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In Turnaround

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The Revolution chief was all too quick on the trigger in order to feed the pipeline. “I’ve never met anyone who flies so fast from gut instinct to a decision,” says Daddy Day Care producer John Davis, who went from script submission to preproduction in 24 hours. “Joe’s a good producer,” says one studio chief. “He has beat the system through volume. But you can’t have quality control that way.”

Perhaps not, but you can still strike box-office gold. Half of Revolution’s first eighteen movies were commercial hits. Three recouped their costs. Six lost money. After subtracting their $16 million–a–year overhead, all the partners will share a $250 million pie.

“If Revolution has a good year and makes money, so do I,” says Pascal, who prefers being able to focus on a smaller slate of films that tend to be of a higher caliber than Revolution’s.

“Joe likes commercial fare and high-concept ideas,” Universal chairman Stacey Snider insists, “and he knows how to sell movies.”

Sony has been on a two-year run, and is No. 2 in studio market share for 2003. Stringer insists that his executive committee “is working quite well.” But Roth’s costly misfires cost Revolution and Sony some $100 million.

For his part, Roth is still recovering from 2003, his annus horribilis, when he was demythologized and humiliated in full public view. All three failures “were my fault,” he admits. “They were my projects.” He saw the Bruce Willis jungle adventure Tears of the Sun as the next African Queen, “but the director wanted to make a more political film,” he says. He gave old buddy Ron Shelton the go-ahead on Hollywood Homicide with Harrison Ford, with lackluster results. Gigli director Marty Brest got final cut from Roth on a Ben Affleck–Halle Berry package after Universal passed. (New rule: No more final-cut writer-directors.) When Berry dropped out, Revolution East chief Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas brought in ex-client Jennifer Lopez, who had scored in Maid in Manhattan. “She and Ben had never met before,” says Roth. “You could feel the train wreck.”

“I want to be a simple company that doesn’t compete with the studios,” Roth continues, “so that we can do whatever we want. We have to beg, borrow, and be filmmaker-friendly so that Michael Mann and Ron Howard will like us. We can’t pay the freight to be first choice. We’re a little boutique making little movies trying to make a profit.”

While Revolution has only 53 employees, it also has an expanded credit line of $650 million (from a consortium of eleven banks) to play with. “Even though you have the contacts and the money,” Roth concedes, “that doesn’t mean the movie is going to be good. We make one picture at a time and take our shots.”

Roth admits that he was under pressure to rush projects into production. Quality movies come from development, he says, and he chose to jump out of the starting gate with the movies that were available at the time because he knew they’d make money. In an effort to produce more movies like Black Hawk Down and Punch-Drunk Love, Roth now wants his production chief, Todd Garner (who backed Revolution’s biggest hits, XXX and Anger Management), to exercise more quality control. Roth himself is casting his next film as a director, the true-story basketball heart-tugger Willie, which starts filming in April, starring Revolution’s newest in-house star, Ice Cube (who is also taking over Vin Diesel’s role in the XXX franchise).

Revolution’s fate lies in what Roth’s partners will want from him after they get their 36 films. For now, he is crossing his fingers, praying that his slowed-down slate over the next year will turn the PR tide. “What I wish is to have made School of Rock, or Spellbound,” he concedes. “I’m desperate to make good movies.”

The question is, will he?


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