There's a hole in my budget

Marlon Brando's latest flopped before it had even finished shooting. Why? Money trouble. 'Twas ever thus, explains Jeffrey Robinson
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The Independent Culture
Marlon Brando's experience on the now defunct Divine Rapture - the film which was shut down this week in Ireland because there was no money left - is hardly unique. But the man who will forever be remembered as "the Godfather", seems to have learned something from those real life godfathers who populated New York in the 1950s and 1960s.

The world of film finance is littered with the bones of abandoned projects. Brando's name couldn't save this film; Richard Burton's name couldn't manage it for one called Jackpot 20 years ago.

Jackpot began production in Nice, co-starring Charlotte Rampling and Robert Mitchum, but one day Mitchum simply disappeared. Burton took up residence in the Royal Suite of the Negresco Hotel. Mitchum stayed missing.

In a panic, the producers called Hollywood and James Coburn got on a plane. Or at least they thought he did. For whatever reason, Coburn didn't arrive for several weeks. The men with the money started balking. Burton grew more and more discontented and his bar bills got serious.

Over the course of the next few weeks, there were several false starts. The men whose money was tied up in Jackpot could only cry. Within a month, everyone was sent home.

It was much the same story a decade later when French movie star Lino Ventura was teamed with the American composer-singer-actor Mort Shuman for a film in Macao. Halfway through it, the man signing the cheques came down with a sudden case of writer's cramp. When he left, so did the director. Ventura tried to keep the crew going, personally paying their bills, then stepping in to direct a couple of scenes himself. But his juggling act was short-lived. Sadly, it turned out to be the final appearance on film for Ventura and Shuman as both were dead within a few years.

Then, too, some film projects which get cancelled while in production were never intended to be finished.

One of the more creative ways to launder drug money is through film finance. First you get your dirty cash into the banking system. Then you spin it through shell companies in countries where secret banking is the norm - Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Cayman Islands. Next, you set up a film production company in Los Angeles or London, which is financed through loans guaranteed by your offshore cash deposits. Once you've gone into production, you write yourself a handsome cheque, drawn on the bank in LA or London, which - as stated in your contract - pays your fees up front. Unfortunately, that puts a major dent in the onshore funds.

Once those funds are gone, the bank in LA or London pulls the plug on the film. The actors and the crews walk away with empty pockets. But the onshore bank doesn't care because it's protected by the offshore funds and you don't care either, because you're able to declare a legitimate income, and even pay taxes on dirty money, which now looks perfectly clean.

While there is absolutely nothing to suggest that this was the case with Divine Rapture, Brando was clearly one step ahead of his co-stars. Unlike Debra Winger, Johnny Depp and John Hurt, all of whom reportedly went home with IOUs that will never be paid, Brando was smart enough to demand a quarter of his $4m fee before he'd even pack his suitcase.

Which gets us back to that real-life godfather. There is a favourite saying among the older generation Italian immigrants who came to New York just after World War II and, with their blood ties to Sicily, banded into a group usually referred to as La Cosa Nostra. While many of them lacked the charm of Brando and his mouth stuffed with cotton, if you grew up with their kids - which I did - you were occasionally privy to a private audience. You'd be hanging out on the front stoop or standing in the kitchen and il padrino Mr Dioguardi would walk in and there'd be that awkward moment when you'd say to yourself, is he going to shoot me?

Fourteen-year-olds think that way.

Instead, he'd pretend to be your pal and throw his arm around your shoulder, pull you close to him and offer you his counsel. He'd look at you with the same determined eyes that Brando had when he spoke about paying respect, ask a question and then, right away, answer it.

The question always was: "What are the first words in the Bible?"

And the answer always was: "Get the money."

n Jeffrey Robinson is the author of 'Bardot - Two Lives' and 'The Laundrymen', both published by Pocket Books