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High Rollers, Humbled Harvey and The Hills

Hey, Big Spenders...

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is slated to open May 25 around the world. But there’s a problem: It’s still not completely finished. “It’s a race to the wire for all the special effects. But, in its current state, it’s quite spectacular,” a source tells me. Disney still plans to play P3 in every territory by Memorial Day (although still not confirmed is mainland China, where censors were viewing a print hand-delivered by Disney execs so as to avoid piracy). But finishing fast and late always adds to a pic’s cost, which for P3 I’m told is already north of $300 million. And that’s just what Disney is admitting privately, so add at least another $50 mil to approach the real figure.

“It’s the summer of the high rollers,” one Disney insider says. “At least we’ve got an opportunity to make that back, and then some.”

Jeez, I remember when any movie budget over $100 mil used to make Hollywood faint. Then $150 mil induced a cold sweat. But this summer, the moguls aren’t even blinking at figures above $200 mil. Sony admits Spider-Man 3’s cost is $250 mil, but I’m told the true figure is more like $300 mil–plus. Universal acknowledges the budget for Evan Almighty, the sequel to Bruce Almighty, is up to $175 mil, but I’m told it’s really $200 mil–plus. And that’s without $70 million–plus in marketing costs tacked onto any of these pics.

Meanwhile, the first round of tracking for Spider-Man 3 before its May 4 domestic release was “through the roof,” I’m told, better than any for either S-M1 or S-M2. And that duo had a combined worldwide theatrical gross of $1.6 billion. Director Sam Raimi’s dark and disturbing “Black Spidey” iconography seems to be geeking the comic-book geeks. With insanely aggressive promotion, and a storyline that completes the other two films, Spider-Man 3 should open to $100 million–plus its first weekend.

Though Wall Street film-financing experts are calling S-M3 the most expensive film ever made, that’s only because they don’t know the extent yet of P3’s soaring cost or the pic’s excessive running time. “It’s at least as long as Pirates 2, and probably longer,” an insider tells me. (Not only does that limit the number of times per day the pic is shown in theaters, it’s also an audience buzz kill.) Despite making $1 bil worldwide, P2 was badmouthed by both critics and moviegoers for being such an in-betweener. So Disney execs went back and read every review of Dead Man’s Chest to “isolate what we thought people didn’t like about the movie,” an insider says. “The vast majority of the negative remarks were that it felt like it was setting up the third one, which in fact it was.” Now, P3 is the “payoff,” a source explains. “All the storylines come together, all the loose ends get tied up, all the mysteries become clear to you.” So Disney will market At World’s End as the final installment in a trilogy.

Of course, Disney and Sony know that their franchises, P3 and S-M3, are going to be megahits. But so do other studios who okayed hefty price tags for Shrek the Third, Transformers, Ocean’s Thirteen, Fantastic Four 2, Live Free or Die Hard, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Simpsons. Notice how they’re all sequels or remakes or film versions of TV shows: Hollywood doesn’t get sticker shock so long as the pic has a ready-made audience. For instance, the exclusive-to-Yahoo trailer for Live Free or Die Hard has tested higher than for any action movie in Fox history. Amazing, since this isn’t even starring a Bruce married to Demi (yeah, the last Die Hard installment was that long ago) but instead a Bruce post–16 Blocks (and remember how creaky he looked in that). So get ready for Minoxidil jokes when DH4 opens June 27.

A Clockwork Harvey

Suddenly, the media is waxing nostalgic for the Harvey Weinstein of old, pining for the erstwhile brilliant bully of Miramax over the current Weinstein Co. whiny bleater we’re now just getting to know. Not me. I revel in the knowledge that moguls rarely have second acts. (One of the many reasons Hollywood celebrated Harv’s Grindhouse bomb.)

Nah, my enmity will last because I’m proud that Harvey used to spit my name, not say it. After all, I spent years reporting his despicable Oscar marketing behavior, detailing how he and his flacks-for-hire used to badmouth the competition, boink the Academy’s rules and just generally behave like thugs. And he’d try to lie his way out of every accusation. But not before lobbying whoever was my editor at the time to have me fired, pronto.

Yet, here was Weinstein inconceivably making like my best friend on the phone the Monday after his Quentin Tarantino–Robert Rodriguez homage to gross-out B movies tanked on opening weekend. Even though I’d predicted that the film wouldn’t live up to The Weinstein Co.’s hype. Even though I’d also explained how New Harv had foolishly given the two directors a pass when it came to Grindhouse’s extreme indulgence, whereas Old Harv would have pounded both filmmakers into submission — all because he and his brother Bob had made their relationship with bankable Tarantino and Rodriguez the bedrock of their fledgling company’s financing.

