Not So Fast, Avi Lerner! ‘Chainsaw’ Rights Holder Slices Sequel Plans

EXCLUSIVE: What could Avi have been thinking? Last night, after a long day and fueled by quotes from Millennium Films chief Avi Lerner, I broke a story that another Texas Chainsaw Massacre film would move forward later this year in Louisiana. I learned today from the rights holders, producer Carl Mazzocone and executive producer Mark Burg, that the green light wasn’t Avi’s to give and they were surprised because no progress on this sequel has yet been made.

After the seventh film in the splatter series surprised everyone by beating films like The Hobbit, Django Unchained and Les Miserables to win the weekend box office with a $21.7 million gross, you know a sequel is inevitable. But according to Mazzocone, its timing is his to dictate, and he and Burg say nothing will happen until they work out the creative beats with domestic distributor Lionsgate.

“The rights are controlled by Carl and Main Line Pictures, no matter what Millennium says,” Burg told me. “Millennium simply sold the foreign rights and they will not tell us when a sequel is ready to be made. The script was developed by Carl, myself and writer/director John Luessenhop. Millennium and about ten producers came aboard only when we needed their check. Maybe they’re looking for something to sell at Berlin, but they have no right to announce this sequel and if we make another it has to be as good or better than this one and that takes time.”

A spokesperson for Millennium said the company is contractually part of any sequel, and that it served an important role in getting the movie made. “I understand all this wrestling about credit, but you show me a producer who’ll turn down the cash they need to do a sequel, and I will fall off my chair. Without us, that movie would not have gotten made.”

This wouldn’t be the first time when a surprise hit leads to everyone and his brother jumping up to take credit. Mazzocone and Burg were surprised yesterday when the Los Angeles Times did a big glowing profile on Lati Grobman and Christa Campbell, who were trumpeted as producers in the headline, but who are listed as executive producers in the credits. Mazzocone and Burg said they were kissed into those credits at the request of Lerner, and that they served no creative role and barely if at all showed up on the set. Millennium countered that they convinced Lerner to get involved, since Texas Chainsaw 3D isn’t usually up his alley.

While Burg has been heralded for teaming with Oren Koules and taking a chance and writing a check to own the Saw series which made them a killing, all of this credit grabbing is more upsetting to Mazzocone. He produced the 1993 Jennifer Lynch-directed Boxing Helena, and sued Kim Basinger when she stepped out of a negotiated pay or play commitment that put the movie on the rocks (Madonna had bailed before Basinger began talks). Mazzocone won a shocking $8.1 million legal judgment, which Basinger later settled for $3.8 million after declaring bankruptcy. While it put a chill on the rash of actors who were regularly bailing on project commitments at that time, Mazzocone had trouble moving forward with his career after he took on a top actress and her high powered agents and lawyers.

Mazzocone has spent subsequent years mostly line producing films for others, until he got involved in Texas Chainsaw 3D in 2008. When Texas-based rights holders Kim Henkel (cowriter of the original film) and Bob Kuhn looked to make a new deal after Platinum Dunes generated several films for New LIne, Mazzocone found the $1 million needed to lock down the property. Lionsgate, which distributed the lucrative Saw series for Burg, stepped up and originally planned to fully finance. That changed when the company had a cash crunch fighting a Carl Icahn takeover.

Lionsgate committed to $25 million P&A, but wanted a partner to take foreign and raise the production budget through pre-sales. Mazzocone and Burg enlisted Millennium, where Danny Dimbort pre-sold enough territories to cover most of the $15 million budget. Lerner has half the copyright on the new hit movie, but the franchise rights are held by Mazzocone, who had made multi-picture deals with the cast and who squarely deserves the love for reviving a franchise promising enough that others want credit for it.

For his part, Mazzocone credited the Lionsgate marketing campaign, with its numerous one-sheets, trailers and TV spots, for giving the film the needed momentum for a strong opening weekend. “The movie was smart and we won’t move forward until we’re in synch with Lionsgate to make sure the next one is as good or better.”

I’m sure this will all be smoothed over and that Leatherface will be sporting that fleshy mask and oiling up the saw for another go-around sooner than later. But it is also okay for Mazzocone to get his due for hanging in and delivering a winner.

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