Former Creative Artists Agency president Ron Meyer made a splashy start in his new job as president of MCA Inc. Aug. 8, spending more than $80 million on high-profile talent deals with Sylvester Stallone and Jim Carrey.
While insiders had predicted that Meyer would first focus on the listless MCA television division and several of MCA’s ancillary businesses, the former talent agent zeroed in on what he knows best.
In the biggest money deal ever made between a studio and an actor, Universal Pictures signed Stallone, Meyer’s former client and longtime friend, to a non-exclusive, three-picture pact worth $60 million plus perks and backend guarantees. Universal Pictures prexy Casey Silver made the deal with Stallone’s reps.
Just days earlier, the studio and Silver inked a $20 million deal with Jim Carrey to star in Imagine Entertainment’s comedy “Liar, Liar,” marking the actor’s second $20 million payday in as many months. The studio is planning to make the pic its big Christmas movie next year.
The deal was significant for Universal in that it came after a major flap between Carrey’s reps and Paramount Pictures’ producer Scott Rudin over “The Truman Show,” for which Carrey had a $12 million deal to star. When word got out that the “Truman” script was overdue, Silver swooped in and wooed Carrey to Universal. Carrey is repped by United Talent Agency.
“This sends a signal to other stars that there are deals like this to be made at Universal,” said one producer. “Being in the star business isn’t something the studio has done exceedingly well to date.”
Sources said Tom Cruise, another longtime CAA and Meyer client, may be next in line to make a long-term pact with the studio once his deal with Paramount Pictures ends this fall.
In recent years, under the ownership of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., MCA had not gone after big-budget projects or A-list talent, with few exceptions, including Kevin Costner starring in its $180 million action/adventure “Waterworld.”
The change in philosophy follows the Seagram Co.’s acquisition of 80% of MCA earlier this year. Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. last month hired Meyer to replace longtime MCA Inc. president Sidney Sheinberg. MCA has not yet announced whether Bronfman himself will take the post formerly held by longtime MCA chairman Lew Wasserman, who last month segued to chairman emeritus.
“This is part of what Edgar Bronfman bought when he got Meyer,” said one connected observer. Meyer “has close relationships with some of the top A-level talent in town, and it’s natural those people will want to continue being in business with him.”
But several sources were wary of the Stallone deal, since his last two pics, “Judge Dredd” and “The Specialist,” did not perform well at the domestic box office. The deal was seen in the industry as a way to keep Stallone happy within the CAA ranks after Meyer’s exit.
“It’s an investment,” said one source of the deal. “Time will tell if it proves to be a good one.”
Stallone is a big star internationally, and his pics are performing better at the overseas box office. He recently wrapped “Assassins” for Warner Bros, and will go before the cameras early next month for Universal on its big-budget actioner “Daylight.” Although Meyer didn’t negotiate the Universal pact with Stallone, he established Stallone’s sky-high price by getting the actor $20 million for a 1996 film commitment from Savoy Pictures.
Talk of a multiyear deal with Stallone started soon after Meyer’s move to MCA/Universal. Warners paid Stallone $15 million for “Assassins”; Universal ponied up $17.5 million for “Daylight.”
On the three-pic deal, attorney Jake Bloom negotiated on behalf of Stallone with CAA’s Fred Specktor, Mike Menchel and Sheldon Sroloff.
Sources suggest, now that Meyer has helped land a couple of big-name talent deals for the feature film division, his focus there will turn to replacing the talent of director-producer Steven Spielberg, who for years has provided Universal with many of its biggest hits. Spielberg has since partnered with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in forming DreamWorks, which inked a long-term deal with MCA for international distribution of its feature films.
Meyer also may restructure the film division now being run by Silver and president of production Hal Lieberman. The system now in place was set up by Wasserman and Sheinberg; the latter recently set up the Bubble Factory, an MCA-financed entertainment company.
On the TV side, sources said Meyer will first look to bolster management, improve on the stable of talent and establish more success in firstrun programming for MCA’s television division.
MCA also owns a host of ancillary businesses and operating divisions that operated with a level of autonomy under Sheinberg.
“Ronnie’s different,” said one source. “It’s too soon to tell, but he could look to restructure a lot of things. He’s very hands-on.”
Michael Fleming In New York Contributed To This Report.