By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Abaunza went on the record with me about her suspicions as to who was the culprit. “I don’t think it happens to be a coincidence that, as we get closer to the movie’s release, this story happens, and so many stories pitting the diamond industry against this movie in September and October happened. Yes, I think this story was planted by the World Diamond Council, and I think this story was planted in an attempt to impact the Oscar buzz on this film. But there’s no way to prove it. And the stories are going to get nastier.”
She was right. Two days after I spoke to her, Page Six followed up with an even worse item, describing how “the producers of the upcoming Blood Diamond not only exploited amputees in Africa, they created a new amputee.” Only this time, the gossip was partly true. Because of a tragic on-set accident, South African native and professional special-effects technician supervisor Edward Visage, working with the second unit of production, severely injured his hand. Doctors determined it could not be saved after he was evacuated to the hospital. The Page Six item quoted an unnamed source claiming that “Warner Bros. was too cheap to bring in a special-effects guy from the U.S.,” a charge that the studio denied to me. “The accident was investigated by local authorities, and it was determined that proper procedures were followed,” said a spokesperson. “The studio has provided Mr. Visage with appropriate assistance and compensation. He is currently back to work.” It’s the kind of awful episode that reinforces everyone’s queasy feelings about Hollywood, which manages to maim or kill people working on its movies at an alarming rate. That it happened on Blood Diamond is just the sort of tragedy which the film’s enemy can exploit.
THE TIMING OF THE FILM’S RELEASE, moved up from December 15 to December 8, is a nightmare for the diamond industry since the Christmas season accounts for up to 50 percent of a fine jeweler’s sales and 75 percent of the profit. And then Valentine’s Day will coincide with Blood Diamond’s Oscar campaign. I’ve heard estimates that the World Diamond Council has earmarked a $15-million-plus spin campaign to deep-six Blood Diamond’s impact by underwriting informational Web sites, position papers, international confabs, high-profile newspaper ads, new marketing from J. Walter Thompson, and PR from Hollywood’s Allan Meyer. In the past, Meyer has been on the side of the angels, albeit rich angels, handling such hot-button political movies as Steven Spielberg’s Munich and Brian Grazer’s The Da Vinci Code. But for the past year, his job has consisted of crushing Zwick’s movie and its message. He disavowed to me any World Diamond Council responsibility for the Page Six items and even claims, “We and Warner Bros. have no fundamental disagreements.” But Meyer did outline recently for NPR exactly how to plan an anti-pic campaign, and, from the looks of things, it was followed to a tee. “Tell your story first .?.?. Get out in front of the release so you frame the issue .?.?. Start planning your response 12 to 18 months before the movie comes out .?.?. Start talking about the issues that matter to you in a context that has nothing with the movie.”
After seeing a leaked script, Meyer met with Warner’s PR. But I also have in hand a copy of a letter addressed to Zwick jointly from the chairmen/CEOs of the WDC and the international diamond watchdog group known as Kimberley Process, respectively. It specifically asks the director to include a “written broadcast message at the end of the film, and in accompanying promotional language” — in other words, a disclaimer — “to provide some acknowledgment of the huge changes that have occurred in the diamond trade since 1999” in Sierra Leone. (Interestingly, tacked to the end of the October 23 Page Six item was a denial that De Beers had ever demanded the disclaimer. True, it wasn’t De Beers but the WDC that asked for one — although the diamond cartel does provide most of the funding for the trade lobbying group.)
WHAT PAGE SIX, or any media, hasn’t written is, as I first reported on DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com: What really happened on the set of Blood Diamond.
The production arrived in Africa ready to film for the next four months in two places: South Africa’s South Zulu Nataal and Mozambique’s Maputo. “To be there is to want to do something. So, to be in those places for that length of time, you can’t help but be moved by what you see every day,” Zwick told me. “And all of us together just talked about what we ourselves could do. And knowing all the while that would turn out to be a drop in the bucket compared to the needs all around us. But the need was so great.”
At the suggestion of the Mozambican production manager Nick Laws, cast and crew contributed to a fund. “There was no twisting of arms. And then we asked the studio to match it, which they agreed to,” Zwick recalled. The “Blood Diamond Fund” totals in the six figures. (I’ve heard varying numbers, ranging from $200,000 up to $500,000.) “That may seem trivial,” Zwick emphasized, knowing how mean that seems compared to, say, the tens of millions of dollars Leo earns on big studio films, “but the Blood Diamond production was also pumping as much as $40 million straight into the local economy. Cash for building roads, hiring drivers, paying for hotel accommodations. When you make a film in a place where the need is desperate, money is like a shot in the arm of the local economy.” Since its inception, and continuing even now past the end of filming, the fund is being administered by a Maputo-based international accountancy firm under the supervision of Laws and João Ribeiro, the production managers in Mozambique.
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