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The Fight Over 'Broadway Brawler'

Movies: Bruce Willis' latest film is shut down 20 days into production after director Lee Grant and others are let go.

March 13, 1997|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Bruce Willis' latest film, "Broadway Brawler," turned into a real-life brawl between the actor and some of the filmmakers, resulting in the firing of director Lee Grant and practically every key player on the 20-day-old production, there was only one thing left to do: Shut it down.

Scrapping a big star production once filming has begun and millions of dollars are already on the line is rare in Hollywood.

But Andy Vajna, chief of Cinergi, the company bankrolling the film, felt he had no other choice. And with the backing of Joe Roth, chairman of Cinergi's parent company, Disney, he did just that. It was a particularly prickly problem for Vajna, who has had a long-standing relationship with Willis, including the blockbuster "Die Hard With a Vengeance" and the flop "The Color of Night."

The saga started Feb. 28, when Willis, also a producer on the film, abruptly halted the Wilmington, Del., production, firing Grant and her producer-husband, Joe Feury (who say they brought Willis aboard), cinematographer William Fraker and wardrobe designer Carol Oditz--all veterans in the business. Grant, an Oscar-winning actress for "Shampoo," director and documentary filmmaker, and six-time Oscar nominee Fraker say they never saw the showdown coming.

The film, budgeted at about $28 million, is described as a romantic comedy similar to "Jerry Maguire" but against the backdrop of hockey. Willis was to play the title character, a washed-up hockey player, opposite Maura Tierney ("NewsRadio").

Sources say Vajna backed Willis' decision only begrudgingly. As one put it, "Bruce was the 800-pound gorilla getting the movie made and he knew it. He was muscling Andy and he could do it because he also happened to be a producer on the film."

After Grant and others were dumped, Willis called his friend director Dennis Dugan ("Moonlighting") and brought him aboard. But Dugan lasted all of one day, and then he was told to go home. The movie was then put on an indefinite hold.

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Last week the clock continued to ticking on the production that had already cost Cinergi about $17 million. And that didn't even include Willis' fee, which Willis sources say was around $7.5 million plus perks, far less than his usual $20 million.

Vajna was reportedly trying to resolve the problem from afar, traveling with "Evita" in Budapest, say Disney and Cinergi sources. So Roth stepped in and resolved the problem with Vajna's approval.

Roth's solution was reportedly a deal that not only relieved Cinergi's financial risk but in a sense put Willis himself on the line. Cinergi shut the production down, and Disney paid off the $17 million Cinergi had already spent. Then Disney asked Willis to commit to star in two movies for $10 million each. Once those movies are made, Willis could resume "Broadway Brawler."

Roth declined to comment, and Vajna couldn't be reached. Sources at Cinergi say Vajna was very upset by the ordeal. Willis also declined to comment.

Still unclear is what resolution will ever be reached with Grant, Feury, Fraker, Oditz and others. All have been paid some of their fees, but not everything due them.

A still-stunned Grant said she was sickened by what happened.

"I wake up every morning wanting to do this film," she said. "It was our project. We went to [Willis] because we knew he would be perfect for it. He was marvelous in it but he was cursed with not being able to see how marvelous he was.

"The chemistry between him and Maura Tierney was working," she said. "But Bruce was very compulsive and had his own vision, which was different from mine. What I can tell you is that Cinergi loved the work we did and the bond company loved it too, even though we were a day and a half behind schedule."

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Asked about the breakdown of what happened during those 20 filming days, Fraker declined specifics except to say, "Lee was doing a great job. Bruce was telling other actors how to act. It was a great script and Lee's vision was a love story about two people with the background of hockey. But Bruce just took over.

"I've been in this business a long time and I kinda feel that the actors are taking away the director's job. We all work for the director. The director is the boss. If the actors want to direct, they should go direct," he said.

Sources close to the film said Willis also became upset when the hairdresser, Bernadette "Bunny" Parker, left the film to work on Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer," a previous commitment. And several sources confirmed other rumors that Willis was demanding more screen time.

Willis' publicist said the rumors are not true.

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