Just months ago, Paramount Pictures announced a big, big moviemaking deal with producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the duo behind a dazzling string of hits that included "Beverly Hills Cop" (I and II), "Top Gun" and "Flashdance." In an extraordinary move, the studio took out full-page national newspaper ads touting the partnership as "the visionary alliance." The studio pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years on Simpson-Bruckheimer projects while giving the two unusual autonomy.
But yesterday, not a year later, the alliance was abruptly dissolved. The announcement shocked Hollywood and set off a feeding frenzy for the services of the two producers.
Reached at the Canyon Ranch spa in Arizona, Simpson said: "I had 16 great years at Paramount. I have absolutely no ill will or bad feelings toward them. As a matter of fact, now that it's over, I like them more than ever."
What ended this much-ballyhooed marriage? Both sides are mum, but the Hollywood rumor mill is as fruitful as ever. According to knowledgeable sources, the divorce results from long-standing friction that erupted during and after the shooting of Simpson and Bruckheimer's most recent film, an expensive failure called "Days of Thunder."
Hopes couldn't have been higher when Simpson and Bruckheimer started making the film, which reunited them with the "Top Gun" team of Tom Cruise and director Tony Scott, with the added cachet of "Chinatown" screenwriter Robert Towne. Simpson and Bruckheimer had been very productive -- their films, according to Paramount, had generated more than $2 billion in revenue worldwide. But they hadn't made a movie since "Beverly Hills Cop II" in 1987, and Paramount was impatient to see some action.
Filming of "Days of Thunder" dragged on and on and on and the budget went higher and higher, reportedly exceeding $70 million. Sources reported frequent anxious conversations between the producers and the studio executives during filming -- conversations that weren't resolved to the satisfaction of either party.
When the film failed to set the box office ablaze, Paramount asked Simpson and Bruckheimer to return a portion of their hefty share of the gross profits from the film, which they collected despite the film's lackluster performance. The answer, according to knowledgeable sources, was an emphatic no.
Push came to shove when Simpson and Bruckheimer asked the studio to set up a New York office for them to patrol the publishing houses for fresh material. The cost to the studio would have been about $500,000 a year, according to one source. While studio President David Kirkpatrick said yes, Chairman Frank Mancuso came back with his own emphatic no.
The camel's back was broken, and during the past couple of days the parties quickly negotiated an end to the deal.
In a statement, Kirkpatrick said the parting was amicable. He said the studio would continue to focus on "internal development and proactive production control." Both elements were lacking in the Simpson-Bruckheimer deal.
The studio declined to comment further. Paramount has been in a state of transition lately with the recent arrival of Kirkpatrick and the departure of Sid Ganis, who left the president's job to become a producer affiliated with the studio. In recent months, Paramount has also lost some of its reliable "franchises," such as the "Star Trek" and "Indiana Jones" series. But it had a surprising success when a sleeper, "Ghost," became the No. 1 film of the year.
Sources said the parties reached a settlement satisfactory to both sides that did not call for Paramount to buy out the Simpson-Bruckheimer contract. The two producers can stay on the Paramount lot for several months, but they are unlikely to be wallflowers for long. "Lots of people are pursuing them," said an executive at another studio who acknowledged that he was part of that pack. "They are event filmmakers."
Simpson started at Paramount as an executive in 1975 and rose to production president before becoming an independent producer and teaming up with Bruckheimer, who made commercials before switching to movies.