Hollywood Tolerates Strange Behavior, Up to a Point

Hollywood production companies put up with plenty of eccentric stars. Often a touch of weird behavior is good for business. But as the recent case of Tom Cruise shows, sometimes there are limits.

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Here's one lesson to draw from this weeks move by the Paramount movie studio, which parted ways with Tom Cruise. Paramount's not so fond farewell to Cruise was a reminder that organizations will put up with odd behavior from a star until it hurts business.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT reporting:

Movie studio executives figured that when Tom Cruise began lecturing Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show he cost his latest film, Mission Impossible III, millions of dollars in ticket sales.

(Soundbite of Today Show)

Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): (On The Today Show) Psychiatry is - is a pseudoscience.

Mr. MATT LAUER (Host, The Today Show): (On the Today Show) But aren't there examples where it works?

Mr. CRUISE: (On the Today Show) Matt, Matt, Matt, you don't even - you're glib. If you start talking about...

LANGFITT: This week, Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount's parent company, ripped Cruise for letting his public outbursts hurt his box office draw.

In the past year, employers have criticized other high-profile figures for more typically troublesome behavior: among them, actress Lindsay Lohan. Last month, the producer of her latest movie called the hard-partying starlet, quote, a spoiled child, for failing to show on the set. And last season, the Philadelphia Eagles essentially fired star wide receiver Terrell Owens for repeatedly criticizing the team's quarterback.

The cases reflect a challenge organizations face every day - how to manage a disruptive star. Boris Groysberg teaches at Harvard Business School. He says high maintenance performers like Owens can take a huge toll.

Mr. BORIS GROYSBERG (Harvard Business School): And you basically have an addition of one individual, who borderline destroyed that franchise for at least a year.

LANGFITT: Star systems extend beyond Hollywood in sports to other fields, like fashion, finance, and high tech - where one person can spark a breakthrough product or generate huge revenues. Peter Capelli is a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He says companies have often put up with troublesome stars because they bring in so much money.

Professor PETER CAPELLI (University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business): I think historically organizations were willing to ignore this bad behavior. And I think the reason for that was they could easily see the effects of the employees' own performance. What they couldn't easily measure were the negative effects the employees were having on the people around them.

LANGFITT: Capelli says that is changing. More companies are using 360-degree evaluations, where peers and underlings critique the performance of their colleagues. And Bob Sutton, a Professor of Management Science at Stanford, says more companies are discovering the hidden costs of some high performers.

He cites an obnoxious employee at a firm in Silicon Valley.

Professor BOB SUTTON (Stanford University): He was bringing in about half a million dollars in business a year. But HR figured out that it was costing about $200,000 a year to deal with his jerk problems. He was going through a secretary every few months, and since nobody in the firm would work with him, they'd have to recruit one from the outside. That cost $85,000. They had to have an executive coach and anger management therapist for him.

LANGFITT: And Boris Groysberg, of Harvard, says that some stars are overrated anyway.

He and two other researchers studied the performance of star stock analysts after they moved to new firms. They found that performance routinely plunged. One reason - the analysts had built their success on the shoulders of the people who'd helped them at their old jobs.

Mr. GROYSBERG: You get your work done through other people. So if you move to another organization, you leave those relationships behind and you have to recreate the network at the new place.

LANGFITT: Now, after 14 years at Paramount, Tom Cruise is on his own. He says he plans to raise a hundred million dollars to finance his new films, and he's looking for a new distributor.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

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Why Paramount Really Dropped Tom Cruise

Hint: It Wasn't the Couch-Jumping

Cruise's Star Power

Below is a list of the star's top 10 highest-grossing films, in millions of dollars:

War of the Worlds: $234.3

Mission: Impossible II: $215.4

Mission: Impossible: $181.0

Top Gun: $176.8

Rain Man: $172.8

The Firm: $158.3

Jerry Maguire: $154.0

A Few Good Men: $141.3

Mission: Impossible III: $133.4

Minority Report: $132.0

Note: Reflects U.S. domestic grosses only

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Everyone will be making jokes about whether it's "risky business" to do another Tom Cruise movie. In fact, the end of the 14-year Paramount/Tom Cruise relationship is by no stretch the end of Cruise's movie career. Nor is it a case where a star's off-screen conduct is the central issue, according to Gregg Kilday, film editor at The Hollywood Reporter. He spoke with NPR's Marc Silver about the story:

What does Hollywood make of the story?

