Gotham pix hangs out shingle

Robert Greenhut, Joseph Hartwick, Neil Machlis and Michele Imperato, who between them have line or executive producer credits on just about every recent project by a major New York-based director, are going into business for themselves.

Along with Laurence Schwartz, New Line’s former East Coast director of development, and the cutting-edge visual effects shop Video Images, they have formed Gotham Pictures, a bicoastal shingle which will develop and produce films.

Their biggest asset might well be access: Having always been on the line for the likes of Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson and Alec Baldwin, the Gotham principals hope to draw that talent into projects hatched in the new venture.

“For a long time, we all had a yearning to fill a crack, for various reasons, ” said Greenhut. “Everybody considers themselves a filmmaker, but none of us had a story department or an arrangement with a studio to develop projects.

“The five of us will still do on-line producing and supervising on films, but we’ll also get to acquire and set up properties at the same time. I’m truly fortunate to be constantly collaborating with some of the most talented filmmakers in the world,” he continued. “I’d just like to bring my own music to the dance every once in a while.

“When you have people like myself who spend every day of their life making a film, you don’t have the time or the arrangement to develop script material,” Greenhut added. “I dislike the term ‘line producer,’ because I consider myself a total producer. But we’re spoiled in that we have great relationships but don’t have to develop material. Woody writes everything, calls me up and says, ‘I’ve got a movie to make.’

“The hope here is to be totally involved, to come up with an idea and have it see the light of day, but not disrupt our line duties. With the five of us as directors who support Laurence’s story department, we can do something that none of us could do if we tried it alone.”

While Greenhut was reluctant to reveal the projects they’re developing now, he said one of his first missions is to find a project for Bill Murray. Greenhut regularly produces the films directed by Nichols, Allen, Scorsese and Penny Marshall. He’s currently working on “Wolf,” the Nichols film he’s co-exec producing with Machlis.

Machlis also has executive producer credits on such films as “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and “Honeymoon in Vegas.” Hartwick, meanwhile, is a longtime Allen collaborator, and is executive producer on TriStar’s “Cop Gives Waitress $ 2 Million Tip.” He also co-produced “A League of Their Own” with Greenhut. Imperato was production supervisor on “Wolf,””Regarding Henry,””Postcards From the Edge” and others.

Schwartz, while at New Line, was the executive on such Gotham-based projects as “Hangin’ With the Homeboys.” His new home will be Hollywood, where he’s set up Gotham’s development and production arm, and will be the catalyst for development. There he’ll link up with Video Images Associates, headed by Rhonda Gunner and Gregory McMurry, which is one of the top visual effects shops in Hollywood and has been looking to diversify into production. Video Images’ credits include “Blade Runner,””Batman Returns” and “Cliffhanger.”

Greenhut said Gotham will be funded enough to develop projects before taking them to a studio. Gotham won’t seek an overall studio deal, preferring to work on a project-by-project basis.

“It’s almost inefficient for us to go with a studio,” Greenhut explained. “Say so-and-so wants us to find a gambling script. It’s such a time-consuming effort to go to the studios, pitch the idea and wait weeks, maybe months. It’s more efficient and fun to do it on our own. We have financing, some of it our own and some of it from banks, enough to cover the majority of what we’ll develop. I wouldn’t want to complicate matters by having obligations to a studio , when most of the talent already has their own alliances already set up.”

Why would creatives, so used to employing producers, want, in essence, to work for them instead?

“In my own case, I have maybe 12 wonderful, talented people who enjoy working with me, including people like Nichols, Tom Hanks or Murray,” said Greenhut. “My ability to have them do something depends on what we come up with. But I consider the access very valuable. All combined, we have about 50 such relationships, and all of these people are in need of ammo, good scripts and projects. That’s where we’ll come in.”

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