Twentieth Century Fox made a move to bolster its future production slate, signing “Awakenings” producer Walter Parkes and his partner Laurie MacDonald away from Columbia Pictures.
As part of an ongoing push to fill its stable, Fox has inked a two-year first-look deal with Parkes’ and MacDonald’s 2-year-old production company, Aerial Pictures.
Aerial moves to the Fox lot on July 1 when its first-look deal with Columbia officially expires.
“Sneakers” scripter/producer Parkes said the indie jumped ship because Fox topper Peter Chernin and worldwide production prexy Tom Jacobson are turning the studio into the lot of choice, and he didn’t want to miss the boat.
“I feel there’s a sense of getting in on the ground floor at Fox,” Parkes told Daily Variety. “Peter and Tom are taking major steps to establish themselves as major players. There’s an opportunity for our company to grow in that environment. We’ve also had talks about the kind of movies they want to make. We’re in sync with that.”
In a separate interview, Jacobson said the kind of films Parkes and MacDonald have made are exactly the kind of movies he’d love to see made at Fox. “We went after them,” he noted.
Jacobson praised Parkes’ talents as a scripter (“WarGames” and “Sneakers”) and producer (“Awakenings”).
On the grander scale, Jacobson said that Aerial is the kind of talent that Fox wants on board.
“We are on a talent hunt at all levels, from writers through producers and directors,” Jacobson said.
“We’re upping development which naturally leads to production and we’re establishing relationships with major talent,” Jacobson added, implying the talent hunt has just begun.
The studio is clearly gearing up for a production boom.
In the past few months, Fox signed a pact with Nickelodeon to produce family films. In an aggressive move, it purchased a project in turnaround at Paramount called “Speed,” and put it on the fast track.
‘Trees’ picked up
The studio is picking up scripts for its producers, including Roger Wilson’s drama “Through the Trees.” It’s renewing old ties, and inked a new two-year first-look deal with producer Larry Brezner and his Morra, Brezner, Steinberg & Tenenbaum.
To handle the influx, Fox nabbed Dylan Sellers from Warner Bros. on May 27 to join the studio production team as executive VP of production.
Parkes believes he and partner/wife MacDonald — a former production veepee at Columbia — will fit into the new scenario because of his background as a writer and hers as a studio exec.
MacDonald started as a news and docu producer for NBC in San Francisco. She joined Columbia in 1984 and became VP of production. After collaborating with Parkes on “True Believer,” the duo founded Aerial in 1991.
Parkes said he likes Chernin and Jacobson’s approach to kick-starting the development process in a “ground up fashion. They’re heavily into the acquisition of projects, but they’ll deal by script, concept and budget as opposed to package.”
As the one-time director of the triple-Oscar nominated docu “The California Reich,” Parkes also sees the move as an opportunity to direct his first fiction feature, although he hasn’t decided on the project.
Aerial’s projects in development at Columbia will remain there, Jacobson said.
They include the action comedy “Men in Black,””Play by Play,” a remake of Claude Lelouch’s “L’attention Bandit” and remake rights to “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”
Other Aerial exex moving to Fox are Karen Teicher, who joined the company as senior production VP in January, and director of development Glenn Williamson.