In a deal that teams a gumptious development company with a major studio, Cinema Line Films has inked a three-year, first-look pact with Columbia Pictures , the two companies confirmed Friday.

The unusual agreement calls for deep-pocketed Cinema Line to internally fund all development and packaging costs in exchange for built-in contractual incentives with Columbia to get pictures produced.

The studio production pact is a major step forward for Cinema Line, which has been shelling out big bucks for screenplays since itsformation two years ago. While the greenlight is still in the future, studio insiders said the Cinema Line deal could potentially add two or three go movies to the Colpix 1995 release slate.

Fashionable partnerhship

A partnership among fashion entrepreneur Leonard Rabinowitz, designer Carole Little and investor Verna Harrah, Cinema Line most recently ponied up $ 275,000 against $ 650,000 for screenwriter Cinco Paul’s “Band of Gold,” and has consistently been a bidder for other spec scripts. With Colpix in tow, it now has a conduit to potentially translate its development spending into box office receipts.

Columbia TriStar motion picture companies chairman Mark Canton called the Cinema Line agreement “a healthy alliance among people who want to make movies.” He said the deal is particularly attractive to Columbia because Cinema Line brings to the table its own financial backing and creative expertise.

Cinema Line president Stephen Randall pointed up how the deal contrasts with the typical first-look studio arrangements. He said Cinema Line will continue to underwrite screenplay acquisition and development, basic salaries and other overhead expenses, and will continue to be based in Beverly Hills as opposed to Columbia’s Culver City studio lot. In return, Cinema Line gets from Columbia “real incentives built into the deal for movies to come out,” he said.

A Hollywood dealmaker called Cinema Line a “mini In-terscope,” referring to the autonomous production company headed by deep-pocketed Ted Field and Robert Cort.

As a harbinger of its independence, Cinema Line already has set up one project at a studio other than Colpix: It placed the Blake Snyder/Colby Carr project “The Third Grade” at Universal in an overall writer/producer back-end deal pegged at $ 2 million.

The Cinema Line deal comes on the heels of the departure of another major production force. Last week, Sony Pictures Entertainment said it has converted its agreement with key Columbia literary buyer Peters Entertainment from an exclusive to a non-exclusive pact (Daily Variety, Feb. 22).

Cinema Line co-chairman Harrah said Cinema Line has targeted mainstream commercial projects since its formation in 1992, and pinpointed such projects as “Band of Gold,” an adaptation of Mary Higgins Clark’s “All Around the Town” and Jenny Tripp’s rewrite of Michael Perry’s family story “Nonnie,” as properties likely to quickly come to the fore.

“At this point we’re not doing art films,” said Harrah, who is the most active of the partners in the day-to-day operations of the company. She expressed confidence that “the kind of projects we are developing at Cinema Line are perfectly matched with the kind of pictures Columbia wants to distribute.”

Cinema Line controls several projects that already have creative elements attached, including commitments from Luis Mandoki to direct Tom Topor’s and Denis O’Neal’s adaptation of “All Around the Town,” Rachel Talalay to helm Cory Tynan’s and John Reis’ “Ghost Hunter” and Billy Baldwin to star in Donald Stewart’s screenplay adaptation of Charles King’s novel “Mama’s Boy,” Harrah said.

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