Disney Gets Simpson-Bruckheimer

Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer have entered into a conditionally exclusive, five-year indie deal with Hollywood Pictures, which the duo characterize as “wholly and substantially different” than their former set-up at Paramount Pictures.

The expected agreement with Hollywood, reuniting Simpson and Bruckheimer with their ex-Paramount colleagues Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Eisner, Richard Frank and Ricardo Mestres, anticipates one film a year from the producing pair over the next five years. Disney officials assure there are no quotas or timetables affixed to the deal.

Unlike the producers’ previous five-year exclusive pact at Paramount, aborted in mid-November just nine months after the self-described “dream deal” was conceived, (Daily Variety, Nov. 16,1990), the Hollywood arrangement differs insofar as Simpson and Bruckheimer are free to take projects elsewhere if Disney passes on them.

However, Katzenberg said that it is not a conventional, nonexclusive, first-look deal in that the producers are not free to work on outside assignments brought to them by other studios.

“It’s exclusive in most respects but there is a mechanism under which if the producers get to a point where they want to put a picture together and really want to make it and we don’t want to make it, we’ve agreed not to frustrate them,” said Katzenberg, insisting, “This is the only exclusion” under the deal.

Though Simpson and Bruckheimer are bringing seven “unencumbered” feature projects to Hollywood, where they expect to set up shop within the next few months to develop, produce and direct, none has received the green light yet.

While the parties declined to identify the projects, one source said he didn’t think any were “very far along” in the development process.

Katzenberg said while he hopes the producers get their first pic off the ground by year’s end, he assured, “If not, the pressure is not on.”

Katzenberg refused to address the terms or details of the Simpson-Bruckheimer arrangement, but insisted, “Don and Jerry have a great deal of autonomy here.” At the same time he acknowledged they do not have greenlighting power, but “They will discuss with us any movies they want to make before they make them.”

Unlike former Columbia Pictures prexy Dawn Steel, who has an indie deal at Touchstone and is just now getting her feet wet as a hands-on producer, the more-experienced Simpson and Bruckheimer will not be “assigned” to productions.

“Don and Jerry have been producing movies for 10 years and we have brought them here for their ability to create ideas,” Katzenberg said. Steel, too, however, will produce her own generated projects under her Steel Pictures banner.

Katzenberg also emphasized that creative control was a “non-issue” in making the deal with Simpson and Bruckheimer and he said budget restraints play no part.

At Paramount, Simpson and Bruckheimer had a five-picture put deal at a $20 million-per-film ceiling, along with a free hand with regard to project selection and creative control. Reports of a $300-500 million discretionary development/production fund were supposedly exaggerated, but the producers called their own shots.

Simpson also declined to divulge details of t he new arrangement at Hollywood in relation to his and Bruckheimer’s former Paramount setup, other than to say, “These deals are apples and oranges. They are wholly and substantially different in their concept and internal workings.”

It is widely suspected that Simpson and Bruckheimer’s new deal revolves around minimal upfront fees or guarantees and a substantial back-end.

Calling the deal “a pure form of partnership,” Simpson said, “It’s not about front-end or back-end, this is a deal wherein in many aspects and areas it’s fairer to both sides than the deal we have had previous. It is also a deal that contemplates everyone making more money than even the past deal; at the same time, if failure occurs, both sides share both financial and creative responsibility.”

Simpson and Bruckheimer had other offers from various studios, including Universal, Warner Bros. and, reportedly, Fox.

According to knowledgeable sources, the producers’ decision to go with Hollywood was made at the eleventh hour after attempts were made by the pair to create a bidding situation between Disney and Universal.

Highly placed sources at Universal said the deal that studio was offering the producers was “no cash (upfront) and a large back-end” and negotiations just recently broke down “over money.”

As at Disney, the question of put pictures and complete creative control were said to be non-negotiable issues as far as a Universal deal was concerned.

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