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HOLLYWOOD WATCH : Net Advantage

May 26, 1995

Winston Groom, the writer who created Forrest Gump, has asked Paramount Pictures a wide-eyed question worthy of his character: "How can your $661-million-grossing film version of my novel be a money loser?" Paramount says it has indeed lost money: Groom may not have his share of the profits because there are no profits to share.

The studio's claim that making the picture cost $50 million is believable. Its claim that distributing the picture cost $62 million more is considerably less so. But honesty and "creativity" in accounting aside, how great was Groom's contribution? Actor Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis each will earn $30 million to $40 million for their contributions to the film, Groom only $350,000. But is this split really unfair? Hanks and Zemeckis could have adapted another novel and had a comparable success, could they not? At the end of the day, has Groom not been paid about what he deserves?

If you think so, rent a copy of "Ishtar" from your local video outlet--if you can find a copy. Starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, directed by Elaine May, how could it possibly fail? But fail it did. And who can forget "Heaven's Gate"? With bankable actors and a genius director, that particular sure thing lost $44 million and brought down United Artists with it. All it lacked was a story.

The lawyers will decide whether Winston Groom has a legal leg to stand on. But any serious moviegoer knows that his cinematic case is strong. Call us language partisans, but even in the age of special effects, story still counts, words still matter.

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