The Hollywood boxing undercard: Tony Kaye vs. David Bergstein
Capitol Films and ThinkFilm impresario David Bergstein has been taking it on the chin in the press in recent months, dogged by charges that his financial woes have led to a string of unpaid bills, lawsuits, layoffs and film production shutdowns. A variety of lawsuits have been filed against ThinkFilm, most notably a suit from Oscar-winning "Taxi to the Dark Side" documentary director Alex Gibney, who charged ThinkFilm with "fraudulently concealing" its ability to properly release the film.
Albie Hecht, the former Nickelodeon chief who produced the Oscar-nominated documentary "War/Dance," told the Hollywood Reporter he still hasn't seen the small advance he was promised from ThinkFilm, calling Bergstein "the biggest disgrace in the film business." After the Reporter's well-reported take-down piece, the industry has been buzzing about who would surface next to take a swing at Bergstein.
As it turns out, his latest combatant is Tony Kaye, who called me yesterday to share his concerns that Bergstein was badmouthing Kaye's new film. For the uninitiated, Kaye is the eccentric British video director (having worked with everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Cash to Roger Waters) who got into a huge tussle with New Line Cinema over the release of his 1998 film "American History X." When the studio allowed Edward Norton, its star, to do some re-edits on the film, Kaye had a meltdown, demanding that his name be removed from the film, then got into a dispute with the DGA when the guild wouldn't let him use the pseudonym of Humpty Dumpty. For a while, Kaye's bizarre behavior made him largely unemployable in Hollywood.
Kaye has received better reviews in recent years, especially from the release last year of his abortion documentary, "Lake of Fire." He's been in New Orleans for close to a year, shooting "Blackwater Transit," a dramatic thriller that stars Lawrence Fishburne and Steven Dorff and is set in the post-Katrina chaos of New Orleans. Kaye believes it will be a big comeback vehicle for him. So why is he suddenly so unhappy with Bergstein?
Kaye contends that Bergstein, beset by continuing financial troubles, is trying to avoid making payments on the movie by claiming Kaye didn't shoot the script he originally agreed to, resulting in a film that is no longer commercially releasable. "I don't know how he can say anything bad about the film, especially since it isn't even finished yet," Kaye told me. "Up until now, I've had a good experience [with Bergstein], but now I'm worried about what's going on. If he's telling people this film is awful, he's really wrong."
Kaye says he recently showed a rough cut of the film to Fishburne. "He told me it was great. He loved it and thought it really captured the chaos and tumult of New Orleans." (I called to get Bergstein's side of the story, but was told he isn't talking.)
The film, Kaye says, is based on the notebook diaries of a New Orleans police officer, who is played by Dorff in the film. The filmmaker admits that the movie's focus changed from its initial inception. "It started out as a 'Die Hard'-type thriller, but I'm not into that kind of film, and they obviously knew that before hiring me. I've made a much more stylish portrait of a city and its attempts to deal with the unprecedented chaos it faced after Katrina."
He insists that he was was fiscally responsible throughout filming and has delivered a film with a commercial sensibility. "I just want to people to know that I'm not the guy I was 10 years ago," he says. "I've done some crazy things, but I'm a different person now. I'm a serious filmmaker and take my job seriously. All that other stuff is in the past."
The proof will be in the pudding. Because of his colorful reputation, it won't be hard to get potential distributors to watch a Tony Kaye film. Getting them to buy it, especially in today's ultra-cautious environment, will be a more challenging proposition.
Here's Kaye's utterly brilliant Red Hot Chili Peppers video:
David Bergstein photo by Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times; Tony Kaye photo by Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times