Buying over the rights and financing a film does not actually qualify one as a producer. At least not according to Hollywood's premier motion picture body, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In what the industry views as a "rare move", the Academy yesterday dropped Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's stepson Riza Aziz from the Oscars nominations list for best picture nominee, Wolf of Wall Street.
Instead, in the list of producers nominated for the US$100 million film are director Martin Scorcese, lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza's business partner Joey McFarland and Scorsese's partner Emma Tillinger Koskoff.
The list of nominated producers for the 'Wolf of Wall Street' was finalised by the Academy yesterday, a week after the other nominations were announced.
This marks a departure from the Producers Guild Association, that nominated Riza as producer but not Scorsese and DiCaprio, for the controversial film about debauchery in the world of finance.
According Deadline Hollywood, DiCaprio had worked to get the film to screen as producer for six years and had roped in Riza and McFarland's fledgling production company Red Granite Pictures, that fully financed the venture.
Red Granite then purchased the rights from Warner Bros and was caught in a legal battle with the original producer Alexandra Milchan for compensation. The matter has been resolved out of court.
Responding to the Academy's announcement, Red Granite, in a media statement, said it will not contest the decision and that Riza is honoured to have been part of the project. Riza is the son of Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor from her first marriage.
The movie has been banned in Malaysia, and his financing of the film has drawn scorn from right-wing Malay supremacists Perkasa.
Meanwhile, whistleblower Sarawak Report as part of its expose on Riza cited “Hollywood insiders” as saying that the decision to dump Riza follow industry concerns over financiers “attempting to claim producer credits for films they bankrolled but did not make”.
“They are greener than green,” one “experienced producer” told Sarawak Report of Riza and McFarland, whom the portal reported previously acted as party planned for Malaysian wheeler dealer Jho Low (right).
“They are financiers, but have also taken producer credits. The producer credits have gone to Riza, Joey and some other producers, but the actual work is being done by people working for Red Granite and the other producers,” another unnamed “senior Hollywood producer” is quoted as saying.
Those in the know credit Milchan as the main driver for the film, having procured the rights to the Jordan Belfort (the jailed financier played by DiCaprio) story and commissioned the script before the project was taken up by Warner Bros.
Insiders say it was her who roped in DiCaprio and Scorsese, despite the Red Granite duo claiming to have done so in media reports, citing their friendship with the Hollywood heartthrob. They also claim that that Milchan “came back and took over” after Warner Bros dropped the film and then sold it to Red Granite.
“It's common knowledge. That is what producers do, but Red Granite just bought over a done deal. They aren't what I would call producers, they are financiers and money men,” one insider said.
Industry professionals told the website that while the film cost US$100 million, publicity and marketing would have cost an additional US$35-40 million. The film has grossed US$80 million so far, the insiders said, but producers only get a fraction of the takings.
“The threatre keeps 60 percent and the studio 40 percent, then there are all the payments before the producers get anything back,” one Hollywood professional is quoted as saying.
Insiders also revealed that the film was not “pre-sold” for three months after it started production, and everything was on Red Granite's expense. Sarawak Report noted that the new kids on the block's deep pockets have also set tongues wagging, with seasoned professionals questioning the rookies' ability to raise so much funds.
It also reported that there is speculation that Riza was cut by the Academy over comments by "close friends" in Malaysian media which could be viewed as anti-semitic.
The Malaysian Gazette, a portal run by a journalist close to Riza's mother Rosmah Mansor, quoted these “close friends” as saying that Riza should be celebrated for “breaking the monopoly of Jews in Hollywood”.
Riza, it reported, has never made any overt statements of bigotry but such sentiments by Riza's “close friends” and his failure to “disown” the remarks have “appalled the liberal and egalitarian community in Hollywood”.
“Many of Hollywood’s high flyers are indeed rightfully proud of being Americans of Jewish heritage. However, America is passionately committed to success through merit, unlike in Malaysia, where it is increasingly complained that only certain well-connected families can expect to monopolise money-making opportunities.”
Sarawak Report had earlier exposed that Riza had purchased a US$17.5 million ((RM58.21 million mansion) in Hollywood, after purchasing a US$33.5 million (RM110 million) apartment in New York in 2010.
It reported that Riza, 36, worked with HSBC Bank in London for three years before making his Hollywood bid.