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Hollywood still all about the money

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LISA NAPOLI: The Paramount split with Tom Cruise has been the talk of Tinseltown this Week. Now, break-ups happen all the time here. In this case, the chairman of Paramount’s parent company derided Cruise for so publicly flaunting his beliefs in Scientology. Cruise’s lawyer told a reporter he thinks Sumner Redstone’s lost it completely or someone’s giving him bad advice. I asked Michael Speier of Variety what he thought.

MICHAEL SPEIER: Well, his response to that was that he knows exactly what he’s doing and I think it’s that. In the end, it’s still his company, he makes prudent decisions — so he thinks — and I think he just realized that this deal wasn’t worth the value anymore and he decided to do something about it.

NAPOLI: So you think it is about money or is it about Tom Cruise’s behavior?

SPEIER: It’s all about money. I mean, if “Mission Impossible III had reached stratospheric heights, if it had made $800 million or $900 [million] — it only made three or four hundred [million dollars] — then we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. Because, yes, a lot of people think he’s kinda creepy and strange and whatever, but in the end what did he really do? So he jumped on a couch and he’s made some comments. But, there have been worse things that have gone on in Hollywood and people have slid those under the rug. So, it really is about money.

NAPOLI: You had a story in Variety about what happens to the projects that Cruise has underway at Paramount. What happens?

SPEIER: Hollywood is a very mysterious kind of place. His agents at CAA are going to go in and have a meeting and discuss, probably project by project of the noteworthy ones, who owns what. But, who knows. They could be also currency in a lawsuit if they decide, “You know what, this guy can’t fire us and we want all these projects.”

NAPOLI: Cruise’s people are saying they’re leaving Paramount and they’re going to rely on hedge fund money to finance movies? Is that something that’s typical?

SPEIER: Well, this summer has been the summer of hedge fund money. A lot of studios, in order to defray costs, they have used the money that has been culled by a lot of hedge funds to offset the expense of movies. “Superman” did it, “Lady in the Water” did it, “Ant Bully” did it. Warner Bros. uses a company called Legendary and they provide financing for movies because these companies think, “Hey, it’s so sexy to go Hollywood.” Of course, when they invest in “Lady in the Water” and “Ant Bully” they realize it’s a big risk because some of these movies really, really bomb.

So, look, people will line up to be in business with Tom Cruise, because he’s still a big movie star and “Mission Impossible III,” for all its problems, still made a lot of money. But, he now has to either go it alone or he has to look for a new deal. And that’s probably a headache he doesn’t want.

NAPOLI: Can he be in the category of a Mel Gibson and go it alone in that way?

SPEIER: He probably can. The difference is Mel Gibson, because of “The Passion of the Christ,” has already something behind him that shows he can be this indy guy — before this latest trouble happened with Mel. He really proved he could do it and then he had the money that he earned from that to back him in the future. Tom Cruise is really a child of the studio system. I mean, he kind of needs the star light and the power and the spotlight to be in, because he has produced movies that didn’t do very well: something like “Elizabethtown” or “Ask the Dust.” These are movies that really went away after a week or two. So, sure, he can go it alone. He can gain a lot of money. People will invest in his movies. It remains to be seen whether he needs the studio system or not. So far he has needed it.

NAPOLI: Michael Speier is the managing editor of Daily Variety.

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