Universal Pictures development executives Jon Berg and Damien Saccani have negotiated early departures from their contracts in order to form their own management-production company, and have signed a first-look deal with their former employer as part of their departure packages.
The pair, who had been directors of development at the studio since 1998 and had about two years left on their contracts, stressed that they have left on good terms. The company, Berg-Saccani Entertainment, will be focused on attracting projects involving young stars and directors and modestly priced projects.
“This company has been a dream for both of us for some time now, and we’re looking forward to beginning a new chapter in our lives while helping to develop the careers of young filmmaking talent,” Berg said. “We believe there is a niche to fill as the studios are beginning to steer away from big-budget films and are taking more and more chances with young talent.”
The move — rumored for several months — could help U repeat its success with its low-budget hit “American Pie,” which topped $100 million domestically despite lacking the clout of a major name on the marquee. The announcement comes a few days after Universal committed to “Racer X,” a car-racing drama aimed at young males and with a budget in the $20 million to $30 million range.
Over 25 projects
Berg, who served under executive vice president of production Allison Brecker, worked on “Pie” in development along with the upcoming “Josie and the Pussycats,” “Curious George” and more than 25 other projects.
Berg said his company, which has started working with writers on several projects, will be open to all genres.
“We want to make modestly priced movies like ‘American Pie’ with enormous upsides, but we’re not just going to focus on teen pictures or broad comedies,” he added.
Saccani served under senior vice president of production Mary Parent and oversaw USA Films’ “Ride With the Devil,” Imagine Entertainment’s “Bowfinger” and four upcoming projects: Imagine’s “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”; Amblin Entertainment’s “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas”; Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” a co-production with DreamWorks; and “Head Over Heels.”
“We have been fortunate to have worked with and learned from such an incredibly talented team, and we are both extremely grateful to everyone at Universal for having faith in us and supporting us in our new venture,” Saccani said. “We look forward to many future successful collaborations.”
The production deal is one of the first made by Universal Pictures chairman Stacey Snider since she was named sole chairman of the studio in early November. “I am thrilled that Universal will be able to remain business partners with Damien and Jon via this production deal,” Snider said. “They were both a vital part of our production team and I have no doubts that they will be successful in their new endeavor. They possess an unlimited amount of energy and enthusiasm, and I wish them nothing but the best.”
Kevin Misher, Universal’s president of production, said the only way the studio would agree to release Berg and Saccani was to establish the production deal. “These guys are young, smart, aggressive businessmen who have a tremendous future ahead of them, and we want to ensure that we stay in business with both of them,” he added.
Berg-Saccani will also launch a television division with the goal of capitalizing on relationships with screenwriters looking to cross over to TV work, and plan to start an online studio to design and create entertainment industry Web sites and develop and broadcast programming for the Internet. The company will continue to seek ideas through the pair’s existing ScriptCave.com site.
Prior to joining Universal, Berg worked for the Canton Co. and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment while Saccani previously worked for Mike Stetson at Touchstone Pictures and CAA.