‘Titanic’ payday?

Cameron ship may come in at $50-100 mil

Days after proclaiming he was king of the world following an record-tying Oscar haul, evidence is building that “Titanic” writer/director/producer James Cameron is on course for a kingsize payday to make up for the revenue he lost when he surrendered his directing and producing fees and his backend gross participation on the film.

Sources said proposals are in the works that will bring Cameron compensation between $50 million and $100 million. In addition to differing reports on the amount, some sources said Cameron would get a lump sum, and others said he’d participate in a revenue-sharing formula tied to the performance of the film — which would keep growing as the film enters new ancillary revenue streams.

Sources at the studio level said a proposal was still being ironed out between financiers Fox and Paramount that would restore what Cameron gave up.

Although his per-pic fee is well behind George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Cameron is now in a position to reap one of the highest director paydays ever.

Negative deals

Lucas has made a fortune from his “Star Wars” films because he owns the sequel negatives and merchandising rights. Spielberg has a complicated gross percentage deal that has earned him as much as 50% of the gross when his films reach a certain box office level. As an equal partner with Universal, Spielberg’s take from “Jurassic Park” has been estimated at more than $200 million, after direct costs, interest and distribution fees were deducted.

“We’re talking, and I’m optimistic that something fair will be worked out, but certainly there’s no confirmed deal of any specific value at this time,” said president of Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment Rae Sanchini.

Fox chairman Peter Chernin has been negotiating with Cameron for several weeks, and, with the approval of Paramount, could sign off on a Cameron proposal quickly.

The proposal getting the most lip service was described as a one-time makegood payment that would settle matters with Cameron, no matter how much more money “Titanic” makes –and it’s grossed $1.25 billion worldwide so far. But some feel he’s lucky to be given anything after surrendering a gross position worth between $50 million and $75 million.

No strings attached

The deal, said sources, was not tied to any future film that Cameron will direct or produce at Fox. Cameron’s expected to make his next film at the studio, with “Spider-Man,” a remake of “Planet of the Apes” and a “True Lies” sequel all prime candidates. A no-strings settlement makes some sense, since Cameron’s payday would have to be OK’d and partly funded by the film’s co-financier Paramount, which does not have a future film commitment with the Fox-based helmer.

Fox, according to sources, already has paid Cameron his writing and producing fees for his next project at the studio, whatever that might be.

With “Titanic,” Cameron put himself at the mercy of the studios when he waived his directing and producing fees, plus his entire backend at a time when the film’s $100 million budget was becoming a distant memory. Cameron has said he made the no-strings concession to show nervous Fox executives they wouldn’t be the only ones suffering. He did, however, keep a reported $1.5 million fee for penning the screenplay.

No direct approach

Though the box office has been bursting since the film opened, sources said Cameron has refused to make a direct approach to either Fox or Paramount to regain his backend. His decision to give back his backend isn’t that surprising when one considers that he’s the same guy who early in his career sold for $1 his half-share of ownership in “The Terminator” to his producing partner and future ex-wife Gale Anne Hurd.