Comic company stakes out its own prod'n turf

Marvel has a new name and its first 10 pics in development.

With its $525 million debt facility from Merrill Lynch closed, company is changing its name from Marvel Enterprises to Marvel Entertainment, reflecting its new business producing and financing pics internally without a studio partner.

Along with the Merrill Lynch deal, Marvel pacted with Paramount to market and distribute its films for a fee, similar to Lucasfilm’s arrangement with Fox (Daily Variety, April 28).

Though many of its best characters, from Spider-Man to X-Men to Iron Man, are set up for adaptations at studios, Marvel has identified 10 characters and groups it will develop as potential feature franchises to produce itself:

  • patriotic national defender Captain America

  • superhero team the Avengers

  • super-spy Nick Fury

  • African-American adventurer Black Panther

  • Ant-Man, who can shrink to insect size and communicate with ants

  • teenage embodiments of darkness and light Cloak and Dagger

  • mysterious wizard Dr. Strange

  • expert archer Hawkeye

  • Power Pack, a young group of sibling superheroes

  • martial arts expert Shang-Chi

Deal with Merrill allows Marvel to produce pics with budgets between $50 million and $165 million. If the first films are successful, Marvel will be able to replenish the facility to produce new pics in development or sequels to hits.

Company is hoping to release its first pic by summer 2008.

Marvel Studios topper Avi Arad, who is overseeing film development and production, said he had a number of writers and directors in mind to work with and will start making deals immediately now that the credit facility has closed.

“We are going to commission a lot of scripts and start the race to see which move quickest through development,” Arad explained. “We are not significantly veering from what we have been doing with studios, but we now have the luxury of greenlight rights and better financial benefits.”

Pact calls for Marvel Entertainment to fund development. Once a pic is greenlit, the credit facility will pay company back for its development costs. That means coin for pics that never make it out of development will come directly out of Marvel’s bottom line.

In the long run, though, company is hoping it will benefit greatly from hit movies on which it receives all the profits, after covering Paramount’s marketing expenditures and paying a distribution fee.

In addition, Marvel gets gross points for its producing services, retains all ancillary rights and builds its own film library.

If numerous pics fail, however, Merrill Lynch may be able to collect on its collateral: theatrical film rights to Marvel’s characters.

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