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Director Disputes Columbia Claim 'Hope and Glory' Helped Cause Loss

March 19, 1988|MICHAEL CIEPLY | Times Staff Writer

British film director John Boorman doesn't claim to know much about corporate accounting.

But he's hopping mad about what he says is Columbia Pictures Entertainment's incorrect assertion that his "Hope and Glory," nominated for an Oscar as best picture, contributed to the studio's anticipated $105-million after-tax loss for the 2 1/2 months ended Feb. 29.

In disclosing the expected loss earlier this week, Columbia President and Chief Executive Victor A. Kaufman said the studio expected to lose money on 10 to 15 films made during the regime of David Puttnam, who headed Columbia's movie studio. Kaufman told The Times that "Hope and Glory," which has grossed just $8.3 million at the U.S. box office, would have a "considerable loss."

According to Boorman, however, a top officer of the Columbia Pictures movie unit told the makers of "Hope and Glory"--both before and after Kaufman's remarks--that the studio had already broken even on the film and expected a profit from future sales.

Puttnam, who resigned as Columbia chief after the studio's merger with Tri-Star Pictures was announced last fall, separately expressed dismay over the magnitude of the expected losses.

Reached in England, Puttnam said he wasn't in a position to know details of how individual films fared. But he said the total expected loss "makes no sense in terms of what (Columbia Pictures President David) Picker and I left behind."

According to Boorman and "Hope and Glory" co-producer Edgar Gross, Columbia's senior executive vice president, Roger Faxon, told the film makers two weeks ago that the studio had recovered its investment in the movie, thanks to U.S. video, foreign theatrical, pay-TV and other rights sales.

After reading Kaufman's assertion of a loss, Faxon called Boorman in New York, the director said. According to Boorman, the vice president claimed that Kaufman's remarks were mistaken and that he was "furious" about them.

In an interview Thursday, Boorman said Kaufman also called to apologize for the remarks. But the Columbia president stopped short of saying the claim of a loss was mistaken. When pressed on the point, Kaufman, according to Boorman, said Faxon didn't "understand" Columbia's method of accounting for the picture's revenue.

Through a spokesman, both Kaufman and Faxon declined to comment.

Faxon oversees business affairs, marketing, distribution and administrative matters for the Columbia movie unit. He joined the studio last fall after serving as Tri-Star's executive vice president for business affairs.

According to Boorman, "Hope and Glory" cost about $9.3 million, and Columbia spent another $5 million on prints and advertising, including $126,000 for trade paper ads geared to the Oscars.

Columbia funded the entire film but received $2.5 million from Nelson Entertainment for U.S. video rights, over $2.65 million from Goldcrest Films for some foreign theatrical rights and further amounts from HBO, CBS and other sources for additional rights.

The studio still stands to receive income from British video sales and Asian and Latin American theatrical showings, among other sources, according to Boorman and Gross. They also claimed that the film has completely recovered Columbia's cash investment and that remaining income will be more than sufficient to cover any studio distribution fees that might conceivably account for the claim of a loss.

Boorman and Gross said they were particularly alarmed by the allegation that "Hope and Glory" was a money loser because it came just as members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are preparing to vote for this year's Oscar winners. "I didn't want everybody to have the perception that Columbia was forsaking this picture in favor of 'The Last Emperor' " Gross said.

"Hope and Glory" received five Oscar nominations. "The Last Emperor," which was financed by Hemdale Film Corp. but was released by Columbia in the United States, had nine nominations, including one for best picture.

Studios generally write down, or record as a loss, money spent on a film when they have no expectation of recovering it in the normal course of business. Historically, new managers have been especially aggressive in taking quick writedowns on films left over from an earlier regime. The practice pushes blame for any losses on the managers who commissioned the projects rather than on managers who may be in place when the films are actually released months later.

Columbia didn't give the specific amount of the writedown and didn't enumerate films included in it, although Kaufman did say the company doesn't expect a loss on "The Last Emperor," which has grossed about $21 million at the U.S. box office.

Other Puttnam films include "Leonard Part 6," "Housekeeping" and "Vice Versa," which have already been released, and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," "Vibes," "Me and Him" and others that haven't yet been released.

Staff writer Kathryn Harris contributed to this story.

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