J.J. Abrams’ return trip to the galaxy far, far away to helm Star Wars: Episode IX could lead to Paramount Pictures seeking financial restitution from Disney. Earlier this month, Lucasfilm went through more director drama when Colin Trevorrow departed Star Wars 9 due to creative differences. With a 2019 premiere planned, the studio had to move quickly to find a replacement, and brought Abrams back to the fold to bring the sequel trilogy home. Lucasfilm also hired Oscar-winner Chris Terrio to co-write the screenplay with Abrams, and delayed Episode IX to December 2019 to give the two extra time to crack the story.
While some were in support of this development, others weren’t too keen on the idea of Abrams (seen as a safe choice) finishing what he started in 2015 with the $2 billion smash, The Force Awakens. You can count Paramount chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos among those who aren’t a fan of Abrams’ latest career move, as it leaves Paramount waiting at the altar despite a previously-agreed upon deal with the filmmaker.
In a report on the matter in THR, it’s revealed Abrams has had a contract in place with Paramount (which has released all his non-Star Wars endeavors) since 2006, now collecting roughly $10 million per year in overhead and development. Gianopulos’ predecessor Brad Grey was said to be “furious” when Abrams boarded the Millennium Falcon, and once Episode VII was completed, Grey renegotiated the terms of the arrangement “obligating Abrams to direct his next movie for Paramount.” Obviously, with Abrams now the man in charge on Episode IX, that is not going to happen. Making matters worse for a studio in desperate need of a hit, Abrams’ deal expires in June 2018 – right when Star Wars 9 is supposed to commence principal photography, leaving Gianopulos scrambling for a solution.
Lucasfilm’s courting of Abrams put Paramount in an unenviable position. Despite being displeased by what transpired, Gianopulos was essentially left with no choice but to accommodate the decision. Theoretically, the executive could have forced Abrams to fulfill his contract and make a new movie for Paramount, but that ran the risk of alienating Abrams and those in his camp. The director has many friends in high places, including the living legend Steven Spielberg, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and agency reps at CAA. The last thing Paramount needs at this point in time is to antagonize well-known, respected filmmakers with a fight. Sources say Gianopulos did the best he could by “extracting some money from Disney” to compensate for the two years Abrams will be working on Episode IX. Unfortunately, that sum of money was a one-time payment of less than seven figures – a weak consolation prize to say the least.
It’s expected Paramount will try to renew their contract with Abrams once it runs out and hope for the best. His status as a jack of all trades (writer/director/producer) makes him a valuable commodity for any studio to have, and Abrams’ partnership with Paramount has been fruitful, revitalizing the Mission: Impossible franchise (which is still going strong) and rebooting Star Trek for the next generation of fans. If Episode IX is a home run, Abrams will be in even greater demand and have no shortage of suitors after his services. Gianopulos and company might be unhappy with their golden boy, but they are showing flexibility, and that has to count for something. Hopefully, once Rey’s story is complete, Abrams can happily go back home to Paramount.
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