Amid growing concern about the future of L.A. Weekly’s prestigious print and digital operation after the announcement that the media property was for sale, two unlikely buyers have made a joint offer. James Franco — the actor, writer, director and artist provocateur — will be one of two new owners of the publication, which sold for an undisclosed sum.
Citing the potential for increased revenue next year (thanks to the recent vote to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in California in 2018), Franco’s spokesperson says it was purely a good financial decision. The rep also stated that the actor’s favorite section in the paper in recent years is “that really cool back-page space where the confluence of sex and drugs twists together like a tight cornrow.”
Though this isn't the first time a celebrity has claimed partial ownership of the publication (the Weekly was founded in 1978 by an investment group that included actor Michael Douglas), there are few indications about what direction the paper will take under Franco’s ownership. Staffers are hopeful that Franco won’t simply build up the back-page advertising to become a porn-and-cannabis outlet, thereby nixing the news, culture, film, food and music coverage. Of course, he may also see the Weekly as yet another art project.
In the first meeting with the editorial team, after several staff members inquired about the other mysterious owner, Franco abruptly stood up and excused himself from the room. A minute later, a man who called himself Tico Westmont then entered to introduce himself as the new co-owner. But the staff almost immediately realized that it was simply Franco with slicked-back hair and his button-up shirt opened down to his navel.
“I have to say, I expected this whole thing to be weird,” one editor said after the meeting. “But this guy… I mean, he didn’t even try to put on a fake mustache. It’s like he wasn’t even trying. He just wanted to see if one of us would say something.”
The story gets even stranger.
Throughout the meeting, Franco/Westmont continued to excuse himself, switching between personas to sign contracts. Often, Franco would enter the room to ask where they’d left off, and one poor staffer would have to explain to him everything that had happened when Westmont was in the room.
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“And then he’d, like, start arguing with us about Westmont’s ideas,” the editor recalled. “I still can’t even believe this happened. I half-expected Shia LaBeouf to come in and cry all over the conference table.”
Understandably, L.A. Weekly’s offices are abuzz with the in-house celebrity, who asked that his desk be placed in the kitchen, so he could “see people at their most human, when they’re hungry and broken and reaching for a fix.” Depending on Franco’s dedication to the operation, the staff feels his presence could be either a boon or an albatross. Here’s hoping the paper thrives in the Franco/Westmont era.