NEW YORK — An attempt to censor all mentions of Disney and former second-in-command Michael Ovitz from the satirical docu “An Alan Smithee Film” apparently has been thwarted — by Disney.
After Cinergi execs told the filmmakers to exterminate the Mouse mentions, purportedly at the behest of Disney higher-ups, Disney’s two biggest cheeses — Michael Eisner and Joe Roth — not only denied mandating the cuts, but promised director Arthur Hiller, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and producer Ben Myron that the studio will dis-tribute the Cinergi-financed film with the Disney mentions intact.
Since the Disney chiefs apparently knew nothing about the mandate, the order might have been a preemptive move by Cinergi. Cinergi didn’t return calls for comment.
All of this came about after Eszterhas wrote to Eisner on Wednesday. According to the letter, Cinergi senior VP of biz affairs Randy Paul told Myron the cuts would have to be made as a condition of financing, and that they were ordered by execs at the highest levels of Disney.
On Wednesday, Eszterhas faxed Daily Variety the Cinergi missive requesting the cuts as well as his response to Eisner. “Maybe in my puny, writerly way I wanted to bring some pressure to bear,” Eszterhas said.
That proved an understatement. Though both Eisner and Roth said they were unaware of any effort to censor the film, each said he wouldn’t tolerate it. “Under no circumstance would we want to exercise any censorship in this movie,” Roth said.
In the letter to Eisner, Eszterhas argued that a film about Hollywood featuring real players — Sly Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg, Jackie Chan and others play themselves — wouldn’t work if the studio distributing it was treated as a sa-cred cow. “I poke fun at myself as well as a whole lot of other people … I also poke fun at Disney … and at Mi-chael Ovitz,” Eszterhas wrote.
Five scene changes were ordered. Two were general mentions of Disney and three mentioned Ovitz. In one, Esz-terhas suggested on camera to Hiller that “Smithee” be distributed by Disney, with Hiller wondering if it would be problematic because of Ovitz’s presence … a reference to the past famous dispute between Ovitz and Eszterhas when the scribe left CAA. Eszterhas responds: “I’ve got the greatest respect for Michael Ovitz.”
According to the Eszterhas letter, producer Ben Myron quizzed the Cinergi exec about the cuts and why they hadn’t been requested before the film was shot. According to the letter, Paul said the “mandate came from very high up … and that it was a condition of the financing.”
In his letter, Eszterhas doubted Ovitz would have demanded the changes, and revealed that Ovitz even weighed Hiller’s offer to play a role in the film. Eszterhas asked Eisner to call off the dogs: “If Disney insists on making them, I will be left with no choice but to ask you to let us find another distributor.”
That apparently won’t be necessary. A rep for Eisner said it’s not his practice to tell people what they can say in films, and that he was unaware of any effort to do so here.
“I want to thank Michael Eisner, he has saved the day,” Eszterhas said Thursday after learning Disney would dis-tribute the film intact. “I guess that means that Arthur Hiller and I won’t need to steal the master negative.”
Or worse: Hiller might have removed his name, and “An Alan Smithee Film” would not only be about a director named Alan Smithee, but also be directed by Alan Smithee.