FILM CREW ON EVERY BLOCK?: Over the last several years, New York City has enjoyed a massive increase in production — from 69 films shot in 1993 to 221 in 1999. Now the City Council, in its infinite wisdom, is trying to pass a resolution to slow up the permit process. Film crews may currently obtain a permit from the city overnight; the Council wants to send the applications on to community leaders for approval. That could take weeks or even months.
One City Hall insider says New York can kiss most of its film production goodbye if the resolution passes. Film crews will go to Canada where space is available — and the government gives you money.
The reason for the Council’s move? Local neighborhoods are upset at tripping over cameras, cables and grips without any prior notice.
(I, for one, couldn’t stand it when “Law and Order” shot in my Upper West Side neighborhood because I couldn’t park my car. But since “Law and Order” is one of my favorite shows, I excused its domination of the local streets.)
City Hall also points out that notices are posted as much as four to six weeks in advance.
Love him or hate him, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the city has truly grown cleaner. As a result, studios and indies want to shoot here. Nobody, save a few irate neighborhood activists, will be happy to see them go.
WHAT? ME WORRY ABOUT A STRIKE?: Are the studios, as some cynical Hollywood naysayers indicate, actually looking forward to an actors and writers strike?
A quiet survey of high-end studio types reveals that while no studio topper will go on the record behind a WGA or SAG work stoppage, many admit that it might be nice to have a breather. In this age of monolithic studios, films become the minimal tail that wags the house-sized dog. Films are regarded as loss leaders as studio profit margins rarely rise above 12%.
So heads are enticed by a potential force majeure clause that means the studio or network can absolve itself from any long-term contract that is affected by the strike. Any pricey multipic deals with actors or writers can be dropped without any recrimination.
According to some estimates, that means savings could reach $400 million-$500 million industrywide.
But ultimately, that’s not the answer. The studios still have relationships with actors and writers. And if a studio yanks its relationship with talent, there’s a pretty solid guarantee that talent won’t be seen near that studio again.
Even the cockiest of studios can’t afford to alienate too much of the talent.
Yet one studio chairman says he’s had enough of the bickering. “If they strike, they strike,” he says. “I’m not worrying about it anymore.”
NEW LINE TROUBLES: New Line Cinema has had an ugly year. This much is true. But the Time Warner executive committee, which used New Line’s problems with “Little Nicky” to illustrate all of TW’s film woes in its earnings report this week, might try some navel-gazing. Flagship studio Warner Bros. has been equally irksome in the fourth quarter. WB’s “Red Planet” has racked up an unmemorable $17 million B.O. WB’s “Pay It Forward” limped along to $32 million in ticket sales. Yet there was no mention of either film in the Time Warner earnings report.
And though it can’t be lumped into this quarterly report, “Proof of Life” looks as though it’ll need resuscitation. Pic has grossed $18 million after 10 days, and last weekend’s take was down 47% from a week earlier. Let’s not also forget the frightening “Get Carter.”
The point is that, since TW acquired New Line from Ted Turner, it has seen outrageously successful perfs out of both “Austin Powers” pics as well as “The Wedding Singer” and “Rush Hour.” In addition, the company usually gleans profits out of its low-budget efforts.
As for production chairman Michael De Luca’s future, which my colleague Michael Fleming discussed in his column just yesterday, sources say New Line is trying to restructure some key-man clauses that tie incoming talent and projects to him. This would allow New Line to maintain a production slate if he leaves.
Despite New Line’s troubles, De Luca has ridden tough times out before with such big-budget nonperformers as “Last Man Standing,” “Long Kiss Goodnight” and “Lost in Space.”
A LONE LION: While Lions Gate staffers are packing for sunnier climes in L.A., Lions Gate Releasing co-prexy Mark Urman has cut himself a deal to stay in his beloved wintry Gotham with a spanking new contract. Reports had the former publicist ankling Lions Gate because of the L.A. move. A longtime denizen of the Gotham film community, Urman refused to leave because his kids were approaching that point in adolescence when they refuse to leave. Urbane and urban snob that he is, he also simply prefers New York.
Urman and at least one assistant will vacate the trendy Soho offices for a more modest uptown abode on 52nd Street. They will give Lions Gate a small, if not potent, New York presence.
Urman claims he had no choice. “It had a lot to do with who I am and my identity,” Urman waxed. “I love the community here. I’ve been a member of the film community in New York since 1973. And it is a community, not an industry. I know and like everybody. It has sustained me.”