Sony mandates pickups

'Year,' Ferrell pic join with shingle

In its first major move since Senator Intl. ended its run with German-based Senator Entertainment and became Mandate Pictures, the shingle is kicking into gear and partnering with Sony on three high-profile pics.

Sony will distribute the $25 million Will Ferrell-Dustin Hoffman starrer “Stranger Than Fiction” in North America as well as significant foreign territories. Both stars are being paid less than their normal rates.

Sony will also take domestic rights on the supernatural thriller “Passengers,” directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Both films were developed, packaged and financed by Mandate and will see release in 2006.

In addition, Columbia has come on board to develop Mandate’s drama “The Year of Wonders.”

It’s not the first time the two companies have partnered. Sony distribbed Senator productions “The Grudge” and “Boogeyman,” and Mandate and Sony are developing the comicbook adaptation “30 Days of Night,” which is on the fast track at the studio.

Mandate prexy Joe Drake said the new deal with Sony portended bigger things ahead for Mandate. “We’re actually kind of moving into high gear,” Drake said. “Our output is actually increasing as a result of this deal.”

Drake said his company’s goal has always been four to six pics per year, but that in the past the shingle has not achieved such numbers. This year, however, he said, “We should be ahead of that projection with a lot of growth on the way.”

“Stranger Than Fiction,” written by Zach Helm, is a comedy about an IRS auditor who becomes the subject of a narration only he can hear.

Lindsay Doran is producing. Principal photography is slated to start in April.

Production on “Passengers” begins this summer. Pic centers on a grief counselor who must help a plane crash survivor through his own denial of the horrific event.

The film was written by Ronnie Christensen and will be produced by Matthew Rhodes, Judd Payne and Keri Selig.

“The Year of Wonders,” written by Tim Bogart, is a heartfelt drama being produced by Alan Riche, Peter Riche and Peter Schlessel. Story concerns a father who agrees to carry out his wife’s last wishes by taking their daughter on a journey to experience the “wonders of the world.”

Led by Drake, head of production Nathan Kahane and chief financial officer Brian Goldsmith, Mandate was formed in January, when Senator Intl. completed a management buyout from Senator Entertainment. Shingle is backed by a revolving credit facility from a New York-based hedge fund.

Mandate is in development with Universal and Vertigo Entertainment on “Strangers” and last year produced the comedy “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” with New Line.

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