Who is even more evil than Darth Vader? Apparently the accountants at Lucasfilm, who have told the Dark Lord of the Sith that that he is not due any money as Return Of The Jedi has yet to turn a profit.
David Prowse, the six and a half foot tall actor who filled Vader’s foreboding black armor in the original Star Wars trilogy, stated in a recent interview that he has been told that he was not eligible for his contractual share of residuals from the film as it has still not made it into the black in its nearly-26 years of release.
I get these occasional letters from Lucasfilm saying that we regret to inform you that as Return of the Jedi has never gone into profit, we’ve got nothing to send you. Now here we’re talking about one of the biggest releases of all time… I don’t want to look like I’m bitching about it, but on the other hand, if there’s a pot of gold somewhere that I ought to be having a share of, I would like to see it.
Hard to believe that Jedi has not turned a profit, even though the film has brought in an estimated $572 million in worldwide ticket sales, including the $88 million it pulled at the box office during its last re-release in 1997. And that’s before home video sales, television deals and merchandising are factored into the total. Hard to believe, that is, if you are unfamiliar with the chicanery that Hollywood accountants routinely employ to avoid paying out monies to those who are rightfully owed a portion of a film’s profits. (Maybe it would have made more if this was the film Lucas had made.)
When columnist Art Buchwald brought a suit against Paramount over authorship of the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming To America and profits owed to Buchwald, the studio quickly settled out of court rather than have many of their accounting practices brought to light in such a public forum as a courtroom. But one of the most basic tactics that studio bean-counters use is to charge anything that they can towards the production costs of a film, even longer after the film has been released in theaters.
When writer J. Michael Straczynski signed a deal with Warner Brothers for his soon-to-be-cult classic Babylon 5, he only was offered a share of the show’s net profits. Despite bringing the show in under budget during all five years of its run and the subsequent DVD season sets have raked in around half a billion (that’s with a ‘b’) dollars, he still has not seen one dime. “By the terms of the deal that was made, WB takes 60% of all monies in overhead, and can charge almost anything they want against profits,” Straczynski stated in a 2007 online post. “If a stage used on some other WB project being shot in Bolivia burns down, they can charge it against B5.”
Of course, none of these tricks serve much good if an actor or director has a percentage of the gross profits- the money that the studio makes before it starts applying any of their fancy accounting sleight of hand.
I have to wonder, though, given the history of this kind of accounting, can a claim be made that studios are not negotiating in good faith when they offer net points to talent as part of a contract? Because if they are negotiating in good faith but no film or television project ever turns a profit, how are the studios still in business? Or is this part of some bigger plan to get a giant government bailout?