If a company is in flux,” says producer Martin Ransohoff, ”and the guy that’s calling the shots is battling to save his ass, would you want to give him a comedy? Nothing looks terribly funny when he’s trying to patch a hole in his leaky lifeboat. It’s a serious distraction.”
In Hollywood these days, there’s a lot of serious distraction flooding a lot of lifeboats. In a rare occurrence, four movie studios — Columbia, Orion, MGM/Pathe, and Paramount — are in chaos, with their production activities considerably slowed. Of course, it’s a fact of industry life that the studio people with the power to say yes to a multimillion-dollar film don’t stay secure in their jobs long. But in the current four-sided storm, competition among the nine major studios has been significantly reduced, two of the studios are in danger of going under, and the thousands of agents and producers who pitch ideas to them are dizzy from trying to figure out which way to turn.
On the street, the words used to describe the littlest studio range from ”comatose” to ”dead.” Ironically, Orion produced the smashes Dances With Wolves and The Silence of the Lambs, yet no one is bringing new scripts to its doors because-good reason-the studio has no money and is ”restructuring” its huge debt. ”If Dances had come a year earlier,” says Variety analyst A.D. Murphy, ”Orion probably would have survived.”
Not that it’s over yet for the studio, but the fat lady is clearing her throat. Lambs director Jonathan Demme says he expects to be back in business with Orion after the restructuring. But stars such as Kevin Costner have taken their deals elsewhere, and many executives are known to be preparing their exits. Longtime Orion showpiece Woody Allen went to TriStar for his next film, and most observers think he’ll stay there.
Orion has 10 movies awaiting release, including Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate, which opens this month. But it had to sell its most commercial film, The Addams Family, to Paramount for about $23 million at a net loss. Orion reportedly can’t pay the interest on its $500 million debt-even though its controlling shareholder, John W. Kluge, has agreed to supply some $50 million to keep the company alive. And then what? ”It’s a huge embarrassment to Kluge,” says Wall Street analyst Harold Vogel. ”The company was a victim of not having enough capital.”