The New Man at New Century : Director Hackford Takes Over at Ailing Firm

Times Staff Writer

Movie director Taylor Hackford will become co-chairman and a major shareholder of New Century Entertainment Corp. under an agreement to merge his private interests with the financially troubled independent film company.

Under the arrangement, Hackford, 43, joins a long line of Hollywood directors who--with mixed results--have sought more control over their films by becoming company managers.

At the same time, New Century gets access to one of Hollywood's better-known film makers, even as it is reeling from a string of box-office disappointments, including "Heat" and "Russkies." For the nine months ended last Nov. 30, the production company posted a $5.8-million net loss, on revenue of about $29 million.

"We were disappointed in the results (of our movies). Frankly, that's why we went after Taylor," Irving Levin, who will continue as New Century's president and chief executive officer, said Thursday.

According to Levin and others, discussions about the merger with New Visions, a privately held company controlled by Hackford and attorney Stuart Benjamin, have been under way for several months.

Under the merger, Hackford and Benjamin will control about 30% of New Century, but won't contribute any cash to the company. Benjamin will become executive vice president of New Century. Hackford and Benjamin will also run a newly formed subsidiary, New Century/New Vision, that will take charge of all movie production for the parent, Levin said. The concern's other co-chairman is Samuel Schulman, currently chairman of New Century.

The new production unit will make up to six pictures annually, with budgets averaging $8 million, New Century said.

"Basically, I've wanted for a long time to have a company that would carry out my film-making philosophy, and that I would be ultimately in control of," Hackford said in a telephone interview.

As the director of "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "White Nights," and as the producer of "La Bamba," Hackford has been known for making slick, mainstream Hollywood films, often with a strong musical element. He is currently directing "Everybody's All American," a Warner Bros. film set for release next Christmas.

Many Hollywood directors have dreamed of controlling their own films through production and distribution companies, only to find themselves stymied by the difficulty of balancing their creative drive with commercial interests.

"Directors traditionally have just had a problem transferring themselves into a management stance," said Peter Bart, a movie writer and producer. In the early 1970s, Bart was a partner with directors William Friedkin, Peter Bogdanovich and Francis Coppola in The Directors Company. That company, which was funded by Paramount and managed by the four individuals, produced "The Conversation," "Daisy Miller" and "Paper Moon," but soon fell apart because of differences among the partners.

Much earlier, directors D. W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin were among the four film makers who founded United Artists Corp. in 1919--but that group turned the company over to more conventional studio executives after running into financial difficulty. More recently, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Rob Reiner and Michael Douglas have become involved with their own entertainment companies. The companies have enjoyed some important successes but have occasionally been plagued by conflicting demands on the directors.

Levin said the new production unit will continue to distribute its films through its New Century/Vista joint venture. New Century is also seeking to expand its $25-million bank line and to raise new financing through a production joint venture with a major studio, Levin said. He declined to identify the studio.

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