Peter Bart: Sports Stars’ Daring Dealmaking Harkens To Hollywood’s Artists-First Past

And Hollywood has been paying attention: In times past, when the show-business ecosystem faced serious disruption, actors and directors reached out to recapture control of their product and their finances. They did this by creating talent-owned companies to challenge the majors – entities like First Artists and The Directors Company or even the original United Artists of Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. “Then and now, ego needs to exercise control,” observes an attorney who helped set up the later entities.
Most had come of age under the structure of the studio system. This collegial approach had both financial and psychological appeal to the stars. By the mid '60s, however, the studios had essentially collapsed and the stars were suddenly on their own, searching for viable projects and nervously pitching their wares to a complicated marketplace. They’d developed love/hate relationships with the studio executives who fostered projects for them, picked co-stars and otherwise nurtured their success.
Some 15 films emerged from that entity. At roughly the same time Francis Coppola, Billy Friedkin and Peter Bogdanovich formed The Directors Company, exercising full creative control. Generations later their scenario was replicated by First Artists, formed in 1972, embracing a superstar cast led by Steve McQueen, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier.
Similarly, at The Directors Company, the young filmmakers applauded Paper Moon, a hit that was shot in black and while, but yawned when Bogdanovich delivered Daisy Miller, based on an obscure Henry James novel and starring the director’s girlfriend Cybill Shepherd. Each director had promised to spend time nurturing the careers of other filmmakers — Coppola’s links to George Lucas were applauded — but when Bogdanovich proposed to lavish company funding on reviving the career of Orson Welles, his partners rebelled.
Basketball superstars arguably gave Hollywood a lesson in dealmaking prowess these past two weeks, “freaking out the sports elite into shelling out $3 billion,” in the words of the Wall Street Journal. In doing so they’ve also raised this question: Will Hollywood’s superstars be far behind?
Obviously, the interest is mutual.” />
The company made some extraordinary films starting in 1919 (The Front Page, Alibi), thus sending tremors through the establishment. Early in Hollywood’s development, several of its biggest stars stared disdainfully at the crop of studio leaders and banded together to form United Artists, mobilizing the clout of Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, et al. When disruptions of this magnitude converge, they inevitably set off a whirlwind of dealmaking.
Intriguingly, the UTA talent agency this week signed a deal with Rich Paul, who reps LeBron James among other NBA stars, to lead a new sports division.
Jeremy Zimmer, UTA’s chief, says his agency has taken “a significant stake” in Klutch because “we like what he’s doing.” “The modern athlete wants more, they want to build separate businesses,” says Paul, who represents some 22 NBA stars under his Klutch Sports Group. But then faint-hearted folks have never thrived in Hollywood, while sectors of Hollywood aspire to do better in sports.
Meanwhile, the major talent agencies themselves are re-visiting their game plans. The new Endeavor IPO is aimed at raising over $900 million to fuel moves into new arenas and insulate itself against short-term calamities, such as the writers strike — an event that itself is disrupting career paths.
The creative decisions were their’s; so were the rewards. The core idea behind both entities was that the artists would have final decisions on product and budgets. They would surrender most of their upfront payday in return for a major stake in the combined profits of their company. I became intimately aware of the promise and also the problems of both entities since I was designated as the production chief at The Directors Company and was later approached to run First Artists.
Translation: The pipelines may no longer be stuffed with fat deferments. To a large degree, the conditions that prompted these rebellions are now being replicated. Consider the following: Behind closed doors the corporate behemoths have been quietly rewriting key financial templates as they tactically re-position for the battles of the streaming world. Led by Disney, the majors are developing a new blueprint to replace the current formulae for profit participation.
Kawhi Leonard, for example, didn’t wait for an Endeavor agent to negotiate a deal structure; the "talent" dictated the terms as he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers. What the NBA players did was to form furtive alliances with fellow stars, then, as free agents, hammer out multimillion-dollar trades with other teams.
McQueen’s colleagues at First Artists appreciated him for delivering The Getaway, a commercial hit, but were dismayed by his appetite for "arty" projects like Harold Pinter’s Enemy of the People. To be sure, the new ventures, like the widely heralded United Artists, ultimately fell victim to internal intrigues. Dustin Hoffman irked colleagues by voting against projects embracing, what he considered, over-ambitious budgets.
The ideal of supporting each other’s vanity projects was exciting in theory, but hazardous in practice. Could ventures like these ever happen again? Filmmaker autonomy clearly had its appeal, I soon noticed, but also its built-in problems. When the SEC reviewed the funding documents for First Artists in the ‘70s, it cautioned that “giving financial control to artists represents a significant departure from traditional practice.” The same goes for agents: As analyst Todd Juenger declared when studying the Endeavor IPO, “Investments like this are not for the faint of heart.”

