Pricey pix catch eye of Spyglass

Co. gets int'l rights for 'Geisha,' 'Zorro' in exchange for coin

Spyglass Entertainment will co-finance two of Columbia Pictures’ biggest upcoming pics, “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Legend of Zorro.”

Deal marks the first co-financing effort between Spyglass and Col since the banner set up shop at the studio last fall. Spyglass has a first-look, nonexclusive production pact at the studio.

In exchange for financing on the two pics, Spyglass gets all international rights on both films. Columbia TriStar Film Distributors Intl. will serve as the distributor in select territories overseas.

Spyglass joins DreamWorks as a financial partner on “Memoirs of a Geisha,” the adaptation of Arthur Golden’s novel that Rob Marshall will direct. Red Wagon’s Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher are producing with Steven Spielberg. Col will market the film, and DreamWorks and Col will share domestic distribution in addition to handling some international territories.

“When Spyglass came to the studio, one component of our first-look agreement was the potential to join us as a co-financing partner on some of our high-profile projects,” said Amy Pascal, chair of the Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group.

“Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Legend of Zorro” are projects “with tremendous foreign appeal,” she added.

“If we didn’t think these pictures could work on a worldwide basis, we wouldn’t have gotten involved,” said Spyglass co-founder Gary Barber. He added that Japan is one of the more obvious territories where “Geisha” may have appeal. It’s the story of Sayuri, a beautiful girl from a tiny Japanese fishing village who must learn to be a geisha in order to survive.

“The Legend of Zorro,” which continues the adventure of the swashbuckling crusader from “The Mask of Zorro,” has already proven itself as a foreign commodity. In 1998 the original film minted $156 million abroad and $93 million in domestic box office.

Martin Campbell is directing the sequel, which reunites stars Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald are producing.

Both “Geisha” and “Zorro” are on Col’s 2005 slate.

Spyglass co-founder Roger Birnbaum said he hopes to do more co-financing projects with Col. “We’re constantly looking at their slate and would love to do more projects. With our new $250 million, five-year revolving credit facility, we’re actively pursuing additional projects.”

Spyglass’ credit facility with JPMorgan Securities was announced in April.

Shingle was founded in 1998 by co-chairmen/co-CEOs Birnbaum and Barber. Company’s box office hits include “The Sixth Sense” and “Bruce Almighty.”

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