of production. While at Universal, he supervised such features as Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (1989) and the Oscar-nominated "Field of Dreams" (1990), working directly for production chief Sean Daniel. Jacks left Universal in 1992 and formed Alphaville with Daniel. Their first success was "Hard Target" followed by the critically-applauded "Dazed and Confused" (1993), directed by Richard Linklater. Alphaville had a surprise success with "Tombstone" (1993) before stumbling in 1995 with John Carpenter's unnecessary remake of "Village of the Damned" (which Jacks and Daniel co-executive produced) and Kevin Smith's disastrous sophomore effort "Mallrats."Jacks and Daniel often found themselves with films that either earned a healthy box-office or garnered critical acclaim, but rarely both. That changed with Nora Ephron's "Michael," featuring John Travolta as a boozing, skirt-chasing angel. Rousing reviews and packed houses gave the duo the combined hit for which they had been waiting. Their 1997 follow-up was "The Jackal," with Bruce Willis as a paid killer and they have numerous projects in various stages of development. The producers also oversaw the thriller "Don't Look Back" (HBO, 1996) which was scripted by Tom Epperson and Oscar-winner Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton also starred in their next film, the Sam Raimi-directed thriller "A Simple Plan" (1998).The international blockbuster "The Mummy" (1999) proved to be Jacks' biggest success as a producer, and set up both sequels and a successful spin-off starring Dwayne Johnson, "The Scorpion King" (2002). Jacks also continued working in comedy, including Chris Rock's loose remake of "Heaven Can Wait" (1978), "Down To Earth" (2001), Jerry Zucker's zany chase comedy "Rat Race" (2001), and a reunion with the Coen Brothers with their stylish romantic comedy "Intolerable Cruelty" (2003). Jacks died of a heart attack in Los Angeles at the age of 66.