the take

So How Much Trouble Is MGM in These Days?

According to a massive (and massively entertaining) story in yesterday’s New York Times, a lot! It’s $3.7 billion in debt and hemorrhaging cash in interest payments; Sony, which bought MGM in 2004 hoping to turn a profit on its massive library of old movies, has all but given up hope of seeing a return on its investment (and collapsing DVD sales don’t bode well for the future); the decision to outsource all of MGM’s production to independent studios yielded only two modest hits last year (Halloween and 1408), both of them from the Weinstein Company, which itself has pretty much just been releasing films it found at festivals; and the future of MGM subsidiary United Artists could live or die on the box-office strength of Tom Cruise’s upcoming Nazi movie, Valkyrie. Yikes!

According to MGM CEO Harry Sloan, though, “[T]here’s a lot of evidence that we’ve begun the turnaround.” What is it? Sloan’s recently hired former Universal executive Mary Parent as MGM’s motion-picture group’s new chairwoman, gambling that she can reboot the studio as an actual production company. Parent is hoping to green-light twelve movies for 2010, something for which it doesn’t yet have the funding, exactly. In the Times piece, Parent turns in an impressive performance not totally unreminiscent of that of the shopkeeper in the Monty Python parrot sketch. (“She also says she has been wooing talent by casting MGM’s negatives as positives. So, Ms. Parent says, the studio isn’t understaffed; it’s ‘streamlined.’ It’s not desperate; it’s ‘hungry.’”): “Nothing else matters — it’s just the movies,” she says. “And making sure that the people driving the movies aren’t panicking. And that they’re not panicking because they think we don’t have money.”

In the two months since her hire, Parent’s been optioning books and pitches in the hopes that something might turn into a 2010 tent pole. What’s she got so far? A Robert Ludlum thriller (with Denzel Washington attached), a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remake, and “a romantic comedy from the director of Wild Hogs.” The production push is purportedly to raise the value of the company in advance of a possible sale, but if Walt Becker’s Wild Hogs follow-up turns out as bad as we think it might, you could probably buy MGM.

MGM: A Lion or a Lamb? [NYT]

So How Much Trouble Is MGM in These Days?