Here’s Fred Zinnemann ~
During the years of pre-production on MAN’s FATE, my contract had never been quite ready; a few ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ had always to be considered. […] We were now rehearsing with Liv Ullman, David Niven, Peter Finch and other brilliant actors, in sets dressed and ready to start shooting the following week.
During those three years, a number of expensive MGM pictures had gone ove rbudget and failed at the box office. A new management had taken over; i received warning that several projects might be cancelled. This was soon followed by a legal cable stating that production of MAN’S FATE had been cancelled and the accounts closed; it also meant that henceforth no salaries would be paid. I soon found that no one in the unit wanted to stop rehearsing, salary of no salary; the excitement generated by the story was too strong. We worked for three more days until the script was fully rehearsed, scene by scene. Then, after the usual farewell party as if on the set of a real picture, everybody went home. The next day I went to the front office to see what was going to happen.
The information I received was that MGM had spent more than four million dollars in pre-production. This would be written off; but there were still some bills outstanding. The studio’s accounts were now closed; my contract was not signed, therefore I had no contract, meaning that it was I who would have to pay those bills.
‘How much?’ I asked, somewhat stunned.
‘A million seven hundred.’
I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘How do you expect me to pay?’
‘It isn’t too difficult.’ The man gave me an encouraging smile. ‘All you have to do is go bankrupt and appoint us as the receivers, then we can make good deals with the creditors.’
‘That’s dishonorable,’ I said.
The man was amazed. ‘This has nothing to do with honor, this is business!’
I can’t figure why MGM thought the director of HIGH NOON and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS would be the type to go for this deal, but they were wrong: Fred sued the bastards, and won, after four years. That didn’t help the creditors too much, alas. MGM didn’t care about costume supply houses and such like taking a financial hit because they were winding up their UK operations anyway. Their good name didn’t matter to them since they weren’t going to be around, and a successful UK film industry was the last thing they wanted since they wouldn’t be part of it so it would be competition.
MGM’s Borehamwood studios, the best in England were sold — the first thing they did was rip out the boilers so the buildings couldn’t be used as studios — they were scuppering the ship as they pulled out of the UK.