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Capitol Films' Crash and Burn

Almost every week another name is added to the list of those affected by the cash crunch surrounding Capitol Films — among them, I’ve learned, star actors and directors like Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Biel, John Cusack, Helen Mirren, America Ferrera, Gina Gershon, Joe Pesci, David O. Russell, Jan de Bont and Taylor Hackford. And Jennifer Lopez and writer-helmer Don Roos may soon be among their number.

“A shitload of people are owed a lot of money. This is a big story that involves many projects,” one of my sources informs.

One New York City movie funder told me this is going to be “a big crash-and-burn story” because he’d heard that Capitol’s major financing source, a hedge fund, had shut down and left Capitol in the lurch. David Bergstein in 2006 acquired Capitol, the leading U.K.-based international-sales company, which over the years had built a good reputation in the movie biz and made a wide range of commercial and critical successes, including Robert Altman’s Gosford Park.

But that was then, and this is now. And while Bergstein reportedly was lounging aboard a yacht during the Cannes Film Festival, here’s how his Capitol Flims indies have been crashing and burning:

For weeks now, I’ve been reporting the on-set drama surrounding this month’s shutdowns and restarts of Russell’s political comedy Nailed, shooting in South Carolina. Either this indie is horribly cursed, or its financier Capitol Films is completely busted, or both. IATSE last week ordered its members to walk off the pic because the crew hadn’t been paid. There are no plans to resume filming as of press time.

This is the second time IATSE has moved to protect its union members, but only after the Screen Actors Guild first sounded the alarm over Capitol Films’ cash crunch and instructed its actors to leave the set earlier this month. Doesn’t the saying go that after three strikes, you’re out?

But people still believe in the pic, which is based on the novel Sammy’s Hill, authored by Al Gore’s daughter Kristin (once a staff writer on the TV series Futurama), who co-wrote the script with Russell. True, the temperamental director is known for turbulent shoots. (Already on Nailed, Jimmy Caan stalked off the South Carolina set two weeks ago after he and the helmer couldn’t agree on the best way for the actor to choke to death on a cookie during a scene. Caan was replaced by James Brolin.)

Amazingly, co-stars Biel and Gyllenhaal are hanging in even though these shutdowns are a major pain in the ass for them, and so is Russell and everyone else connected with the movie. I’m told the production is officially one week behind schedule, and this latest debacle will push it back two weeks. What a mess. (That is, unless the Academy Awards or at least the Spirit Awards start a new category for Best Tortured Indie Pic.)

Capitol Films’ An Invisible Sign of My Own, featuring Ferrera, the star of ABC’s hit show Ugly Betty, has shut down as well. Capitol Films also was funding the $5 million to $7 million budget of the Rob Schmidt–directed horror indie Bad Meat. That production was halted while shooting in Canada on Friday by ACTRA (the Canadian actor’s guild) for nonpayment of actor salaries.

The start of the Bad Meat shoot was delayed for 10 days because Capitol didn’t provide the promised funds. The company claimed that Bergstein’s father was ill and that he was unavailable to sign checks. Capitol finally came up with starting money, and th e shoot was going well. Suddenly, two weeks from completing principal photography, the cast and crew were told that the money had completely run out and the production was shutting down. Capitol claimed that money would be flowing in another week’s time, but that promised infusion of funds didn’t materialize from Comerica Bank or anyone else.

So the film has been closed down after about two-thirds of the script was shot in Winnipeg. “It’s done, over, kaput,” an insider told me. “A sorry day for a lot of actors, producers, the writer/director, wardrobe, hair, makeup, hotels, craft services, drivers, etc. — hundreds of people who weren’t fully paid. Only a couple of actors had all their money put in escrow and are therefore whole.”

I’d heard there were financing problems and delays as well with Jennifer Lopez’s upcoming star turn in a film because of Capitol’s money woes. But a source close to the project insists that Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, written and directed by Don Roos, is still supposed to commence principal photography July 8. “Supposedly, the cash is in the bank.” Others contend the pic may be put on hold.

A source tells me that International Media Films was producing and shooting Jan de Bont’s and John Cusack’s film, Stopping Power, in Berlin when the company ran out of financing. Capitol Films took over and was supposed to continue shooting and pay everyone, “and never did,” an insider informed me. “No one was paid from International Media or Capitol Films. All the actors and the crews had to leave Germany. It was and still is a nightmare!”

Capitol Films also ran out of money in New Mexico while making the Taylor Hackford film Love Ranch, which was shut down for one day because of a fifth straight week of late paychecks. As of the last week of filming, several actors still hadn’t been paid. Another one of Capitol’s films, Five Dollars a Day, also had the same kind of trouble. But the film managed to be completed.

Given all of the above, SAG has just demanded a meeting with David Bergstein at the union’s national offices in Los Angeles over the meltdown of his Capitol Films. “We understand that Capitol Films and Capco Group are intending to start principal photography on a film titled Labor Pains on June 2, 2008, utilizing the services of Screen Actors Guild–covered performers. Capitol recently encountered difficulties meeting its contractual obligations to the Screen Actors Guild in connection with projects titled Nailed, and Love Ranch. Screen Actors Guild performers have also been adversely affected on a Canadian production connected to your companies titled Bad Meat. Our New York office advised that preparations for the film titled An Invisible Sign of My Own have ceased. This appears to be a repeated and snowballing problem.”

What an understatement.


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