By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 13, 2008 at 8:59AM
When Bryan Singer first approached United Artists with the idea of making Valkyrie, he wanted to do it for about $25 million. Then Tom Cruise got interested and the budget exploded. The same thing happened to Lions for Lambs -- to Cruise and Robert Redford, it seemed like a modest little movie; at $35 million plus marketing, it was still too expensive for what it was.
The idea of UA being an indie was impossible with the players involved. Now Valkyrie, which several people I know have seen and liked, has bad buzz and will be judged as a costly star vehicle, which is quite different from a $25 million movie with no marquee star. Finally, MGM has decided to give the pic a shot in late December, after it screened well. It had been pushed back to February. This makes sense; if the movie is a smart arty picture with great performances, year-end award season support is probably just what it needs.
Cruise's long-time producing partner, Paula Wagner, is a fine studio producer and was a great agent, but the nurturing of Cruise and his movies is quite another matter from running a company. With Mary Parent now in charge at MGM, Wagner is transitioning to a producing deal.
Here's her statement:
‚ÄúI‚Äôve truly relished working with my longtime partner Tom Cruise to revitalize United Artists, and I am proud of all that we‚Äôve accomplished in the past two years, reinvigorating the brand and developing such a strong slate of films,‚Äù Ms. Wagner said. ‚ÄúBut I always tell my sons, ‚ÄòFollow your passion‚Äô ‚Äì and I‚Äôve got to follow that advice myself. As much as I‚Äôve enjoyed my time as an executive, I have longed to return to my true love, which is making movies, so that‚Äôs what I‚Äôve decided to do. I still believe in our vision for UA, and I am confident that Harry Sloan and our colleagues at MGM will see that vision through to reality.‚Äù
In fact, as a studio player struggling to adapt to making smaller movies, Wagner is not alone in being ill-equipped to understand the true meaning of economies of scale. Producer Bill Horberg was nurtured at the knee of studio filmmaker Sydney Pollack and went indie prod at DreamWorks, where he made The Kite Runner, and then took over production at Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. Horberg is also a producer with taste who never quite wrapped his head around how little some of his artier films needed to cost to turn a profit.
Charlie Kaufman is laughing all the way to a directing career for getting SKE to spend $20 million on the resolutely arty Synecdoche, New York, which Sony Pictures Classics picked up for a song just last week. (It didn't help Horberg's slate that SKE forged an ill-matched distrib deal with MGM.) When art film vet Bingham Ray arrived on the scene to run marketing, the folks at SKE began to understand what low-budget might really mean. Horberg eventually moved on, and Ray took over.
UPDATE: The official press release is on the jump:
JOINT STATEMENT FROM METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER STUDIOS INC. (MGM) AND UNITED ARTISTS ENTERTAINMENT LLC (UA)
LOS ANGELES August 13, 2008---Paula Wagner, Chief Executive Officer of UA, has decided to leave her day-to-day responsibilities and return to her first love, which is producing films. As such, MGM and UA confirmed today that Ms. Wagner will transition to the role of a producer under her own independent production shingle and be attached to UA‚Äôs most exciting film properties. In November 2006, United Artists was reborn under a partnership formed between Tom Cruise, Ms. Wagner and MGM. Ms. Wagner will continue to be a part owner of UA and hold a significant stake in UA‚Äôs future success. Nothing will change in regard to Mr. Cruise‚Äôs involvement with UA and he continues to have a substantial ownership interest in the company. Furthermore, Mr. Cruise and Ms. Wagner will continue to work on film projects together.
About United Artists
United Artists Entertainment LLC was formed in November 2006 under a partnership between Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM), with Wagner serving as Chief Executive Officer. The historic United Artists brand was initially founded some 85 years ago by movie greats Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith and, throughout its history, has appeared on such iconic film franchises as Rocky, The Pink Panther, and James Bond.
About Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. is actively engaged in the worldwide production and distribution of motion pictures, television programming, home video, interactive media, music, and licensed merchandise. The company owns the world's largest library of modern films, comprising around 4,000 titles. Operating units include Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc., United Artists Films Inc., MGM Television Entertainment Inc., MGM Networks Inc., MGM Distribution Co., MGM International Television Distribution Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Home Entertainment LLC, MGM ON STAGE, MGM Music, MGM Consumer Products and MGM Interactive. In addition, MGM has ownership interests in international TV channels reaching nearly 110 countries. MGM ownership is currently as follows: Providence Equity Partners (29%), TPG (21%), Sony Corporation of America (20%), Comcast (20%), DLJ Merchant Banking Partners (7%) and Quadrangle Group (3%). For more information, visit www.mgm.com.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]