MEMO TO: Guy-Etienne Dufour, Credit Lyonnais
FROM: Peter Bart
Whenever I dine in Paris, that’s the word I most frequently hear from those ever-disdainful French waiters as they hover at my shoulder. Loosely translated, it means another customer is waiting for my table, so the dishes will be cleared whether I’m finished or not.
I mention this, Monsieur, after learning of the comments you made to two reporters from Variety – comments indicating that your august bank has a revived appetite for the motion picture business.
You hinted to them that Credit Lyonnais might be exploring the possibility of holding on to MGM/UA beyond the 1997 deadline; you also said your bank now had an inventory of about 900 “repossessed” films in its library and might even set up a division to sell rights in those projects. (See story, page 87.)
If this is indeed the case, Monsieur, I would like to give you one word of advice:
At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, I’d remind you that Credit Lyonnais over the years has not been especially discriminating in its loans to filmmakers. I vividly recall one meeting I had with Giancarlo Parretti in which that porcine pillager spread an array of correspondence from your bank across his vast desk and screamed, “Credit Lyonnais will back me to the grave.” The erstwhile owner of MGM/UA didn’t specify whose grave, to be sure.
Now I realize, Monsieur, that any bank can make a misjudgment. I also understand full well that Credit Lyonnais is busily setting up a new entity called CDR that will focus on some $40 billion of the bank’s bad loans, of which movies represent a mere 10%. That mere 10%, nonetheless, has been sufficient for the bank to build up what probably is the third-largest film library in the world – an astonishing 2,300 titles, including 1,400 from MGM/UA and 900 of your newly “repossessed” projects.
Companies have struggled for years to build film libraries, but only Credit Lyonnais could do so inadvertently, simply by financing bad companies and bad movies. How could one bank, Monsieur, have cooked that many turkeys without coming up with an occasional souffle?
Indeed, the list of companies contributing to the “nasty 900” reads like a sort of rogues’ gallery of moviedom – Hemdale, Epic, Gladden, Trans-World Entertainment, 21st Century, etc. None of these companies could have made movies without the unique philanthropy of Credit Lyonnais, the bank that loves to lose.
I realize it must be a great temptation to cut your losses by trying to sell off the remaining rights of this potpourri of losers – that is, if any rights remain unexploited. However, I have a better suggestion. How about making a huge bonfire and simply burning the negatives?
Think of the statement this would make, Monsieur. You would be warning all the rascals of the movie world to find some other business to loot. It’s hard enough for legitimate players these days to make and market their movies, without letting all the crooks in on the action.
I have a feeling that the people who manage your biggest movie asset, MGM/UA, might appreciate that gesture. They’ve struggled mightily to resurrect that once-proud studio. In spending more than $2 billion of your bank’s money, they’ve actually accomplished the unthinkable: They’ve seen to it that your money has been channeled to worthy projects made by honorable filmmakers. But now we’re entering a dangerous period, Monsieur. With the deadline for selling MGM/UA only 18 months away, suddenly the fortunes of that studio are looking brighter. “Get Shorty” is a hit. I saw the new James Bond picture “Goldeneye” the other day, and it’s the best Bond since the Connery days. I can picture the bankers at Credit Lyonnais sitting around a table and saying, “Mon Dieu, our movies are suddenly making money, so why are we selling so quickly?”
That’s the time for you to stand tall, Monsieur, and urge your colleagues, “Terminez!” As they say in Las Vegas, if you finally get lucky, run, don’t walk, from the tables.
My spies in Paris tell me that an array of representatives from various financial institutions already are lining up to handle the sale of MGM/UA – the usual suspects like Lazard Freres, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Banque Paribas. Take them up on their offers. Surely MGM/UA deserves to be under the auspices of a substantial entity that understands the business and is willing to nurture it back to health. If DreamWorks can afford to build a new studio from scratch, why shouldn’t MGM/UA follow suit?
It was just 70 years ago when Louis B. Mayer’s Dream Factory in Culver City was unveiled amid the hoopla of brass bands and political speeches. Perhaps it’s time for a Second Coming.