JUST NINE MONTHS AFTER Village Roadshow Pictures was restructured to invest in Warner Bros. films, the company — under former WB president Bruce Berman — has become a partner in seven high-profile films, to the tune of $125 million.
At the same time, Village Roadshow is moving forward with its own slate, which will include “L.A. Confidential” novelist James Ellroy scripting a remake of the 1949 Warner Bros. James Cagney drama “White Heat.”
Like many studios, WB has gotten more aggressive about offsetting escalating budgets by sharing risks with partners — particularly after a string of costly films underperformed at the box office.
With major supplier Arnon Milchan’s New Regency moved to Fox, WB plans to lean on its new relationship with VRP and Steven Reuther’s Bel Air to fill the void.
While Reuther’s still getting untracked, VRP’s quick emergence has the studio in position to eventually share risk with partners on up to 40% of its annual slates. VRP is well ahead of its original game plan to co-finance 20 films over a five-year period.
“When I started, I said the movies would come from two places, Warners and Village Roadshow, and it was easier to get jump-started with Warner product,” Berman said. “We originally intended to be involved in a 20-picture program over five years, but it is likely we’ll exceed that.”
Since Berman took over Village Roadshow Pictures, the company is now half-financing:
- “The Matrix,” the Joel Silver-produced sci-fi film that directors Larry and Andy Wachowski just wrapped in Australia with Keanu Reeves;
- “Practical Magic,” the Denise DiNovi-produced adaptation of the Alice Hoffman novel that Griffin Dunne directed, which opens next month with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock starring;
- “Analyze This,” the Paula Weinstein-Barry Levinson-produced comedy directed by Harold Ramis, which stars Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal and Lisa Kudrow;
- “Three to Tango,” the comedy produced by Bobby Newmyer and Jeffrey Silver, starring Neve Campbell and Matthew Perry;
- and “Deep Blue Sea,” the Renny Harlin-directed shark saga shooting in Mexico with Alan Riche, Tony Ludwig and Akiva Goldsman producing, and Samuel L. Jackson and Thomas Jane starring.
VRP also is partnering on two WB films that will begin shooting shortly: “Three Kings,” a David O. Russell-directed drama about soldiers who try to salvage a fortune during the Gulf War, to star George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube, with Paul Witt and Chuck Roven producing; and “Gossip,” the Davis Guggenheim-directed film starring James Marsden and “Dawson’s Creek” star Josh Jackson that is produced by Newmyer and Silver, with Joel Schumacher exec producing.
Berman said Village Roadshow is in talks to assume half the budget on several other WB productions, which will continue until its own slate of pictures matures.
Under the partnership, Berman explained, he shares his development slate with the troika of chairman/co-CEO Terry Semel, president of WB worldwide theatrical business operations James Miller and WB prexy Lorenzo Di Bonaventura.
The execs show Berman their projects, and they fill out the dance card together. Semel, who noted the Village Roadshow relationship with WB goes back a decade, said in a statement that the Berman-topped production entity “has clearly further energized an already great partnership.” Miller, who oversees the studio’s film co-ventures, said the relationship “continues a series of strategic alliances that have been extremely successful for Warner Bros. and our partners.”
While the current activity centers on WB-generated films, Berman has assembled a creative team he hopes will hatch enough Village Roadshow-developed projects to eventually balance the slate.
“What made this easy was that six of those movies were initiated under my tenure as Warners president, so I was familiar with them,” Berman said. “The history between myself and Terry, Jim and Lorenzo has made the relationship work quickly. We know each other so well, but the chemistry only works if the movies work.”
Village Roadshow Pictures, a division of the Melbourne-based conglomerate, took a giant leap into big-budget fare this year, and Berman said he has a generous funding pool from which to work. “As we make the films, the financing revolves, and as they get distributed, the fund gets replenished,” he said. The benefit of risk-sharing to WB is obvious as the studio tries to turn around after a rough year. For Village Roadshow, the investment strategy also made sense.
“Village Roadshow decided to get out of the indie film business and into the major studio business and by joint venturing in movies, you can be in the major studio business without the overhead of a major studio,” Berman said. In addition to the profit potential on movies that hit, Village Roadshow gets distribution rights in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Greece.
Berman said the next step will be partnering on the next wave of projects either with other WB-based producers or from its own creative team of VRP production president Bernie Goldman and veepees Matt Bierman, Dana Goldberg, Kevin McMahon and Marina Glass.
In addition to the Ellroy-scripted “White Heat,” some of the projects VRP is readying internally or with other WB producers include:
- a Robert Towne-directed remake of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “The 39 Steps,” with script by Ehren Krueger, a project Berman began while running his own WB-based company, Plan B;
- “Alone,” a Chuck Pfarrer script being rewritten by Jonathan Lemkin, directed by Anthony Hoffman and to be produced by Mark Canton, about an astronaut who’s stranded on Mars and in dire need of rescue;
- “Replay,” a time travel love story written by Steven Rogers, being produced by Jorge Saralegui and Lee Rich;
- “Drinking: A Love Story,” an adaptation of the Caroline Knapp book about an upper middle-class woman who sinks into alcoholism, with Denise DiNovi producing the project being developed for Nicole Kidman;
- “Dust,” an adaptation of a Charles Pelligrino novel about a group of scientists who race to save Earth from extinction from ecological catastrophes that send plagues running across the globe;
- an untitled Michael Petroni-scripted thriller set in the Vatican and described as reminiscent of “The Omen”;
- and “Breakdown in Evandale,” a Paul Schiff-produced drama written by Brian King and directed by Vincenzo Natali in which a lawyer recovering from a nervous breakdown moves to a seemingly idyllic neighborhood, only to find he, his wife and neighbors are robotic drones serving a single massive brain.
VRP is also working with DiNovi on a Richard Jeffries-scripted adaptation of the James Halperin novel “The Truth Machine,” about a futuristic lie detector; and with Richard Donner and Laura Shuler-Donner on an adaptation of the Jay Cronley novel “An Honest Crook,” about a thief who steals millions only to discover he can’t spend the money without it being traced.