Japanese electronics giant JVC has agreed to fund the development of three pictures to be produced by Robert De Niro’s indie company Tribeca.

Sources said JVC will provide the New York-based film and TV company with a development chest of about $ 4.5 million. Under the deal, JVC’s Tokyo-based visual software division will retain Japanese theatrical and video distribution rights to the trio of pictures.

De Niro plans to star in two of the three projects, all of which he will produce with his Tribeca partner Jane Rosenthal. He will play junk bond king Michael Milken in Jesse Kornbluth’s “Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken,” which the author is currently adapting, and is expected to team with Whoopi Goldberg in the suspense thriller “Exchange Students.”

Both projects are still in the early stages of development. Kornbluth’s book contains previously unpublished revelations about the Milken scandal and is described by Tribeca as “a tale of greed and self-deception told as a riveting thriller of Wall Street’s biggest scandal and manhunt ever.”

“Exchange Students” is based on a book proposal by Marc Olden, which had elicited heated bidding interest in Hollywood before Tribeca bought it. It’s about a detective and a journalist who uncover a group of police who moonlight as paid assassins.

The third project, not intended as a De Niro vehicle, is the previously announced “Cupid,” based on an original idea by Andy Tennant and Rick Parks (Daily Variety, Jan. 29).

The deal with JVC marks the first time Tribeca has received independent financing in the form of a development fund. The company, founded by De Niro and Rosenthal in August 1988, previously secured indie financing on a picture-by-picture basis. “A Bronx Tale” was bankrolled by Savoy Pictures and Penta and “Night and the City” was underwritten by Penta and 20th Century Fox. Tribeca also had a development deal with Studio Canal Plus on a project called “Brenda and Me.”

The indie also has a first-look deal with TriStar and a limited discretionary fund as part of the deal that gives the studio first look on distribution rights on the Tribeca projects, despite the JVC funding.

“We were looking for additional development money as an independent producer and that’s what spurred us on to look for this situation with JVC,” Rosenthal explained. “This was a way for us to be more independent and that’s ultimately our goal.”

Neither Rosenthal nor JVC board member Masahiro Inbe, who serves as general manager of JVC’s audio/visual software group, ruled out the possibility that the Japanese electronics firm could be involved in further financing deals with Tribeca in the future.

The Tribeca deal is part of JVC’s strategy to expand its film and video software distribution operations through early investment in major international movies.

The agreement with Tribeca follows an earlier development association that JVC made with one of France’s top international filmmakers, Luc Besson, whose “Le Femme Nikita” and other movies have been hits in Japan.

JVC’s arrangement with Tribeca through its acquisitions arm is completely separate from the development, production and marketing activities of JVC Entertainment’s joint venture with Lawrence Gordon’s Largo Entertainment, which has produced such movies as “Point Break,””Unlawful Entry” and most recently “Used People.”

JVC’s Inbe said, “The association with Mr. De Niro, Ms. Rosenthal and Tribeca is the perfect example of the kind of prestigious product we can secure for JVC through finance assistance during the crucial development period.”

Tribeca’s next release, “A Bronx Tale,” marking De Niro’s directorial debut, is due for release through Savoy in the fall. While the indie is in post-production on that film, it is prepping “Marvin’s Room,” targeted for a September start with director Bonnie Palef.

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