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'In the Line of Fire': Whose Movie Is It, Anyway? : Movies: Columbia Pictures bankrolled the Castle Rock production, but there is disagreement over just how much creative credit the studio can claim.

July 13, 1993|CLAUDIA ELLER | TIMES MOVIE EDITOR

Grabbing credit for success and running from failure is an all-too common practice in Hollywood.

And many industry insiders are irked that Columbia Pictures--embarrassed by the expensive misfiring of "Last Action Hero"--is laying claim to what looks like the makings of a big hit with "In the Line of Fire," the Clint Eastwood political thriller that opened Friday to much fanfare.

Giving credit where credit is due is never easy since bringing any motion picture to the big screen is never less than a collaborative effort. But taking credit where credit may not be due is another story.

Case in point is "In the Line of Fire."

Even prior to the film's release, some of Columbia executives were overheard around town boasting about "their" movie.

Monday, in a press release announcing its more than $15-million opening weekend at the box office, Columbia Chairman Mark Canton talked about its "enviable partnership with Castle Rock and Clint Eastwood, who we are proud to have associated with the new Columbia Pictures, throughout the filmmaking process." Canton goes on to say that the partnership began "with the acquisition of the script and continued through casting, production and post-production, to marketing and distribution of the film."

In fact, Castle Rock Entertainment--an independent production company headed by director-producer Rob Reiner and his four partners--acquired "In the Line of Fire" in script form, developed the movie and packaged its two major stars, Clint Eastwood and John Malkovich, and director Wolfgang Petersen.

Castle Rock partner Martin Shafer said that his company "made the deal with Clint Eastwood, made the deal with Wolfgang Petersen and made the deal with John Malkovich . . . Columbia did not initiate or package (the movie). From a creative standpoint, it was a Castle Rock picture."

Columbia, whose parent Sony Corps. owns about 44% of Castle Rock, can be justly credited with stepping up to the plate 10 weeks before production to finance the just under $40-million project, as well as with handling the marketing and distribution.

While Castle Rock has a distribution deal with Columbia to release its pictures in the United States and Canada, the company normally finances its own movies under an agreement with New Line Cinema and Credit Lyonnais Bank.

When New Line passed on bankrolling "In the Line of Fire" because of its cost, Castle Rock turned to Columbia. Similarly, last year Columbia financed Castle Rock's movie "A Few Good Men."

Beyond Columbia's financial involvement, there is disagreement over just how much creative credit the studio can aptly claim.

Jeff Maguire, the movie's screenwriter, contends that while Columbia was "terrific and supportive, I think even they would agree that giving them credit for the picture would be like giving mortgage bankers credit for a Frank Lloyd Wright house."

Maguire acknowledged, however, that Columbia executives "did come up with some very good suggestions. . . . There were probably a dozen notes they gave us and we adopted some and decided against others."

"In the Line of Fire" producer Jeff Apple concurred that "Columbia's involvement was really a function of a business situation between them and Castle Rock . . . but their creative involvement was not a great deal." Apple noted, however, that during production, both Columbia and Castle Rock executives "were very respectful of the filmmakers" and remained relatively hands-off.

Michael Nathanson, Columbia's president of worldwide production, takes issue with any downplaying of the studio's creative involvement in the making of the picture. "I think the whole process from day one was entirely a collaborative one and as the picture took on a life of its own, we were immensely supportive of the process. There was not one step of the way we were not involved in a creative decision or production decision."

Both Shafer and Maguire agree that Columbia's biggest creative contribution was suggesting some changes to the ending of the movie, which is about a Secret Service agent named Frank Horrigan (Eastwood) who is haunted by his failure to protect President Kennedy during the assassination and now years later sees the chance to redeem himself by saving the life of the present-day President from a madman (Malkovich).

Castle Rock agreed with Columbia to make Eastwood and Rene Russo, who also plays a Secret Service agent protecting the President, more active in the scenes leading up to and including the film's climax.

While Castle Rock and Columbia officials agreed that the production went smoothly, it wasn't without its acrimonious moments. In Apple's words, creative decisions about the movie's ending "became a cause celebre : We were constantly going back and forth with the studio about how big it should be."

According to Shafer, once financing arrangements with Columbia were set, "the understanding was we would retain creative control of the movie."

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