News and notes from the indie film world
Empty"Those were the rock 'n' roll days." That's how veteran executive Rick Sands remembers the early 1990's, when Bob and Harvey Weinstein dominated markets like the AFM, raking in millions with such titles as "Pulp Fiction," "The English Patient" and "Spy Kids."
Of course, that was when the Weinsteins were at Miramax Films, and long before they exited to form their new company, the Weinstein Co.
But now they're back on form, says their new president of international, David Glasser.
"We're bringing never-seen-before footage of 'Shanghai,' six to eight minutes. And we'll have footage from the first two weeks of shooting on 'Nine,' " he says, referring to the 1940s Chinese epic starring John Cusack and Chow Yun-Fat; and the movie musical based on Fellini's "8 1/2," with Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicole Kidman.
Add to that "Extreme Movie," a brand new comedy with Michael Cera, and an A-list project that Glasser wasn't quite ready to announce at press time, and this AFM might indeed bring back memories of old.
Alas, there are other memories of old, too.
Glasser arrived at TWC just as news spread that five executives who helped found the company were leaving -- a similar situation to the late 1990s in Cannes, when six top-level execs exited Miramax within a few months.
This time the departing executives are Michelle Krumm and Maeva Gatineau
(co-heads of acquisitions and productions), production president Michael Cole, senior vp production Carla Gardini and marketing executive vp Gary Faber.
Glasser dismisses any talk that their absence will affect his work.
"It doesn't impact AFM and I know Harvey is working on replacing them," he says. "Harvey and Bob are both on the same mission, going back to their roots. Harvey's never been more focused."
Another AFM, another film business cautionary tale. This year the buzz centers on Chris Eberts, a producer who amassed credits on a dozen films only to become involved in several lawsuits questioning his actions.
"He was going to raise a couple hundred million dollars," says Christopher Roberts, director of 1999's "Wing Commander," who met Eberts at Cannes and partnered with him to create Ascendant Pictures. "He seemed well connected." Eberts had produced films like 2001's "Chasing Holden" and 2000's "The Watcher," with Keanu Reeves, but after taking upscale offices in Beverly Hills, paying Eberts' salary of $350,000 per year and loaning him almost $300,000, Roberts claimed in a 2006 court filing that the financing for Ascendant never came though. Instead, while Ascendant was making movies such as 2004's "The Punisher," with John Travolta, Eberts allegedly used his corporate credit card to run up $625,000 in personal expenses.
Eberts refuses to comment on this case and others, but in a court filing he denied the accusations and claimed Ascendant was merely a shell company for Roberts' personal assets. But Eberts is also being sued in L.A. Superior Court by Eleven Eleven Films,
a production company formed by former Chicago commodity traders that alleges $1.5 million in loans to Ascendant were diverted to Eberts' personal account. (In a cross-complaint, Eberts denies sole responsibility.)
Eberts also ran afoul of Arnold Rifkin, the former president of the William Morris Agency. The two were friends after working on 2006's "Lucky Number Slevin" and became partners, with Eberts' job being to raise money. He turned to Blue Rider Finance, run by industry vets Jeff Geoffray and Walter Josten, which loaned $1.87 million for the 2007 thriller "Timber Falls," but the money was never repaid, according to Blue Rider, which then sued. Eberts signed a judgment satisfying an initial claim of $1.2 million, but in May he agreed to pay an additional $1.9 million and has yet to do so. Blue Rider is now seeking to collect and claims Eberts fraudulently transferred his share of ownership in his home to his wife -- a claim Eberts' attorney, Raphael Bernadino, denies.
Rifkin has filed an arbitration seeking to recover the remaining assets he brought to the partnership with Eberts, and Roberts has downsized Ascendant and his ambitions. "There is no Better Business Bureau for the film business," Roberts warns.
I'm forever blowing bubbles
Did the "Bubble" burst for Steven Soderbergh? Absolutely not, says Shebnem Askin, president of 2929 International, which financed the $1 million high-def movie that made a splash when it went out day-and-date, only to flounder at the boxoffice.
In fact, contrary to widespread belief, she says the project was highly profitable. "The total result was pretty good -- we did about $6 million," including theatrical and DVD revenues.
Not that Askin has to worry about selling the remaining five pictures in the six-picture deal. "Pretty much the entire world bought the whole package," she notes. "The only unsold territories are Germany, the U.K. and Scandinavia."
What Askin does have to worry about is when the Oscar-winning helmer will have time to fulfill his obligations. Soderbergh is currently in New York shooting project No. 2, the $2 million "The Girlfriend Experience," featuring porn star Sacha Grey as a call girl. But not even Askin knows when he'll tackle No. 3.
"He's such a major filmmaker," she says. "He does these between the others. We don't know when the next one will come. We never do."
With Soderbergh moving ahead on a slew of bigger-budgeted movies – including a $30 million rock 'n' roll version of "Cleopatra," and a Liberace biopic that might star Michael Douglas -- that could be quite a while.