One of the most poignant moments to come out of last Saturday’s Deadline event THE CONTENDERS was the story relayed by screenwriter Danny Strong and co-producer Pam Williams demonstrating the late Laura Ziskin‘s unbridled passion for getting Lee Daniels’ The Butler to the screen against all odds. As one of the film’s key producers (she is posthumously eligible for a Best Picture Oscar and PGA nomination along with Williams and Daniels) her dedication and tenacity to what would eventually become a hit film and true contender even was evident the week she died as this segment powerfully proves.
The Contenders 2013: The Emotional Story Of How Laura Ziskin Fought To Get ‘The Butler’ Made Right Down To Her Dying Moments (Video)
EXCLUSIVE: Longtime Fox 2000 EVP Carla Hacken is leaving the studio to become president of production for New Regency. It is the latest move in a restructuring of the company since Arnon Milchan reemerged as an active chairman and installed former Paramount Pictures production president Brad Weston as CEO with a mandate to become a more filmmaker-driven concern.
New Regency is partly owned by News Corp, whose 20th Century Fox distributes and often co-finances Regency-generated films. The move was orchestrated with the cooperation of Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman and Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler.
“Jim, Tom and Liz have been great partners and are incredibly gracious about Carla,” Weston told me in confirming the move. “They see this as a terrific opportunity for her, and a great way to help support New Regency. Arnon and I couldn’t be more appreciative.”
Hacken was an ICM agent when she was brought into the Fox 2000 fold 15 years ago by Laura Ziskin. She has worked closely with Gabler and developed such films as Unfaithful, The Devil Wears Prada, Walk The Line, Bride Wars, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its sequel, Percy Jackson & The Olympians, Love & Other Drugs and In Her Shoes.
There has long been a tradition of cross pollination between Fox and New Regency (which is based on the lot). That includes Sanford Panitch (who moved from Fox to Regency and now steers Fox International Productions) …
The Brett Ratner situation is a sad mess all around. Sad for Ratner, sad for the Oscar show that he was to co-produce, and sad for the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences. The Academy in the past has weathered its share of nightmares surrounding the show, but never something quite like this. In 1967, an AFTRA strike nearly KO’d the telecast until the walkout was settled just three hours before showtime. Similarly, a WGA strike in 2008 was threatening until it was settled a few days before the airdate. In 1968, the show was nearly cancelled after Martin Luther King’s assassination but postponed for two days instead. In 1981, the Oscars were delayed a day after President Reagan was shot. As for participants, actors have refused to accept the statuette for myriad reasons, and winners have gone to political extremes in their speeches, but the Ratner situation is a new one for AMPAS.
The interesting thing is that outcries for Ratner’s ouster targeted the Academy even though Ratner’s offensive remarks were made during appearances in support of his new film Tower Heist for Universal (Friday night’s Q&A at the Arclight, where he uttered the gay slur, and Monday morning’s radio phone interview with The Howard Stern Show, where he made derogatory comments about women.) His words had nothing directly to do with the Oscars, yet it points to the power of the Academy Awards as an iconic symbol.
Ratner was an unorthodox choice to produce the Oscars. But he was part of a movement begun by the Academy last year with the selection of hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco to make the show more young, hip, and different. Hathaway and Franco bombed. But I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with Ratner for this year’s TCM Classic Movie Film Festival in April and found him exceptionally bright, informed, and savvy. I think this real movie fan would have produced a great show. I know he had great ideas for it. Despite his terrible judgment and stupid actions this week, I am sorry we won’t get the chance to see what he might have done. Ratner already was shaking things up. He changed talent bookers by hiring Melissa Watkins Trueblood over 38-year Oscar booking veteran Danette Herman, who is now just a consultant. The writing staff also is all new, and many are Ratner cronies; I doubt they’ll stay on board. That’s not a huge problem since the Academy hasn’t officially announced the team yet.
On the other hand, host Eddie Murphy also has his writers attached and they will stay on board — if Eddie stays on. Murphy, co-starring in Ratner’s Tower Heist, has appeared on many talk shows lately saying how much he is looking forward to hosting the Oscars as well as giving props to Ratner, who talked him into taking the gig. There is some media speculation that, with Ratner gone, Eddie will follow him out the door. I see that as highly unlikely — and I also don’t think Ratner himself would let that happen. Granted, Ratner’s exit caused a big ripple inside Hollywood. But Murphy’s exit would be a high-profile PR nightmare inside and outside Hollywood, creating the impression to the general public that the Oscars is in complete chaos.
