One is Berney, former head of marketing and distribution at IFC Films, who oversaw the release of the smash Mexican movie "Y Tu Mama Tambien." With "Greek Wedding," he used a strategy in which the movie would be rolled out slowly in America's mainstream theaters, rather than limiting it to the art-house crowd.
IFC saw potential in the film when other distributors took a pass. By last fall, everyone was a believer. Theater owners honored Playtone and its handpicked financing partner, Gold Circle Films, at their annual convention. Accepting the award for the production team was Gold Circle President Paul Brooks, who failed to mention the contributions of IFC, an omission that surprised many in the audience.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 27, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
"Greek Wedding" -- A photo caption accompanying an article about the hit film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in Sunday's Business section misidentified the man appearing with actress-writer Nia Vardalos and her husband, Ian Gomez. He is executive producer Steven Shareshian, not producer Gary Goetzman.
Brooks said the slight was unintentional.
"If, in my nervousness, I forgot to thank IFC and Bob, then it was my mistake," Brooks said. "They were absolutely crucial, especially early in the process."
Brooks also was forced to apologize to another member of the Berney family -- Bob's wife, Jeanne, a veteran publicist with public relations firm Rogers & Cowan. She was instrumental in aggressively publicizing "Greek Wedding" in key markets such as New York, but she said she was fired after Gold Circle complained that it wasn't getting its share of the burgeoning press.
"When people start grabbing for positions, other people get pushed out," she said. "It was not handled elegantly."
Brooks said Berney wasn't fired but simply dropped when her contract expired. Gold Circle, he said, agreed with Playtone that a fresh approach was needed.
"The nature of a big success," he said, "is that everybody has different views on how valuable they were in the process."
Nonetheless, Brooks said he was sorry and hired the publicist to work on his company's current release, "Pool Hall Junkies."
Producer Jim Milio also counts himself among the victims of the Hollywood star system that enveloped "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Milio and two partners own a production boutique called MPH Entertainment, which first bought Vardalos' screenplay and had begun trying to line up financing when no one else seemed willing to take a gamble. All that changed, however, on a fall night in 1997 when Rita Wilson dropped into Hollywood's Acme Comedy Theatre to see Vardalos' one-woman show, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Milio also was in the audience.
Wilson, half-Greek herself, was enthralled and shared her enthusiasm with Vardalos after the show. According to Milio, who was standing nearby, Vardalos introduced him as the director of her future movie, although the actress does not recall saying so. But it wouldn't be a stretch: Milio had just directed her in a low-budget feature called "Men Seeking Women."
Vardalos whipped out a copy of her screenplay and gave it to Wilson, who in turn urged her Oscar-winning husband to help jump-start the movie project. With Playtone's sudden entry, Milio and MPH were overmatched. He said he suddenly found himself pitted against the actress whose career he had tried to advance.
"We had a number of heated exchanges," he said of Vardalos, who has denied trying to shove aside MPH. "She was really terrified that a dream of a lifetime, working with Tom Hanks, was going to go by the wayside if we dug in our heels and didn't give up the script.... I understand why she was upset. But on the other hand, we had a business stake in the project."
After months of legal squabbling, MPH's partners sold the screenplay rights in exchange for $200,000, co-executive producer credits and a small percentage of the film's profit. That would amount to pocket change compared with the tens of millions of dollars that Playtone and its eventual partners would one day reap.
Also at the Acme on that milestone night was talent manager Rick Siegel, who was representing Vardalos' husband, actor Ian Gomez. Siegel was so impressed that he signed her the next day. The timing was perfect, given that Hanks' involvement was looming on the horizon. Siegel would soon side with Playtone in trying to push MPH aside. But he too eventually would find himself on the outs. Vardalos fired him in late 2000, just two days after the film finished shooting.
By then, Vardalos' most trusted advisors had convinced her that Siegel was mostly watching out for himself. Among other things, he was pushing hard for a producer credit on the movie.
"There was a clear perception that her interests were secondary to his own personal interests," said Vardalos' lawyer, Singer.
Although Siegel received commissions from Vardalos' screenwriting and acting fees, the ouster deprived him of the ability to bask in -- and capitalize on -- the stunning success his client would achieve when the movie became the year's sleeper hit.
Siegel has not gone quietly.