The Time When 'Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever' Landed at AFM

Alberto Rodriguez/Berliner Studio/BEI Images
From left: Andrew Stevens, Moshe Diamant and Elie Samaha

For Franchise Pictures, it was the beginning of the end

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's AFM Daily on Nov. 10.

In 2002, Franchise Pictures brought what would become an infamous box-office bomb, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, to AFM.

Starring Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu as rival secret agents who join forces against a common enemy, the action-thriller recouped just over $19.9 million of its reported $70 million budget. For Franchise, which had become known more for its big busts (Battlefield Earth, Get Carter) than its minor hits (The Whole Nine Yards), it was the beginning of the end.

Franchise had been founded in 1997 by actor-turned-producer Andrew Stevens and Elie Samaha, a dry cleaning mogul and nightclub impresario. Samaha had a knack for ferreting out projects A-list stars desperately wanted to make that were floundering at major studios. He used the strategy to land them at a discount, most famously with John Travolta's Battlefield. The actor's Scientology-inspired labor of love had sat on the desks of execs at the majors for three years until a spiritual relic on Samaha's desk sealed the deal between Franchise and Travolta's then-manager, Jonathan Krane.

"There was an impasse over one sticking point in the budget, and when Krane saw the statue of Buddha on Elie's desk, they both discovered they practiced Buddhism," Battlefield director Roger Christian tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Buddha saved that film."

But reviews were poor (THR called it "laughable"), and in 2001, German-based distributor Intertainment filed suit, accusing Franchise of inflating budgets and defrauding it to the tune of $75 million. In 2004, Franchise was ordered to pay Intertainment $121.7 million and within months filed for bankruptcy.

Today, Christian, 70, praises Samaha for giving him a freedom virtually nonexistent for directors these days. "There was a sense of trust that Elie had with us," says the director, who won a best art direction Oscar in 1978 for Star Wars. "He hardly ever turned up on set, left the shooting to who it should be left to and then came to look at the finished product."

Samaha, 59, is now a co-owner of the TCL Chinese Theatre. Stevens, also 59, presides over his own production company and was slated to speak at the AFM Producers Forum on Nov. 9. 

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