The new stars of Hollywood are its mega-producers, that small cadre of film makers who can boast consistently successful track records at the box office. The Japanese are knocking at their doors, Wall Street investors are flashing nine-figure contracts, and on Wednesday, Paramount Pictures made its hottest producing team a virtual studio within the studio.
The deal gives Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the producers of such Paramount hits as "Flashdance," "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop," a half-billion dollar fund and the freedom to make any five movies they want, without seeking the studio's approval. The contract would be unprecedented if it stopped there, but it also gives the producers the right to direct three of the pictures and, in Simpson's case, to act if he wants to.
"They put up the money, we put up the talent and we meet at the theater," Simpson said of the Paramount deal. "We do everything without consulting with anyone or asking anyone's permission."
Simpson and Bruckheimer, who are currently producing "Days of Thunder," an auto racing movie with "Top Gun" director Tony Scott and star Tom Cruise for Paramount, will produce the five films under their new contract over the next five years.
Simpson, who began his career as an actor, plays one of Cruise's racing rivals in "Days of Thunder."
Industry insiders say Paramount's deal with the producers is probably unprecedented for producers who bring no outside money to the table. Under most production deals, the studio reserves the right to approve the scripts, casts and budgets proposed by even the biggest producers on the lot.
Simpson and Bruckheimer declined to discuss the financial details of their new contract, but industry sources say Paramount has committed $500 million to the five pictures that will be produced. The fund will cover the costs of advertising, marketing and distribution of the films as well as the costs of making them. The films will average between $25 million and $35 million in production costs.
No, they can't make a $60-million movie, Simpson and Bruckheimer conceded in an interview at the studio Wednesday. But within a broad financial range, they can make whatever movies they want--and Paramount is required to finance them.
One likely motivation for Paramount's generous deal is the level of money now being dangled in front of all of Hollywood's top producers. Last fall, producer Lawrence Gordon ("Die Hard," "48 HRS.") set up his own production company with a $100-million investment from the Japanese firm JVC/Victor Co. of Japan. That was followed by Sony's luring of producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters off the Warner lot with an offer to buy their production company for $200 million and run Columbia Pictures under a generous compensation package.
Simpson said that he and Bruckheimer were offered pools of $500 to $600 million by three different Wall Street consortiums to set up their own production company. "We looked at that long and hard, but we'd still be business guys," said Simpson. "We want to pay attention to making movies."
The movies that made the Simpson-Bruckheimer team a hot property at Paramount were big crowd pleasers; they are not known for movies that draw critical acclaim or Oscar nominations--a trend that's not likely to change.
"We've always made the pictures that we want to see," said Bruckheimer. "The only audience we consider is our own audience."
"Days of Thunder," being filmed in Daytona, Fla., for release this summer, is the first Simpson-Bruckheimer production under their new deal with Paramount. After that, they say they don't know what will come next.
Whatever project they choose, "it will be an eminently containable enterprise," said Bruckheimer, without a lot of hardware and a large cast of stars.