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COMPANY TOWN | The Biz

In Hollywood Today, a Zanuck Goes Begging

March 16, 1999|CLAUDIA ELLER

Lili Zanuck persisted until Warner Bros. agreed to pay $5 million of the film's $7.5-million budget and executive producer Jake Eberts kicked in the remaining $2.5 million for the foreign rights. Not only did "Driving Miss Daisy" win four Oscars, it was a box-office hit, grossing over $100 million domestically.

It took Dick Zanuck and Brown nearly a decade to get their 1985 movie "Cocoon" made at Fox.

"It went through three regimes at Fox," Zanuck recalled. "I kept going to the same office and sitting in front of my old desk and pitching the same story, first to Larry Gordon, then Sherry Lansing and then Joe Wizan. And finally Joe said, 'It sounds pretty good.' "

Directed by Ron Howard, "Cocoon" also was a surprise hit.

Zanuck said that one of the most valuable lessons he learned from his father, who died in 1979, was, "Never give up, no matter how many people turn you down. Never turn your back on what you feel about something."

That advice would serve Zanuck well years later when it came to "Deep Impact," a movie idea he and Brown first pitched to Barry Diller at Paramount about 22 years ago that never made it past script form. Then, three years ago, the producers brought the project--about a comet threatening to destroy Earth--to Steven Spielberg, whose company DreamWorks SKG agreed to co-finance the $80-million-plus movie with Paramount.

Zanuck and Brown had given Spielberg, then a 26-year-old TV director, his first two movie breaks: "The Sugarland Express," a dud, and "Jaws," which became one of the biggest hits of all time.

"Very few people in the business really control their own destiny in terms of picture making," suggested Zanuck. "And once you get past Spielberg, it's a tiny list."

When Zanuck met recently with Spielberg about another long-existing project called "The Ninth Man," which Brown is also producing, he said it was totally refreshing.

"He just picked up the phone and called business affairs to say how much the rights would cost and the deal was done," said Zanuck, who recalled remarking to Spielberg at the time: "This is like the old days when it took an owner to do that."

Unlike DreamWorks, which is owned by Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, most of Hollywood's movie studios are owned by diversified, multibillion-dollar media conglomerates under which all sorts of corporate agendas can bog down the system.

Zanuck's just-released "True Crime" is a suspense thriller based on Andrew Klavan's best-selling novel. It was one of "many projects that were languishing" under his former production deal at Fox 2000, a division of 20th Century Fox.

When the deal ended in late 1997, the Zanucks asked to take several projects with them, including "True Crime," which the producers brought to Eastwood, a friend and neighbor of theirs in Sun Valley. He signed on as its director and star.

Eastwood portrays a burned-out investigative reporter assigned at the last minute to cover the San Quentin execution of a convicted murderer whom he comes to believe is innocent and attempts to prove it.

Zanuck is currently in South Carolina prepping "Rules of Engagement," a film he is producing with Scott Rudin for Paramount and that William Friedkin is directing. Based on a script by James Webb, the action-court martial drama stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.

Despite all the "ugly minefields you have to go through" and the sometimes "mean-spirited" nature of the business today, Zanuck said he remains passionate about making movies.

"It's the only thing I really find stimulating," he said, "and that really excites me . . . . I don't know anything else."

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