Despite the negative things I’d written, Harvey was friendly, almost deferential. Because his 2-year-old company needs every media friend it can co-opt.

So, on the end of the receiver was Humble Harv, not Horrible Harv, apologizing for the film’s abject failure. (“I’m incredibly disappointed.”) Admitting the movie was too long. (“It was the biggest single deterrent.”) Acknowledging that he’d messed up the marketing. (“We didn’t educate the South or Midwest.”) Copping to the error of opening as a double-feature film instead of releasing it as two separate movies like he’s planning overseas. (“We tried to do something new, and obviously we didn’t do it that well.”) Fessing that he’d been focused on building his company and not moviemaking. (“We wanted to diversify immediately. This Cannes, I’m going to change all that. Now I have to go back to being Harvey.”)

“Back to being Harvey”? Oh, God, no.

Back in 1999, Weinstein demanded my presence at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills to face his wrath over a New York Magazine Oscar column I’d written accusing him of using dirty tricks to ensure his Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan. (Of course, Weinstein had sicced his lawyers on the mag, which did its best to soften the piece nearly beyond recognition despite my threats to quit or go public.)

Weinstein ordered me into a windowless room and, for the next 90 minutes, screamed at me nonstop. The scene had a Clockwork Orange surrealness to it, mostly because I sat mute with my sunglasses on indoors. Until he swore on the life of his children that he hadn’t done the things I’d reported. At which point, I erupted into guffaws, as did Mark Gill, then the West Coast president of Miramax.

Weinstein looked at us both with daggers. “Why are you laughing?” he asked.

“Do you want to tell him?” I asked Gill.

“You see, Harvey, that was Mike Ovitz’s favorite phrase,” Gill explained. “Every time he said it, Hollywood knew he was lying.”

Finally, Weinstein placed his face three inches away from mine. “You think I’m all about money, don’t you?” he asked.

“No, Harvey,” I replied. “You used to be all about money. Now, you’re all about respect. And if you keep acting like this, you’re not going to get it. Trust me.”

With that, he dismissed me with a wave of his hand.Cesspool of Self-Promo

There are few reality-TV shows more faked than MTV’s The Hills, set in Los Angeles. So, naturally, it’s being renewed for a third season starting this summer. It reached something insane like 60 million viewers. But I wonder how many would have fled if they’d known what a cesspool of self-promotion and cross-promotion the series’ so-called stars are.

First, Heidi Montag, the blond nightclub promoter, used the show to score herself a record deal. Turns out she’s an aspiring singer recording a pop album with bigtime music producer David Foster for release later this year. (Now, Foster just happens to be the soon-to-be-ex-stepfather of Brody Jenner, best friend of Spencer Pratt, who has been Heidi’s boyfriend since the summer of 2006.) Spencer got a lot of inexplicable face time on this second season of The Hills. Here’s why: Heidi is now a client of Spencer’s management company, which also reps Brody. Because of the connection, Brody also got a lot of inexplicable face time on The Hills. (Foster, along with Spencer and Brody, were all featured on the Fox reality TV show The Princes of Malibu, which was yanked after only two episodes.)

Heidi met Spencer through ex–Laguna Beach star Kristin Cavallari, who was then dating Brody. This is the same Spencer-and-Brody tag team shamed by Details magazine for concocting a scheme whereby Brody would rise to fame by dating Nicole Richie and getting her to eat. Because of The Hills, Brody may now be getting his own faked reality-TV show about his love life, courtesy of MTV.

Meanwhile, the star of The Hills and intern at Teen Vogue, Lauren Conrad (ex–Laguna Beach), just scored a gig flogging Avon’s teen-targeted Mark cosmetics. And she also clinched a clothing deal to hawk those unflattering floaty dresses and stupid headbands she wears on the show. Last month, she and MTV announced the launch of a real-world fashion line scheduled to hit high-end boutiques, retail stores and online sellers later this fall. Notice the timing? It’ll be right around the end of The Hills’ third season.

Meanwhile, Lauren’s new BFF, Audrina Patridge, ostensibly works for Epic Records, which teamed up with MTV recently to release The Hills soundtrack.

Of course, none of this self-promo and cross-promo has ever made it on camera.

For more Nikki Finke check out Deadline Hollywood Daily at www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/

Email at deadlinehollywood@gmail.com


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