‘Black’ team inks at Disney

The heavily sought-after “Men in Black” team of director Barry Sonnenfeld and Columbia Pictures president of production Barry Josephson have bagged a Mouse deal, inking a three-year production pact with Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, the studio announced Friday.

Extending his already existing two-year first-look deal with Disney, Sonnenfeld will now direct two of his next three pics for Disney Studios. The deal also allows for the new partnership with Josephson, who will end his six-year stint with Columbia in the fall. The Disney deal is expected to begin around September. The pair will be based on the Disney lot in Burbank, but will also have an office in New York.

“We’re thrilled to have the two Barrys making films for us here at Disney,” said Joe Roth, chairman of Walt Disney Studios. “Their individual accomplishments are most impressive and as a team they bring a tremendous amount of talent and creativity to the process.”

Sonnenfeld and Josephson decided on forming a production team after their successful collaboration on “Men in Black,” the Tommy Lee Jones/Will Smith starrer set for release July 2 from Columbia. Pic has generated positive buzz ever since its trailer was shown at ShoWest ’97, and Sonnenfeld called the collaboration “the best studio experience I ever had.”

Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Entertainment and 20th Century Fox were all vying to land the duo. Sonnenfeld joked that the reason they signed with Disney was that he felt badly when he turned down the offer to lense “Coup de Ville,” one of Roth’s few directing projects. “I turned him down, so I’ve been looking for a way to work with him ever since,” he said. He added that Disney was very “aggressive” in its bid. “They really came through,” he said.

Josephson’s departure leaves Columbia without a key exec for actioners and event pics. For the 1997 release slate, Josephson oversaw four of Columbia and Sony’s biggest projects: the recent hits “The Fifth Element” and “Anaconda,” as well as the upcoming “Men in Black” and “Air Force One.”

The exec had long been expected to leave Columbia after the entire senior Sony staff was replaced last year. But SPE president and chief operating officer John Calley was keen on keeping Josephson to handle event and franchise pics, which Sony is eager to develop.

Josephson joined Columbia in 1991 as a senior VP of production. Three years later, he was bumped to president of worldwide production under former Col prexy Lisa Henson. During that time, he handled hits such as “Bad Boys” as well as misses that included “Last Action Hero” and “Money Train.”

Before joining Columbia, Josephson worked with Joel Silver at his Warner Bros.-based company. There he contributed to such pics as “Die Hard 2,” “Predator 2,” “Lethal Weapon 3” and “The Last Boy Scout.” He also oversaw production on 14 episodes of “Tales From the Crypt.”

Josephson started out at Landers/Roberts Prods. as director of production, later moving to Lorimar.

As a manager, Josephson worked for Gallin/Morey & Associates, handling such clients as Patti LaBelle, Paula Abdul and Whoopi Goldberg. He helped Sandy Gallin found Sandollar Films with Dolly Parton.

Sonnenfeld began his showbiz career as a cinematographer, working with the Coen brothers on “Blood Simple,” “Raising Arizona” and “Miller’s Crossing” as well as other major pics such as “Big,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Throw Momma From the Train” and “Misery.”

As a helmer, he navigated “The Addams Family,” “Addams Family Values,” “For Love or Money” and the John Travolta hit “Get Shorty.”

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