Summit rises for ‘Escapade’

Co. to produce 3 pix a year budgeted at under $40 mil

Patrick Wachsberger’s Summit Entertainment will finance and produce “Escapade,” a project to be written and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (“Moonstruck”).

Pact is part of Summit’s blueprint to own a handful of the dozen-plus films the international sales company handles each year. Summit plans to produce three titles annually, with budgets of $40 million and under.

Based on Shanley’s original pitch, “Escapade” is a modern fable about a man who begins to interact fearlessly with society’s seedier elements after suffering a nervous breakdown. As a result, he changes their lives as well as his own.

Earlier this month, Summit paid low- against mid-six figures for the spec script “Closure” by former attorney and first-time screenwriter Ellen Rapoport. After reading the screenplay over night, Summit senior VP of production Modi Wiczyk and Wachsberger made a preemptive bid for the story about a high-powered lawyer who, after being dumped by her fiance, tracks down and confronts every guy who’s ever broken up with her.

Wiczyk said that the company’s production push was based on wanting the ability to “control the material from the get-go.”

“We have a lot of different things to put on the table,” he said. “Writers look for control and financial participation. They want to make sure that they don’t go into development hell.”

Wiczyk emphasized, however, that Summit was in no way drawing back from what he called its “core competence” — foreign sales and co-financing structures. Summit’s foreign sales product stems primarily from its relationships with Artisan Entertainment, Mandalay Pictures, Newmarket Capital Group and Constantin Films. These ties have availed the company of pics such as “The Blair Witch Project” franchise and “Cruel Intentions.”

Wachsberger has also made a number of one-off buys from the Universal slate. Summit and Newmarket partnered to acquire most international rights to Universal Pictures’ “American Pie,” which proved to be a hit worldwide, as well as U’s upcoming teen thriller “The Skulls.” Summit also picked up all international rights on the studio’s “U-571.”

Ideal title

Summit is handling a handful of select territories on “The Mexican,” a film that Wachsberger cited as an ideal example of the sort of title that Summit would like to produce. Co-produced by DreamWorks and Newmarket, pic is budgeted at under $40 million. Stars Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt will receive gross points.

In addition to building production relationships, Summit continues to forge ties with foreign distribution partners. Most recently, Summit pacted with Italian distrib Eagle Pictures, which will release Artisan’s “Novocaine,” starring Steve Martin, and Constantin’s “The Calling.”

Noting the recent departure of Italian distribution kingpin Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Wachsberger said, “The Italian theatrical arena is in great flux at the moment with tremendous potential and opportunities. This is the start of a new relationship for Summit, which I anticipate will be the beginning of a very prosperous and long-term partnership for us in Italy.”

Wiczyk added, “Summit’s core business (in foreign distribution) gives us the leverage to get in other businesses. We’re not going to do anything that veers away from that. If we drop that ball, we’re screwed.”

Credits for Shanley, who is repped by CAA, include “Four Corners,” “January Man,” “Alive” and “Congo.” He also wrote and directed “Joe vs. the Volcano,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

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