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Lakeshore tide swells under Sighvatsson

Lakeshore Entertainment Corp. president Sigurjon (Joni) Sighvatsson told Variety that the company has greenlit three motion pictures , which triggers its unusual deal with Paramount Pictures. He also discussed the direction and future growth plans of the production entity, which is only five months old.

Under the terms of the agreement with the studio, Lakeshore will finance 100% of its pictures and half the P&A costs. Par will retain all domestic rights, while Lakeshore will own the final negatives in addition to controlling all foreign rights.

The arrangement gives Lakeshore greenlight autonomy, and Sighvatsson said the company plans to produce about four $15-million-to-$25-million films for the studio each year.

The upcoming slate suggests that Sighvatsson, who was the co-founder and president of Propaganda Films until he joined Lakeshore in February, wants to work with young, edgy helmers in addition to making solidly mainstream pictures. His producing credits include David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” and John Dahl’s “Red Rock West.”

Lakeshore founder Tom Rosenberg will be working closely with Sighvatsson, but has given him an unusual amount of latitude to run the company. “Joni built Propaganda Films into a $100 million company in only five years. And I am very excited about the slate that he has put together for Lakeshore in such a short time,” said Rosenberg.

Lakeshore’s first film, a $5 million production titled “Box of Moonlight,” was written and will be directed by Tom Di Cillo, the director of “Johnny Suede” who delighted Sundance audiences this year with his zany send-up of micro-budget filmmaking, “Living in Oblivion.”

Sources say John Turturro is in advanced negotiations to star in “Box,” which is skedded to start shooting in July. The offbeat comedy involves a man who finds redemption when a chance meeting with a young rebellious boy leads to an enlightening road trip. No other talent has been attached.

The company also has hired Stephan Elliott, who broke onto the scene last year with “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” He will helm a $15 million film from his own script titled “Eye of the Beholder,” an unusual love story about a surveillance expert who falls in love with one of the women he is following, even though she is a serial killer.

Elliott was close to committing to “Best Man” at New Line earlier this year, but sources said he bolted for “Eye of the Beholder” because New Line couldn’t get an actor to commit to the wacky comedy.

Since coming on board Sighvatsson has spent most of his time packaging the more mainstream movies for the slate, even though he has tapped two younger directors. “On one hand, I think it’s just the way these came together,” he says of the Elliott and Di Cillo projects. “But even though ‘Priscilla’ was made on a tiny budget, it went on to gross $50 million worldwide.”

The company also is readying a $20 million romantic comedy from the creators of the highly acclaimed TV show “My So Called Life,” with show’s director Scott Winant writing and directing. The project is titled “Till There Was You” and involves two strangers whose paths cross throughout their lives, but do not meet until destiny finally intervenes. Jeanne Tripplehorn is in negotiations to star.

Sighvatsson is in final discussions with Par about co-producing a $10 million feature comedy with Lorne Michaels and Broadway Video that is based on the critically acclaimed Canadian TV series, “Kids in the Hall.” The show has aired on HBO, Comedy Central and CBS Latenight, and falls right in line with the studio’s comedy franchises. That project would be helmed by one of the show’s directors, Kelly Makin, and could begin production within eight weeks.

Also on the Lakeshore slate is “Now You See Her,” a novel by Whitney Otto, who wrote the bestseller “How to Make an American Quilt,” which was acquired by Amblin last year. “Now You See Her” has three strong female roles, as the story involves a trio of women who have been friends since college, and arrange a trip together that coincides with their 40th birthdays. Hanna Weg is penning the script and co-producing.

The Icelander notes that the market for riskier pix is growing, citing his own films along with recent hits “Pulp Fiction” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” “‘Red Rock West’ could have made much more money than it did,” he says of the noir film that found a theatrical audience despite airing on HBO before its release.

Lakeshore has formed a separate division that will produce low-budget niche films a la “Red Rock West,” which will be headed by the veepee of development Julie Golden. Sighvatsson has also teamed on another such offbeat film – the $4 million flick he is producing with Rosenberg, a Tyler Bensinger-directed romantic comedy starring James LeGros and Michelle Forbes titled “Just Looking.” It too may serve as a model for the kind of film Lakeshore would like to make through this new division. That film was co-funded by Banque Paribas and is still in post production.

The pictures that come under Golden’s division will not be distributed by Paramount, and Lakeshore still has the financial wherewithal to initiate the films without doing foreign pre-sales. No projects have been announced for this division.

Sighvatsson says that despite the company’s autonomy to greenlight its projects, he will consult Par execs on all Lakeshore projects that will be distributed by the studio.

“The fact that a producer like Sherry Lansing is running the studio makes me feel very comfortable from a creative point of view. We want their input on these projects,” Sighvatsson said.

Lakeshore also plans to expand into television production and interactive media, but not until its film division is in full swing. “We have to learn to walk before we run,” Sighvatsson said.

Lakeshore is an affiliate of Chicago-based Capital Associates, a real estate company with a portfolio of $1.5 billion that is owned by Rosenberg and his partner, Terry McKay. Rosenberg, who co-founded Beacon Communications and sold his stake in December, also is a producer.

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