Behind the ‘Bible’: unholy negotiations

An anecdote from De Laurentiis' biography

Dino De Laurentiis famously produced the John Huston-helmed “The Bible,” and had a deal with Columbia for the film. Contract negotiations were fractious, as De Laurentiis tells the story in “Dino,” The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis,” the biography by Tullio Kezich and Alessandra Levantesi:

“We had to go to New York for the contract with Columbia. We showed up at the office. Abe Schneider, the vice chairman, Leo Jaffe and Mike Frankovich, the head of international production, were all on their side of the table. On our side, there was just (De Laurentiis’ aide Luigi) Luraschi and I, reading over the 20-page contract.

“At this point, if you were making a film of my life, you’d have a fantastic opening scene. When I finished reading, I turned to the three gentlemen and said, ‘You forgot only one thing.’

” ‘What?’ they asked me. I stood up (word of honor, there), dropped my pants, and said, ‘You forgot my ass!’ Because they had drawn up a contract in which every conceivable thing went to them, as if I didn’t exist. It was an incredible scene, a classic moment: ‘I will never sight a contract like this, never, even if I’m already in preproduction.’ Then I tore up the Telex they had sent me and went back to Rome.

“How did they react? They began by saying that some things could be renegotiated, other things could not. But it was the spirit of the contract that was unacceptable to me. My attitude was ‘Yes, it’s true, you’re giving me $10 million’ — an enormous sum at the time — ‘but I’m making a film that will cost me almost twice that much. The idea is mine, the creative, productive and logistical aspects are all my responsibility. And you won’t even be paying me the 10 million until I deliver a master print, which forces me to go into hock to the bank while you risk nothing. It’s unfair for you to grab everything you want without even acknowledging the paternity of the project. “Columbia Presents”? Forget it! It’s “Dino De Laurentiis Presents,” even in America!’ I did conclude on a friendly note: ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll make another picture together.’ “

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