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Movie Game Is Not So Easy

The Clippers' Brand has tried to transfer his basketball success to Hollywood, but his time as a producer has been marred by lawsuits.

May 21, 2006|Michael A. Hiltzik | Times Staff Writer

Elton Brand's reputation as an emerging NBA star has risen this season along with the Clippers' fortunes. His more checkered career as a Hollywood movie producer hasn't been getting as much attention.

A production company in which Brand is a 50% owner has generated at least as much litigation as box office buzz.

Gibraltar Entertainment has been named directly or in passing in four lawsuits since the beginning of this year, three that have been settled or are in settlement negotiations, according to lawyers involved.

None alleges wrongdoing by Brand. But they do underscore the difficulties that professional sports celebrities face when trying to leverage their success on the field or on the court into success in other areas.

How much money Brand has invested in Gibraltar or its ventures isn't known. But one attorney said Brand settled a $250,000 claim out of his own funds to end a lawsuit.

"He was as stand-up a guy and as honorable a person as I have ever been in litigation against," said Bryan J. Freedman, a lawyer who represented producer Gerald Green. "He came down to my office, looked in my eyes, and did exactly what he said he was going to do."

Two of the cases derive from a single production, "Rescue Dawn," an adventure movie directed by idiosyncratic German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who is known for shooting in extreme conditions in remote locations around the globe. Herzog went to the jungles of Thailand to film much of "Rescue Dawn," which recounts an escape by two American pilots from a Laotian prison camp during the Vietnam War. According to a published report, the $10-million production financed by Gibraltar ran out of money, temporarily stranding some crew members until the firm could raise the money to bring them home.

Brand declined to talk about Gibraltar or his partner in the venture, nightclub operator Steve Marlton. His agent, David Falk, didn't return calls for comment.

Brand, 27, is hardly the first sports celebrity, especially in Southern California, to hear Hollywood beckoning. Scores of players have tried to use their fame and connections to build movie careers, and it's not unusual for a player of sufficient stature to claim a producing credit on a film. Former Laker Shaquille O'Neal is listed as executive producer on "Kazaam" and "Steel," released in 1996 and 1997. Magic Johnson owns an independent production company with six films and TV series to its credit in a business portfolio that also includes a movie theater chain and retail and health club franchises.

But it's unusual, and perilous, for a player as early in his career as Brand to try establishing himself in Hollywood as an independent producer. The deal-making is notoriously complicated; seasoned executives from other industries who expected their money and smarts to take the town by storm have been known to flee, bloodied and poorer, after only brief flings in moviemaking.

"It's a business in which glamour outweighs reason," said Martin H. Kaplan, a former screenwriter and Walt Disney Co. executive who is associate dean at USC's Annenberg School for Communication. "For some reason, although 90% of all movies fail, people think that the rules of economics and human history apply to everybody but them." He said that most successful people in the movie business follow the rule of never spending their own money, extracting capital from starry-eyed newcomers instead.

Brand signed a six-year, $82.2-million contract with the Clippers in 2003, but whether he has received any outside professional advice on investing in Hollywood isn't clear. Freedman said that during his encounter Brand was unaccompanied by an advisor. "He wasn't represented by legal counsel in the case," Freedman said in an interview.

In his seventh season in the NBA and fifth with the Clippers, there is no debating Brand's star power on and off court. The Clippers' leading scorer and a two-time All-Star, this year he received the NBA's sportsmanship award.

Brand formed Gibraltar Entertainment in 2004 with Marlton, who is best known as the owner of Pearl, a West Hollywood restaurant and nightspot that opened last year. Marlton said in an interview that the two met as neighbors in the Hollywood Hills after Marlton relocated from Portland. "You develop over time a relationship with somebody, and one thing leads to another," he said.

Marlton said Brand is a "50-50 investor" in Gibraltar but wouldn't say how much capital the company has. "He's a very well-read, intelligent human being," Marlton said, adding that Brand had read scripts and viewed raw footage of Gibraltar-backed films. "We sit and critique together."

Gibraltar's website calls Brand and Marlton "two of the biggest up-and-coming names in the entertainment industry" and says they founded the firm "with the aim of not only investing in the film business, but also nurturing new screenwriting and directing talent to produce vibrant new films, with a focus on superior quality entertainment."

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