MEMO TO: Mario Kassar
FROM: Peter Bart
WHEN THE ANNOUNCEMENT HIT my desk of your new producing deal at Paramount, Mario, it stirred mixed emotions. I’m certain Paramount can well utilize your talents, but — well, have you really thought this thing through? I visualize you on your yacht, Mario, not on the lot. Can the man who used to hold forth about his billion-dollar grosses amid champagne parties at the Hotel du Cap listen quietly as development committees give him script notes?
Hollywood has gone corporate, Mario, and Paramount is part of an even bigger megacompany called Viacom. Imagine how the Viacom numbers-crunchers would have viewed your books back in the days when Carolco was your personal fiefdom? “How is it possible,” they’d ask, “that the average Carolco picture grossed an astonishing $ 150 million, and yet the company still ran out of money?”
I can see feisty Sumner Redstone personally adding up the columns of figures before summoning you to explain the precepts of Mario Kassar’s “new math.”
Not that Redstone — who is giving you an annual draw of $ 2 million plus $ 4 million for staff and development — would put down your accomplishments, nor, indeed, would I. Your record as a producer is singular, from your first “Rambo” to your last “Terminator.” Even your disasters were interesting, like “The Doors” or “Air America.”
I remember lunching on your lavish yacht at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago when you proudly showed 20 minutes of “dailies” of Robert Downey Jr. playing the role of Charlie Chaplin. Gathered around were your banker, your lawyer and several European distributors who had put up huge guarantees in anticipation of seeing the immortal “Little Tramp” brought back to life.
Downey was not especially convincing, but everyone, including the banker, chorused their enthusiasm. I found myself peering at the banker, a lanky American, and wondering, “Why are you so happy? Aren’t you worried about the cost of this goddamn yacht? Doesn’t it trouble you that Mario is veering away from his Stallone-and-Schwarzenegger menu?”
NO ONE EVER QUESTIONED YOU in those days, Mario. Not when you upped the ante on star salaries time after time. Not when you closed mind-bendingly lavish development deals, such as the $ 17 million you spent on Renny Harlin projects like “Isobar” and “Gale Force” that never got made. Not when you paid yourself multimillion-dollar salaries and then added aircraft, two full-time bodyguards, a driver and the world’s most expensive home security system, not to mention other exotic fringe benefits.
There are even some federal grand jury subpoenas floating around your Hollywood offices, some say. They attempt to trace the flow of funds between Carolco and other entities with exotic names like New CIBV, Valdina and Clorenda (the latter based in Aruba, naturally) to determine who paid what to whom.
The rules have gotten tighter now, Mario. The folks at Paramount are going to ask lots of questions that they will want answered. And if you ask whether it’s OK to pay Mel Gibson $ 30 million, they may say no. People on the lot may even be taken aback when your stretch limo with its tinted windows rolls up to your new office. Redstone used to arrive at the studio in a taxi, someone will tactfully explain.
RULES ABOUT PICTURE-MAKING have changed as well, Mario, in the 20 years since you founded Carolco. By-the-numbers action pictures don’t seem to be flying with the overseas audiences anymore, not to mention with the folks back home. “Cutthroat Island,” your $ 100 million swansong, has grossed all of $ 9 million in three weeks of domestic release.
While you’ve been on the sidelines, your former partner, Andy Vajna, has had tough sledding with what seemed like solid movie-star packages — Demi Moore (“The Scarlet Letter”), Stallone (“Judge Dredd”), not to mention Oliver Stone’s “Nixon.”
You always had a lock on the international market, Mario, but some seers think tastes are changing. Suddenly the audiences crowding into the new multiplexes around the globe seem to favor quirky pictures. They’re laughing at the same comedies that make Americans laugh, despite the language barriers — witness Jim Carrey. They’re responding to personal stories, not just pyrotechnics.
You’ve always been full of surprises, Mario. Why not shock everyone by making a touching love story at Paramount? At Cannes, why not check into a single room at the Noga Hilton? That would make you a big man at the studio, Mario. They might even allow your stretch limo onto the lot.