Fear freezes creativity, exex assert

As a panel of executives from studios and independents discussed how to manage risk in an era of rising budgets and star-driven films yesterday, Morgan Creek Prods. chairman/CEO James Robinson unveiled early plans to take the risk every independent dreams of: He’s planning to expand his operation into a major studio.

“It will be a growth process thing,” he said during a panel discussion at the third annual Variety/Wertheim Schroder Entertainment Business Conference, “a matter of three to five years. I’m talking about the whole nine yards, distribution, studio facilities. There are three ways for this to happen; either through building one, buying one, or merging.”

He wouldn’t disclose which direction he’d take. During the discussion, moderated by Variety Inc. editorial director Peter Bart, Robinson indicated he’d try to return to the pre-conglomeration days of Hollywood, when the visionaries and risk-takers were the actual studio owners themselves.

“If we had a studio, which is where we’re headed, what we would try to do is, as best we can, remove the fear factor,” he said. “I don’t care if someone fails , I really care whether we fix the problem.”

The panel, which also featured Columbia Pictures chairman Mark Canton, Savoy Pictures chairman/CEO Victor Kaufman, and screenwriter William Goldman, brought a range of perspectives on what Hollywood should do to remove fear from the filmmaking business, since, they said, it causes studio exex to shy away from risky projects like “The Crying Game,” and hedge bets with sequels.

Canton said one way is to stop the trigger-finger firing practices of studio heads, who’ve created a revolving door mentality at studios: “I was fortunate to have spent 11 years at a studio which wasn’t (a revolving door),” the former Warner Bros. exec said. “I’m saddened and angered when executives are not allowed to fail. Nobody bats 1.000.”

Kaufman said the Savoy way to improve creativity is to invest in specific movies and filmmakers, not the heavy development process most studios use: “Each major studio spends $ 50 million on development; we’re not going to have that burden. We believe in betting on people, and we will always commit to a movie at a much earlier stage.”

Two examples, he said, are the Garry Marshall-directed “Exit Eden,” and the Mike Nichols-directed “The Simple Plan.”

The executives also discussed a common big-budget dilemma: Which is most important, the story or the star? The exex said story, echoing earlier remarks made by Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Peter Guber. The lone creative on the panel, Goldman, had some reservations. He also had some lumps to back them up.

“In my mind,” Goldman said, “it’s the same shit, which is we just want stars.” Goldman said that a script he wrote not long ago, but wouldn’t name, got a fabulous reception around Hollywood. Then it fell victim to star syndrome.

“It was the kind of script agents were sending to clients who were not theirs , saying, ‘Remember I sent you this,’ ” Goldman said. “I showed it to executives who loved it, and said we’ll only make this picture with three people: Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise.” After Costner agreed to do it, the studio decided to wait for Cruise.

“It took six months for Tom Cruise to read the script, and he passed on it. The movie has never been made and probably never will because of the mentality of the studio executive. I would kill to have Schwarzenegger and I would kill to have Costner, but stars, with a couple of exceptions, are worthless. The pictures are the stars.”

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