Mouse looks at Spyglass

Caravan to shutter

NEW YORK — Against a backgroup of studio production cutbacks in favor of outside financing deals, Walt Disney Studios, too, has set up such an arrangement. The company has made a deal with Cara-van chairman Roger Birnbaum and former Morgan Creek vice chairman Gary Barber to create Spyglass Entertainment, a self-financed company that will make three to five features per year.

The company will have an exclusive distribution arrangement with Buena Vista and Buena Vista Intl. for the entire slate of pics in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Latin America.

Disney will also contribute a portion of the budget in a formula proportionate to its distribution interest. Birnbaum and Barber will serve jointly as co-chairmen and co-chief executive officers of Spyglass.

End of Caravan

Caravan will cease to exist — except for its next four releases — to make way for Spyglass. The new company is structuring development and production financing from outside backers.

Sources said Spyglass could have between $300 million and $400 million in funding through equity and debt. Roughly $200 million of that comes from a revolving credit line being arranged by Chase Securities, the dominant film lender in Hollywood, bankers said.

“We’re very excited to be involved with Disney, Roger and Gary,” said John Miller, managing director at Chase in Los Angeles who has a long-standing relationship with Barber.

With its mix of outside financing and studio support, the deal is similar to the pact Arnon Milchan structured for New Regency at Warner Bros.

Carving out slate

Birnbaum and Barber will work with Disney, specifically Disney chairman Joe Roth, to carve out their slate.

The Caravan name will remain only on its next four releases: “Simon Birch,” “Rush Hour,” “Holy Man” and “Inspector Gadget.” Spyglass bought a number of the development projects from Caravan, and they will become Spyglass pics.

Spyglass will handle the sale of rights in all foreign markets, outside of the Buena Vista territories. An undetermined number of key strategic alliances with overseas distribs are expected to be announced over the next few weeks. Spyglass also will retain the negatives of the pics it produces.

Roth, whose idea inspired the Birnbaum/Barber union, said the desire to cut back on studio spending was clear at the Mouse, which is why the Birnbaum/Barber union was so attractive.

“It’s a tough business,” he said. “The way you attack a tough business is you try to limit your budgets and your marketing and be more selective about your talent deals.”

Less investment

Barber concurred, “This is a way to effectively make the movies where you don’t have the full financing responsibility, yet you get the distribution rights to those films. It reduces your investment and allows you to scale back a number of your inhouse releases.”

Birnbaum added that this is an ideal segue for Caravan, which had been started in 1993 with Roth and Birnbaum at Disney.

“The formation of this new partnership with Gary is the perfect transition for me and opens up lots of exciting new possibilities for both our company and for Disney,” Birnbaum said.

Birnbaum and Barber had the idea to find outside financing independent of each other, and Roth, who knew each separately, put the duo together. “It just seemed like a really good marriage,” Roth said.

Caravan prexy of production Jonathan Glickman will run the production end of the venture and most of his staff at Caravan will remain in place under the Spyglass banner, including VP Claudia Sachs and director of development Derek Evans. Paul Schwake, a former Morgan Creek exec, also joins as chief financial officer.

Some of the numerous projects in the Spyglass development slate include:

  • “The Monster,” an adaptation of the Roberto Benigni film that was a huge hit in Italy, produced by David Hoberman.

  • “From Alice to Ocean,” which Julia Roberts will produce and topline.

  • “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” an adaptation of Douglas Adams’ bestseller scripted by Adams and helmed by Jay Roach.

  • “The Vow,” a dramatic love story that Stephen Herek will direct.

  • “Cosmo Cop,” a futuristic action comedy with Eddie Murphy starring.

  • “The Errand Boy,” a remake of the Jerry Lewis comedy, produced by Tom Jacobson.

  • An untitled Jackie Chan adventure pic, scripted by “Lethal Weapon 4” writers Al Gough and Miles Millar.

  • “Miracles,” under Michael Petrone’s direction.

  • “The Do Over,” a fantasy comedy from writer Dean Lorey (“Nothing to Lose”).

  • “The Barn,” a CIA thriller written by Steve Ashford and Robert Towne.

  • “Paycheck,” an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi short story, scripted by Stuart Hazelton.

  • A remake of “Old Dark House” directed by Nick Goodman.

Birnbaum has been solely responsible for overseeing all of Caravan’s pics since 1994 after Roth left to take over as chairman of Disney Pictures.

Among the releases he oversaw were “Three Musketeers,” “Angels in the Outfield,” “While You Were Sleeping,” “Six Days, Seven Nights,” “G.I. Jane,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Washington Square,” “Metro,” “Dead Presidents” and “I Love Trouble.”

Before Caravan, he was prexy of worldwide production and exec VP of 20th Century Fox.

Barber is the former vice chairman and chief operating officer at Morgan Creek Prods. During his eight-year stretch, he handled all the day-to-day operations of the company in feature film production and distribution, foreign theatrical, video and TV distrib, exhibition and pre-recorded music and music publishing.

He was considered the architect of Morgan Creek’s distrib deals with 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.

His exec producing credits include “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

(Martin Peers contributed to this report.)

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