Agent fights, split rights dominate film panel

Film budgets and the role of producers hotly debated

Call it a sign of the times: The studio honchos were upstaged by the Internet geeks.

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At the daylong Big Picture Conference, “Internet” was the word of the day and piddly topics like budgets and grosses seemed to be of little interest to Wall Street.

Still, the fab five of film were able to dredge up some fireworks.

On the film panel at Tuesday’s confab, Harvey Weinstein rejects the notion of agents as producers.

“You’re talking about an all-out mess if that happened,” proclaimed Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein on Tuesday, about the notion of agents as producers.

Weinstein made his comments to ICM chairman Jeff Berg, who accompanied him on a film panel that also included MGM chairman Alex Yemenidjian, New Line Cinema chief Bob Shaye and New Regency Prods. founder Arnon Milchan. Daily Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart moderated the discussion.

Daily Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart moderated the discussion.

Berg had been discussing the issues facing the Screen Actors Guild as attempts are made to restructure the rules to allow agencies to produce films and TV shows.

“You’re going to look at me as a competitor,” Weinstein said. “Jeff, you’re going to have a little burden on this.

“I think I raised three good kids in Gwyneth Paltrow. … We had options on Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and young talent, and I see agencies come in and renegotiate,” Weinstein said.

“I want to talk to you about the bonus for Neil Jordan on ‘The Crying Game,’ which seems to have been lost in the mail,” Berg fired back.

“I still have the ability to say no, Jeff,” Weinstein rejoined.

Rights make might

The panel also discussed split rights deals, which have come to dominate Hollywood.

“You end up taking partners. You end up doing more than you wished for,” said Milchan. “If you’re lucky, you get strategic partners. They understand the business and understand the value.”

Berg added, “Hardly a movie exists today without more than one financial partner.”

The panelists were consumed with how to bring down costs of films, with little regard for the place of films in the Internet universe.

Toward the end of the discussion, Weinstein and Shaye agreed that marketing films over the Internet is not a slam dunk. Shaye pointed to the monstrous success of “The Blair Witch Project” as an example of Internet-driven product. But he explained it in terms of generational conflict between kids and adults.

“It becomes a cult thing that is really generational,” Shaye said. “What happened with ‘Blair Witch’ was a whole us-against-them mentality that really drove people to the film.”


Yemenidjian pointed out that new technologies are ultimately what’s opening up the film business to new horizons. “The pie has grown in other areas,” he said. “It has just grown in different areas.”

Weinstein also personally took on the issue of possessory credits for directors.

“I think ‘the film by’ credit should only be given when someone writes and directs the movie,” he said. “I’m for getting rid of the ‘film by’ credit.”

Shaye agreed: “To try to preempt everybody else by saying ‘a film by,’ like ‘painted by,’ is a travesty.”

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