Donen to helm helmers’ outfit

New venture lacks production topper

Creative Artists Agency tenpercenter Josh Donen will likely head the new high-profile directors’ company being set up at USA Films.

Helmers David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze and possibly Sam Mendes already have signed on to the new venture, which lacks a production topper.

Having spent recent days fielding numerous offers from major studios seeking to do business or offering international distribution of the new group’s pics, Donen is the top candidate for the job, according to insiders familiar with the group’s dealings.

Of course, he would need to re-evaluate his commitment to agenting if he chose to accept a position as the company’s production head; while Fincher, Jonze and Mendes are CAA clients, Payne and Soderbergh are not, and their reps would no doubt protest a rival agency handling business for their clients on a permanent basis.

Donen is close to Fincher, the director who first envisioned the collective. And Fincher and Donen have conferred frequently on the formation of the nascent director-owned production venture during the last year, with Donen helping Fincher with the organization of the company’s suitors, the most ardent of which is USA Films, where the unnamed group will likely take their pics for domestic distribution.

Donen carries both excellent credentials and the substantial relationships needed to run such a concern. Hailing from Hollywood royalty as the offspring of legendary film director Stanley Donen, the younger Donen has experience as a producer, agent and executive in motion picture production.

He previously served as co-chair of Rastar Pictures and worked as a production exec at both ABC Films and at Universal Pictures under Casey Silver.

‘Quick’ career

Donen then left U to become a producer, producing Sam Raimi’s “The Quick and the Dead” for TriStar Pictures and exec producing Soderbergh’s “The Underneath” for Gramercy Pictures, both in 1995.

In 1996, he produced “The Great White Hype” for Fox, but then got eager to return to dealmaking, this time seated at the other side of the bargaining table. In 1996 he became a motion picture literary agent at William Morris, where he spent two years until joining CAA in August 1998.

Eventual ownership

It remains to be seen what final shape the nascent helmers’ company will assume. Under the terms of the soon-to-close deal negotiated by Donen and USA Films owner Barry Diller, the directors would have the opportunity to own their pics in five to seven years but would forgo first dollar gross participation in those pics (Daily Variety, Oct. 4).

Meanwhile, as the five directors’ fluid association gels into something more firm, Donen, who also reps such clients as helmer James Foley (“The Corruptor”) and writer-producer John Wells, may soon have to decide if he’ll return once more to producing.

Calls to Donen and a CAA spokesman were not returned Sunday.

(Michael Fleming contributed to this report.)

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