PolyGram: The 1998 Studio Scorecard
The movie business has always been a rat race. Which studios are making strides, and which are just limping along this year?
1997 MARKET SHARE 0.8% // 1998 MARKET SHARE (TO DATE) 1.2%
THE STORY SO FAR Once a reliable supplier of big-ticket movies to Disney and other studios, this Dutch conglomerate decided to start distributing its own product last year. Bad call. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment’s expensive first attempt, Michael Douglas’ The Game, resulted in respectable box office, but the follow-ups—Robert Altman’s The Gingerbread Man, The Proposition, Barney’s Great Adventure, and The Borrowers—were dismaying duds. These days, the news is getting worse: PolyGram now has to contend with its new, singularly unenthusiastic owner, Seagram’s Edgar Bronfman Jr., who wants to sell the film division (he recently slashed his asking price from $1 billion to $750 million) while holding on to PolyGram’s considerable music assets.
STRENGTHS Talent relations. PolyGram is making the Four Weddings-ish comedy The Notting Hill Film with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and Robin Williams and Tim Robbins have works in progress with the studio.
WEAKNESSES Talent relations. The Gingerbread Man was marked by fights between the studio and Altman over who would get the final edit; Altman and members of his cast were upset that PolyGram, after accepting Altman’s cut, refused to get behind the film, which got good reviews but grossed less than $2 million. As a result, Gingerbread Man star Kenneth Branagh agreed to do only minimal publicity for The Proposition. Not the kind of reputation a fledgling studio likes to get.
CORPORATE CULTURE Despite the presence of PFE U.S. distribution president Andy Fogelson, there’s little cohesion between PolyGram’s divisions, which include Interscope, Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures, and Working Title. With PolyGram president and CEO Alain Levy leaving and Bronfman a reluctant-at-best boss, who’s at the wheel?
THE BIG PICTURE Out of focus. French production company Canal Plus and others have expressed interest in buying the studio back from Bronfman and keeping it European, but its future remains unknown. Meanwhile, don’t expect a lot of greenlights while the studio has a “For Sale” sign on its front door.
INDUSTRY TAKE While the agent says that the films PFE makes and distributes are “smart…whether they’re sold or not, they should be fine,” the screenwriter says, “Everybody in town thought they were going to really step up and be a major distributor. It hasn’t happened.” Shrugs the producer: “Nobody knows what it’s going to become.”
WHAT’S NEXT This summer brings Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche in Return to Paradise, a tough-to-market drama about Asian drug laws; in the fall, Williams stars in the Ghostly (and costly) life-after-death drama What Dreams May Come, and Peter Berg has his directorial debut with the twisted Very Bad Things, starring Cameron Diaz and Christian Slater.