May 1, 2008
1969, Barbra Streisand joined forces with Paul Newman and Sidney
Poitier to form a production company called "First Artists." The
late Steve McQueen joined the venture in 1971, followed
subsequently by Dustin Hoffman in 1976. Barbra's first film for
"First Artists" was "Up the Sandbox."
mission statement of First Artists was simple: to make it
easy for the artists to exert creative control of properties that were
of specific interest to them. Streisand, Newman and Poitier surely had
their own ideas of what they wanted to bring to the screen, so forming
a production company was a perfect way to circumvent the the arduous
process of convincing Hollywood studio execs to financially support
their more creative film instincts.
Could Barbra have
easily sold the idea of "Up the Sandbox" to a studio, for example, had
she not been able to financially back the project through First
Artists? We'll never know for sure, but her highly personalized
film did get green-lighted precisely because of First Artists.
Despite a poor showing at the box-office, "Sandbox" nevertheless came
to fruition as the first Streisand film to offer meaningful social
commentary. It was her message, and movie audiences were able
to see it because of her own production company's risk involvement.
Without the support of First Artists, "Sandbox" might never
have seen the light of a movie theatre marquee.
only made three films for First Artists. Her other releases
through the company were "A Star Is Born" and "The Main Event." The
box-office disappointment of her first film for
First Artists was more than compensated for by the blockbuster
revenue both "The Main Event" and "A Star Is Born" would ultimately
contribute to the company's bottom line. In fact, First Artists
benefited richly when "A Star Is Born" became the top grossing
Streisand film by the end of 1976.
Approximately two dozen films and television shows were produced by
First Artists. Among them were Paul Newman's "The Life and Times
of Judge Roy Bean" and Steve McQueen's "The Getaway." Incidentally,
First Artists also produced the 1979 documentary, "Getting In
Shape for The Main Event" for television.
The Art of the Deal
Artists was the brain child of
Creative Management Associates
talent agent Freddie Fields, who brought the first four principal
partners together in 1969. Fields advanced the concept of back end
compensation as the primary monetary arrangement for
participants. The stars would forgo significant up front salaries in
lieu of a percentage of their film's profits. In January of 1975, when
was operating as a subsidiary under the umbrella of Warner Bros., "New
Times" magazine outlined the financial arrangement under which the
"First Artists is
a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, a company controlled by the
"artists" Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Steve McQueen
and Barbra Streisand. In return for making three pictures without
the million-dollar "front money" that any other studio would have to
pay them, the stars can make whatever movies they want, so long as
the budget is under $3 million for a dramatic film, $5 million for a
musical. Warners gets the distribution rights, reimbursing First
Artists for two-thirds of the film's negative cost upon delivery of
a finished film. And the artists get 25 percent of the gross - a
quarter for every dollar the theater owners return to Warners -
right off the top." - ("New Times" Jan. 24, 1975)
By 1980, nearly all of
the partners had satisfied their three picture deals. Their formal association with First Artists.
ended and the company was sold.