Warner Bros Shifts ‘The Goldfinch’ To Earlier In Fall, Moves ‘Superintelligence’ & Dates Ben Affleck Drama

On its new date, the film will go up against Fox's animated pic Spies in Disguise.
has pushed John Crowley's feature adaptation of Donna Tartt's novel The Goldfinch up a month from Oct. 11 to Sept. 13, as the drama starring Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson and Ansel Elgort is positioned for awards season (remember the Feb. 9 Oscars are earlier than usual in 2020). Warner Bros.
September has been great for such Warner dramas as Sully and Black Mass. The Goldfinch follows a boy in New York who is taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Also it would come as no surprise if The Goldfinch winds up in the fall film festival mix.
Also receiving a date is the Gavin O'Connor-directed Ben Affleck drama which is currently untitled (aka Torrance). That will debut on Oct. 18. Affleck plays a widowed, former basketball all-star who lost family foundation in a struggle with addiction and attempts to come back by becoming the coach of a disparate, ethnically mixed high school basketball team at his alma mater.
The movie will open against the United Artists toon The Addams Family, Universal thriller The Hunt and Disney sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
Moving up a few days as well is the Ben Falcone-directed Melissa McCarthy comedy Superintelligence, which shifts from Christmas Day to a Dec. 20 opening.” />

Can There Really Be Too Many Movies? In The Streaming Era, Maybe.

But I’m beginning to wonder if the studio types didn’t have a point.
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That group’s 2017 report found 777 domestic theatrical releases. If its new tally is also up 18 percent, the grand total will be something like 917. Boxofficemojo.com tracked 873 films last year, up 18 percent from 740 the year before, and the MPAA numbers have tended to run higher. When Charles Rivkin of the Motion Picture Association of America and John Fithian of the National Association of Theater Owners present their annual ‘state of the industry’ talk at CinemaCon next month, an accompanying statistical report will probably peg the number of domestic theatrical film releases at more than 900—twice what it was when the chiefs were complaining.
Of those, fewer than 100 will have taken in more than $25 million at the domestic box-office. Well over half will have had less than $200,000 in ticket sales, meaning they went to digital aggregators without ever making a noticeable impression on the public. The rest will live mainly on digital services, including streamers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.
Whether this is good, bad, or indifferent is hard to say. But it’s bound to become a factor when governors of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences soon consider whether Oscar-qualifying films should meet a new, higher theatrical release standard, in order to separate them from small-screen, digital entertainment.
They didn’t like the squeeze. When Warner Communications acquired Lorimar-Telepictures in 1989 and closed its prolific movie division, I can even remember one Warner film executive explaining: “It was our turn to take one down.”
But there’s something to be said for the theory that a stiff level of resistance in the film business, a relatively high bar, makes everyone work harder to get over it. A film that has to win a following in theaters—or, at the least, has to win Roma-like promotional backing from a streaming service like Netflix—is going to give a whole lot more than passing thought to its audience.
Just the other night I happily re-watched Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia; and that one could hardly have done worse when United Artists released it in 1974.) (By that rule, some of my favorite movies would disappear. Certainly, nobody should, or could, be barred from making a movie just because no one wants to see it.
The extra thought, effort, investment, pain and suffering—not some lucky magic—is what makes a movie an event. And that, I suspect, will be on more than a few minds when the Academy governors find themselves deliberating the impact of streaming, even as industry counterparts are explaining, at CineCon, that the digitally-driven number of releases is fast approaching 1,000.
What those moguls meant was that upstart independents, fueled by easy bank lending, junk bonds, and a seemingly bottomless well of home video revenue, were crowding screens with a sudden flush of, say, 450 films annually. In the mid-1980s, a common complaint among studio film distribution executives claimed there were just too many movies.
 
The more the merrier! At the time, such thinking crossed my free-market, libertarian streak. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I said. If all those companies (many of which quickly went broke) made too many movies, that meant more money for talent, and more entertainment for the rest of us.
 

Fox Film Executive Daria Cercek Jumps To New Line

While there is currently much uncertainty in the halls of Fox as the staff prepares to integrate under the Disney umbrella and embrace a streaming future, Cercek’s move to New Line has been percolating for some time. Given her impressive track record for developing comedies, and New Line’s prodigious output of them, she seems a glove fit for the new post.
Cercek graduated from Brown and began as a literary assistant at William Morris in New York, before shifting to the motion-picture-lit department at CAA in Los Angeles.” /> Before Cercek joined Fox as a creative executive in 2010, she worked as a junior exec for producer Scott Stuber, and before that worked for Paula Wagner while she was CEO at United Artists.
She’ll jump right in and work on the development and production of original scripts, literary adaptations, existing IP, and franchises for New Line.
“To this day, I’ve never heard so many people speak so highly of someone. “Daria has built a reputation as one of the most well-regarded executives in the industry,” Brener said. She will be a tremendous asset to New Line and we’re so excited to welcome her to the team.” In addition to her quality relationships with the creative community, Daria brings a breadth of experience and an impressive track record.
Cercek starts her new job October 29 and she will report to Brener. EXCLUSIVE: Longtime Twentieth Century Fox feature film executive Daria Cercek is exiting to join New Line Cinema. The hire was confirmed by New Line president/Chief Creative Officer Richard Brener. Cercek, who held the title of senior veep at Fox, will become Executive Vice President, Production at New Line.
Among the films Cercek shepherded at Fox are the last three films in the X-Men franchise, but her comedy resume is particularly impressive and includes Spy, The Heat, The Other Woman, Snatched, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. The Heat was the first script she brought in while a junior exec at Fox, and it led to Fox making an overall deal with director Paul Feig for R-rated comedies.