Ron Howard's New Age of Austerity

Hollywood is wondering whether lavish deals for super directors can be sustained

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Last week, Universal  passed on Ron Howard's planned three part adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Tower novels, and the project hasn't been picked up by another studio. Studios pass on projects all the time, but the news of the Dark Tower deal stunned Hollywood because Ron Howard is one of the directors who has for decades rarely heard the word "no," especially from his longtime studio Universal.

For nearly 30 years, Howard, 57, has been getting up each day and making movies. A few of them like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind have been great, winning awards and making a ton of money for him and his partner in Imagine Entertainment, powerful producer Brian Grazer. And they have been rewarded with one of the movie industry's most lavish production deals. According to The Hollywood Reporter's Kim Masters, Imagine's deal with the studio is worth "well north of $8 million a year." But the new austerity in Hollywood is leading to questions of whether that kind of relationship is sustainable anymore, Masters writes. The production company also takes "a whopping 7.5 percent of the gross on Imagine films."  Those terms will likely be revisited when the deal is up after 2013, but the question, according to one of Masters's sources, isn't whether Imagine will continue its relationship with Universal, but "whether Imagine, as it currently exists, can work."

After The Dark Tower fell apart, Howard agreed to helm the adaptation of Under the Banner of Heaven and passed on doing a third Dan Brown film. But he lost out on A Pirate's Duty, the Somali pirate movie that's going to star Tom Hanks. A source told Nikki Finke that Sony chairman Amy Pascal went with Paul Greengrass over Howard because she wanted someone "hotter and cooler"on the film.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.