Gibson's Price for 'Passion': Maybe $50 Million

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Published February 16, 2004

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Mel Gibson | Michael Jackson | More CBS Mea Culpas

'Passion' Exposure: Maybe $50 Million

Mel Gibson couldn't find anyone to make "The Passion of the Christ," so he put up $25 million of his own money to produce it.

He couldn't find a major distributor for it, either, and was forced to accept an offer from little but scrappy Newmarket Films. Now I'm told that Newmarket is putting all marketing and distribution costs on Gibson. The price tag just for that: nearly another $25 million.

That would make Gibson's personal liability on "The Passion" roughly $50 million. That's a lot of money to prove a point. It's $40 million more than Rosie O'Donnell spent on her musical, "Taboo." "The Passion" is now the most expensive vanity production in history.

Meantime, since Friday morning's column regarding distribution of "The Passion," Newmarket Films tells me it's added a couple of theaters — namely AMC Century City on the Beverly Hills/West Los Angeles border, and the AMC theater on West 84th Street and Broadway in Manhattan and the Clearview Chelsea on West 23rd Street.

This still means, especially in Manhattan, that the film is pitched away from an upscale demographic, and instead toward one that is less well off economically. For a major release not to be in the Ziegfeld or in the Sony Lincoln Plaza on the West Side means that Newmarket and Gibson are making quite a statement about how they think this film will be received.

The theaters they have chosen in Jewish areas are minimal — none, for example, on Long Island near Valley Stream and the Five Towns or Great Neck and Roslyn — but screens in more friendly places like Merrick, Lynbrook and Seaford. The same can be said for areas surrounding Beverly Hills or downtown Chicago. It's interesting, as a matter of fact, that Newmarket and Gibson are largely booked into single theaters in multiplexes that are part of malls and not in stand-alone prestige theaters. They seem to be gambling on a wider, commercial audience and not an upscale, more discerning one.

As for Manhattan, any film booker will tell you that the multiplex at 84th Street and Broadway is considered to have an "urban" and lower-income demographic than the prestigious Sony complex at 68th Street and Broadway. They have booked "The Passion of the Christ" at the Metro on Broadway and West 100th Street — a grimy two-screen house used for second runs and considered a throwaway by distributors. Ironically, it stares at two Orthodox synagogues that reside within a block. It will be interesting to see how the movie plays in that neighborhood.

As I said on Friday, I think everyone should see this film in order to be able to judge it properly. How people will react to "The Passion of the Christ" will determine a lot of things, not the least of which will be how Gibson's career is viewed in the future.

No Bankruptcy, But No Sex Slaves, Either

The New York Times still refuses to correct or amend the story by Sharon Waxman last week about Michael Jackson's finances. They don't care that she got most of the information from this column, and that what she added was completely wrong. OK, whatever. The Times never corrected Waxman's story about "60 Minutes" and wouldn't even run executive producer Don Hewitt's letter to the editor, so at least I'm in good company.

Let's get a few things straight so that "Access Hollywood," "Entertainment Tonight" and other outlets understand Jackson's financial picture. Tomorrow, Feb. 17, a "put" is due on Jackson's $350 million loan from Bank of America. Last month, Al Malnik and Charles Koppelman, Jackson's two main financial advisers since last summer, agreed to guarantee that money. They did this because they were working on an overall plan to restore Jackson's finances.

Originally, in 1999, there was a $200 million Bank of America loan. Sony guaranteed that against Jackson's 50 percent ownership with them in what is now known as Sony/ATV Music Publishing but called "the Beatles catalog."

Subsequently, thanks to Malnik and Koppelman, another $150 million was added on last year. This money was used to pay all of Jackson's outstanding debts, including court judgments. With the $70 million "put" completed, my sources tell me, Jackson can rest easy until December 2005. He still has to curtail his wild spending, and may have to forgo the continued rental of a $100,000-per-month Beverly Hills mansion. To use a current movie title, something's gotta give.

This column began reporting about Jackson's expenses exclusively three years ago. Last month, on Jan. 12 and 13, we did so again, directly addressing the issue of the $70 million. I told you also on Friday that Malnik and Koppelman have a plan to save Jackson. I've heard the plan. It's a good one, and if it works, Jackson will be free to continue buying cheesy junk from Las Vegas shopkeepers.

I can understand that the New York Times Corrections page is too busy to address Waxman's mistakes. On a daily basis that page is now so full it is bursting its seams. Times reporters don't seem able to get people's names or addresses right, or characterize them properly. Last Sunday's story about sex slaves took up most of yesterday's Corrections page. And since there are, according to the Times, thousands of sex slaves all over the U.S., it's much more important to straighten all that out first.

CBS Apologizes for Being on the Air

In the past week, CBS has apologized for the Super Bowl halftime show, made Justin Timberlake apologize for the same and now they've said they're sorry that OutKast dressed up like Indians on the Grammy show.

If there's anything else CBS is sorry for they should get it out of their system. They don't seem to be sorry for "Survivor" or all the hideous reality shows it begat. They're not sorry for the sad shape of "The Early Show," or the disastrous way they treat "Guiding Light" after 40-plus years on the air. If I were CBS, I would also apologize for "Becker," "Yes, Dear," "King of Queens," "Still Standing," the existence of Richard Hatch and every treacly season of "Touched by an Angel."

But hey, the year is young!

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