Taylor Hackford and other top officials of his New Visions Pictures first viewed "Wired," a surreal chronicle of comedian John Belushi's life and 1982 death, at a private screening Jan. 16. Soon after, they began negotiating with F/M Entertainment for the rights to distribute "Wired" to American theaters. The two sides were apparently close to a deal when, on March 21, New Visions president Stuart Benjamin called "Wired" coproducer Charles Meeker with troubling news. "The pressure has gotten to be too much," Benjamin said, according to notes that Meeker, an attorney, said he took of the 18-minute conversation. "Too many relationships are threatened." Benjamin said he was very sorry, but it couldn't be helped, according to Meeker's notes. The pressure, according to Meeker, was coming from Creative Artists Agency and agency president Michael Ovitz. Meeker discussed his conversations with Benjamin in an interview this week. Meeker said that Benjamin told him that if his company released "Wired," it risked the loss of important film projects already in the works with CAA. Hackford, chairman of New Visions and a film director with such credits as "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Against All Odds," is a CAA client. As it turns out, New Visions' decision will not stand in the way of "Wired's" release. Late Wednesday, Atlantic Entertainment Group agreed to distribute the film to between 600 and 800 theaters this summer. "It will be our major summer release," said Atlantic President Jonathan Dana. Dana added that he felt no pressure from CAA about the film, which has been selected for a noncompetitive screening at the Cannes Film Festival next month. "I have heard people around town vaguely saying that you shouldn't do this, that it's too risky," Dana said, "but nothing specific. It was kind of like shadows." Dana called "Wired" a "highly responsible work of art and a commercially viable motion picture." Reached Wednesday, Ovitz denied that his agency put any pressure on New Visions or any other distributor. "The film will rise or fall based on its own merits," Ovitz said. "We have nothing to do with the movie." Both Benjamin and Hackford dispute Meeker's version of the story, and deny that they dropped the film because of alleged CAA pressure. Hackford has said that his decision not to release the film was strictly a creative one. Benjamin said this week that Meeker's accounts of conversations with him were "inaccurate." But sources close to the negotiations claim that New Vision's decision not to release "Wired" represents a textbook case of how power is exercised in Hollywood, in this case by the town's most influential talent agency. In a business that puts a premium on big-name talent, CAA's extraordinary client list of top actors and directors gives the agency tremendous leverage -- not only to facilitate projects the agency wants, but also to discourage deals it doesn't. Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter who wrote the book upon which the movie is based and served as technical adviser to the producers, said Tuesday, "It is clear from conversations I had with people from that company (New Visions) that they planned to distribute the movie, that they walked away from what they considered to be several million dollars, because of perceived fears that Mike Ovitz and CAA would not be happy." At the time of his death, Belushi was a CAA client, and the agency continues to represent his brother James Belushi and such close Belushi friends as Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Woodward's book, also titled "Wired," detailed not only Belushi's habits, but drug abuse throughout the entertainment community. Many of the same Belushi friends and associates who cooperated with Woodward blasted the book when it came out. "Wired" coproducer Edward S. Feldman said Ovitz called him when he first learned that Feldman planned to make the movie and "suggested that I not make it, that the book ("Wired") was not accurate, that the (Hollywood) community does not want this movie made." But, Feldman added, Ovitz "didn't threaten me." Ovitz said he doesn't recall the details of his conversation with Feldman. However, he acknowledged that many of the agency's clients were concerned about seeing Woodward's book made into a film. "There's no question about that," Ovitz said. "A lot of these people took strong positions that they didn't want to see Belushi's life exploited." Ovitz added that those concerns "have not been discussed" recently. In 1985 and again in 1986, an attorney for Ovitz, Aykroyd, Murray, Belushi's manager Bernie Brillstein and director John Landis, among others, wrote to F/M Entertainment threatening an invasion of privacy lawsuit if the film depicted any of these clients. (Of those people, Aykroyd is the only person depicted by name in the film. A look-alike of Landis also appears in one scene, although his name has been changed.) Despite the opposition to the film, "Wired" was made, starring unknown Michael