How the New 'Jumanji' Saved a Broke "Billionaire"

Jumanji_Lifesaver_Comp - Publicity - H 2018
Frank Masi/Sony Pictures Entertainment; Getty Images; iStock

Producer Ted Field, once named one of the world's richest, was swimming in debt and living in an Airbnb before the surprise smash.

No one may be smiling more broadly at the smashing commercial success of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle than Frederick "Ted" Field, whose notable personal financial troubles might be reversed by a movie that already has grossed more than $670 million worldwide.

Field became an executive producer on Sony's holiday reboot after acquiring film rights to the 1981 fantasy book by Chris Van Allsburg (he also exec produced the 1995 Robin Williams film version). Field is the great-great-grandson and heir of Marshall Field, who began a department store empire that once was one of the biggest in the country.

In 1990, along with Jimmy Iovine, Ted Field co-founded Interscope Records, whose artists included Dr. Dre, Nine Inch Nails and U2. After leaving the record company, he went into film producing as founder and chief executive of Radar Pictures, which was behind such films as The Last Samurai and The Chronicles of Riddick as well as Jumanji.

In 2002, Forbes named Field one of the 400 richest people on the planet with an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion. But his great fortune was a myth. "It was never the case that I was a billionaire; never said I was, never spoke to any one of those publications," he testified in November in a deposition obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. "Completely made up."

Field, now 64, estimated under oath that decades ago, at his financial peak, he was worth about $100 million but added that he's been in debt most of his adult life.

In September, he nearly went to trial over a $500,000 loan he solicited for a remake of Kickboxer before settling. And there's been other signs of mounting problems like a fraud lawsuit from BMG against his company over a failed joint venture covering what would have been 20 films and three television series. He's currently being chased by Johnny Lin and Filmula Entertainment over $2.2 million owed from an investment in a new record label. Filmula has also been pursuing $500,000 from producer Aldo LaPietra for allegedly fraudulently inducing an investment in a Stan Lee project by representing it would be financed by Field.

And that's all peanuts compared with Field's $100 million in tax debt, which emanated from a complicated hostile takeover during the 1990s and how loans were subsequently structured by an investment bank.

He might still be reputed to be a high-flying billionaire, but according to Field's testimony during a judgment debtor examination, he was never worth more than about $100 million and has been in much worse financial position in recent times. Fields said he arrived at a payment plan with the IRS, lives in an Airbnb with money from a relative's credit card and drives a 2009 Nissan GT-R that's having transmission trouble, which he can't get fixed. 

While it's not clear what his profit participation will be for the Jumanji reboot, Field teased Lin's attorney about the possibility that the considerable potential of Jumanji would mean a "payoff" to Lin and restore the valuation of Radar.

It appears as though Field can count on a Hollywood ending.

Jonathan Freund, Field's lawyer, says that a lot of people are given the moniker of billionaire without merit. "What's true is he's sunk millions into the company," he adds. "He now has the last laugh with Jumanji being a hit and he has other big announcements to come."

One of those announcements will be a television series for Wheel of Time, a fantasy series based on the work of Robert Jordan that has been compared to Game of Thrones. This franchise has been the subject of much mystery and speculation. When FXX rushed the production of a pilot and aired it at the odd hour of 1:30 am, all sorts of discussion proceeded on message boards and in the news media on whether the gambit was an attempt by one production company to hold onto rights. That led to a slander lawsuit, which was later settled. Now, Field is prepared to announce a future for Wheel of Time.

"This has been a difficult time, kind of a roller-coaster ride in Hollywood," Field said at his November deposition, in which he touted Jumanji "prequel IP" and a "potential spinoff" for television if the film became a hit. "A one-hit movie can cover a lot of problems for me."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.