Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek were having lunch at the Italian cafe Il Piccolino in West Hollywood in the fall of 2006 when they were served up an irresistible dish that wasn't on the menu.
The two men were presented with the chance to buy one of the best-known franchises in American cinema, the "Terminator" series, even though their entire producing experience consisted of one low-budget comedy that never made it into theaters.
The Hollywood neophytes were informed of the prospect by dining partner Peter Graves, a veteran movie marketer. "It was shocking," Anderson recalled. "We were in disbelief."
Soon after, Anderson and Kubicek swooped in and quietly seized the rights, going on to produce one of this summer's most anticipated event films, "Terminator Salvation," which opened over the weekend to a relatively weak $53.8 million. The movie, starring Christian Bale of the "Batman" films, has revived the series and catapulted Anderson and Kubicek into the Hollywood mainstream. But they've also encountered controversy along the way. The pair have been enmeshed in several lawsuits -- since settled -- and other disputes involving investors, business associates and a major studio.
"Terminator" now stands alongside George Lucas' "Star Wars" as one of the few major movie brands to be independently owned and produced outside the studio system. This comes in an age when media conglomerates build their businesses around huge properties that they turn into films, toys, video games and more.
"It's remarkable that nobody in the business realized that the rights to one of the most iconic brands of all time were available," said Erwin Stoff, a principal of the management/production firm 3 Arts Entertainment.
Though distributors Warner Bros. Pictures and Sony Pictures put up most of the film's $200-million production budget, Anderson and Kubicek, who risked little of their own money, stand to rake in half of any profits that might come from box-office, DVD and television sales as well as all the proceeds from a new video game and other consumer products. In addition, the two control the sequel rights.
"It was a huge coup for them," observed Sony Pictures Vice Chairwoman Amy Pascal. "I wish we owned the rights and controlled every franchise -- that's the business we're in."
Leapfrogging from nowhere into the Hollywood stratosphere took savvy, the right connections and, more than anything, luck.
"At the end of the day, it's a pretty significant thing," Anderson said. "I feel like we've been so blessed."
Questioned about the legal issues that trail them, both men declined to address specifics, but Anderson said, "In all our business dealings, we always try to honor our word in any agreement we have. I have to look at myself in the mirror every day."
Before venturing into Hollywood, Anderson, 41, originally from Ohio, had been running his own brand-marketing firm, and Kubicek, 28, a native of Miami Beach, was an aspiring writer. The pair first discussed working together after meeting at an Oscar party in 2005. "We talked about the possibility of going into the business as outsiders who would do it a little differently," Kubicek recalled.
By early 2006 they hatched a business plan for their venture, Halcyon Co., positioning it as "a 21st century entertainment company with a unique approach to creating in-demand high-quality entertainment."
The plan, sent to a potential investor and reviewed by The Times, aimed to raise $2.5 million. In it, the partners listed Stoff as a member of Halcyon's advisory board and Graves, who was consulting for the pair, as vice president of marketing and distribution. Both men told The Times that they had never held those positions.
Anderson and Kubicek, who ultimately never raised the funds, said the plan was one of many drafts simply meant for "planning purposes" and that the names in it were ones they "thought would be attainable."
Although the proposal listed six potential film projects, the only one made so far is "Cook-Off," a "mockumentary" about a baking competition. The pair said they helped raise money and put in some of their own to fund the film's nearly $1-million cost, but all didn't end happily. The novice producers had a falling-out with some of the cast and crew, including co-writer and actress Cathryn Michon, during editing. And though the film premiered at the Aspen Comedy Festival in 2007, it never was released.
That same year, one of the investors in "Cook-Off," Rainer Filthaut, and two of his partners sued Anderson and Kubicek, alleging breach of contract over $250,000 they invested to option a screenplay for a film called "Conspirator," which was never made. The 2007 suit, later settled, alleged that the producers instead used the money for "their own purposes."
In an interview, Filthaut said though he was eventually paid back, he still considered the two "dishonest people."