Renaissance teams with Clear Blue Sky

Partners focus on at least five pix

LONDON — Billionaire Paul Allen is expanding his entertainment empire across the Atlantic.

Clear Blue Sky Prods., his Seattle-based film company, has entered into a long-term alliance with The U.K.’s Renaissance Film.

The alliance brings together two indies with unusually deep pockets. Clear Blue Sky is bankrolled by Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and an investor in DreamWorks. Renaissance raised equity last year from Hermes Investment Management to the tune of $40 million — the largest sum ever committed to a British film company by a City of London institution.

Clear Blue Sky will match Renaissance’s investment in joint projects and share in worldwide revenues.

The partners have struck a three-year deal to produce and co-finance a minimum of five films, with Renaissance handling worldwide sales.

Clear Blue Sky has immediately boarded Renaissance’s “The Luzhin Defense,” directed by Marleen Gorris and starring John Turturro and Emily Watson. Pic is in post-production.

Both partners will bring projects into the deal, although initially the majority will likely come from Renaissance, which has the more established creative team.

“We’re pleased to have developed a close relationship with Renaissance, whose track record and financing and sales infrastructure offers (us) a strong partner for the future,” said Jody Patton, president of Clear Blue Sky.

“The structure of the deal will enable us to greenlight films more quickly and build a slate that creates value and lowers our risk,” said Angus Finney, joint managing director of Renaissance alongside company founder Stephen Evans.

Fully funding films

Renaissance cannot put up more than 50% of a film’s budget. But with Clear Blue Sky now able to match that commitment, the partners will together be in a position to fully finance projects from their own resources.

“Five is the minimum number of films we have agreed to do together, but both partners intend to make sure this deal reaches double figures,” Finney said.

Allen founded Clear Blue Sky in 1997 to explore the indie production business, with a particular emphasis on what the company terms “artistically driven” projects. Patton, who heads the company, is his sister.

Despite its access to Allen’s checkbook, Clear Blue Sky has developed slowly, producing and financing just two movies so far — Julie Taymor’s “Titus” and John Sayles’ “Men With Guns.” It also backed two Michael Apted docus, “Inspirations” and “Me & Isaac Newton,” and partnered with WGBH Boston on an eight-hour TV series about evolution.

“Titus,” in particular, was a painful learning experience for the company, reportedly running way over budget without a completion bond in place.

Art and commerce

The Renaissance deal will give Clear Blue Sky the comfort of a partner that is not only seasoned in the ways of the indie film world, but also has its own sales and distribution operation. And unlike most companies that have pitched projects or deals to Clear Blue Sky, Renaissance is offering to risk its own money as well as Allen’s.

For Renaissance, the relationship is an efficient way to gear up its own financing and strengthens the company’s American presence.

Its credits, stretching back more than a decade, include “The Madness of King George,” “The Wings of the Dove” and “Henry V.” The company re-engineered itself last year with the Hermes deal, launching a sales division and sealing a U.K. output deal with Entertainment Film Distributors.

Over the next five years, Renaissance aims to produce up to 10 pics of its own and exec produce or acquire another 20, as well as pick up completed films, such as Justin Kerrigan’s “Human Traffic,” for international sale.

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