Filmauro’s Midas touch

Filmauro, a boutique banner run by a man with the Midas touch, is probably the most envied distribbery in Italy. It’s developing a higher profile overseas via film production in the United States and major investments like the $ 13.8 million it put into the feature “Son of the Pink Panther.”

At midseason, Filmauro, headed by Aurelio De Laurentiis, has chalked up the highest per-film admissions (330,000) of any distrib in the country and was the fourth-ranking distrib for overall admissions, after Penta, WB and UIP. Filmauro , however, has only five films in release, compared to Penta’s 22 and the majors’ 10 each. There are 11 films on Filmauro’s slate this year (the company averages just over 10 per year).

Success secrets

“The secret is I release only the locomotive, not the wagons,” says 43 -year-old De Laurentiis, Filmauro’s CEO and sole stockholder.

Nephew of Dino and son of the late Luigi De Laurentiis, Aurelio was bred on the film business. He has taken over the reins of the 17-year-old banner with calculated shrewdness, earning the industry’s sometimes grudging respect as a successful and independent businessman.

Apart from releasing Dino De Laurentiis’ “Army of Darkness” in Italy, De Laurentiis does little business with his emigre uncle. “He has a different perspective on films than I do,” De Laurentiis says. His regular Italian partner is producer Fulvio Lucisano.

Although Filmauro went sky-high on “Son of the Pink Panther,” starring local hero Roberto Benigni–it paid MGM $ 13.8 million for Italian rights and a few minor territories–some insiders consider it a smart strategic move.

“It may not make money at that price,” said a source, “but releasing a good Benigni film is a key power play in Italy, where it will strengthen (De Laurentiis’) TV sales.”

De Laurentiis estimates his average investment in foreign titles is in the $ 5 million range. With eight foreign pickups in the 1993 lineup in addition to “Pink Panther,” that adds up to $ 54 million in foreign acquisitions this year.

As a production house, Filmauro has shown remarkable acumen in packaging popular TV thesps in fluffy comedies that critics detest and audiences love. One of these, “The ’90s,” is currently the top-grossing Italian film, with $ 9 million under its belt. Another, “California Dreaming” with Bo Derek, was just released this Christmas and already is a box office success.

De Laurentiis also likes high-concept films and picks them up in the script stage. Among his acquisitions are “Barton Fink,””Wild at Heart,” Pedro Almodovar’s “High Heels” and Roman Polanski’s “Bitter Moon.”

Hands-on

De Laurentiis, a hands-on producer who hovers over everything from scripts to mixing to ad campaigns, says, “I’m the only producer who finances his films out of his own pocket.”

That means he can forgo TV pre-sales and state subsidies, allowing Filmauro to recoup a large part of its production investments by selling to TV later.

Greenlighted 1993 projects include a co-production with Spanish producer Andres Vicente Gomez, “Huevos Dorados,” and a big-budget costumer shooting in Tunisia, “For Love, Only for Love,” starring Jane March (“The Lover”) as the Virgin Mary and Italian thesp Diego Abatantuono as Joseph.

Popular with Pupi

Pupi Avati is one of the Italian directors De Laurentiis gets on with best. He will finance two of Avati’s pictures next year–“A Childhood Friend,” set in Chicago, and “Declarations of Love,” in Italy–plus a tag-along film in the U.S. directed by a newcomer.

Despite his gruff, hard-nosed exterior, De Laurentiis has been elected VP of both the producers’ and distributors’ associations.

Filmauro has numerous projects in development. Two of them, “Hard-Carved Coffins” and “Night Over Water,” are American. “Coffins” is based on a Truman Capote book whose rights Filmauro bought from MGM. De Laurentiis hopes to start the $ 35 million to $ 40 million film in 1993. Frank Pierson wrote the screenplay, and Lester Persky produces. “Water” is from a Ken Follett novel. The project could become a miniseries with the U.S.’ NBC.

De Laurentiis is also a pioneer in Italian homevideo. In 1985, De Laurentiis-Ricordi Home Video was the first company of its kind. Two years ago, De Laurentiis bought out Ricordi’s share; then he pacted with RCS Video, which distributes Filmauro homevideo titles.

He is also an outspoken opponent of the nine-month homevideo window and the 24-month TV window, established by agreement between distribs and exhibs.

De Laurentiis is about to become an exhibitor himself. Filmauro is in the process of converting an old Roman film theater into a three-screen multiplex.

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