Fox, Disney lead in producer deals

With all the studios in the less-is-more mode about the number of films going through the pipelines, it’s curious that the number of studio deals is at an all-time high, according to a Daily Variety survey.

Of the majors, 20th Century Fox has by far the most deals, with 56 — although insiders have said that discussions are under way to take a hard look at that number.

Disney is close behind with 49 term deals, some of which were inherited from the previous regime and others that were brought over by former Disney president Michael Ovitz.

In contrast, Sony Pictures Entertainment (which lost a number of producers who fled over the hill to Universal) has only 23 filmmaker or talent pacts. Universal, with 40, has an estimated $52 million in overhead from its production deals, in no small part due to the Sony folk.

One of the most surprising facts in the survey is that DreamWorks is shouldering about 15 deals — a hefty overhead for a company that hasn’t released a feature yet.

To put DreamWorks’ agreements in perspective, the company has four more than New Line and Fine Line Cinema combined, and only three fewer than the four divisions of Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

A chart on page 14 lists the deals of the various studios and entertainment companies. The costs can range from an arrangement like Woody Harrelson’s at Sony, where the studio is only paying for an office and phone, to top-of-the-line, first-dollar gross deals involving multimillion-dollar contracts, such as Kopelson Entertainment at Fox or Jerry Bruckheimer at Disney. An office only or “vanity” deal can range from $200,000 to $500,000, depending on whether the studio hires a development person for the talent.

Even first-time producers are getting lucrative deals these days. Disney recently reupped the contract of “Men in Black” producer Barry Sonnenfeld, who joined with former Sony exec Barry Josephson in a production company. The two receive 5% of first-dollar gross, $1 million each per year and they garnered a $2 million signing bonus. Talk about perks: The two also have use of the corporate jet.

In many of its deals with helmers, Disney at least had the wherewithal to make sure it locks in at least two of the director’s next three films. Meanwhile, some of Par’s deals bring in production money to the table.

Some studios were either reticent to disclose the magnitude of their commitments, or were unaware of them. Two studios that provided lists to Daily Variety forgot to mention a number of its deals: One overlooked 14 of them, and the other mislaid 13 (until reminded).

Asked about it, one studio publicist said, “I don’t think they even know these deals are here.”

Scary, huh?

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