'Tao of Steve' part of deal, source says

NEW YORK — Two of Sony’s Christmas movies, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Vertical Limit,” will end up on the Fox Network and its sister channel FX in an exclusive shared window — and the license fee for both pictures could soar above $13 million, depending on their box office gross.

Fox, FX and Columbia TriStar TV, which is distributing the movies, declined comment, but one source says that, as part of the deal, FX has agreed to buy “The Tao of Steve,” from Sony Pictures Classics, in an exclusive four-year window. Another picture that could end up in the mix is the straight-to-video sequel to Columbia’s successful 1999 movie “Cruel Intentions.”

Industry experts were surprised that a number of networks, including Turner Broadcasting’s TBS and TNT and Barry Diller’s USA, bid on the package because “Crouching Tiger” is a subtitled foreign film, the kind of picture that usually goes begging in the commercial TV marketplace.

But studio sources say when “Crouching Tiger” becomes available in the network window in the fall of 2003 Fox, at its request, will schedule a dubbed version. Fox Network gets first play of the two movies, after which they’ll go to FX, and then seesaw between the two networks throughout the life of the four-year deal.

Columbia engineered a fatter license fee for “Crouching Tiger” and “Vertical Limit” by selling them to two networks in the window instead of just one. If a competing broadcast or cable network wanted both movies exclusively, with no sharing, it would’ve had to pony up a higher percentage of the eventual box office gross than the usual 15%.

“Crouching Tiger” is the unknown in the deal. Vibrant word of mouth and a sheaf of Academy Award nominations could propel the movie into the $30 million to $40 million range when it goes wide, which would be spectacular for a foreign-language picture. At that gross, Fox and FX would have to shell out up to $6 million in license fees for the title.

A possible harbinger: During the weekend of Dec. 15-17, “Crouching Tiger” pocketed more money from each theater — $34, 799 — than any other movie in release, including “What Women Want” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

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