The L.A. TImes naturally runs a lot of articles about Hollywood. There�s no
new information in this one about the man who owns the film rights to the
Narnia series, but here it is if anyone is interested in the background:
In 'Narnia,' Tycoon Seeks Blockbuster With a Message
By Claudia Eller, Times Staff Writer
After coming up dry on such costly movie flops as "Around the World in 80
Days" and "Sahara," Hollywood's highest-rolling wildcatter is looking for
his first gusher.
And once again, Philip Anschutz is risking big.
The Denver-based multibillionaire, who made a fortune in oil, natural gas,
railroads, telecommunications and real estate, has spent $90 million � half
the film's $180-million budget � to produce the screen adaptation of the
children's classic "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the
But whether the movie, which opens Friday, will produce the lucrative
family-oriented franchise that Anschutz hopes for depends on how skillfully
he and his partners at Walt Disney Co. have tapped the well.
Anschutz's independent production company, Walden Media, and Disney, which
cofinanced the film, are banking on religious moviegoers and secular fans
alike to make "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" � adapted from the
beloved book by British theologian and literary scholar C.S. Lewis � a giant
Such a windfall would give the 65-year-old Anschutz, whose vast assets
include Staples Center, the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, the San Francisco
Examiner and Regal Entertainment Group, the world's largest operator of
movie theaters, something he needs more than money: credibility as a savvy
investor in the movie business.
It could also give Disney something it lacks � a sure-fire movie series on a
par with the "Harry Potter" or "Lord of the Rings" franchises, which have
reaped billions for rival studios. Anschutz, a religious Christian who has
vowed to make wholesome entertainment that doesn't rely on sex, foul
language or violence to sell tickets, controls the rights to all seven books
in the Narnia series.
But first, the companies must pull off a delicate balancing act, luring
religious moviegoers to the allegorical film without turning off mainstream
"It's a balance to try to market to the widest possible audience," said
Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook. "We're trying to cast the widest net we
To that end, Disney is spending mightily � an estimated $120 million to
market and distribute the PG-rated film worldwide on more than 8,000
Although the studio hopes to attract the same churchgoers who helped make
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" a box-office juggernaut in 2004,
Cook said less than 5% of the film's marketing budget was earmarked to reach
Disney has hired some of the same marketing outfits that drummed up
grass-roots support for Gibson's film through church-based outreach
programs, study guides and other means, but "none of the marketing plays up
the biblical aspects of the story," Cook said.
Brent Plate, assistant professor of religion at Texas Christian University
in Fort Worth, said Disney was smart to take a two-pronged sales approach.
"It's a fine line to walk because you don't want to alienate anyone," said
Plate, who believes that the Narnia saga is "in no way a 'Passion' for
kids," as some evangelical groups have labeled the film.
In Lewis' books, which have sold more than 95 million copies worldwide,
there are many religious references, though to most children, they're hard
to spot. For example, Aslan the lion, a benevolent character who is
sacrificed and resurrected, is widely seen to represent Christ.
But many, including Lewis himself, have said the mythologies in "Narnia" are
open to various interpretations, and the story is more about universal
themes of good versus evil, betrayal, sacrifice and forgiveness than about
In the film version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," devoted fans
will recognize the four young British siblings who are transported through a
magic wardrobe to Narnia, a parallel universe inhabited by talking animals,
satyrs, dwarfs and an evil witch. The children discover their inner strength
when they lead the forces of good in a battle to save Narnia.
Though there is plenty of spirited swordplay to satisfy audiences that like
action-adventure movies, the film is true to the book's spiritual themes.
The children, for example, are referred to as the sons and daughters of Adam
"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," in other words, has all the elements
� loyalty, family, redemption � that Anschutz prizes most. Those who work
with him say that for the press-shy entrepreneur, "Narnia" represents the
perfect melding of his dual missions: to make big money while subtly
promoting a moral agenda.
"It is a true combination of two motives," said David Weil, chief executive
of Anschutz Film Group, which owns Walden Media and its sister firm, Bristol
Anschutz declined to comment for this article, but remarks he made last year
at a Florida college speak volumes about what motivated him to become a
After years of complaining about the content of movies, Anschutz told the
students, "I decided to stop cursing the darkness � and instead do something
about it by getting into the film business."
That decision, he joked, prompted his wife to question his sanity.
