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What's in the Cards for Woody Allen? : Movies: The filmmaker's departure from TriStar leads to questions regarding the impact of his personal life on his career.

July 26, 1993|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is Woody Allen finished in Hollywood?

Yes, say some who believe his personal problems compounded with his lack of commercially successful movies over the past seven years have now caused the film community to distance itself from the Oscar-winning writer-director.

But conventional Hollywood wisdom says that all it would take is for one of Allen's pictures to show commercial promise and the town would develop a convenient case of amnesia and clamor to be back in business with the filmmaker.

Prior to his highly public court battles with actress Mia Farrow over custody of their natural and adopted children and his affair with one of Farrow's adopted daughters, studios wanted to associate with Allen because he was such a prestigious filmmaker, despite the fact that his movies generally didn't make money.

But now, several key production executives privately admit they would be wary of signing any deal with Allen.

"It's tragic that his personal life has interfered with the public's ability to watch his films, but I think it has," said one highly placed studio executive. "You'd have to think hard before signing with him."

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Talk about Allen's viability in Hollywood began swirling in the film community as news surfaced last week that the New York-based filmmaker-actor's production deal with TriStar Pictures was ending prematurely. He had one movie remaining on a three-picture deal with the studio.

Beginning with his next, untitled production, his movies will be financed by Sweetland Films, a company run by his longtime friend Jean Doumanian, a former producer of the "Saturday Night Live" TV series. Allen's sister, Letty Aronson, is an executive at Sweetland in charge of film production.

What was considered highly unusual was that TriStar did not hold him to the commitment to make the third film, or that the studio did not jump in with an offer to distribute his future films.

"Our deal with Woody was basically finished," TriStar Chairman Mike Medavoy said, dismissing the notion that there was a third film. As for distributing Allen's future pictures, Medavoy would say only that "we may work together in the future."

Jonathan Dolgen, motion picture group president of TriStar parent Sony Pictures Entertainment, denied speculation that the company wanted to distance itself from Allen. "Sony Pictures Entertainment had nothing whatsoever to do with Woody Allen's decision to move on to Sweetland, or with Mike Medavoy's decision not to stand in his way," he said in a statement.

Medavoy responded: "Cynics can say what they want" about Allen's move. He added that "Allen initiated the change. . . . I'm one who knows that you can ride up and ride down with creative people. You just stick with them." And he pointed out that his relationship with Allen dates to the 1970s at United Artists and later at Orion Pictures, which the former United Artists management team founded.

Last week, Allen issued a statement saying that he is "very sorry to leave a very sensitive and supportive environment at TriStar. Mike Medavoy and all the people in the organization have been wonderful to work with from a creative standpoint. But they understand that the offer from Sweetland Films is impossible to refuse."

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"The story is what the story is," said Letty Aronson, in response to questions about the talk in Hollywood. "Any other story other than the one you know of as quoted by representatives of Sony, TriStar, Allen and Sweetland is garbage. If in fact there were a scintilla of truth to the so-called other side of the story, there would be even one person who would go on record."

Friends and associates say that Allen, when presented with Doumanian's offer, decided he could not pass by the opportunity.

Others outside his circle believe he had no choice as a result of a year of bad publicity.

"It's probably best for both parties," nodded one well-placed studio executive when prodded for a reaction to the announcement that Woody Allen and TriStar Pictures would part ways.

A senior studio executive said: "Nobody wants to be involved with him . . . Woody is not Woody anymore."

When asked if his company would make a deal with Allen, another top studio executive simply said, "No. . . . If his new deal is such a good thing, how come he doesn't have distribution?"

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One studio vice president took the cynical view, saying: "If studio heads believed his next picture was going to be a hit, they'd say, 'Oh his personal life has nothing to do with his professional life' and they'd jump on the bandwagon to be in business with him."

A lower-level executive, who worked on Allen's films for years but like virtually all others requested anonymity, said: "Woody is becoming more and more insulated. This linking with his best friend and his sister tells me that."

Besides financial incentives, which mean that Allen will own a larger share of his movies and be able to spend up to 25% more on his traditionally low-budget productions, the Sweetland deal might also be viewed as "going home."

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