Coppola’s pic deal gives UA new life

3-year, 10-pic Zoetrope pact to benefit Lion label

After more than a year of on-again, off-again negotiations, Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope completed its production-distribution deal with MGM late Friday.

As reported by Daily Variety Saturday, the three-year arrangement gives Coppola greenlight authority over 10 films produced through the San Francisco-based American Zoetrope, each with all-inclusive budgets of less than $10 million. All films under the arrangement will be released through MGM label United Artists. Coppola is negotiating with a foreign partner to handle the pics’ international distribution.

The first three films under the pact will be “Jeepers Creepers,” “Taking on the Neighborhood” and “CQ.”

“Jeepers a thriller that follows a brother and sister who head home during a college break. “Taking on the Neighborhood” is a drama concerning a young New York City woman who finds herself trapped between the cultures of the Irish and Latino communities. “CQ” will be helmed by vid director Roman Coppola. All three pics will be shot this year.

Big budgets not included

The new MGM pact will not cover all Zoetrope projects. Bigger-budget films like “The Good Shepherd,” which Robert De Niro will direct for Zoetrope and MGM, fall outside Coppola’s greenlight authority. Zoetrope is also developing “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing” at Disney, based on the bestselling Melissa Bank short story collection. That book stemmed from a Bank tale that first appeared in the Coppola-published literary magazine Zoetrope: All Story.

While the deal will make Zoetrope a primary supplier for UA, sources indicated that the arrangement does not call for Coppola to head the indie label — a scenario considered and rejected during the deal-making.

Negotiations for this pact preceded even MGM’s current administration of chairman Alex Yemenidjian and vice chairman Chris McGurk, who came on board last spring. Deal currently in place is similar to one that nearly closed last summer, but the two sides failed to agree on terms.

Revitalization efforts

A member of the MGM board, Coppola has been active in the efforts to revitalize the UA label in its new incarnation as the studio’s specialized arm. The Zoetrope deal is meant to invoke the original spirit of UA, which was once viewed as a creative haven for filmmakers.

In January, Coppola tapped production vet Linda Reisman (“Affliction,” “Waking the Dead”) American Zoetrope’s production head, a newly created post. She is based in the company’s Gotham offices that house Zoetrope: All-Story. Zoetrope also has offices in Los Angeles.

American Zoetrope’s recent productions include “Sleepy Hollow” and “The Third Miracle” as well as upcoming Paramount Classics pic “The Virgin Suicides,” directed by Sofia Coppola.

Coppola originally founded American Zoetrope in 1969 as Zoetrope Studios with fellow USC grads George Lucas, Walter Murch and John Milius. In addition to producing Lucas’ feature-film debut, “THX 1138,” Zoetrope has had a hand in such films as “American Graffiti,” “The Black Stallion,” “Mi Familia,” “Barfly” and “Rumblefish.”

But Zoetrope may be best known for two of Coppola’s own films: “Apocalypse Now,” a pic that industry observers believed would surely drag the indie into bankruptcy, and “One From the Heart,” the one that actually did.

Coppola was represented by ICM and attorneys Barry Hirsch and George Hamm. Studio attorney Eric Greenfield represented MGM.

“Francis charged ICM to find a way to make this happen,” said Jay Shoemaker, CEO of American Zoetrope. “Bart Walker gets a great deal of credit. He was a tireless proponent and we wouldn’t have gotten there without him.”

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