Buck stops here

Arnon Milchan grabbed the rights to “A Time to Kill” for a reported $6 million and “The Client” for $2.25 million.

But oddly enough, Milchan’s New Regency Prods. has far from stocked shelves of scripts and treatments in development. They note that the ratio of products in the pipeline to those produced runs about 2-1. And the same goes to a development staff.

Says the company’s president and CEO, David Matalon: “We limit it to projects that we believe will be in front of the camera.”

“You don’t need an army of people,” Milchan says. “At the end of the day, one person has to make the decision.”

Now Milchan is shooting to produce 12 pictures a year, about eight of which would be fully financed by New Regency. That would be at least a reverse ratio of what the company had in the not too recent past, with perhaps half of the pics that were co-financed with Warner Bros. He also had MGM (“Six Degrees of Separation”) and Phoenix/Sony (“The Mirror Has Two Faces”).

“When you make one or two movies a year, you can be a good producer,” Milchan says. “But if you don’t have enough volume, you don’t have the attention of the distribution system. We should really give a strong meaning to the logo of the company.”

In addition to “Kill,” the company has scored with recent movies such as “Heat” and “Tin Cup.” Those pics were co-financed with Warner Bros. The record has been a bit more mixed on some of its fully financed pictures, with successes such as “Copycat,” which grossed $32 million domestically, and misfires like “Carpool” and “Bogus,” which generated a combined $7.7 million.

As Regency looks to increase its output, what helps is Milchan’s ability to line up investors. Last year, in its first financial stake in an American entertainment company, Germany’s Kirch Group announced an initial 5% investment in the company, worth an estimated $42.5 million. That is in addition to a 7.4% stake made by Korean electronics giant Samsung, and an investment by Australia’s Kerry Packer a year earlier. Milchan says that there will be one additional partner this year.

“What it means is being able to play long term, to spend more money for long-term projects,” Milchan says. “We have behaved as a midterm company. The depth of development is adjusted to the level of financial ability.”

That in turn, he says, will help out the company’s development, allowing the company to spend more money in the process.

“If you look at where I have done right and where I have done wrong, I have done right where I was fearless,” Milchan says. “That is when you have better chances of making something that you fell in love with. Those are the projects that have more of your positive strength behind it.”

To be sure, it is not likely Milchan will be turning inward. In fact, when Michael Nathanson departed last month as chairman for MGM, the talks Milchan had with Frank Mancuso to release him from his contract produced a possible new venture: co-financed films with MGM, with the rights split between the Lion, Regency and Warner Bros. The first could be “Winner’s Circle,” to be directed by Joshua Brand (“Northern Exposure”). (Oddly enough, it was MGM that sued Milchan in 1994, charging that he renegged on a distribution deal for the film “Six Degrees of Separation.”)

But Milchan talks of focusing on his TV business — which has a pact with Columbia TriStar Television to do a new series with David Caruso, adding to its other “Free Willy” animated cartoon series and the one-hour drama “The Client.” And there is also the new Restless Records label, giving them an inhouse outlet for soundtracks. Even his investment in Puma raises cross-promotional opportunities with Kirch, which is involved in soccer, and Packer, who is involved in World Cup sailing. And there is also the possibility of pursuing another film library or company — one of the primary reasons that Milchan made his bid for MGM.

“To build up a library of your own is very hard and very slow,” Milchan says.

Milchan’s slate in the next year includes the thriller “Murder at 1600,” starring Wesley Snipes and Diane Lane; the comedy “Watch that Man,” starring Bill Murray; and “L.A. Confidential,” an adaptation of James Ellroy’s book about a detective in 1950s Los Angeles. Still on tap is the actioner “The Negotiator,” a project that once had Sylvester Stallone attached.

More risky, however, could be forays into arthouse and smaller-budgeted pics like “Goodbye Lover,” starring Patricia Arquette; and there is also the long-in-development “Crowded Room,” about a man with 24 personalities, that will be directed by Nick Cassavetes.

In fact, Regency has a two-picture deal with Cassavetes, one of its new relationships with talent. (Stone and Gilliam have since parted ways with Milchan).

Other filmmakers who have forged ties with Regency include Joel Schumacher (who has a pact at WB), Norman Jewison and Roland Joffe. And Regency continues to forge ties with acting talent. When he was feted last year at the Deauville Film Festival, Milchan called Kevin Spacey “my new brother.” Spacey starred in “A Time to Kill” and “L.A. Confidential.” Regency also has rights to additional Ellroy works.

“You need to stay very focused and very specific, and at the same time know how to keep a certain level of volume and take a risk,” Milchan says. “…You want to go and do “Shine,’ but in return I have to be able to spend a big amount of money to do an event movie.”

Not that you will see a New Regency disaster flick anytime soon. Milchan’s idea of event pics: “JFK” or “Heat.”

“On the one end you have people running scared because everything costs so much and everyone falls into a lot of traps,” Milchan says. “But everything we assume we shouldn’t assume. At the end of the day what works are the kind of movies we didn’t do before.”

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