AA seals Lightstorm deal

Despite its recent split from distrib partner 20th Century Fox, Artisti Associati has sewn up the Italo distribution rights to James Cameron’s highly touted nine-picture Lightstorm package, product that should kick it back up the distributor pyramid.

After a recent trip to Los Angeles to confer with Lightstorm, AA toppers Jacopo Capanna, Giuseppe Perugia and Achille Manzotti told Variety that they are set to open new credit lines with two offshore banks.

The banner is poised to open up finance sources at Holland’s ING and France’s Paribas. Artisti’s principal institute of credit has been the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro.

Although the separation from Fox has meant a reduced slate for the Italian distrib this season, the split could lead to more acquisitions from suppliers Summit, Capella, J&M, Vision, Odyssey and Rank. Artisti is likely to remain a leading indie buyer of mainstream product for Italy.

Since December, the Fox-Artisti relationship has been mainly administrative. The Hollywood major now handles marketing and bookings through its own Italian staff, based in Artisti’s Rome headquarters. Artisti continues to do billings in return for an undisclosed percentage of Fox’s Italian revenue.

Capanna stressed that their detachment from Fox is logical as well as amicable. “We started our relationship with Fox two years ago because we wanted a continuous feed into our release slate,” he explained. “The idea was to get exhibitors into the habit of being customers in our store.”

When Fox began selling some of its product to other companies (“White Men Can’t Jump” and “Hoffa” both went to Penta), Artisti sought a new arrangement. “You can’t keep up a structure with three films a season,” said Capanna.

AA’s own acquisitions now going into release include the Artimm production “Weekend at Bernie’s 2” and Whoopi Goldberg in “Sarafina!” Already paid for and ready to unspool this fall are the Robert De Niro/Ellen Barkin starrer “This Boy’s Life,””Danger Sign” and “The Real McCoy.”

The company is still smarting from erroneous but widely reported rumors that it had lost the Cameron package. The speculation came on the heels of a contract that went awry for Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha,” igniting rumors that Artisti’s credit lines had dried up.

When Manzotti joined the company as 50% partner a year and a half ago, the trio recapitalized Artisti for $ 12 million. They had a memorable 1991-92 season , riding on the tails of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” Italy’s No. 2 picture of the year. Though 1992-93 will be quieter, Perugia estimates that revenues from theatrical, TV and video will clock in at a respectable $ 50 million to $ 60 million.

The shaky situation of the Italo film industry has convinced Artisti to put production on hold for the time being. It entered into co-prods on a number of Italian films last year that went belly up. The only production project under study is a TV series on the murder of Mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone, which is being put together with RAI-2 and an undisclosed American producer.

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