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AS THE CROWE FLIES...

...SO THE MOVIE CRASHES. At least, that’s one way to describe what happened when Oscar-winning megastar Russell Crowe made a swift, possibly grumpy exit from the site of “Eucalyptus,” an ambitious film heralded as the beginning of an Australian cinematic renaissance (never mind that Nicole Kidman turned down the film version of "The Producers" in order to participate in this lofty non-starter).

Below, a peep behind the scenes of the movie that did not get made.

 

 

 


PERIL OF STAR POWER IS SEEN IN COLLAPSE OF A FOX FILM


By SHARON WAXMAN

The New York Times, 2/19/05

In Hollywood, movie projects are assembled -- and unraveled -- every day.

But the sudden collapse of a high-profile film only days before shooting is set to begin still gets the town talking. Fox Searchlight, News Corporation's art film unit, was topic A for many in the film business this week, as the thriving ministudio -- on its way to the Oscars with a best-picture nomination for its film "Sideways" -- watched a big-star vehicle aimed at next year's awards season suddenly collapse in Australia.

The company's "Eucalyptus," scheduled to start shooting last Monday, was supposed to tell the story of a stranger who woos a woman on a New South Wales property covered with the fragrant trees. Budgeted at just $18 million, the film was to star Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, who had signed on to what was billed as a labor of love intended to help revive the Australian film industry.

Instead, Fox Searchlight said last Friday that it was suspending the production indefinitely. The decision left multimillion-dollar sets vacant and dozens of crew members at loose ends -- and delivered a rare public bruising for Peter Rice, the studio's 38-year-old president and a rising star in the art-house world.

Mr. Rice declined to be interviewed for this article. And Fox Searchlight, in announcing the shutdown, appeared eager to refute reports in the Australian news media that Mr. Crowe was the reason for the project's suspension. It called the halt "a collective decision" made by the studio, its two stars, the producer, Uberto Pasolini, and the writer-director, Jocelyn Moorhouse.

But seasoned hands in Hollywood were quick to read the collapse of "Eucalyptus" as a lesson in the extreme difficulty of bringing star power to bear on the sophisticated and sometimes fragile fare in which units like Fox Searchlight specialize.

"The calling card of all the specialty divisions is filmmakers," said Robert Newman, a leading agent for directors at International Creative Management. "These are filmmaker-driven enterprises -- Miramax, Focus, Searchlight. They're not star vehicle or high-concept places."

Mr. Newman, who did not comment on "Eucalyptus," called Mr. Rice "a superb executive, with great taste in material." He added, "He's a great collaborative partner to the filmmakers he's in business with."

"Sideways," which was directed by Alexander Payne and used an ensemble of skilled but lesser-known actors like Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen, was one in a string of star-free Fox Searchlight successes that has included "Bend It Like Beckham," "Napoleon Dynamite" and "28 Days Later."

Occasionally, Mr. Rice's studio has worked successfully with stars, like Denzel Washington in "Antwone Fisher" or Robin Williams in "One Hour Photo," both released in 2002.

This time around, Mr. Crowe -- who is routinely paid more than the entire budget of "Eucalyptus" -- had agreed to work at a steep discount in the film, but he got significant leverage as an executive producer.

The picture reunited him with the director, Ms. Moorhouse, who in 1991 had given the actor a breakthrough role in her film "Proof," and offered the chance to revive an Australian industry that had watched neighboring New Zealand steal its thunder with mega-productions like "The Lord of the Rings."

Precisely what happened last week as the newly empowered Mr. Crowe came to terms with the diminutive Ms. Moorhouse remains unclear. But Ms. Kidman's agent, Rick Nicita, who joined Mr. Rice and other Fox executives in Sydney in recent days, said Friday that the intended shoot had turned into "a very volatile situation."

Over the years, Hollywood has been rife with situations in which stars in one way or another overpowered some of the smaller, artier films with which they have been associated. "To make a movie star a partner in a venture, you're then subject to factors that presumably normal producers are not subject to," said Edward Pressman, chairman of the production and foreign sales company ContentFilm. Mr. Pressman was a producer on "The Island of Dr. Moreau," a New Line film that started small, but grew into a riskier venture when Marlon Brando became involved.

"Once Brando got into the picture, then New Line decided to get Val Kilmer, and the whole film became a different animal," Mr. Pressman said.

Miramax Films, once known for low-cost films featuring little known actors, showed the risk in going upstream when it began casting the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck in bigger movies, only to have its corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company, insist that the unit move back toward its less expensive roots.

Like many art-house executives, Mr. Rice has often sidestepped the entire problem of star casting by acquiring films that have already been shot. His company, for instance, spent about $14 million to acquire and market "Napoleon Dynamite," a Sundance Film Festival entry, and took in about $45 million at the domestic box office, along with an added bonanza from DVD sales. Whether "Eucalpytus" can be revived remains to be seen. For the moment, however, Mr. Pressman believes the message for the executives who run Hollywood's specialty units should be clear.

"It's definitely easier to acquire, and in some ways it's a better business," he said.