YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Unhappy Ending at Turner Pictures a Sign of the Times

November 19, 1996|Claudia Eller

When Amy Pascal took the job of president of Turner Pictures two years ago, it was with great anticipation. It was a rare opportunity to build a new movie company, virtually from scratch. What Pascal and the creative team of executives she assembled didn't anticipate is that their plans for the start-up would all come to a crashing halt before their first movie was released.

Nor did the producers with whom Pascal made deals, or the agents who had come to count on the company as one of Hollywood's buyers, expect it all to end so abruptly.

But once Ted Turner merged his growing empire with Time Warner, Turner Pictures made no business sense whatsoever. The fledgling movie boutique, which would have taken years to realize any profit--if there was even any to be had--was a superfluous adjunct to a company whose highly productive motion picture studio--Warner Bros.--already releases more than 30 titles a year.

There was no economic reason to keep the Century-City based operation alive, especially at these prices: $50 million a year in production costs last year; $100 million this year; a projected $200 million for next year. Add to that another $20 million a year in development costs and $9 million a year or more in overhead to maintain a staff of 50.

Turner Pictures' premature demise is a byproduct of today's mega-mergers--though not unique to Hollywood--whereby peoples' personal and professional lives are jolted and their creative investments lost in the name of consolidation. It's expected that some 1,000 jobs will be lost companywide at Time Warner because of the merger. To date, about 800 employees have been pink-slipped.

Last week's announcement that Time Warner was pulling the plug on Turner Pictures brought cries of disappointment from agents and others in the creative community--albeit mostly for self-serving reasons of having one less buyer in the marketplace.

But many in Hollywood were truly rooting for the young company, regarding it as a missed opportunity.

Warner Bros. co-chiefs Bob Daly and Terry Semel said last week that they'll do all they can to absorb as many employees and projects as possible, but realistically, most will have to find other jobs. And who knows how many of the 35 to 40 works Pascal put in development will actually survive at Warner, whose shelves are already bloated with scripts that will never get made.

It's unlikely that Pascal, 38, who had a year to go on her contract, will end up as an executive at Warner, since there isn't a senior enough position available. Sources say she is considering a plush production deal at the studio. If she leaves, she'll receive a lucrative severance package, and given her reputation as a well-respected executive with strong talent relationships, Pascal will no doubt land squarely on her feet.

But what she isn't likely to get is another opportunity to do what she did at Turner: create a non-bureaucratic environment that catered to writers and directors and focused on the material they were developing into movies. Because of its boutique size, the company operated free of the kind of superstructure and corporate politics intrinsic to the studio system.

Turner, who had great expectations of finally being a movie mogul, had high hopes for the movie company bearing his name.

Turner Pictures was created in 1988 expressly to make movies for Turner's TNT cable channels--and, of course, it was a new toy for Turner and his entertainment group president, Scott Sassa. It expanded into the theatrical arena with "Gettysburg," "Pagemaster" and "Angus," though it never took shape as a real movie company until Sassa hired Pascal, a former senior executive at Columbia Pictures, to give it substance as well as form.

Her mandate was to transform Turner into one of Hollywood's premiere production companies, building up to a slate of eight movies a year. The idea was to complement Turner's two other film companies, New Line Cinema and Castle Rock Entertainment, both of which he bought in 1993, so that by 1998 the combined entities would be putting out as much product as a major studio. The label strategy was aimed at getting a diverse product flow from three different entities.

Turner also wanted to cover his bases so that if one or two of the movie banners were having a bad year, the other might manage some hits to offset the losses.

But because the movie business is the movie business, nothing's that simple or predictable.

Both Castle Rock and New Line, once the darling of Wall Street, hit cold streaks. Turner expected to make a quick, easy sale on Castle Rock for a decent price, despite such duds as "Striptease," but it didn't happen. New Line is also on the sales block, but this year's poor box-office showings of such costly films as "The Island of Dr. Moreau," "Last Man Standing" and "The Long Kiss Goodnight," have reportedly devalued the company from its originally hoped-for $1.2 billion.

Los Angeles Times Articles