Fast Company

United Artists Plays a Risky Hand

Welcome to Hollywood, Tom Cruise.

After his move to head up United Artists with producing partner Paula Wagner in late 2006, the publicly ridiculed star hasn't been able to reheat his career--even through films produced by his own studio. Nearly six months after Lions for Lambs, a film whose flashy PR campaign screamed Oscar-hopeful, tanked late last year, he now finds himself in limbo over his next film, Valkyrie.

First, The German Government refused to support the film that tells the story of Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, Colonel who plotted to assassinate Hitler in the tail end of World War II. It was speculated that officials had denied the studio to film at the Bendler Block because of Cruise's scientologist status--"A professing Scientologist in the role of Stauffenberg is like casting Judas as Jesus," wrote journalist Josef Joffe--but the defense ministry cited concerns about the portrayal of postwar Germany in the film as the official reason.

The government reversed its decision in September and filming proceeded, but as reported in The New York Times yesterday, United Artists recently decided to push back the film's release for the third time. This delay-approach is known to be the kiss of death for a Hollywood project. 2001's Prozac Nation famously took several rain checks on its theatrical premiere, only to end up in the straight to video-pile. Meanwhile, imdb.com's daily discussion boards contain numerous exchanges about the mysterious delays of allegedly upcoming flicks. Holdups of release dates sustain curiosity to a degree, but the final result of intra-studio arguments rarely delivers with critics or audiences.

After all, wouldn't studio heads be eager to push out anything that contains real promise of commercial or awards success?

According to The Times, bloggers are already predicting Valkyrie to be a tragic end to Cruise's shot at creative success with United Artists.

"United Artists’ future will depend on reversing a growing perception — fed by an Internet culture that publicizes notions once confined to lunchtime gossipfests — that the studio took a wrong turn shortly after Ms. Wagner joined Mr. Cruise," Michael Cieply wrote.

United Artists hopes to allegedly create a cushion with two or three other upcoming films, one of which won't feature Cruise in its lineup.

Artistic setbacks are, needless to say, the worst possible PR for Cruise, whose public image is already less-than desirable for present and future business partners. And in a culture where news of internal debacles reach potential audiences as they unfold, careless publicity moves don't just bruise movie projects--they can be directly responsible of their failure.

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