WSJ: FRONT-END DEALS ARE PASSÉ

With third-party financing deals drying up and DVD sales falling, Hollywood's major studios are now cutting first-dollar deals with top stars -- that is, deals that guarantee the actors a percentage of the gross whether or not the film is profitable, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Thursday). "The days...where the star gets whatever he wants and gets paid through the roof -- those days are over, for everybody," Eric Gold, a producer and manager of such clients as Jim Carrey and Ellen DeGeneres, told the newspaper. "You can be the hottest thing in Hollywood, but if the economics don't match it, it doesn't mean anything....The studios are pushing back and they have to play the margins." Studios are switching to back-end deals, those that guarantee stars a percentage of the gross only after the studio recoups its costs, the WSJ observed, noting a few exceptions, such as Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. However, it noted, Roberts's current film, Duplicity, which cost $60 million to make, is underperforming at the box office (it has brought in about $27 million to date), but while Universal Pictures is likely to lose money on it, Roberts is guaranteed to receive several million dollars.

WOLVERINE PIRATED

Despite strenuous and often costly security measures aimed at preventing unfinished movies from being pirated, a work print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman, wound up online Tuesday, a month before its scheduled May 1 release. According to published reports, the film lacked many special effects and included temporary sound effects and music. Eric Garland, head of BigChampagne, which monitors file-swapping services, told today's (Thursday) New York Times, "We've never seen a high-profile film -- a film of this budget, a tentpole movie with this box office potential -- leak in any form this early." BigChampagne estimated that the film had been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times in its first 24 hours online. Twentieth Century Fox issued a statement saying that the FBI and the MPAA were both attempting to determine how the film wound up online and vowed that "the source of the initial leak and any subsequent postings will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." The TorrentFreak website, which covers the BitTorrent scene, noted that a few minutes into the film the name of Rising Sun Pictures, an Australian visual effects company, and a March 2 date flash on the screen. "Of course RSP would absolutely not endorse any leak and the leak could have happened before the print even reached them," the website observed. Otherwise, no security "watermarks" were spotted on the print. At least one Fox executive did not appear overly concerned about the leak. "People who are going to download and watch it on their computer were either never going to pay to see it anyway or they're the type of super-fan who was going to go 10 times in the first week," he told the Entertainment Weekly website.

DIRECTOR JAMES GRAY SAYS HE WAS MISQUOTED ON PHOENIX

Two Lovers director James Gray claims that his remarks to the London Times about Joaquin Phoenix, who starred in his film, were taken out of context and that he has no beef with Phoenix about his behavior on the David Letterman show. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times, Gray said, "To say that I'm angry at Joaquin is beyond preposterous. I'm not angry with him at all. We've done three movies together. He's like a brother to me." He maintained that his remarks in the newspaper -- which were picked up by numerous celebrity websites -- amounted to a "bastardization" of what he actually said. Gray insisted that the report that he was "seething" over Phoenix's behavior on the Letterman show was "just made up," adding: "I'd only be unhappy if Joaquin hurt the movie, which although the stories say it, it isn't true either. What he did on Letterman got us a lot of attention. With the tiny marketing budget we have for the film, I was happy to see anyone talking about us at all." The writer of the Times article, Kevin Maher, has not responded to Gray's remarks.