Pandora In Bigger Prod’n Box

Pandora, the Paris-based sales and financing company, is about to move its film investment strategy into overdrive through deals currently under negotiation with Fox and Chemical Bank.

Having lost money on a collection of quirky low-budget projects such as Brit pics “The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” and “Blue Juice,” Pandora is trying to put together a series of alliances to enable it to invest in costlier international pics.

Company chairman Christian Bourguignon refused to comment, but Variety understands that Pandora is close to inking three related agreements.

Bourguignon and Pandora Cinema president Ernst Goldschmidt are parlaying with Fox. Word on the street is that the Hollywood major will co-finance a series of films with Pandora, splitting rights worldwide. Although the precise terms still are being discussed, Fox is expected to distribute in North America and English-speaking territories.

At the same time, negotiations are under way for Chemical Bank to unlock a credit line, believed to be around $60 million.

This new source of funding would be in addition to Pandora’s three existing credit lines which are worth $30 million. Chemical Bank insiders have confirmed that talks are in progress.

The final piece of the puzzle will see Hollywood producer Jonathan Taplin teaming with Pandora.

Although details of Taplin’s role are not yet available, one of his tasks will be to bring projects to Pandora’s table. Pandora Cinema is backing the $10 million erotic love story “Foolish Heart,” produced by Taplin. The shoot has been delayed due to director Hector Babenco’s health.

If Pandora pulls off the three deals, it will mark a significant shift of strategy for the 14-year-old company and bring to an end several months of internal discussions about how to move forward.

Initially set up as a television distribution outfit, Bourguignon launched Pandora Cinema in 1990 to branch out into the film sales biz. Over the past five years, it has backed an eclectic international slate of relatively low-budget projects including Stephen Gyllenhaal’s “Waterland” and Alfonso Arau’s “Like Water for Chocolate.”

According to Goldschmidt, the average cost of the future pics will be in the region of $15 million.

The change of strategy appears to have been prompted by the so-so results of earlier investments, with matters coming to a head after a particularly poor Cannes Film Festival this year. Former Orion and Sovereign sales maven Goldschmidt admits, “I was very disappointed with the sales of ‘Blue Juice.'”

Bourguignon plays down suggestions that the Pandora team entered a post-Cannes policy debate, but acknowledges that in order to stay in the film game, something had to change.

“We are altering our target,” he notes. “The small British films have been very difficult for us. We certainly won’t be abandoning this kind of picture but we will also be investing in projects that have better-known directors and bigger names in the cast. The question has been how to finance such films?” The solution, apparently, has been to hook up with Fox and Chemical Bank.

New coin

Getting access to new coin and a powerful Stateside ally will be only part of the challenge facing Pandora. The company has an image within the production community as being ruthless in negotiations. “These people don’t play hardball – they play concreteball,” one Brit producer says.

Not surprisingly, Bourguignon and Goldschmidt are aggrieved by such accusations. “I’ll admit that we may be tough to negotiate with, but we don’t force anyone to work with us,” Bourguignon insists. “Maybe I’m a little too severe, but we are taking risks, like backing first-time directors. We put up around 30% of the budgets on ‘ Blue Juice’ and ‘ The Young Poisoner’s Handbook’ and we lost money. If we were such tough deal-makers we would have made money.”

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