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Canton inks prod’n pact at Warners

After a long career as an executive, the last six years at Columbia and Sony, Mark Canton is returning to Warner Bros. … but this time as a producer.

Canton, who started his career at Warner Bros. in 1980 and last served as chairman of Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Cos., has entered into a three-year, exclusive production pact with Warner Bros.

Insiders said the deal is a $600,000 advance per year with a development fund. He has no put pictures. It’s not clear if the deal involves gross or net profit participation. Some sources said the deal is a first-dollar gross deal, others said it was a net participation deal. Canton has never produced a film before, so the agreement is a marked change for the lifelong studio exec.

Canton was unceremoniously fired from his chairmanship post last September (Daily Variety, Sept. 13, 1996). After he and other execs left, several pictures under Canton’s regime began to hit and hit big. Those included “The Fifth Element,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Anaconda,” “Men in Black,” and “Air Force One.”

John Goldstone, formerly a manager at Brillstein-Grey, is expected to come to the company as Canton’s development executive. Also joining Canton will be Barbara Kalish and Mark Frazier.

Although Summit’s Patrick Wachsberger began devising a foreign strategy for Canton’s company at the Cannes Film Festival, Warner Bros. will handle both domestic and foreign.

In recent weeks, Wachsberger had put together a foreign structure for the company that needed only a domestic anchor. It was expected that Canton, Wachsberger and Allen Shapiro would be in business together, but the deal with the studio came together at the 11th hour and Warner Bros. decided it wanted all rights. “I have enormous respect for Allen and Patrick, and expect that we will do some business together when appropriate in the future,” said Canton.

Negotiations between Canton and Warner Bros. began on Friday and continued through the beginning of this week.

The pact for Canton was done by Warner Bros.’ chairmen and co-CEOs Bob Daly and Terry Semel, and exec VP of business and acquisitions Jim Miller with Canton’s attorney Jake Bloom. Canton has no projects so far on his slate.

After he left Sony, Canton was also talking to Polygram Filmed Entertainment at one point, and after that, Paramount Pictures.

“Mark has always been a good packager of product,” said Semel. “He has good relationships with talent and a good eye for commercial product. We have had lots of success with Mark over many years. We’re glad he’s back in the Warner Bros. family.”

The Warner Bros. deal is surprising given the fact that Daly and Semel publicly took Canton to task for paying Jim Carrey $20 million plus 15% of the backend for “The Cable Guy.” In the January 1996 issue of Premiere, Daly and Semel called Canton’s decision a “desperate” act, saying that it was “devastating” to the business.

“I did rap him for that … because he changed the way we all do business. I can’t take back what I said about it, because I do think it was a mistake, but, you also have to look at the positive,” said Daly.

“He went to Sony and he had his good times and his bad times, but you can’t run away from the fact that the studio has had a good year this year,” Daly continued. “I know the credit goes to a lot of people, but it also goes to Mark. He greenlit those films. Mark is coming back here to work in the environment that he grew up in. He’s going to make a good producer.”

Canton was brought into the studio in 1980 by Semel, the late Mark Rosenberg and John Calley from Jon Peters’ company, where he served as executive VP of production. Canton came to the studio one year before Daly arrived.

Rosy over return

“In a year of ironies, returning to Warner Bros. is one of the most unexpected and fulfilling,” said Canton. “It’s truly rewarding to be back working with my mentors Bob Daly and Terry Semel, my good friends Billy (Gerber) and Lorenzo (di Bonaventura) and Jim Miller and the many others at Warners who helped shape my career.

“The past year has allowed me time to relax and reflect,” Canton added. “However, with the good fortune of the success of my recent work, I am ready to start making films again. I can’t think of a better place to make them than at Warner Bros.”

During a stint that took him from a production VP in 1980 to president, Warner Bros. worldwide motion picture production, in 1990, Canton became known for his childlike enthusiasm and strong talent relationships. He left Warner Bros. to become chairman of Columbia Pictures in 1991.

“I’m glad he’s come back home,” said Miller, who has known Canton for 17 years and is a close friend. “He has great passion for film. He loves what he does and he has an infectious spirit. Billy and Lorenzo supported this entirely.”

Canton has known both Warner Bros. presidents of production Bill Gerber and Lorenzo di Bonaventura for several years.

Gerber and Canton worked together in Canton’s previous incarnation at Warner Bros. and are friends. In fact, Canton hired Gerber out of the management-production world to become an executive at the studio.

Di Bonaventura has known Canton for about seven years. Canton and Lucy Fisher helped bring di Bonaventura (who played basketball with Gerber) into Warner Bros.

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