The one-sheet for the 2001 Holocaust drama “The Grey Zone” hangs above Avi Lerner’s desk. An ink-black rectangle with a foggy keyhole image of a hunched man at its center, it contrasts starkly with the other, more colorful posters that line the walls, along with Lakers memorabilia and smiling celebrity photos. The movie, about a Jewish doctor working for the Nazis at Auschwitz, is Lerner’s proudest accomplishment and his biggest failure.
“This is best picture, the most emotional movie,” says the chairman and co-founder of Nu Image Films, “but this is the only movie I can say I knew when I’m making I’m going to lose money, and we lost money. But, any other movie, we always somehow managed to survive.”
To Lerner’s mind, that survival is his most noteworthy accomplishment, even bigger than the company’s blockbuster success of the “Expendables” movies.
As for regrets, the former Tel Aviv drive-in operator has a few, although he doesn’t like to characterize them as such.
First Look Pictures tops his list of misfires. Nu Image bought a controlling interest in the company in March 2007, planning to use it as a domestic distributor for its product. It collapsed in flurry of flops, lawsuits and bitter accusations from producers, but not before Lerner and company purchased its valuable 700-title library for under $6 million.
Lerner also admits to being disappointed by last year’s $70 million action epic “Conan the Barbarian,” which performed well in many foreign territories, but earned a paltry $21 million at the U.S. box office, killing plans for a series of sequels.
“Lionsgate unfortunately suffered and lost money,” says Lerner of the film’s domestic distributor, but “we did not lose money.”
According to Lerner, “The Grey Zone” still holds the distinction of being the only film that lost money for the company. It gives him one more reason why he doesn’t want to hear yet another pitch about someone’s grandmother who walked from Warsaw to Krakow in WWII.
“I say, ‘Who cares about your grandmother, how much she suffer and who she met?’ ” says Lerner, who’s known for driving a hard bargain. “Now, if you tell me she killed 200 million Nazis, yes! That’s the movie I want to see.”
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