Chiklis as Belushi. Production ended last fall and the producers have been seeking a distributor since then. All of the major studios passed on distributing the film, according to F/M Entertainment. Some smaller distributors expressed interest in it, the producers said, but F/M Entertainment decided to do business with New Visions, in part because both companies shared the same Amsterdam-based bank, Pierson, Heldring and Pierson. Pau Kijzer, a Los Angeles-based consultant to the bank who was involved in the "Wired" negotiations with New Visions, said that company president Benjamin also told him that CAA had applied pressure to his firm, an account that Benjamin disputes. "Benjamin clearly told me that various packages with CAA would be at risk" if his company released "Wired," Kijzer said this week. "He (Benjamin) cannot deny that." "It was not a creative decision," Kijzer said of New Vision' sudden disinterest in "Wired." Kijzer added that releasing "Wired" would not pose any immediate "financial risk" to New Visions. Under the tentative distribution agreement, F/M Entertainment would have provided $6.5 million in prints and advertising money, enough to cover expenses through the film's opening week, according to F/M officials and Kijzer. Much of that money would come from advances provided by a company that planned to buy videocassette rights to "Wired," according to Feldman. (A New Zealand conglomerate, Lion Nathan, financed the $13 million movie.) In addition, New Visions would earn distribution fees from the box office receipts. During the negotiations, New Visions hired marketing consultant Gordon Weaver to draw up a release plan for the film. Feldman said that he and Weaver met to discuss the plan the day Benjamin called to say his company would not release the film. The alternative plans both suggested limited national Aug. 4 openings; one would have opened the film in 25 cities, the other in 50. Meeker said that Benjamin called him on March 16 to say that the distribution deal was in trouble because of CAA pressure. The agency voiced objections after a published report in The Times disclosed that a deal between New Visions and F/M Entertainment was in the offing, according to Meeker's account of the conversation. Benjamin, according to Meeker, said the deal would embarrass CAA because of the agency's ties to Hackford. "(Benjamin) went into a long speech saying that CAA itself didn't care, but that the agency was getting lots of heat from clients and that Ovitz was caught in the middle," Meeker said. During that same conversation, Meeker said, Benjamin proposed a deal that he said would satisfy CAA. Under that deal, he added, the film would be distributed by New Century/Vista, a distribution arm partially owned by Hackford's company. But the film would not carry the name of Hackford's company, Meeker said. Five days later, Benjamin called to say the deal was off, that "the pressure had gotten to be too much," according to Meeker's notes. The notes are contained in a phone log kept by Meeker. "It's innuendo and rumor," Feldman said in a reference to CAA. I'm a little disappointed in the community. These are the same people that rallied to the side of ("Satanic Verses" author) Salman Rushdie, who defended Martin Scorsese' right (to make "The Last Temptation of Christ)." Mike Smith, director of Lion Nathan, said Tuesday that he was "shocked" by the pressure, "particularly given how jealously everyone (in Hollywood) guards the rights of freedom of expression." The most public display of pressure so far has come from Aykroyd, who, in an interview on MTV last June, said he was placing a curse on everyone involved with "Wired." "I have witches working now to jinx the thing," Aykroyd said, on the MTV show "The Big Picture." "I hope it never gets seen and I am going to hurl all the negative energy I can (against it)." Sources say that Aykroyd acted out his enmity when he discovered that a costar in Tri-Star Pictures' "Loose Cannons" was in the "Wired" cast, as well, and refused to work with him. The actor, J.T. Walsh, who portrayed Woodward in "Wired," had reportedly worked two days on "Loose Cannons" before the flap occurred. Soon after, he was replaced by Paul Koslo. Neither Walsh nor Aykroyd would comment on the incident, and "Loose Cannons" coproducer Alan Greisman would say only that the casting of Walsh "didn't work out." Many industry people contacted for this story said that allegations of CAA trying to suppress the movie were just a paper tiger and that the reason Feldman can't get a deal is that his movie isn't commercial. "If that movie looked like it could make money, it would have been snapped up in a minute," said one studio executive. Marketing experts disagree on the commercial prospects of "Wired," a strange film in which Belushi revisits his life under the guidance of a Puerto Rican cab driver, played by Ray Sharkey. "This is a movie that says drugs are a bad thing, and that isn't a very controversial issue anymore," one executive said.