In the winter of 1982 Eddie Murphy closed a deal with Paramount Pictures that looked like a risky proposition for the studio. On the strength of the box-office hit "48 HRS.," Murphy was signed to an exclusive three-picture deal and advanced $1 million for his next movie.
Murphy had a home, but had Paramount given the house away?
Obviously not. The gamble paid off handsomely. Two of Murphy's movies, "Trading Places" and "Beverly Hills Cop" have grossed about $400 million. Last year Paramount renegotiated the contract and inside sources at the studio said that Murphy now gets about $6 million per picture plus a piece of the profits. For "Beverly Hills Cop II," which starts shooting next month, Murphy received about $8 million in salary alone, according to sources at Paramount.
In recent weeks, Tri-Star Pictures has been busily trying to duplicate that box-office magic by signing TV's "Moonlighting" co-star Bruce Willis to an exclusive deal. According to sources close to the situation, Willis will receive about $4 million per picture if the deal goes through.
But those kinds of star deals are rare exceptions in Hollywood today. Unlike the 1940s and early 1950s when studios had actors under contract and simply assigned them to pictures, actors today have much greater leverage.
Murphy is one of the rare A-list stars with a purely exclusive deal, which means that by contract he \o7 cannot \f7 make a movie for any other studio. When Sylvester Stallone recently signed a 10-picture deal with United Artists, it was announced that it was not exclusive and that Stallone was free to go on making "Cobra" and "Rambo" sequels for other studios.
But while actors have shied away from exclusive arrangements, such deals are much more commonplace among producers. The typical "in-house" exclusive deal works like this: A producer--or team of producers--is provided a salary, an office, an expense account and other perks. In exchange, the studio gets to hear all of the producer's ideas and has final say on whether the movie will be made. In addition, if the studio green-lights a picture, it takes a distribution fee and a cut--generally about half--of the movie's net profits, in exchange for financing the movie.
In effect, the producer who agrees to such a deal is like a salesman who works on salary \o7 and\f7 commission as opposed to the salesman who works on commission alone. For that reason and others, the exclusive deal is not for everybody. "It's a quid pro quo," said Daniel Melnick, ("Footloose," "All That Jazz"), who now has his own independently financed production company and can make movies with whatever studio he chooses. "You give up freedom and a better back end (profit participation) for the security of a weekly paycheck."
Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer may be Hollywood's highest paid producers with an exclusive deal. Simpson, a former president of production at Paramount, teamed with Bruckheimer in 1982. Together, they have produced "Flashdance," "Thief of Hearts," "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Top Gun," three of which were top money makers for Paramount.
According to Simpson, such exclusive deals usually favor the producer, who gets the full use of the studio lot and all of its attendant marketing and distribution services. "Basically, when you are a producer under contract, all you have to worry about is getting up, driving to work and going to bed at night," Simpson said. "The trade-off for having a nice home and a nice car is that you can't get nearly as rich as you would if you could afford to be totally independent."
Being exclusive can also lead to some frustrating creative roadblocks. According to Simpson, Jeff Katzenberg, the former president of production at Paramount and now chairman of Walt Disney Studios, told Simpson that Paramount had decided not to make "Top Gun." Once that administration "passed," Simpson and Bruckheimer could not take the movie to another studio. "Believing in 'Top Gun' as heartily as we did, to be told they wouldn't make it was a crushing blow," said Simpson. "Fortunately, it was the first thing approved by the new administration (studio Chairman Frank Mancuso and President Ned Tanen).
Of course, few producers have the clout or track record of Simpson and Bruckheimer. And, for the less experienced, the exclusive deal can seem like a godsend. David Bombyk, who co-produced "Witness" and "Explorers," was one of about a dozen producers who agreed to exclusive deals at Walt Disney Productions when Michael Eisner and Katzenberg took over the reins there. Bombyk, who did not produce anything for Disney while he was there, recently left Disney to become president of the Geffen Film Co. "Because you can only take projects to them, you are almost a part of the staff. It's to their advantage to use your talents, and in this case they made me feel like part of the family." (Several of the projects Bombyk worked on are now going to be produced at Disney.)