Bring your own money

Studios seek self-funding producers for pacts

Almost every Hollywood studio has its uber-producers — the Brian Grazers and Joel Silvers whose phone calls are quickly returned and whose tentpoles keep the B.O. booming. The privileged few nowadays include Jerry Bruckheimer at Disney, Tom Pollock at DreamWorks, Scott Free at Fox and Section Eight at Warners.

However, with Hollywood’s increasing need for cash, a new breed of powerful producers are positioned to earn the studios’ favor with their unique ability to bring money — real money — to the table.

These include such disparate entities as Hyde Park, Spyglass, Icon, New Regency, FilmEngine, Lakeshore, Escape Artists and Shangri-La.

None of the companies are new, but the studios’ intensified need for financing is.

With the move of Spyglass to DreamWorks and FilmEngine to New Line, Miramax is the only studio that doesn’t house a co-financier.

There are other companies that offer co-financing in theory, but have yet to put together the final pieces that would allow the studios to look at them as real partners. Without the proof, they’re dead in the water if only because studios can’t afford to take a chance.

On a slightly lower rung are so-called go-to guys: up-and-comers or old hands who often get first pick of whatever projects the studios have to offer.

Some are known for their development savvy, others for their ability to get things done with a minimum of fuss, still others for the money they manage to bring to the table. They include:

Benderspink. Chris Bender and JC Spink’s management-production shingle will release “The Butterfly Effect” for New Line next year, with two more productions expected to roll this year: “Just Friends” and “Monster-In-Law.”

Di Bonaventura Prods. The former Warners head found happiness at Paramount. The studio has acquired a half-dozen projects for Lorenzo Di Bonaventura since he inked his first-look four months ago.

Misher Films. The former production head got to kick off his life as a Universal producer with “The Scorpion King,” and is prepping “The Interpreter” with Working Title, with The Rock starrer “Welcome to the Jungle” now in post.

Team Todd. At DreamWorks, sisters Suzanne and Jennifer Todd are producing “Lionboy,” the first in a trilogy of children’s books about a boy who can communicate with big cats, as well what the studio hopes will be a franchise featuring spy Matt Helm.

Tehani. In the two years since John Baldecchi signed his production deal at Columbia, he’s producing “Scared Guys” with Adam Sandler, the “Hot Wheels” pic to be directed by McG and “RPM,” which he brought to the studio with Simon West attached to direct.

In our semi-annual Facts on Pacts survey, Variety counted 223 producers who can claim studio deals, up from 218 last fall. However, studio execs say they expect a few of these deals to end through attrition by the end of the year.

The biggest drop was at Miramax and Dimension, which now have just 14 deals, down from 18. A number of deals previously credited to Miramax now fall under Dimension.

Paramount saw the most growth, jumping from 17 deals to 22 — even with the shedding of Icon and Kopelson/Intertainment.

Warners and Sony are now tied for the most deals at any studio, each housing 32.

Of the nearly two dozen companies that have lost their overhead deals since last fall, few rep major producers.

They include writers and directors (Ron Bass, Jonathan Demme, David Fincher, Lasse Hallstrom) as well as smaller shops headed by producers like Laura Bickford (“Traffic”), John Lyons (“Austin Powers”) and Michael London (“House of Sand and Fog”).

However, producers who remain on the studio lots — and who are not part of the elite mentioned above — say that their creative input counts for less than they imagined.”Good taste doesn’t mean what it used to mean,” says one Columbia producer. “They just care about profitability, not if it’s a good movie. Movie studios are little, tiny things in a huge conglomerate. It’s not even about budget anymore. It’s ‘Can you sell it?’ ”

Others say that despite their deals on the lot, there’s no rush among studio execs to read their material.

A producer who made his studio deal less than a year ago says, “Once they have you, there’s no heat. It’s hard to get a studio to read your stuff fast. We’re finding it a lot harder to get things going.”

That’s a common complaint, but as one Paramount producer points out, “Having a deal doesn’t slow me down. It’s slow at every studio.”

Another pointed out that with a deal, “you lose your ability to play potential buyers against each other.”

However, for all of the flaws in these deals, producers say it’s better than the alternative.

“You’re better off getting a half million a year from a studio than $750,000 from a German financier,” says a producer based at New Line. “The belief is, ‘If they were worth anything, they would be locked in.’

“I tend not to give material to people without studio deals,” he adds.

Producers who have spent time both inside and outside the studio gates agree: There’s a real preference for on-the-lot producers when it comes to submitting material.

However, it’s increasingly clear that what makes the deals valuable to the producers themselves is the money, since respect seems such a relative thing.

Without studio largesse, a producer could wind up with rickets.

A producer stands to earn a very nice living if he can get few projects before the cameras. Until then, however, all a producer receives when he sets up a project outside his home studio is $12,500. That’s half of a $25,000 development fee, an industry standard that hasn’t changed in decades.

The producer gets the other half when the film goes into production — or into turnaround.

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