Castle Rock Entertainment heads happily for Turner empire


Castle Rock Entertainment, already one of Hollywood's healthiest independents, is poised to take advantage of the deep pockets of Ted Turner, who is expected to buy the company by Thanksgiving. Mr. Turner is looking for the deal to further build his global entertainment empire, with his ultimate goal to control all distribution rights to major motion pictures and TV programming.

The partners of the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based boutique, responsible for such hits as "In the Line of Fire," "City Slickers," "A Few Good Men" and "When Harry Met Sally . . ." have been assured the same creative autonomy they have known since founding the film and television company six years ago.

However, Hollywood has been speculating that Mr. Turner will play a role in determining which films will be made once Turner Broadcasting System, in which Time Warner and TCI are also partners, becomes the new owner. With the combined $600 million-plus acquisitions of both Castle Rock and New Line Cinema (to be complete by year end), Mr. Turner has been dubbed the newest movie mogul on the Hollywood block.

But movie division chief Martin Shafer, one of Castle Rock's five founding partners, insists the company will keep its creative control.

"For an independent-minded company like ours, creative autonomy was first on our list when we made the deal with Turner," Mr. Shafer said. "When we started the company six years ago, it was first on our list, so clearly we're not going to give that up now." In fact, Mr. Shafer said, Mr. Turner was the first to assure the Castle Rock team, " 'You guys are doing a great job; why would I want to interfere?' "

Under the deal's more formal structure, Mr. Shafer and his partners -- director-actor Rob Reiner, managing partner Alan Horn, producer-director Andrew Scheinman and TV division head Glenn Padnick -- will assume titles, which none currently has. The partners, who currently own a combined 41 percent of Castle Rock (Sony owns 44 percent and Westinghouse Electric, 15 percent), have signed seven-year management contracts.

While Mr. Turner is a big movie fan whose input will naturally be welcomed, Mr. Shafer said ("he's a visionary, we'd be pretty stupid not to listen"), any pet project of his would be done under the auspices of Turner Pictures Worldwide, a division of TBS. Turner Pictures will continue to create original programming for cable TV ("Zelda," "Gettysburg"), and beef up its feature division and make four to six theatrical releases a year.

Mr. Turner was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

"Ted's plan is to have a full-fledged media empire," Mr. Shafer said.

With access to TBS' deeper pockets, Castle Rock plans to double the five or six movies a year it currently produces over the next four years. It expects to make six films next year, eight the following year, 10 in 1996 and 12 in 1997. The long-term plan is "to build our company up slowly and hopefully be a brand-name studio someday," Mr. Shafer said.

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