In a surprise marriage of Madison Avenue and Hollywood, Gotham-based indie producer Open City Films — run by principals Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente — has formed a partnership with maverick New York ad biz mogul Donny Deutsch, chairman and CEO of Deutsch Inc.
Their just-inked three-year pact comes with a multimillion-dollar funding commitment from Deutsch, the nation’s 10th-largest ad agency.
Known on Madison Avenue for his groundbreaking commercials and brash style, Deutsch continues to lead Deutsch Inc., though he sold the company to media conglom Interpublic Group (IPG) for an estimated $300 million in 2000. Exec runs the firm out of capacious offices located in Gotham’s shabby-chic meatpacking district — far from Madison Avenue glitz and formality but nonetheless home to blue-chip clients like Mitsubishi Motors, Revlon, Coors, Snapple, Novartis, Bank of America, DirecTV and Monster Worldwide.
New shingle will be called Deutsch Open City, and Deutsch will cover Open City’s overhead and development, enabling the company to be more competitive in bidding for scripts and new material.
Open City is known for its eclectic films, including Tony Bui’s Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner “Three Seasons” and Jim Jarmusch’s newest film, Cate Blanchett-Bill Murray starrer “Coffee and Cigarettes,” which made its world premiere Sunday at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.
Open City also adapted the 9/11 play “The Guys,” premiering it at the 2002 Toronto Intl. Film Festival; it was later released by Focus Features. Looking forward, Open City is also completing “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Don Cheadle, with Alfonso Cuaron and Jorge Vergara’s Monsoon shingle also producing.
Despite the endless chatter in Hollywood about “brand extension” and “product integration” through Madison Avenue dealmaking, the Open City-Deutsch marriage will not be about brand building. Deutsch, whose ad agency did $2.5 billion in business last year, said his sudden involvement in independent film has nothing to do with that.
“You won’t be seeing any Mitsubishis in these movies,” Deutsch told Daily Variety, referencing the automaker’s $25 million P&A commitment to have its cars featured in the U release “2 Fast 2 Furious.”
“But what you will see is me bringing my expertise to bear, helping to sell our movies in fresh ways,” Deutsch said. “I have always felt that the movie business still lives in the 1950s as far as how it markets and sells its movies. (Open City) has the reputation and the taste, and they have done it all with limited resources. Let’s see what happens when they have some firepower.”
Deutsch may even personally finance some of the new company’s films, which are expected to be budgeted at $10 million and above. However, the shingle will also continue to seek financing through domestic and international pre-sales.”Donny is enabling Open City to become a mini-studio — without a distribution arm,” said New York attorney Andrew Hurwitz, who structured the deal on behalf of Open City (Jimmy Cesear repped Deutsch on his end of the pact).
Company’s Blow Up Pictures, a low-budget division, has produced pics “Lovely and Amazing,” “Chuck and Buck” and “Series 7.” Blow Up will continue to make pics budgeted under $2 million outside of the Deutsch pact.
New deal reps a major expansion for Open City, which in the past had scrambled to cobble together financing from multiple sources. Company’s alignment with a single, deep-pocketed investor comes as the economic squeeze on indie producers continues. It also follows on the heels of other Gotham indies Good Machine, HartSharp and Killer Films having morphed into larger — and in some cases studio-owned — entities with significant financial muscle behind them.
In the new setup, Vicente and Kliot, along with Open City head of development Tory Tunnell, will find and develop material for Deutsch Open City. Deutsch will help plan a financial package for the films he and Open City toppers agrees to make. Deutsch will also be integrally involved with each film’s creative marketing.
“It’s incredibly refreshing in terms of the way he follows his gut,” said Kliot, who with Vicente has produced 12 movies over the past eight years, and the two have served as exec producers or co-producers on another 10. “And, he likes our gumption,” he added.
“The excitement for me here,” Deutsch said of his first foray into movies, “is doing things outside of the box, the way I like to do things. That’s what these guys stand for and what I stand for. The last thing I want to do is something in a traditional way.”