So what happens now?
Friends, family and colleagues who worked with and loved Laura Ziskin will celebrate her extraordinary life and career on Tuesday, June 28 at 5 PM at Sony Pictures Studios. RSVP’s required by Friday, June 24 to (310) 244-4141. Parking will be accommodated in the Overland Parking structure. All guests should enter through the Overland gate for directions to the celebration.
Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal has released a statement on the passing of veteran producer Laura Ziskin. The two women worked together on many pictures that included the Spider-Man franchise, but their relationship was both personal and professional:
“Laura was my closest friend,” Pascal said. “She was an inspiring warrior who fought every battle, whether it was business or personal, with her trademark brains, guts, and class. She was the creative guiding light for all of us who loved and worked with her. She was also a frustrating perfectionist and that’s why she was simply the best. We are heartbroken and miss her terribly already – as a producer, as an advocate for cancer research, but most importantly, as an irreplaceable friend.”
She died peacefully at her home tonight surrounded by her husband, screenwriter Alvin Sargent, her family, and her friends after a long and courageous and public bout with breast cancer. She was 61. In Hollywood where women rarely make it to the top of the movie establishment, Laura Ziskin rose to become one of Hollywood’s leading independent producers and studio executives. She is best known for producing the blockbuster Spider-Man film trilogy which broke box office records worldwide and became the highest grossing film franchise in Sony Picture Entertainment’s history. But she will be remembered most for her humanity as the proud producer of the historic three-network “Stand Up To Cancer” televised fundraisers. Like one in 3 women in this country, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in February 2004. (Doctors had repeatedly missed it previously because of the diffuse type of cancer she had.) She never wanted anyone to refer to her struggle as a ‘battle’: instead, she preferred to focus on the victories and was determined to use all her resources to make cancer a first tier issue in this country. As she wrote me in March 2011: “Three years ago, Stand Up To Cancer was little more than a dream, a bold idea shared by a few. We knew that cancer scientists finally had both the knowledge and the technology to make critical breakthroughs in detecting, treating and preventing cancer, but too often lacked the funds needed …
CULVER CITY, Calif., February 14, 2011 – Columbia Pictures announced today that the title of the next Spider-Man film will be The Amazing Spider-Man.The studio simultaneously released a photo of Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, the first shot of Garfield in the famous full mask and suit.
The film, which is now in production and is being shot entirely in 3D, will be released on July 3, 2012. The film stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, and Sally Field. The film is directed by Marc Webb from a screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad, and Matt Tolmach are producing the Marvel Entertainment production for Columbia Pictures. The executive producers are Stan Lee, Kevin Feige, and Michael Grillo.
The Producers Guild of America has named Laura Ziskin to receive its 2011 Visionary Award. The honor will be presented at the 22nd annual Producers Guild Awards ceremony January 22. Ziskin is being honored not just for a body of work that includes the Spider-Man films but also for her work in organizing the recent Stand Up to Cancer awareness campaign. She received the Producers Guild’s David O. Selznick Achievement Award in 2005 and is the first recipient of that award to get the Visionary prize as well. “Laura Ziskin is not only an exceptionally talented producer but also an avid humanitarian with an inspiration drive to make a difference in the fight against cancer,” said Paula Wagner, chair of the 2011 awards.
EXCLUSIVE: While Precious director Lee Daniels continues to wait for financing to mobilize on the Civil Rights drama Selma, he has closed a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to rewrite and direct The Butler. The Laura Ziskin-produced drama is based on Eugene Allen. A servant in the White House over 34 years, Allen watched the eight presidents he worked for wrestle with and finally stem the tide of segregation. The film is based on a series of articles written on Butler by Wil Haygood. After Haygood’s first article, the long-retired Allen was invited to be a guest at the inauguration of the country’s first African American president, Barack Obama, bringing his experience full circle. The first draft was written by Recount‘s Danny Strong.
Daniels will begin re-writing immediately and I’m told the picture could be ready to start before year’s end–Daniels has gone as far as approach Denzel Washington about the title role–if Selma doesn’t finally get its funding together quickly. The film, about Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King and the marches that led to civil rights reform, might finally be verging on happening. Deals aren’t closed, but it looks like Harvey Weinstein’s The Weinstein Company will commit $8 million in funding for domestic distribution, with Pathe matching that amount and taking foreign. Daniels’ WME reps have lined up an equity investor–I’ve heard Skyline Pictures–to provide the remaining funds for a budget that is $18 million, after location rebates.
While Precious grossed …