Canton hopes to put APG on film map

Producer Mark Canton is film executive once more.

On Thursday, Canton inked a deal to become chairman and CEO of Artists Production Group, the sister company to percentery Artists Management Group.

In his new capacity, Canton will both oversee development on the 50- odd APG projects, as well as those formerly set up at the Canton Co. Two former Canton Co. employees, Barbara Kalish and Michael Gordon, will work under him at APG, as will all other current APG employees.

APG prexy Cathy Shulman, who joined APG as its president in late 1998, will remain in place under Canton.

Canton said that AMG principals Michael Ovitz and Rick Yorn “have presented me with a unique, hands-on opportunity to be both an executive and a filmmaker and I am looking forward to working with them and with everyone at AMG and APG as a partner in this forward-moving venture.”

Great future seen

For her part, Shulman said that Canton’s arrival signified “that we’re on our way to become a serious production entity,” and added that with respect to Vivendi’s ownership of Universal, “my hope is that we merge well and do a lot of business with them. I think with the foundation I’ve laid and with (Canton’s) arrival, we’re catapulting into a great future.”

Until recently, Canton hung his production shingle on the Warner Bros. lot. He signed his first deal in 1997 and reupped in August 2000 with financing from Senator Film. However, when the German film company pulled its financing, the deal disintegrated, and Canton’s staff was pinkslipped (Daily Variety, October 21, 2001). The Canton-Senator pact produced only one picture, Luis Mandoki’s forthcoming Col thriller, “24 Hours.”

Canton was in recent conversations with MGM about a first-look deal there, but those talks were abandoned.

Michael Ovitz, a co-founder of APG, praised Canton’s “outstanding track record as a senior executive” and said his “well-established relationship with the creative community” made Canton “the ideal chief executive for our company.”

Past hits record

Canton inked his deal at Warners in August 1997 after serving as head of Columbia Pictures.

Despite its much-vaunted production co-venture with StudioCanal, APG has yet to make a splash. So far, only three APG films have been lensed, none of them with money from the StudioCanal deal: Ed Burns’ “Sidewalks of New York,” released last November by Paramount Classics; Screen Gems’ upcoming Samuel L. Jackson starrer “51st State” and Brian Burns’ “You Stupid Man,” which is still searching for distribution.

Created in July of 2000, terms of the APG/StudioCanal deal called for a three-year commitment that would put up 60% of the budget on up to 15 pictures — five pics per year, with budgets between $30 million and $80 million. The only fruit to be borne of that APG/StudioCanal deal so far is “Timeline,” the Michael Crichton novel adaptation set up at Paramount that is skedded to begin lensing in Montreal this April.

Given the recent acquisition of Universal by StudioCanal parent Vivendi, some in the industry have questioned why the APG/StudioCanal pact needs renewal at its expiry in July of next year.

No worries

If others have their doubts, Canton is unfazed.

“If they didn’t recognize it was time to step things up this way, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he told Daily Variety. “We’re going to be very competitive. I don’t believe Mike (Ovitz) wants this to be a ‘take your time’ situation … If we do our jobs right, we should be able to come up with a fair number of pictures in a reasonable amount of time.”

According to AMG spokesman Mike Burns, “We’ve always been looking for a CEO — that’s why (Shulman) always had the title of ‘president.’ ”

Asked about what sort of budgets could be expected for the upcoming APG slate, Canton said, “Diversity will carry the day, as it did when I ran things at a studio. But I can tell you this: We will be very aggressive about making movies.”

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