The prodigal son has returned.
Former CBS Records CEO Walter Yetnikoff, once the mostpowerful man in the music business who fell from grace three years ago, has finally started his comeback. He’s clean-shaven, clean and sober, and making a clean start — this time in the movie business.film
He’s got Wesley Snipes committed to play jazz legend Miles Davis in a screen biopic based partly on the 1989 autobiography Davis wrote with Quincy Troupe.
“I’ve closed the rights with the estate for his life story and his music, and have gotten the book itself,” said Yetnikoff, who left CBS Records with much acrimony in September 1990. “It’s a labor of love for me, considering my background. There’s a lot of interest in Miles here, but overseas, he’s like a god.”
Yetnikoff is close to signing a director and screenwriter, neither of whom he would name. But he has assembled his production team on the film: producing partners Preston Holmes and Fernando Sulichin. Holmes most recently produced Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” and “Crooklyn, N.Y.,” as well as “Posse” for Mario Van Peebles. Sulichin was associate producer on Lee’s “Malcolm X.”
Having exited CBS Records with a reported payout of $ 25 million, Yetnikoff says there’s no hurry to make a deal with a studio for development financing. And he added he’s not in a hurry to work for someone else again.
“I could make a deal with a studio tomorrow, since I’m coming with the music, the book and an emotional commitment with one of the best actors in the world,” he said. “But I want to fund the development myself, which should come to a little over $ 1 million. At the moment, I want to put my money where my mouth is.
“Though I’ve become a sober and decent individual, the asshole aspect still remains, and I want to make the movie the way I want to make the movie. If I make a deal with the majors, I’m just a high-class employee.”
Bottle battle won
Yetnikoff said his life has changed considerably since bitter battles with the bottle and, later, Sony brass, led to his exit. A year earlier, Yetnikoff helped broker Sony’s entrance into Hollywood with its $ 3.4 billion purchase of Columbia and the hiring of Peter Guber and Jon Peters to run it.
“I’m not Peck’s bad boy, drunk and crazy anymore,” he said. “Well, I’m still crazy, but I don’t drink or do drugs, and I’ve toned down chasing women. I stopped smoking four months ago, and I’m in shape. I’m benching 260 pounds,” he claimed. “At 60 years old, I’m Super Jew.”
Yetnikoff wouldn’t discuss other elements of his long-rumored comeback, but he said talks are ongoing to pool financing to fund other films, perhaps even a record label, all under the auspices of Velvel Musical Industries Inc., the company he formed after leaving CBS Records. He said there have been several false starts, feels the Davis project is a perfect starting point.
Though his expertise is music, Yetnikoff has long been fascinated with the movie business. He got an executiveproducer credit on “Ruthless People” for supplying the music, and he briefly presided over a committee that steered both Columbia Pictures Entertainment and CBS Records.
“I’m talking to money people about revolving funds, to be set up to do some relatively small films. One is ‘Chemical Wedding,’ based on an idea from Bruce Dickinson, the former lead singer of Iron Maiden.
“I’ve changed the face of show business, though maybe not totally in a good way. I haven’t done movies, but I’ve been talking about it since 1975. I always wanted to cross that bridge. People have said why go into the movie business, since I’ve never really made a movie? I tell them, I never made a record either.”