"Bull Durham," a movie about a broken-down baseball catcher who gets a final shot at redemption, was producer Thom Mount's biggest hit. It is also one of his favorite themes.
" 'Bull Durham' was really about second chances," Mount said over lunch recently. "And that's the good thing about Hollywood. It's a place where you can rise from the ashes."
Mount should know. His own version of the Phoenix-like rise occurred earlier this month when a Japanese consortium agreed to funnel $150 million into his troubled production company.
The deal is Mount's second chance. It makes him a significant player in Hollywood for the first time since the early 1980s when he lost his job as production president at Universal Pictures. But it also comes just two months before he is set to defend a lawsuit that explores, in punishing detail, his past business problems.
The suit, filed by a former business partner named Elsa Lambert, accuses the 41-year-old Mount of fraud and breach of contract. In depositions taken by Lambert's lawyers, Mount's integrity comes under repeated attack. Onetime associates say he misled clients, altered the company books and supported a mistress with company funds when it was nearly bankrupt.
Pegi Walsh, Mount's former secretary, is quoted as saying she quit privately held Mount Co. in 1988 because Mount demanded that she "lie to people I cared about--my work mates, his wife, vendors, people that he did business with, essentially everyone."
Mount has filed a cross-complaint for defamation, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. He calls the suit "utterly specious" and revenge-driven. But he also feels powerless to do much about it because Lambert has rebuffed repeated settlement efforts.
"I am fundamentally an honest person with a good heart," said Mount, the latest film executive to reap the rewards of Japan's expensive fascination with Hollywood filmmaking. "That's not to say that I am free of warts and blemishes. But I am trying to learn and grow."
Mount said his Japanese investors are aware of the suit. But the juxtaposition of the trial, set for May 6, and the business deal could be troubling for him. The complex funding package is the result of two years of shuttle diplomacy by Mount and his colleagues, Beverly Hills-based merchant bankers Stephen K. Bannon and Mark Bisgeier of Talbott, Bannon & Co.
It calls for a consortium headed by Nissho Iwai Corp., Japan's sixth-largest trading company, to provide $150 million to Mount Film Group through $40 million in capital, $70 million in borrowed money and a revolving $40-million print and advertising fund. The money is supposed to pay for the production of six films.
Another Japanese consortium called Media International Corp., led by NHK Enterprises, is Mount's partner in "The Indian Runner," a film that recently completed production.
Universal will distribute the movies under a deal that also gives the studio creative input. Significantly, the agreement vests control of company finances with Talbott Bannon, which is partially owned by Nissho Iwai.
"We have freed Thom up to do what he should do, which is make movies," Bannon said in a recent interview. "Thom is a very smart man. He's just not a businessman."
Mount, a rumpled-looking man with bloodhound eyes and an authoritative voice that serves him well at industry seminars, doesn't argue the point. "What I needed was a mini-studio situation where the business and creative sides were divorced from one another," he said.
Mount conducts his business from two locations these days: a squat office building in Burbank that houses Mount Film Group and an airy penthouse apartment in Century City. The apartment, lent to Mount after he finished filming "The Indian Runner" in Nebraska, is virtually empty except for an antique Brazilian desk, some bedroom furniture and box loads of books.
The only other signs of his presence are the ubiquitous location shots that line the hallway. Mount has been in the film business most of his adult life. After dabbling in left-wing political activities as a college student in his native North Carolina, where his lawyer father remains a liberal Democratic activist, Mount entered California Institute of the Arts in 1970.
By 1973, he had landed a job as a story reader for producer Daniel Selznick, and within another two years he was hired as a junior production executive at Universal Pictures.
Former co-workers say Mount slid comfortably into the workaholic culture at Universal, even though, in his signature cowboy boots and jeans, he clashed stylistically with the conservative, dark-suited executives. Mel Sattler, a former Universal vice president of worldwide business affairs for motion pictures who now serves as a Mount Film Group consultant, said Mount always possessed "the ability to measure and develop stories."