There’s no doubt that, without deferments, “The English Patient” — which earned nine Academy Awards and a $225 million worldwide box-office — would never have been made.
That’s not a bad role model, as far as it goes. Unfortunately, producer Saul Zaentz has discovered that it goes much further.
Three years after “Patient” swept the Oscars, he’s still waiting for deferments to be paid. To date, the actors have received one lump payment of $5 million in total from Miramax. Zaentz claims the sum doesn’t even cover deferments, much less any profit participation.
The “Patient” history is rich with against-the-odds triumphs: After Zaentz spent months fighting with Fox on everything from budget to casting, the studio pulled the plug on the eve of the film’s production. Enter Miramax, with Harvey Weinstein in the role of the white knight, swooping in with $27.5 million in exchange for worldwide rights.
Zaentz met the remainder of the film’s $43 million budget with his own money, plus $10 million in salary deferments of anywhere from 50%-100% from the cinematographer, editor and other key crew members, director Anthony Minghella, and stars including Kristin Scott Thomas, Ralph Fiennes and Willem Dafoe. Zaentz says the deferments were to be paid as soon as the film hit break-even, with profit participation to kick in down the line.
The film was released in late 1996, but the “Patient” audit continues today. Nine months ago, Zaentz hired law firm Presser, Lahnen & Edelman to make a top-to-bottom audit of the picture; only last week did Miramax provide Zaentz with all of the “Patient” figures so the lawyers can begin to determine who is owed what.
“We are providing the required documentation and are cooperating with the auditing process,” said a Miramax representative.