"Phil, this is one of the nuttier things you've ever done," he recalled her
saying before warning him to keep his day job.
But as crazy as it seemed, Anschutz said, he believed there was money to be
made in family films. "My reasons for getting into the entertainment
business weren't entirely selfless," he told the students. "Hollywood as an
industry can at times be insular and doesn't understand the market very
well. I saw an opportunity in that fact."
His mission, as he saw it, was to "figure out a way to make goods and
products that people actually want to buy."
So far, his track record has been spotty.
"More of our films lost money than made money," acknowledged Weil, who was
Anschutz's attorney before being named head of the billionaire's film
company last year.
Anschutz's successes include the acclaimed films "Holes," "Because of
Winn-Dixie" and "Ray," which won Jamie Foxx a best actor Oscar for his
portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles. The $40-million film, which Anschutz
personally bankrolled, is his biggest box office hit to date with $75
million in U.S. ticket sales.
But any profits he may have seen from those films were offset by untold
losses from such expensive misses as last year's $110-million remake of
"Around the World in 80 Days," which grossed just $24 million domestically.
Anschutz's only other attempt to create a franchise, this year's
$130-million action adventure "Sahara," the first film from a series of
Clive Cussler novels, not only was a box office disappointment but also
prompted an ugly legal brawl. Cussler sued Anschutz, who had optioned all 18
of the novelist's books, alleging his creative rights were violated.
Anschutz countersued, saying the author breached their agreement by
bad-mouthing the movie before its release, among other things.
No settlement talks are underway in the case, which is scheduled for trial
in May. No other movies based on Cussler's novels are planned.
Those who know Anschutz well say his experience in the oil business, where
it's common to drill 20 to 30 holes before striking crude, has made him a
patient investor. He's considered a contrarian, meaning he likes to operate
counter to conventional wisdom.
For example, in 2000 and 2001, when the exhibition business was reeling from
an overbuilding spree, Anschutz bought three troubled theater circuits at
bargain prices. He then merged the trio of companies � creating the world's
largest theater chain � and took them public as Regal Entertainment Group.
"It's been a good investment for Phil," said Mike Campbell, CEO of Regal,
whose 550 theaters boast more than 6,500 screens in 40 states. Campbell
estimates that in any given year, Regal generates about 20%, and sometimes
more, of the total U.S. box office receipts.
Since the company went public in 2002, Campbell said, Anschutz hasn't sold a
single share: "I think that reflects his confidence in the business and his
long-term investment strategy."
But Anschutz's faith in his own intuition has also led him astray. Anschutz,
who owns five professional soccer teams, invested $20 million in a World
Cup-themed movie, "The Game of Their Lives," that grossed a measly $375,474.
Still, Anschutz has told colleagues that he remains committed to the
creative side of the movie business. He likes moviemaking not just for its
entertainment value but also for what Weil calls its ability to "educate,
inspire and promote literacy." (Most of Walden's movies are based on popular
books, and Anschutz insists that the marketing of those films include
educational programs that encourage children to read).
In that vein, Walden is launching a book imprint in partnership with a major
publisher. Anschutz is also considering expanding his film company into such
areas as television production and video games.
"Let's put it this way: We signed a 10-year lease on our building," said
Cary Granat, CEO of Walden, whose posh new headquarters in a Century City
high-rise boasts a 20-seat, state-of-the-art screening room.
"We're building Walden into a trusted family brand," Granat said. "And Phil
is committed to the slate we have."
Among its upcoming projects, most of which are budgeted at less than $30
million, is an $85-million adaptation of E.B. White's pig-and-spider
classic, "Charlotte's Web," which Walden co-financed with Paramount
Pictures. It is scheduled for release in June.
Walden and Disney are already tentatively planning a "Narnia" sequel, based
on Lewis' "Prince Caspian." If the first film is a hit, its director Andrew
Adamson and producer Mark Johnson stand ready to go into production next
fall on "Caspian," to be released during the 2007 holiday season.
On an even grander scale, Granat and Weil said they were considering
launching an endeavor that would compete with the major studios: a movie
distribution operation that would enable the company to market and release
its own movies.
"Phil Anschutz is known to be an opportunist," Weil said.
As Anschutz told the students in Florida, he knows he has something to
"Nothing communicates with the people who make real decisions in Hollywood,"
he said, "like spending your own money and showing that you can make
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