Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise at the premiere of “I Am Legend” on 12/11/07. Credit: WENN
Tom Cruise’s partner, Paula Wagner, has stepped down from her role as CEO of United Artists. Wagner has known Cruise for decades. She was his agent at CAA and helped him pair with Oliver Stone for 1993′s Born on The Fourth of July. The two formed their first production company, Wagner/Cruise Productions, in 1989, through which they put out the Mission Impossible movies, Vanilla Sky, and War of The Worlds. She’s been a staunch Cruise defender and friend for nearly 20 years.
Cruise and Wagner were only part owners of United Artists, along with the studio MGM. There must be all kinds of bureaucratic issues with sharing the helm with another movie studio, and we shouldn’t read into this to assume Cruise and Wagner were vying for control.
It’s believed that Cruise will now take control of United Artists. UA has $500 million in financing through Merril Lynch that is only available to them specifically, so it’s not likely that MGM will try to get rid of the division. Merril Lynch is also funding UA due to Cruise, and MGM wouldn’t replace him and risk losing all that money.
Paula Wagner on Wednesday announced that she will be exiting as chief executive officer of United Artists.
She will retain an ownership interest in UA.
Wagner’s departure raises questions about the future of United Artists — and what will happen to the $500 million Merrill Lynch revolving fund that was allotted for UA films but that has barely been tapped.
Since Wagner and Tom Cruise became co-owners of the company with MGM, Wagner tried to greenlight movies but frequently butted heads with MGM. Harry Sloan was concentrating on his own slate, which he was developing with head of production Mary Parent, and trying to raise financing for MGM pics.
MGM execs insist that Wagner could have greenlit anything she wanted but wasn’t developing aggressively enough.
It’s possible the studio will once again go into hibernation and that the UA coin will go to MGM. However, one studio source insisted UA isn’t going to fold, adding that MGM couldn’t disband the division and tap its Merrill Lynch financing even if wanted to because the funds were raised specifically for UA-generated projects.
MGM execs insist that Cruise will now take a stronger day-to-day role at United Artists, though he seems to be focusing on his acting. (Given Wednesday’s developments, Cruise’s satiric portrayal of a venal movie mogul in Paramount’s “Tropic Thunder” could be interpreted as a personal exorcism of those duties.)
One MGM exec insisted that UA will continue to run with Cruise at the helm, partly because his presence is crucial to Merrill Lynch’s backing of the company. The star even made a presentation to the investment bankers.
For the moment chief operating officer Elliott Kleinberg, production prexy Don Granger and recently appointed MGM/UA marketing chief Michael Vollman will continue to run their departments. But in order to meet certain Merrill Lynch milestones, UA development and production needs to speed up rapidly. That suggests that an aggressive production exec will be brought in to jump-start production.
Since Cruise and Wagner’s arrival at UA, the relationship between United Artists and MGM has always been wary, if not tense. And Wagner’s exit wasn’t a total surprise in the community: Rumors of a Wagner-Cruise-UA shakeup or split have been in the air for weeks, though they were flatly denied at the time by the Cruise camp and CAA.
Variety notes that Cruise and Wagner are said to be getting along fine. It’s sounds like the main problem they’re having is finding good projects to produce and working with MGM. They’ve only put out Lions for Lambs so far, and that made just $63 million total. They’re also working on that Valkyrie film, which keeps getting pushed back amid rumors that it’s not that good. MGM just announced that Valkyrie will come out at Christmas instead of in February of next year, though. Maybe Wagner negotiated that more favorable release date as part of her departure. I wonder how Valkyrie will fare up against Marley and Me.
Wagner is possible too much of a “yes” person to successfully work with Cruise on bankable movies. Valkyrie is a vanity project with Scientology undertones and a war movie, which are typically hard to sell to the public. If Cruise is paired with more money-minded partners he can probably put out a few more hits. The only problem is that he’s likely to insist on starring in them.
Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are shown at the Mission Impossible 3 premiere on 5/4/06. (This was right after Katie had Suri.) Credit: Chris Hatcher / PR Photos