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Producer deal puts Disney back on laff track

Mouse wins out over studios competing for Simonds

Walt Disney Pictures has made a renewed commitment to comedy, signing producer Robert Simonds to a three-year, first-look deal that will make him among the best paid producers in town.

Simonds was brought into the studio fold by Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group chairman Dick Cook and president Nina Jacobson. Aside from an overhead deal to house his company, Simonds will be paid multiple seven-figure fees against backend, said sources. He’ll also be rewarded if he continues his recent pace.

Simonds will be joined by his company president Tracey Trench, who has exec produced his last six films.

The producer comes to Disney from Universal, where he has been headquartered since 1998 when he produced his first comedy, “Problem Child.” Although he made “Head Over Heels” for U, Simonds recently produced many projects elsewhere, such as “Little Nicky” for New Line, “See Spot Run” for Warner Bros., “Joe Dirt” for Columbia and two for Disney: the in production “Corky Romano,” which stars “Saturday Night Live” castmember Chris Kattan, and “Frank McKlusky, C.I.,” which will open Oct. 12. Those comedies will be the second and third films Simonds has produced for Disney, following the Adam Sandler hit “The Waterboy.”

Disney was among several studios vying for Simonds, and the producer said he chose that studio because he felt he had the greatest chance to make his movies under one roof, and because he’d grown close to Jacobson, Cook, Mark Vahradian and marketing head Oren Aviv. “I can focus my energies with people I really like and trust,” said Simonds. “We’ve developed a shorthand, and I feel supported and protectedat the same time.”

Cook and Jacobson were equally effusive. “Bob’s at the top of his game as a comedy producer and we couldn’t be more excited to have him on the team,” said Cook. “Bob’s been the producer of some of the most successful comedies of the last decade.”

When Simonds began producing low-cost comedies at U, he had the genre mostly to himself. But, with the exception of “Little Nicky,” films like “The Waterboy,” “The Wedding Singer” and “Happy Gilmore” almost never lost money and often returned so much of it that Simonds’ stature was elevated, and other studios began cranking out comedies that gambled on comics with movie potential.

Simonds hopes to elevate the quality and conscience of the films he makes at Disney, he said, but he has no plans on lessening the volume. He has at least five projects in advanced stages of development for Disney.

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