Three years ago, producer Stanley R. Jaffe left a cutting room to attend the Academy Award ceremonies. ''As I sat there and watched,'' he recalls, ''I was wishing that I was working on a picture like 'Coming Home' or 'Deer hunter' - a picture that was about something and that somebody would want to see. I had this awful feeling I'd just spent two years on this little picture that nobody was going to see.
''You go through that. Any producer who says he doesn't is lying - and they don't come any more sure of themselves than me. That's why a producer needs a positive support system around him. But even that didn't stop me from feeling very low that night.''
The movie Jaffe was editing at the time was called ''Kramer vs. Kramer,'' and a year later it won almost every award in sight. And while that was happening, Jaffe's head was deep into his next film, ''Taps.'' Though it didn't appear in this year's Oscar nominations, a small picture it is not, either technically or cerebrally.
On the surface, it tells the story of a group of students in an American military academy - run by a rigid, retired general - who seize the academy and defend it with weapons of war when developers threaten to take over the school and tear it down. The film has been seen variously as an antiwar tract, a tribute to honor, a defense of the military, and a dramatic warning against the effects of extremism. Jaffe sees it as none of these things, but he is also impatient when asked to explain the message he wanted to convey in ''Taps.''
''The first picture I ever did,'' he says acerbically in a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, ''was 'Goodbye Columbus.' When we screened it for a group of college editors in New York, one of them asked the director, Larry Peerce, what he meant to say in the film, and Peerce said, 'What's the difference? I can tell you what I meant, but it really doesn't matter. I can't sit next to everybody and interpret the film the way I would like it interpreted. The picture means whatever you got out of it.'
''Same way with 'Taps.' Is there a reason I made it? Absolutely. Is the message clearly getting across to everyone? Apparently not. Is it getting across to enough people? Yes.''
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