MICHAEL MOORE’S “Sicko” focuses on how profit motives keep Americans from receiving quality medical care. But health insurance companies aren’t the only ones in the documentary with revenue at stake: Moore himself stands to make a mint on the film.
Thanks to a lucrative contract negotiated with the Weinstein Co. by his talent agent, Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel, Moore is in line to receive 50% of “Sicko’s” gross profits -- arguably one of the most lucrative deals on Hollywood’s books, richer even than those enjoyed by the likes of Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and director Peter Jackson. After theater owners have taken their cut, in other words, “Sicko’s” profits will be split in half between Moore and Harvey and Bob Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. is releasing the film nationally today.
And that’s not the only place Moore’s deal eclipses almost all other movie deals. While most actors and directors get a cut calculated on 20% of a film’s DVD revenue, Moore’s cut of those earnings is calculated based on all of the DVD proceeds. Of course, since Moore’s documentaries take in far less than most big-studio movies, his bigger slice is of a much smaller pie.
The ramifications of that loaded deal are not lost on the filmmaker, particularly since “Sicko” is arguably his most populist film yet.
“It’s a really interesting irony for me,” Moore says, as his chauffeured Lexus SUV (a hybrid) steers through afternoon traffic on the filmmaker’s return from a taping of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”
While some filmmakers’ wealth can make their films seem elitist, Moore argues that his moviemaking and financial accomplishments actually have allowed him to remain even more focused on the real world.
“What it should do to me is remind me every single day that I have an even greater responsibility to do good with the success that I have been blessed with,” Moore says. “I need to make sure that I am able to make the next film with the money that I have made on this film.”
By being financially independent, Moore says, he is insulated from the corporate pressures that might try to dilute his impassioned documentaries, which include “Roger & Me,” “Bowling for Columbine” and the Oscar-winning “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
“The money allows me to never have to give in, never compromise,” says Moore, wearing his trademark T-shirt, jeans and windbreaker, his Michigan State baseball hat off for the moment. “Nothing can ever be held over my head in the sense of, ‘If you don’t do this, we won’t give you your money!’ ‘Oh, wow, I guess I’ll be in really bad shape, won’t I?’
“That’s an enormous bit of freedom that I have -- to stay completely true to the things I believe in. But I have an even greater responsibility because I have been blessed with that great success. I challenge myself with that, constantly.”
During Moore’s visit to Los Angeles this week, it was easy to see the different worlds in which he moves. On Monday night, he unveiled “Sicko” at an outdoor screening in front of 200 homeless people on skid row. The next night, he introduced the film to some of the town’s richest residents at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ theater in Beverly Hills.
Moments after sitting on Leno’s “Tonight Show” couch, Moore mingled with the production crew, several of whom shared their healthcare horror stories and asked what they could do to improve the nation’s healthcare system.
Moore says he had not been prepared for that kind of reaction. He knew that nearly everybody had their own horrible insurance tales -- he received 25,000 e-mails when he solicited such stories -- but he didn’t expect that “Sicko” would encourage so much activism.
“Certainly, the No. 1 question I get asked is, ‘What can I do?’ ” Moore says. “I am not prepared for that. Because I am not leading a movement to revolutionize the healthcare system in America. I am making a movie. I have spent a year and a half making this film, and this is my contribution.”
Unlike most other filmmakers who decry piracy, Moore says he doesn’t really mind that “Sicko” was available for unauthorized Internet downloading well before the film was released theatrically -- even though it has taken money right out of his pocket.
“Harvey [Weinstein] cares deeply,” Moore says. “But I want people to see it, and I believe information and art should be shared. I don’t believe I am the owner of that. Now, I don’t think you have the right to download my work and sell it for a profit. But I just disagree with this whole concept that sharing is bad.”
“If Harvey were sitting here, he’d say, ‘Well, you’d make less money.’ And I’d say, ‘That’s exactly right. Because I don’t need to make all the money I make.’ ”
Moore says his first-class travel, accommodations and car service are not his choice, or even his preference (the latter statement has been disputed by some people who have worked with him).
“Harvey pays for all this,” he says. “I would never stay at the Four Seasons, with all due respect to the Four Seasons. If I were coming out here on my own, I would never stay there. They pay for that because that’s the workplace and I’m working and we do the junket there.”
People who resent his wealth, Moore says, are not generally working-class stiffs like himself who have moved into the upper class. “When one of us succeeds, we’re happy about that. We don’t begrudge that. The begrudging that comes from my success or my financial success comes from people who grew up in a little nicer home and somehow didn’t get the same break that I was fortunate enough to get in this business. So they are embittered.”
Moore says he still likes living in Michigan and the friends he has there. If money has changed him, he says, why haven’t his movies changed too?
Eighteen years ago this September he was sent first-class tickets to come out here and promote “Roger & Me.” “So look at the films in between,” he says as his driver pulls into the Four Seasons driveway, “and ask yourself if any of that has really mattered.”