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Split of Hollywood couple unfolds like a horror film

Millions are at stake in the divorce of `Saw' producer Oren Koules and agent Risa Shapiro.

June 25, 2007|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

Even by Hollywood standards, the divorce between veteran ICM talent agent Risa Shapiro and horror film producer Oren Koules has been nasty. In more than two years of legal skirmishes, the power couple clashed over allegedly secret multimillion-dollar home deals, a money-losing minor league hockey team and, most pointedly, the landslide of money generated by the "Saw" movie franchise, according to court documents.

The divorce litigation, filling nearly three volumes in Los Angeles Superior Court, offers an uncommon glimpse into the finances of a highly successful Hollywood couple -- and the consequences when the marriage falls apart. Because Koules and Shapiro enjoyed prominent positions atop the Hollywood food chain, their separation started to reveal some of show business' most guarded secrets: how much a blockbuster movie generates in producer profits, how richly compensated talent agents are, and how lucrative movie favors can be.

At the center of the feud was "Saw." The court records assert that the first two "Saw" movies, released in 2004 and 2005, generated between $6 million and $7 million in early profits for Koules.

Around the same time "Saw" was bringing her husband a financial windfall, Shapiro, an ICM senior vice president who helped discover Julia Roberts and represents Jennifer Connelly and David Duchovny, collected deferred ICM compensation worth more than $582,000 and cashed in ICM stock and stock options of more than $258,000. She also earned an annual salary that recently exceeded $1.2 million, court records and a Koules declaration show. The bachelor pad Koules bought after the separation? A cool $6.25 million.

Facing the prospect of a public trial early next year, Koules and Shapiro recently settled their dispute, an attorney for Shapiro said last week. Terms of the settlement were confidential. But based on public records, child custody, alimony and child support were not issues in the case -- money was.

After more than 10 years of marriage and a son, who is now 12, Koules and Shapiro separated on Jan. 20, 2005. Soon thereafter, a divorce petition was filed, citing irreconcilable differences, the standard grounds in a California "no-fault" divorce. But the gloves came off almost immediately.

Shapiro argued that Koules ran the family finances in secret. In May 2005, Shapiro filed an affidavit saying Koules had bought two homes in 2004 without her knowledge -- a $264,000 house for his sister in Buffalo Grove, Ill., and a $3.3-million property on Miradero Road in Beverly Hills.

Koules said the transactions were simply part of his role in running the family finances, but Shapiro claimed Koules not only was using community property hidden in a trust to buy the Miradero residence but also was using some of the couple's joint capital to purchase for himself a $6.25-million manse on Clinton Place in Beverly Hills after they broke up. (Shapiro remained in the family home on Coldwater Canyon.)

"I was unaware [he] had purchased a residence without my knowledge," Shapiro said in a declaration. "He never discussed the purchase of a residence with me or told me we had purchased a residence."

Shapiro asked the court to ensure that Koules wasn't buying the Clinton estate with the couple's pooled resources. Koules said he had made a $187,000 deposit on the home with his own post-separation income and worried that his ex-wife's actions might kill the deal.

"Any and all attempts I have made to resolve the issues between [Shapiro] and myself have been in vain," Koules said in one declaration. "I understand that [she] is hurt and angry with my decision to leave our marriage. Nevertheless, her unmerited actions regarding the purchase of a new residence where [my son] and I can live when he is in my custody is a reflection of her unwillingness to act reasonably."

He added in a subsequent filing that her "litigious behavior is motivated not by reason, but by anger" and also that Shapiro "is searching for something which will demonstrate my untrustworthiness. She cannot find it."

Ultimately, Koules turned to his Twisted Pictures partner and fellow "Saw" producer Mark Burg for assistance for a down payment. Burg agreed to loan Koules $2.6 million to help buy the Clinton Place house and took a potshot at his colleague's ex-wife in the process. (Koules, Shapiro and Burg declined to comment on the case.)

"It does not surprise me that [she] is now trying to preclude Oren from purchasing the Clinton Place residence," Burg wrote in his declaration to the court. "Based on my interactions with [her], I believe that she is an angry woman who dislikes not getting her way."

Shapiro, for her part, kept vitriol out of her filings.

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