Make that $150 million… Part 4
Realizing that US studio financing was not in CRANES immediate future, I started pursuing international financing and distribution. I assumed that Japanese studios and distribution entities would be the best place to start.
Over the last several years, I had come to know a few international film sales agents. Kathy Morgan had been in the foreign sales game for a number of years. I liked Kathy and more importantly she seemed to like the films that I and my team were developing at DD. Kathy put me in touch with Penny Karlin, another veteran foreign salesperson that was representing Shochiku Company Ltd. , a famous Japanese movie studio and production company. Penny and Kathy graciously ushered me thru the corporate hierarchy of Shochiku, finally putting me in touch with their most senior executive responsible for foreign acquisitions. Shochiku “seemed” to be interested in CRANES. I assumed they would be as Hollywood films based upon a Japanese theme always did well in Japan. THE LAST SAMURAI grossed $111 million in the US and $119 million in Japan.
On yet another trip to Japan, and yet another 9 course formal dinner, I sat with Shochiku’s top brass and tried to negotiate an agreement for financing and distribution of A THOUSAND CRANES. Negotiations with Japanese is an art unto itself. First there is the difficulty regarding language but real complications arise regarding culture. Japanese eschew legal agreements, take forever in their decision making process, need to get to truly “know” you and build meaningful relationships before a deal can be struck. Additionally, as I’ve stated before, the Japanese word for YES is “Hai” and the word for NO is “Hai” though said whilst sucking air between ones teeth.
A ‘deal’ was struck, and a press release was announced:
Visual effects production studio Digital Domain has entered an international co-production deal with Shochiku, one of Japan’s largest and oldest distribution, production and exhibition companies.
The companies are partnering on the epic love story “A Thousand Cranes,” with Shochiku making an equity investment of nearly $25 million in the film and picking up the rights for Japan.
The film tells the story of a taboo love affair between a young Japanese translator and an American spy amid the backdrop of the atomic blast in Hiroshima.
“Cranes,” developed by Digital Domain CEO Scott Ross has been Ross’ passion for several years…
Twenty five million dollars down and $125 million to go.
Unfortunately, a very short time after the above press went out, Shochiku announced serious financial woes and much of the senior management of Shochiku exited . As a result, the new management backed away from the deal.
Covering my bases while in Tokyo, I visited a very wealthy individual that was the owner of Japan’s biggest cable TV provider “WOWOW”. This gentlemen was in fact wowed by CRANES and pledged that he and his company would cover the entire budget of $150 million if we met one condition. I braced myself, and waited for the translator to interpret his only caveat. It seemed that if I was able to procure the directorial services of Steven Spielberg, then and only then, would he deposit $150MM into an escrow account for the production of the film. I tried, in vain, to explain that if Spielberg had signed on to CRANES, we wouldn’t need his money. We took the perfunctory photo, the one where I shake his hand and smile, and then I bowed deeply and said “Sayonara”.
I guess by now, you, the reader can tell that I am (was) unflappable in my pursuit of getting this project underway. CRANES had become my passion. I was doggedly determined to bring CRANES to the big screen. It had become my life’s work and in many ways defined the rest of my life.
I continued pursuing financing alternatives in Japan. Fuji TV, Toho, SEGA, Ninetendo were all approached, and they all said “Hai” through clenched teeth. I finally started to realize, through insightful conversations with Japanese friends, that the Japanese had not come to terms with losing WWII, let alone with the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima/Nagasaki. As opposed to Germany, WWII was, in Japan, rarely mentioned at all. Japan, in many ways, was terribly embarrassed by the only war they had ever lost. And in some ways, their world wide economic dominance became their revenge.
Back in New York City, Jeremy Leven and his two “assistants” were supposedly busy working on a rewrite. As I had mentioned, DD was funding an office and two employees under Leven’s direct supervision. I had chosen Leven not only because of his prior work but also because he, unlike some famous writers, actually wrote the scripts they were hired to write. Now, I know a few of you just said “WTF ?”… but there are writers that employ a staff of junior writers that write screenplays that have “oversight” by their famous screenwriter boss.
I was quite excited to be working with Leven and was so looking forward to his new “take” on a screenplay that, to date, had four other writers already ( not including me!). I had become close with one of Leven’s assistants as I had hired her directly. I would check in with her almost daily while she was in Leven’s NY office. After a few months had passed and I wasn’t receiving any pages from Leven, I started to get worried. Speaking to Leven’s assistants, I started to get disturbing reports that Leven had other projects that he was working on as well. This was not my understanding of how things were to work. Eventually, I let Leven go. It upset Jeremy and he threatened legal action. At this point, I had enough. I never used anything of Leven’s yet he said he was going to go to the Writers Guild and tie CRANES up with chain of title issues.
After all these years, and the incredible efforts by all involved, I had decided to shelve CRANES. It broke my heart to do so, but for the time being, I was done. Finding funding for a story where an American atomic bomb drops on a mostly civilian population whilst George W Bush was sitting in the White House and two of the largest film studios were controlled by ultra conservatives seemed impossible. On the other hand, maybe the script sucked, though I only got positive reactions from all those that had read it.
I had spent eight years of my life and almost $1.5 million of Tsuzuki’s cash on pursuing a dream, producing the definitive peace film. It had been over 60 years since August 6th,1945 and in today’s zeitgeist there are now nine countries (excluding Iran) that possess nuclear weapons. And the weapons of today are a thousand times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima.
And I still fold a crane every year.
When I sold DD back in 2006, the new owners, Wyndcrest Holdings headed up by DD’s new CEO John Textor was unwilling to let A THOUSAND CRANES revert to me. To this day, it sits in a file folder somewhere within the halls of Digital Domain, collecting dust. Maybe, one day, DD will either produce this important film or return it to me. I’d fold a thousand cranes if that dream became a reality.