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Will Woody Allen End Orion Partnership? : Movies: Reports have the filmmaker talking with Fox. His producer says the situation ‘is up in the air.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of the hot, current topics in Hollywood circles is the question of what will happen to Oscar-winning writer-director Woody Allen if financially troubled Orion Pictures can no longer afford him.

Speculation about Allen’s future with Orion--where he has had a long and unusually close relationship--has been widespread since the company’s film release schedule and production plans have been overshadowed by continuing reports of its debt-ridden status.

On Thursday, the speculation was fueled further by Page 1 articles in the Hollywood trade newspapers Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter suggesting that Allen may move to rival studio 20th Century Fox in order to begin filming his next picture in November. But still, there was no definitive word coming from Allen himself or those close to him.

One of Allen’s longtime producers, Charles Joffe, confirmed that the situation “is up in the air,” but that unattributed comments about Allen moving to Fox were “premature.”

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Joffe said that “while Orion is alive, I’ve avoided talking to anyone about this.” But he confirmed that the silence doesn’t mean other studios haven’t let their interest in the filmmaker be known.

Joffe said that Allen’s agent, Sam Cohn of International Creative Management, has spoken with Fox, TriStar Pictures and Walt Disney Studios about potential deals. Of the three, Joffe said, Disney “fell out” and Fox wants more than a single-picture deal.

Executives at Fox said they had no comment about the published reports and Orion executives could not be reached.

Sources at TriStar say the studio will wait in the wings, in the event that arrangements with both Orion and Fox fall through.

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Complicating the multi-picture deal that Fox is offering is the recently signed three-picture deal Allen has with Orion. Joffe suggested the Orion contract would hold back Allen, and that any arrangement with another studio might have to be temporary, until Orion gets back on its feet.

With Allen, the question of staying with Orion is a matter of loyalty to Arthur Krim, the company’s former chairman, Joffe said. “Woody will make his new film for Orion if Orion is still in business. Or if Orion prefers, they might say, ‘OK, Woody, do your next picture someplace else, and then come back to us.’ ”

The director’s ties to Orion are unusual in an industry used to rapid realignments. Allen goes back 25 years with Krim, who is now Orion’s chairman emeritus. Krim formerly headed up the late United Artists, which released Allen’s early films and two of the director’s best-known movies, “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.” After Krim and four other UA executives formed Orion in 1978, Allen followed when his UA contract ended.

It is widely known that the Allen-Krim relation is built on the mutual respect they have for each other and the complete creative freedom that Krim has given Allen.

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“No one reads Woody’s scripts at Orion, except maybe Krim,” Joffe said. “Should there be a parting, it would be a wrenching experience for both of them.”

“Woody is a luxury item for a studio,” Joffe admitted, “because the studios know his movies don’t make a lot of money. But they always know they will get a quality product.”

Joffe said he has been assured that Orion has enough financing to distribute Allen’s next movie, “Shadows and Fog,” which features Madonna, early next year. The company recently received a much-needed cash infusion and this week was given a temporary reprieve from creditors who are owed about $50 million. Despite huge successes with “Dances With Wolves” and “Silence of the Lambs” earlier this year, Orion has had few other even modestly successful films.


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