"They should be making socially relevant movies for older audiences--movies like 'Driving Miss Daisy,' " said one frustrated producer who is close to the studio. "Instead they make 'Madhouse' (a John Larroquette-Kirstie Alley comedy released last February), and they don't do that very well."
Orion's high hopes--both critically and commercially--for its movies over the past year have been routinely dashed. Last year's much-hyped "Great Balls of Fire" was supposed to become a big summer hit and turn Dennis Quaid into a mega-star. It did neither. The pairing of movie star Meryl Streep with TV star Roseanne Barr in "She-Devil" convinced studio executives that they had a big hit on their hands last Christmas. They were wrong. "Cadillac Man," opened last May starring one of the biggest draws in the business, Robin Williams, but ticket sales topped out at only $27 million--and reviews were mixed.
Orion's share of the U.S. box-office dollar has dropped from 10.4% in 1987 to 5.5% as of June, according to Variety analyst Art Murphy. The company remains profitable but primarily because of revenues from ancillary markets that continue to flow in from past hits, according to Wall Street analysts. "The current deficit is being offset by old productions," said Elizabeth A. Cameron, research associate at Smith Barney. "More and more they are capitalizing on their achievements of the past. That doesn't bode well for the future."
Orion executives declined to be interviewed for this story. But spokesmen for the studio say they have high hopes for its upcoming slate of films. "Mermaids," starring Cher as the free-spirited mother of a 15-year-old played by Winona Ryder, is set for a Christmas release. That will be followed by "Silence of the Lambs," an unusually serious venture for director Demme that is based on the best-selling novel of the same name.
This fall, critical hopes are high for "State of Grace," Phil Joanou's new film with Sean Penn, Ed Harris and Gary Oldman as members of an Irish mob in New York City's Hell's Kitchen. Costner's "Dances With Wolves," set for release in November, has created a lot of interest in Hollywood because of its scope and its subject matter (a frontier story set against the European migration into Native American territories). The finished film will come in at just under three hours, but Orion won't force Costner to cut it. Instead, the studio plans to market it as a "Dr. Zhivago"-like epic.
Dennis Hopper, who directed the Orion hit "Colors," says his upcoming film "Hot Spot" is his best work to date. And Woody Allen is finishing his next film, "Alice," starring William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, Joe Mantegna, Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey, Judy Davis and, of course, Mia Farrow.
Krim, Pleskow and Bernstein (Benjamin died in 1980) remain very much involved in the day-to-day operation of their studio. But much of the success of Orion's future rests with the much younger Platt.
Platt, who was promoted to Medavoy's job after two executives ahead of him left the studio, starts off without the benefit of his predecessor's ties to talent. When Medavoy joined UA as production chief at age 34 he had already built important associations as a talent agent. By the time Medavoy left, his web of relationships was one of the widest in town, bringing such stars as Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer into the Orion fold.
"Mike is a very charismatic figure," said Costner. "It will be up to Marc to create those relationships. It's the hot spot." Already Dennis Quaid is expected to follow Medavoy over to Tri-Star; Costner, Lange and Pfeiffer are working on Orion projects for the time being.
It is Krim, however, who holds the key to Orion's most important actor and filmmaker--Woody Allen. Allen started making movies for Krim in the early 1970s when Krim ran UA and has stayed wit him ever since, working under almost unprecedented autonomy with his films.
Allen's contract, which calls for one more film to be made after "Alice," is currently up for renegotiation. Given his close personal friendship with Krim, it's likely Allen will renew his contract there. But what happens if and when the 80-year-old executive retires is anybody's guess.
Those who know Platt--an attorney who worked as business affairs adviser to International Creative Management's Sam Cohn and as vice president at RKO before joining Orion--say he is already fast at work building relationships for Orion. "Marc is a quick study," said Medavoy. "He is very likable. I think he's going to get those relationships. If he doesn't have them, he'll get them."
Added Scott Rudin, who is producing "Little Man Tate" for Orion: "There is a lot of good will for Marc."
Many in Hollywood consider Platt's youth an important counterbalance to the tastes of the older Krim, as well as 66-year-old Pleskow and 56-year-old Bernstein. 'Marc has a taste for more contemporary, commercial kinds of things," said "Throw Mama From the Train" producer Larry Brezner.