LOS, ANGELES/PARIS – Hollywood producers eager to dramatize the life of Carlos Ghosn, the former Nissan Motor Co. chairman who staged a cinematic escape from Japan in December, are likely to get a simple response: Call my agent.
Not just any agent. Ghosn is working with Michael Ovitz, the founder of Creative Artists Agency and former president of Walt Disney Co., to explore film and TV projects. A spokeswoman for Ghosn said Ovitz would assist with projects and evaluating proposals he has received, cautioning that any discussions are still preliminary.
A deal with a studio could be a significant financial boon to Ghosn, who forfeited $14 million in bail money when he fled Japan at the end of December, a caper that one security expert estimated could have cost him another $15 million.
Ghosn’s story — which involves allegations of a high-level corporate coup and government collusion, followed by a dramatic extraction masterminded by a former Green Beret — has the makings of a compelling film or miniseries at a time when companies from Netflix Inc. to Amazon.com Inc. are hungry for fresh content.
Few people in Hollywood are more familiar with such negotiations than Ovitz, who has been one of the entertainment industry’s most prominent deal-makers since the 1980s. At CAA he pioneered the practice of “packaging” film projects, putting together stars, screenwriters and directors and shopping them to studios as a team.
Ovitz didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment outside of regular U.S. business hours.
In 1995 Ovitz crossed to the other side, joining Disney as the second-in-command to then-chairman Michael Eisner — a relationship that soon turned sour, leading Ovitz to depart the company after a little more than a year. He received $140 million in severance payments, prompting a group of investors to unsuccessfully sue Disney’s board, claiming it had wasted money hiring him.
It’s probably safe to say that Ovitz, who over the years has worked with A-listers including Steven Spielberg and Meryl Streep, has never had a client with Ghosn’s background.
The Brazilian French Lebanese auto executive, who spent much of late 2018 and early 2019 in solitary confinement in Tokyo, was facing four criminal charges in Japan, which together could have put him in prison for more than a decade. Two related to claims that he understated his compensation in official filings, while two more indictments, for “breach of trust,” alleged that he misused Nissan’s resources for his own benefit.
Ghosn was a household name in Japan even before his arrest, after turning around Nissan almost two decades ago. He became something of a corporate celebrity in the country, spawning numerous business books and even a manga about his management style and time at the carmaker.
The auto executive, who made his way to Lebanon via private jet, has denied wrongdoing, arguing the charges were part of a conspiracy by Nissan executives and Japanese government officials to halt his plans to integrate the company more closely with its top shareholder, Renault SA.