Canton’s cash and Carrey

With the anticipated blockbuster opening weekend of “Batman Forever,” it looks like Jim Carrey is hitting the jackpot twice.

Last week, Columbia/TriStar chairman Mark Canton slapped down $20 million for Carrey’s services for a pay-or-play deal that is said to include a 15% backend, a move that sent heads spinning and tongues wagging about the impact of such a deal.

“No longer do studio heads run the show,” laments one top producer. “Now, unfortunately, what goes through the studio heads’ minds is, ‘If I don’t pay it, someone else will.’ The talent – those few folks who at any given moment are perceived as being hot – are running everything. It’s insane. There’s no longer a slow build in the escalation of fees.”

Indeed, it was only a year and a half ago when the actor was paid about $450,000 for Morgan Creek’s highly successful “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” New Line Cinema then stunned the community when it dished out $7 million for Carrey to star in “Dumb and Dumber.” In December, after Savoy Pictures plunked down $20 million for a slot for Slyvester Stallone, the Motion Picture Corp. of America offered Carrey $18 million to star in the comedy “The Thief of Santa Monica.” It was an offer he could refuse- and did.

“Whoever (in terms of distributors) is the newest kid on the block with a bank account needs to plant their flag and they do that paying people huge sums of money to create the perception that they are players,” says one seasoned producer, who (like many others) said New Line fired the first shot about a year ago. Carolco pictures used the same tactics in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, coming off of the surprise hit “Stargate,” Kurt Russell nabbed $7.5 million for his next outing, “Executive Decision,” at Warner Bros. John Travolta’s fee shot up significantly after co-starring in “Pulp Fiction” from next to nothing to $8 million for Rysher Entertainment’s “Lady Takes an Ace” and then slightly more for Touchstone Pictures’ “Phenomenon.”

Subsequently, Stallone grabbed a payday of $17.5 million that had the added bonus of a package of perks that included a private jet. Next came New Line Cinema again paying $16.5 million for Bruce Willis to star in Walter Hill’s “Gundown.”

New Line, which paid $2.5 against $1.5 million for Joe Ezsterhas’ outline for “One- Night Stand” and $4 million for Shane Black’s “Long Kiss Goodnight,” offered $12 million to Julia Roberts on “The Women.” ICM client Roberts reportedly pulled in $12 million for TriStar Pictures’ “Mary Reilly.”

Not to be outdone, CAA client Demi Moore received $12.5 million to perform in Castle Rock Entertainment’s “Strip Tease.”

Mel Gibson is said to be asking for $18 million now as does Slyvester Stallone.

And so it goes.

Several industry sources noted that Canton’s Carrey payday will push other salaries higher and will raise expectations and salaries of high-end talent.

“It seems a mild panic has set in at the talent agencies because they don’t think they’re going to get (those salaries) for their clients,” says another producer who once worked at a studio. “The expectation is not going to be met by reality, though. It’ll just make everyone a little nutty for a while. But I don’t think the economics warrant it. You can do it with Carrey because he will work with any director and there is a big difference in his worldwide gross. Not every actor is valued the same overseas. I think there is an abundance of cautious management out there right now, and they won’t follow suit.”

Stallone also is known for working with a variety of directors, and is a major draw overseas.

Canton says he’s gotten only kudos from competitors on the Carrey deal, and says that any time you can get a summer film with Carrey and a $40 million budget, you’ve made a smart deal. “Usually in order to get a superstar, you have to have a $60 million-$80 million movie they want to do,” Canton says. “I’m not saying we didn’t stretch things, but I promise others were headed in this direction and I don’t think it’s a trend because there aren’t many stars establishing themselves in the foreign market the way he is.”

Eric L. Gold and Jimmy Miller, who co-manage Hollywood’s best-paid movie comic, indicated it was Canton’s desire for a “go” movie that made the deal possible. Betting on a record opening weekend for the Carrey starrer “Batman Forever,” the dynamic duo issued this Canton prediction: “He’s going to look like a genius on Monday morning.”

That’s disputed by others who claim Canton has raised star price-quotes, including Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Last Action Hero,” Robin Williams in “Jumanji” and Woody Harrelson for “The Money Train.”

Canton counters that only Harrelson was paid above what other studios offered, and was worth the premium in a reteam with Wesley Snipes.

In Carrey’s case, Canton clearly didn’t want to make a $17.5 million development deal with an undefined start date that Carrey’s reps could then shop as his new price quote.

Gold acknowledges that was part of it. “For Jimmy and me, this was like the Henry Kissinger-China deal, done in secret negotiations between us and Mark.” Once the cover was blown by a June 9 Daily Variety story, Canton became aggressive. The same day that article appeared, the Los Angeles premiere of “Batman Forever” was held, which Canton attended.

“We weren’t closing at $17 million, and the ‘Batman Forever’ premiere and the article turned up the pressure. But we were asking for an unprecedented number, Mark knew that, and said, ‘ If you want the biggest deal in history, I have to have a ‘go’ movie for December that will be in theaters next summer.’ He got what he needed and we got what Jim wanted.” They closed the deal with UTA’s Nick Stevens and attorney Deborah Klein.

If rivals are shaking their heads, Canton says, “It’s at their development executives who didn’t have anything like this in their pipeline to land him. We couldn’t be happier.”

Studio executives are praying that Canton’s actions won’t be followed by others. “I’m hoping people will stay cool and not pay all of these prices,” says one studio head. “Once you pay it the next person will demand it. I’m sure Sly and Arnold (Schwarzenegger) will demand it now, but hopefully everyone will remain calm.”

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