New Milchan deal a plus

Studio Canal Plus, the film production arm of French pay-TV giant Canal Plus , has renegotiated its multipicture production pact with Warner Bros.-based producer Arnon Milchan.

The move, which was confirmed by Canal Plus president Andre Rousselet in L.A. last week, means Canal Plus will switch from taking an equity stake in a 20-pic package and instead will buy rights.

It marks company’s significant strategic switch from production and has fueled speculation that Rousselet and his team are reviewing their overall U.S film investment strategy. Canal Plus exex were unavailable for comment late Friday.

The French company has had a rough time with some American investments, particularly Carolco.

Canal Plus has a 12% stake in Carolco and has already been obliged tojoin with Italy’s Rizzoli and Japan’s Pioneer in injecting $ 60 million into the cash-strapped production operation and $ 50 million in co-production funds.

Under the terms of the January 1991 deal, Canal Plus pacted with Milchan’s Regency company and German multimedia powerhouse Scriba & Deyhle. A 20-pic slate was estimated to be worth $ 600 million, with distribution handled by Warner Bros.

Results have been mixed. Runaway hits such as “JFK,””Under Siege” and, based on initial results, “Sommersby,” have been interspersed with John Avildsen’s “The Power of One,” the $ 16 million “The Mambo Kings” and other less successful offerings.

Although details of the agreement have never been revealed fully, it appears Canal Plus always had an option to end its equity participation after 10 pix.

Apparently while the financial structuring of each project varied, a rough guideline was that Canal Plus put up around 30% equity for pix budgeted at below $ 30 million as well as a further sum to acquire all French rights. In some cases, however, the French company committed less. Canal Plus’ investment in “JFK” is thought to be $ 5 million.

With Canal Plus moving to straight rights-buying, new equity funding to replace the French is expected to come from Milchan, Scriba & Deyhle, increased German bank credit lines and incoming revenue from current releases.

Last week’s move doesn’t seem to indicate a rift between the French and Milchan. The pair are about to launch a joint venture — which could be called Canal Plus-Regency — designed to acquire European rights to films. Revenue from these pix will be split 50/50.

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