Players on the Paramount lot are wondering just what Tuesday’s conclusion of the Viacom deal means for their future. While they admit the worst is over for studio management, Par’s cupboard is somewhat bare despite ongoing attempts to increase its slate.
Filmmakers give high marks to the studio for its success in keeping the interest level among creative types high during the on-again, off-again suitor victories. But many were openly rooting for QVC chairman Barry Diller, since his last stay at Paramount (1974-84) was a bountiful time for the studio and the community.
“What is amazing to me is that Sherry (Lansing) and everyone over there has managed to keep everything on the lot moving forward,” said a veteran producer with a Par deal. “I’ve bought projects, they’ve paid me and rejected some of my projects. If that isn’t business as usual, I don’t know what is.”
But confusion reigns over the future of studio management. “If there’s a person beyond Sumner (Redstone) or Frank (Biondi) who knows what is going to happen, they’re just guessing,” admonished a director whose project is about to go before the cameras for Par. “In fact, I doubt that they even know what is next.”
“We haven’t had a chance to get in and look at the particulars,” said Biondi, Viacom’s prexy/CEO and Redstone’s No. 2. “I think Stanley and Sherry have accomplished what they set out to do.
“In all instances things haven’t worked out as well as planned, but that’s the movie business. It’s cyclical. I think the issue of the studio is one of fine-tuning.
“I’d love to have Sherry stay,” Biondi added, declining to comment about Jaffe or other execs.
Still, insiders say Jaffe will surely depart, and that may influence Lansing’s plans.
“What Redstone and his man-agement need to do now is to very clearly and very early state their position as it relates to the future of Paramount so the film community understands what the intention is as far as product goes,” said one studio topper.
“I think he’s astute enough to understand the damage that has been done with this prolonged bidding war,” the studio head continued. “It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Frank Biondi will have supervisory control. But Redstone needs quickly to bring someone in on a day-to-day basis who has a Hollywood presence — Paramount has already proved that you can’t run a studio from New York City.”
“When he wants something, he’ll do anything to get it,” said an investment banker. “He’s very bright, but he’s sort of like the old-time oil man. He makes decisions by the seat of his pants and often ends up being right. He trusts his instincts and doesn’t give up.”
This leads some to believe that the aggressive businessman already has a plan laid out for Paramount.
“Sumner has a lot of good friends in this town and I’m sure he’s gotten the book on who’s good and who isn’t,” the source said. “And he’s had a lot of time to think about it.” That has not put an end to nervousness and anxiety among staffers on the Marathon Street lot. “The morale here sucks,” said a studio exec fast-tracker. “But at least now we can begin to shape our future knowing what the entity that owns us has to offer.”
But despite the business-as-usual tone telegraphed to outsiders, the studio has been unable to land some deals until the new owner was officially determined. A final resolution is expected to take several months.
“Now we can go after everyone that took a wait and see,” said a studio dealmaker. “Those who expressed a hope to be with Sumner, of which there were many, should have no problem signing these deals.”
The studio’s present 13-film release slate is expected to be buffered by a handful of greenlit projects. But the studio has just two films set to begin principal photography. “I.Q.,” the TimRobbins/Meg Ryan-starrer from producer Scott Rudin, and “Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Movie” are set to go before the cameras at the end of March.
Par, while having a handful of films in the release hopper, has no films slated for April or most of May.
“Blue Chips” will be released this week and “Naked Gun 33 1/3,” the first of its franchise properties to be released this year, sports a March 18 release date.
But some producers aren’t convinced by the business-as-usual spin and are looking into the longterm ramifications of a Viacom-owned studio.
“Unlike when the deal was bouncing back and forth between suitors, and most of us grew weary with the daily press reports, now that it’s all over we are examining just what this means for us,” said a producer on the lot. “Now we’re wondering what will immediately change, who will be let go and whose films will get the green light, if any.”
Big guns unworried
With nearly 30 producer-director-talent deals on the lot, those who feel most secure are the big-gun producers whose films have already been greenlighted or are about to begin photography.
Producers behind some of the studio’s franchise properties such as “Clear and Present Danger,” the Tom Clancy sequel from Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme, appear most secure. Ditto for Rudin and such heavyweights as Robert Evans, who is behind both “The Phantom” and “The Saint.”