Posted on Sunday, April 5th, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
During an interview with Equity Magazine, David Prowse, the actor who played (but didn’t voice) Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, claims that LucasFilm has yet to pay him any residual payments on Return of the Jedi because the the film has yet to make a profit.
“I get these occasional letters from Lucasfilm saying that we regret to inform you that as Return of the Jedi has never gone into profit, we’ve got nothing to send you. Now here we’re talking about one of the biggest releases of all time,” said Prowse. “I don’t want to look like I’m bitching about it,” he said, “but on the other hand, if there’s a pot of gold somewhere that I ought to be having a share of, I would like to see it.”
Of course, Return of the Jedi has grossed over $572 million worldwide, which includes an estimated $88 million when the film was re-released in 1997. So how is it possible that the film has yet to make a profit? Prowse really can’t be serious, can he?
TimesOnline contacted LucasFilm about the story but the company declined to comment as a matter of policy. In the interview, Prowse warns young actors to know exactly what kind of contracts they are signing:
“There is a big difference between having a share of the gross profit and having a share of the net profit. It is a huge difference in just one word. Sometimes, with net profit, with all the expenses and so on, it seems like you end up paying them.”
Hollywood contracts are notoriously one-sided, but I’m pretty sure Prowse must be mistaken about that letter and what might be owed to him for Return of the Jedi, right?
/Film reader Seth posted the following in the comments:
Gross profit is what you get if you are a big enough actor or producer to demand this. You get a percentage of profit based on the gross of the film – how much it makes before any costs. Therefore, you are guaranteed to get paid since the studio can’t hide anything. Very few people can demand gross points. But if you have them and your film hits big, you make millions. In fact, this can be so profitable you will sometimes see big stars forgo any salary at all except union minimum just to get these points.
Unfortunately, Mr. Prowse relates what is almost universally the case with a net profit clause. Studios almost never pay on this clause, as they claim nearly any and every expense possible to keep the film from showing any actual profit. Very few films have ever shown a net profit on the books.
How do they do this? Well first, imagine that George Lucas decided to go to New York tomorrow to talk about showing Return of the Jedi in 3D. And he stayed at the Ritz Carlton, ordered sushi at 3 a.m. from room service and used the hotel phone to call Bahrain to make prank calls.
Well, 26 years after the release of the film, the accountants at Lucasfilm are going to charge $86,000 to the costs of Return of the Jedi. I am NOT joking. This is what they do. If George Lucas utters the words Star Wars and he’s spending money, they’re putting it on the red line for one of those films.
On the flipside, Mr. Prowse would be wise to use the FORCE, aka a lawyer, to get Lucasfilm to cough up. You see, as you can tell by the above, the accounting is utter bullshit. And on a film like Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilm would be extremely reluctant to open its books in open court. Extremely reluctant because of how incredibly embarrassed studios have been in the past when they have made the mistake of doing this. Plus, the ensuing publicity would be embarrassing to Lucasfilm. Can you imagine the hedlines if Darth Vader sued George Lucas?
In short, if you have net participation on a film that has grossed hundreds of millions, you may get some dough, but you’ll have to sue to get it.