Business

The first picture show

Ian Brown November 6 1978
Business

The first picture show

Ian Brown November 6 1978

The first picture show

Garth Drabinsky lets a hint of joviality sprint across his resentful jowls as he glances out the window of his $150,000a-year aerie 69 floors ("The 69th floor," he says. "That should be indelibly imprinted on your mind. Got it? Sixty-nine. Ha ”) above downtown Toronto in the Bank of Montreal’s First Canadian Elevator Shaft. The blue of Lake Ontario, a brownish tangle of train yards and patches of lawn 900 feet below, seep through a faint grey mist and blend just ,so with $200,000 worth of tasteful decor—as indeed they were designed to. Garth Howard Drabinsky is happy. Two days before his 30th birthday, investors are flocking to pay $25,000 for a single share of The Changeling, "a contemporary ghost story" starring George C. Scott, that the superboy of Canadian flicks will make with $6.6 million of other people’s money. "Yew know,” he drawls with the accent of a weekend New Yorker, "this deal will be historic.”

He should know. Since his precocious University of Toronto law school days five years ago when he edited two movie magazines, lectured on film law at York University, wrote what is still the industry textbook from his notes, Drabinsky has bathed night and day in the dank waters of Canadian filmdom to learn its every eddy and shoal. Today, with three feature films (including The Silent Partner) and one of the country’s largest showbiz law practices in hand, Drabinsky is where he has always wanted to be: arrogant and unpopular, but finally in a position to make the Canadian film industry the commercial success it has never

been—or to kill it.

Drabinsky currently commands investors’ attention and his fellow producers’ ire because of the $6.6-million public offering of 264, $25,000, Changeling "units" he squeezed past the Ontario Securities Commission last month. The Changeling isn't the only movie deal before a Canadian securities commission but it is the first, the biggest and most controversial.

For $25,000 (units of some films go for as little as $5,000) the lucky investor can postpone payment of $13,500 in tax by four years, during which time it and the film profits can be reinvested or deferred fur-

ther and further into the untaxable future. The Drabinsky prospectus raises questions in the mind of Terry Marlow, Clarkson Gordon’s tax partner, who believes "The Changeling will be okay for the tax ruling. But how sound is the investment?” Drabinsky’s fellow producers are privately "horrified with Garth’s prospectus.” Citing an unproven script, George C. Scott’s failure to repeat the box office draw of Patton, and the absence of distribution guarantees, one producer feels Drabinsky "isn’t giving his investors enough chance to get their money back." What he is doing instead, many feel, is taking a lot of money “up front” in his diverse and perhaps conflicting roles as co-producer ($225,000, with another $50,000 deferred), lawyer (a

portion of $917,000 designated for legal fees) and distributor ($750,000 estimated for Canadian film rental rights alone). Most estimates of Drabinsky’s final take after U.S. distribution hover above $2 million. Outrageous! Producer Bill Marshall believes the failure of Drabinsky’s movie would decimate the industry by destroying the fledgling confidence of investors. Furthermore, Marshall says, “most of the people I’ve talked to are afraid the osc will really crack down on everyone once they realize the mistakes they missed in this one. They’re also afraid Revenue Canada will get angry at all producers and revoke the tax break—which after all is there for the development of the Canadian film industry.”

Drabinsky is unrepentantly belligerent or confident depending on your point of view. Fie considers George C. Scott lever enough to negotiate distribution rather than tying it down in the prospectus. As to adequate disclosure, he says, the osc approved The Changeling prospectus—true, except as osc financial expert Robert Steen points-out, “it will take six or eight of these things before we really know what we’re doing.” What rubs Drabinsky most sorely, though, is what he considers the industry’s small-mindedness. “Who is going to perpetuate this business?” he bellows. "The actors? The gaffers? No. It’s the entrepreneurs.” Fie is trying to save the industry from itself, and no one will listen.

Imagine Garth Drabinsky, draped in a chair at his marble desk, surrounded by his view, his Chinese vases, his Riopelles, his Christopher Pratts, his reputation which is reflected in everything from the polished black granite floor to the brass nameplate on the door. Fie looks up. "Sometimes,” he says, "I wonder why I do this at all.”

Ian Brown