McMichael shingles with Puskar for pix

Buyer, lawyer team to take on indie biz

SYDNEY — Rod Puskar, one of Australia’s best-known buyers of U.S. films, has launched his own shingle in cahoots with entertainment lawyer Michael McMichael, an alliance which Puskar figures will strengthen his role in the often precarious indie business.

For the past 20 years, Puskar was partnered with John Reid in Reid & Puskar, riding the ups and downs of acquiring U.S. films for Australia and New Zealand. The two men, who formed their distribution company after being colleagues at Greater Union, decided to go their separate ways.

Effective March 20, Puskar has reinvented himself as Rod Puskar Enterprises (while Reid formed his own banner, Classic 99). McMichael, who is continuing his law practice, is serving as a consultant to oversee distribution contracts and financial administration.

Moreover, McMichael is formulating plans to raise coin from Oz investors for international co-prods and for distributing product in Australia — both of which would benefit Puskar.

“The role of the independent has diminished over the past three years. We need to find alternative avenues of raising money to acquire and distribute films,” Puskar tells Variety.

He intends to continue relationships with suppliers such as Lions Gate and Initial Entertainment Group (from whom Reid & Puskar bought the Jon Favreau/Cameron Diaz starrer “Very Bad Things”).

And as with his previous firm, he’ll route all acquisitions through Universal Pictures Video and, theatrically, via United Intl. Pictures. He expects to continue to sell pay TV rights primarily to the Movie Network.

R&P shifted its homevid deal to Universal in October 2000 (courted by U’s Glenn Casey) after a nine-year relationship with Columbia TriStar Home Video; Puskar estimates their product clocked gross sales of $A20 million ($10 million) during their tenure at the Sony label.

Puskar will be scouting for films at the Cannes fest and market (as will Reid) with more optimism after branding this year’s American Film Market as the “worst I’ve attended in 20 years.”

“I see great synergies between what I’m doing and Rod’s company,” says McMichael, whose first brush with the Oz film industry was handling the location contracts for director Bruce Beresford’s 1976 pic “Don’s Party.” In recent years, his clients included pop group Air Supply, filmmakers Alex Proyas and Andrew Mason, thesp Jack Thompson and legit impresario Kevin Jacobsen.

McMichael is shepherding two co-prods for which he aims to raise coin using division 10BA of the Tax Act, which gives investors a 100% write-off. While 10BA is occasionally used to finance wholly Australian films, it’s seldom been tapped for co-prods, which themselves are a rarely used mechanism.

Under his scheme, Oz investors would put up less than 50% of their investment as equity and borrow the balance, secured by pre-sales contracts.

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