Lots of hubbub about Michael Moore and his "Fahrenheit 9/11" movie, which Disney won't allow Miramax to release because of its alleged "anti-Bush" material.
But before Miramax was involved in "Fahrenheit 9/11," the project had a different godfather. That was Bruce Davey, the Australian-born producer who runs Mel Gibson's company, Icon Productions.
Even though he's denying it now, my sources tell me that Davey had a real, concrete deal with Moore to finance the allegedly anti-Bush film for $5 million and change. The deal was made around the beginning of April 2003, but it's unclear whether Davey informed Gibson, his boss, that he had made the commitment.
"It was a signed deal," says a source close to the parties involved.
Variety in fact reported last year that after a "fevered auction," Davey "won with a bid worth eight figures in upfront cash and potential back-end."
About two weeks later, Davey and Icon informed Moore and his agent, Ari Emanuel, that they were backing out of the project.
Icon would have been vulnerable to a possible breach-of-contract action from Moore had it not been for some fast diplomacy on the party of Emanuel. I'm told the very next thing he did when he heard that Icon was backing out was to call Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, with whom Moore had worked in the past.
The only problem now is that Gibson and Davey, through their rep, are claiming they never had a deal with Moore.
"The Variety article was premature," insists Alan Nierob, the same press guy who had to handle all the "Passion" controversies for Gibson. "Bruce said he hadn't made a deal with them."
My sources say, however that not only did Davey make the $5 million deal with Moore, but that when it was announced, Gibson got calls from Republican friends urging him to back out of it right away.
Gibson, who was then working on "The Passion of the Christ," acceded to their wishes rather than be involved in two headline-and-headache making projects.
Miramax, I'm told, merely stepped in and swapped their own contract for Icon's.
"Harvey saved everyone a lot of grief," says an insider. "It could have gotten very ugly."
What's ugly, anyway, now is the anger and public outrage toward Michael Eisner and former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell, who has been running Disney since Eisner's clash with his own board.
According to sources, neither man has seen "Fahrenheit 9/11." They left that, in typical Hollywood style, to an underling.
Nevertheless, they called a board meeting over the weekend to make sure all the Disney directors were on the same page. Eisner has been publicly accused of dropping the film for fear of losing tax breaks in Florida for Disney World from Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of the president, something he has denied.
But the latest criticism of Eisner is even more interesting. It's very unusual for a Hollywood agent to go on the record against the head of a studio. Yet Endeavor's Emanuel, brother of former Bill Clinton adviser Rahm Emanuel, was quick and specific in suggesting in print that the tax breaks were Eisner's motive.
Ari Emanuel did not return calls to this column. His outspokenness may have cost him his own unreturned calls — from Disney, when he's trying to place clients.
Davey was launched into the producing business back in 1992 with Gibson's "Hamlet" and has worked with him on each of his films right through "The Passion of the Christ." Calls to the secretive Davey at Icon were not returned yesterday.
What finally drove Gibson and Davey to renege on their deal? Does it have anything to do with a report this week in the New York Post that there are a group of investors who want Gibson to replace Eisner as president of Disney? (They have a lot in common, as Eisner no doubt thinks he's being crucified in the press.)
Giving up "Fahrenheit 9/11" is ironic for sure, considering it would probably make money. Disney is in the middle of a string of losers, with "Raising Helen" the next on the hook. Disney's critics are quick to point out that it's the studio's lack of courage on any subject that's put them in this spot.
Disney spokesmen and Eisner have countered that they didn't want to be involved in a political project during an election year. Eisner told CNBC: "We're such a nonpartisan company," he said; people "do not look for us to take sides."
He seems to have forgotten that ABC Radio syndicates Rush Limbaugh and Fox News' very own Sean Hannity — two pretty politically opinionated fellows! And last Friday, ABC's "Nightline" consisted of a controversial roll-call of American soldiers who have died in Iraq — considered to be anti-Bush administration by many.
What about "Fahrenheit 9/11?" Well, it will probably be released on schedule, much the way as was "Dogma," another Miramax film Disney refused to release.
Miramax will handle marketing and publicity, and another company such as Lions Gate or Newmarket, will take on the theatre distribution.
People who've seen "Fahrenheit 9/11" say it's different from the usual Moore movie.
"There's a lot less of him in it," says one person who's seen it. "There's more narration and less of him on camera. This time he lets the material speak for itself without forcing it."
Enough already with freakin' Vanity Fair, a magazine of such self-loathing that it hates the very thing that it is — the press.
At a big celebrity party the other night which the mag sponsored for the Tribeca Film Festival, security guards actually kicked out a New York Times writer who was assigned to cover the event. The incident was alluded to in yesterday's Bold Faced Names column
The woman, who had credentials and had made advance arrangements, was told that people were getting nervous because she was carrying a notebook.
Vanity Fair, it should be noted, has become so obsessed with giving parties and protecting itself from infiltration that, for the first time in its history, it received not a single nomination for a National Magazine Award.
You'd think they'd get the message. By keeping everyone out, editor in chief Graydon Carter has become as isolated from reality as some of the politicians he criticizes in his monthly editor's letter.
So who was at this expensive shindig? Someone so "hot" that a question from the Times might have disrupted the course of international events? Absolutely not. It was the same old crowd that's been at every New York party this week, along with the taciturn Robert De Niro.
Maybe that's why press was banned: The magazine must be afraid that someone will call its bluff and report on the dreariness of its clubby world. Another evening of odd couple Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg jawing with odd couple Fran Lebowitz and Calvin Klein isn't as exciting as it used to be — that is, if it ever was!