International Creative Management’s Sam Cohn, who speaks to the press about as often as Halley’s Comet appears, has broken his silence over the flap between client Macaulay Culkin, his father-manager Kit Culkin and “The Nutcracker” producer Arnon Milchan.
In a statement released Tuesday, Cohn said Culkin and his father simply want a faithful adaptation of the original production.
At issue is narration by Kevin Kline that the Culkins want removed from the film and producer Milchan wants retained.
As has been reported (Daily Variety, Nov. 1), Kit Culkin was displeased that narration was added to the film, a straight adaptation of the George Balanchine-choreographed Tchaikovsky ballet, and was trying to use strongarm tactics to get the narration removed. That is being disputed by Cohn, who characterizes the film’s producers as philistines bent on desecrating a classic. The George Balanchine Trust has sanctioned the narration.
“This was an aesthetic discussion, although some aspects were hardly aesthetic,” Cohn told Daily Variety Tuesday. “Kit and Macaulay have both had a connection with the ballet for a long time and they thought this version was going to be a faithful adaptation of the original production. That’s one of the reasons they agreed to do it. I don’t think the film would have been financed for as much money as it was if Mac was not involved.”
But Steve Reuther, president of New Regency Prods., the company behind “The Nutcracker,” scheduled to be released by Warner Bros. this Thanksgiving, said that Kit Culkin made other demands on the filmmakers, in addition to removing the narration.
“We had agreed to remove the narration when he threatened to withdraw Macaulay’s support from the film,” Reuther said. “When we asked him to commit that to writing, he began making further demands.”
Among those demands, according to Reuther, were changes to the film’s sound mix and the removal of certain special effects.
“Having agonized over this for a long time, we were heartbroken when we agreed to his demands,” Reuther said. “The narration fell into place and he was asking us to remove it. It wasn’t in good faith. He made this decision before he even saw this movie.”
According to Cohn, Culkin agreed to an up-front salary of only $ 10,000 to appear in the film — the same amount paid to most of the other dancers in the production — and was willing to rely on the success of the project for any additional payment.
But the decision by the film’s producers to add narration was apparently too much for Kit Culkin.
“The producers have now elected, in an ill-advised, bald attempt to commercialize the film, to make substantial changes from the New York City Ballet Company production, primarily by adding extensive narration,” read Cohn’s statement. “This narration distorts the work as conceived by its creators and, in fact, detracts from the enjoyment of this great work as it has been performed for generations.
“The Culkins believe, quite simply, that the final arbiters of what ‘The Nutcracker’ should be are its original creators.”
Cohn said the Culkins offered, in return for having the narration removed, to give up all compensation payable to Macaulay Culkin on the back end. In addition , Macaulay would be available “to publicize and promote the film, and to permit the use of his name and likeness to a far greater extent than permitted by his contract if the producers delete these changes. Unfortunately, this offer has been rejected.”
As for the possibility of re-opening discussions over the issue of the narration, Cohn said, “Kit would always be open to re-opening the discussions. So far as I know, however, it was the producers who terminated the discussions.”
One person happy about the narration is Barbara Horgan, trustee of the George Balanchine Trust, who in a letter to producers Bob Krasnow and Bob Hurwitz of Elektra Entertainment wrote, “I want you to know how pleased and relieved I am to hear that the narration has been put back in ‘The Nutcracker.’ I do believe George Balanchine would have been pleased with the final version we now have.”