The stepped-up pace of corporate consolidation will inevitably cost jobs and hurt careers, but it may also provide an opening for one sector of Hollywood: the growing band of billionaire investors. The mega-rich newcomers stand ready to provide funding for innovative projects that may scare off risk-averse multinationals — and, if they’re smart and lucky, they may win
at that game.
The billionaires’ club isn’t entirely new. I met the pioneer of the tribe in 1981 and I admired his candor. He told me he’d financed two indie pictures, had quickly blown $4 million, and didn’t appreciate the fact that Hollywood was telling him to go home. But he didn’t. In fact his name now adorns the credits of films ranging from a giant hit, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, to the indie Beirut, plus a new Sony TV series in which women rule the world, a new urban Verizon TV channel, and a range of development deals at various studios.
At age 65, Ted Field is playing (and winning) by a different set of rules. Unlike most new members of the billionaire band, he is religious about never putting up his own money to finance a film. But he’s also a proficient buyer of high-profile books and scripts – his library of intellectual property exceeds 400 projects. Field also adamantly insists he is not a billionaire, and never has been, but admits he was born (very) rich – heir to Chicago’s Marshall Field department stores.
Realizing he’d become a marked man, Field zealously avoided media attention through his Hollywood years, but was unable to hide from some high-profile deals and lawsuits. He was a big player in the music business, founding Interscope Records with Jimmy Iovine (Dr Dre and U2 were among the artists). A doomed movie titled Kickboxer imploded in a maze of litigation, triggering one media report that he was broke. “This is a Darwinian business,” Field professes. “That’s probably one reason I like it.”
His current projects fuel his excitement. His company, Radar Films, was involved in acquiring the film rights to Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg, earning him executive producer credit and a profit participation on the 1995 original (starring Robin Williams) and the present release — further sequels are planned. Beirut, written by Tony Gilroy and directed by Brad Anderson, is stirring both interest and controversy, given social media complaints that the film was not filmed in Lebanon, nor are its actors Lebanese (Field and Gilroy insist “there’s nothing anti-Arab about the film”).
If Beirut is arriving at a difficult time, Field believes his TV show with Sony, Wheel of Time, may find its moment. The show is set in the distant future when women now rule a universe that has been all but destroyed by the male power structure – “the ultimate gender dynamics series,” Field says. The show is based on a series of 14 volumes written by Robert Jordan (pen name for James O. Rigney Jr). “Timing is part of the roller coaster ride,” Field observes.
One of his sci-fi films, Chronicles of Riddick, suffered from bad timing in 2004. Hits like Runaway Bride, Three Men and a Baby or The Last Samurai rode good waves. “We all have to recognize that the studios are our partners,” Field observes. “This is the golden age of content, but it’s all a collaboration. Jumanji’s success stems largely from the courage of Tom Rothman at Sony and the imagination of director Jake Kasdan.”
It was Rothman who fostered Field’s first success back in his Fox days. Having failed with his early self-financed projects, Field came to Rothman with a property called Revenge of the Nerds. Rothman liked the idea of re-inventing nerds as winners. (Full disclosure: The project was based in part on material developed by me, but as president of Lorimar Films I was not involved in development or production).
Years later, the Fox bond is returning. Field would like to build van Allsburg’s writings into a brand at that studio (the prolific writer and illustrator, whose producing partner is Bill Teitler, who also wrote The Polar Express). There are also development deals at other studios. But Field, mindful of the consolidation trend, also is thinking of breaking his cardinal rule: He will likely return to the business of co-funding his projects. “These are promising times,” he avers.
“I managed to survive the less promising ones.” And, after all, that’s what non-billionaires are supposed to be good at.