The popular press is looking at this as another story about Tom Cruise's goofy behavior. But within Hollywood, it's being viewed very much as a negotiation that wasn't successful — a deal gone sour between Tom Cruise and his camp and Paramount. While it's unusual for a company chairman like Sumner Redstone to come forward and say, "His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount," no one is really buying that as central reason that the two sides couldn't make a deal. There may have been some annoyance with Cruise about his conduct, but I think if they could have got him at the price they wanted, they would have lived with that annoyance.

How is the Cruise camp characterizing the breakdown of negotiations?

Cruise's contention is he was developing other sources of financing and decided to step away from the deal. And this comes within the context of a lot of studios, particularly Paramount, not wanting to pay as much for stars.

Did Cruise hurt himself by speaking about Scientology's anti-psychiatry stand, for example?

He certainly has a right to [speak about Scientology]. Whether it's a smart move when you're out promoting a movie to talk about something as potentially divisive as religion and politics is something that can be argued. A lot of people would say it isn't: The focus should be on the movie and being as appealing to as many people as possible. At same time, you had a star like Jane Fonda who in the 1970s was one of the most divisive figures in America and at the same time, was one of the biggest movie stars. A lot of people who said they never would see her movies because of her politics would never have seen them anyway.

Redstone's comment about Cruise was harsh. Is that out of the ordinary?

It's certainly unusual. Even when people are parting ways and haven't been able to reach a deal, the standard Hollywood protocol is to acknowledge the success they've had in the past together and to wish each other well.

Is there a precedent for Redstone's comments?

There's always a precedent for something. In the studio era, when stars were under contract to the studios, there were many cases where studios very publicly disciplined stars like Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland. It's less common in the modern era, where stars are much more free agents.

What were stars disciplined for back in the day?

Usually stars were assigned to a given movie. If they objected to a movie or refused to show up, they were put on suspension. Olivia de Havilland's case became famous because she sued Warner Brothers and got her suspension overthrown. At the time, Warner Brothers would extend a traditional seven-year contract by the amount of time a star was suspended.

Is there a feeling that Cruise has lost his appeal?

In the case of Tom Cruise, there's an anecdotal sense he's lost some of his fan base. But how much that affected Mission Impossible III is impossible to say — there's one school of thought that the movie itself, rather than bringing something new to the franchise, just repeated the action tropes of the first two movies. Even if Cruise had not gotten any criticism for any extraneous behavior, the movie might have run out of steam anyway, and it still did make nearly $400 million worldwide.

So is his career faltering?

It's a complicated equation with lot of moving parts. The fact is, he is getting older. Most male stars, particularly folks who've had big successes in action movies, as they get older have to figure out ways to transition into other kinds of parts. In some of the dramatic things Cruise has taken on — Born on the Fourth of July, Magnolia — he's shown he is capable of doing that. On the other hand, it is hard to generalize about anybody's fan base, particularly when you attract such a large audience. In the past Tom Cruise fans who would show up to see him in one of his broad-based movies didn't automatically go see an artier film like Magnolia. A lot of what happens depends on what parts he chooses.

Can he indeed go into the business of making movies for himself?

Cruise says he's identified two equity funds willing to invest in his company. That reflects another trend in Hollywood —- a lot of private equity money is coming into town, investing in both studio and independent films. That's something Cruise might decide to take advantage of.

But not with Paramount?

His camp is saying they don't rule out making movies with Paramount. There are a lot of things in development. Some could shift to another studio. But at same time, if they are movies that Paramount wants to make and Cruise and Paramount agree on a deal, he could make them at Paramount.

What are Cruise's plans now?

At the moment Cruise himself is not committed to a movie that has a start date within the next couple months. He has a lot in development. Whatever impact all of this has is affected by what movies he chooses to do.

Would one wrong move sink him?

For stars of his magnitude, their fate and career are not determined by individual films. You'd have to have a serious downturn in a number of films or the industry stop wanting to do business with you. Tom Cruise has to be considered one of the major stars in Hollywood. But no stars in Hollywood have absolute carte blanche unless they're willing to finance their films 100 percent.

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