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Another Chapter in the Strange Odyssey of 'Wired'

April 13, 1989|NINA J. EASTON and JACK MATHEWS | Times Staff Writers

Taylor Hackford and other top officials of his New Visions Pictures first viewed "Wired," a surreal chronicle of comedian John Belushi's life and 1982 death, at a private screening Jan. 16.

Soon after, they began negotiating with F/M Entertainment for the rights to distribute "Wired" to American theaters. The two sides were apparently close to a deal when, on March 21, New Visions president Stuart Benjamin called "Wired" co-producer Charles Meeker with some troubling news.

"The pressure has gotten to be too much," Benjamin said, according to notes that Meeker, an attorney, said he took of the 18-minute conversation. "Too many relationships are threatened." Benjamin said he was very sorry, but it couldn't be helped, according to Meeker's notes.

The pressure, according to Meeker, was coming from Creative Artists Agency, the talent agency headed by Michael Ovitz. Meeker discussed his conversations with Benjamin in an interview with The Times this week. Meeker said that Benjamin told him that if his company released "Wired," it risked the loss of important film projects already in the works with CAA.

Hackford, chairman of New Visions and a film director with such credits as "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Against All Odds," is a CAA client. Sources in Hollywood say that New Visions' decision to not release "Wired" represents a textbook case of how power is exercised in Hollywood, in this case by the town's most influential talent agency. In a business that puts a premium on big-name talent, CAA's extraordinary client list of top actors and directors gives the agency tremendous leverage--not only to facilitate projects the agency wants, but also to discourage deals it doesn't.

Reached Wednesday, Ovitz denied that his agency put any pressure on New Visions or any other distributor. "The film will rise or fall based on its own merits," Ovitz said. "We have nothing to do with the movie."

Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter who wrote the book upon which the movie is based and served as technical adviser to the producers, said Tuesday, "It is clear from conversations I had with people from that company (New Visions) that they planned to distribute the movie, that they walked away from what they considered to be several million dollars, because of perceived fears that Mike Ovitz and CAA would not be happy."

At the time of his death, Belushi was a CAA client, and the agency continues to represent his brother James Belushi and such close Belushi friends as Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

Woodward's book, also titled "Wired," detailed not only Belushi's habits, but drug abuse throughout the entertainment community. Many of the same Belushi friends and associates who cooperated with Woodward blasted the book when it came out.

"Wired" co-producer Edward S. Feldman said Ovitz called him when he first learned that Feldman planned to make the movie and "suggested that I not make it, that the book ("Wired") was not accurate, that the (Hollywood) community does not want this movie made." But, Feldman added, Ovitz "didn't threaten me."

Ovitz said he doesn't recall the details of his conversation with Feldman. However, he acknowledged that many of the agency's clients were concerned about seeing Woodward's book made into a film.

"There's no question about that," Ovitz said. "A lot of these people took strong positions that they didn't want to see Belushi's life exploited." Ovitz added that those concerns "have not been discussed" recently.

In 1985 and again in 1986, an attorney for Ovitz, Aykroyd, Murray, Belushi's manager Bernie Brillstein and director John Landis, among others, wrote to F/M Entertainment threatening an invasion of privacy lawsuit if the film depicted any of these clients. (Of those people, Aykroyd is the only person depicted by name in the film. A look-alike of Landis also appears in one scene, although his name has been changed. In addition, a character apparently based on Brillstein appears, but the character's name has been changed to Arnie Fromson--a decision made upon the advice of the film's insurance company, according to Feldman.)

Despite the opposition to the film, "Wired," which stars unknown Michael Chiklis as Belushi, was made. Production was finished last fall and the producers have been seeking a distributor since then. All of the major studios passed on distributing the film, according to F/M Entertainment. Some smaller distributors expressed interest in it, the producers said, but F/M Entertainment decided to do business with New Visions, in part because both companies shared the same Amsterdam-based bank, Pierson, Heldring and Pierson.

Paul Kijzer, a Los Angeles-based consultant to the bank who was involved in the "Wired" negotiations with New Visions, said that company president Benjamin also told him that CAA had applied pressure to his firm.

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