Deal is first step towards independent shingle

Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner have taken their initial step in establishing an autonomous company.

Not even a week after its bitter split with Paramount, Cruise/Wagner Prods. has partnered with First and Goal, an investment firm headed by Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder, homebuilding and mortgage banking company NVR chair Dwight Schar and Six Flags prexy-CEO Mark Shapiro.

Deal gives Cruise/Wagner Prods. development and overhead costs for two years, with the option to renew long term. A dollar amount was not disclosed.

Pact is said to be part one of a three-step process for C/W in setting up an independently operated production shingle post-Par. The other two parts of the deal include distribution and finance elements.

Wagner and Shapiro separately hinted to Daily Variety that while the pact is only for overhead and development, this new financial arrangement could morph into something more substantial — either creatively or with increased investments — in the near future.

Wagner credited the “synergy” of her new partners’ entrepreneurial skills in bringing them together. “It’s really not about money or how much or when you get it back. It’s about access to ideas and people. We get access to them and their business expertise and they get access to our business,” she said. “There is a good exchange here.”

Arrangement will be nonexclusive and allow C/W to work with all studios; it won’t affect Cruise’s ability to star in films for any other shingles or studios.

Deal comes one week after Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone stunned Cruise, Wagner and the rest of Hollywood when he announced that his studio would not be renewing the C/W pact, citing Cruise’s unacceptable behavior.

In a press release issued Monday outlining the arrangement, Shapiro said discussions between his company and C/W began in mid-August.

But long before that, it had been rumored that C/W’s deal with Paramount was going south because the studio was trying to scale back and drastically reduce the company’s rich annual deal.

While attempting to renegotiate a new deal, C/W’s reps at CAA started exploring other opportunities for the shingle that included First and Goal. It was also reported last week that the company was in the process of raising $100 million in hedge fund money for production.

Despite Redstone’s criticism of Cruise, Shapiro defended the star as a viable investment.

“It’d be very shortsighted to think Tom Cruise is not a great investment given the success and box office strength he’s had,” said Shapiro, who has the most Hollywood experience of the First and Goal trio. He served as exec veep of programming and production for ESPN and ABC Sports. “Make no bones about it, this is an investment for us. And when you have a track record like Cruise/Wagner, you are looking for a big return. But Dan and I are not here to grab headlines and write a blank check. There is potential here and a lot we can learn from each other.”

C/W’s next project will likely be finding new office space. The duo’s Par contract expires Thursday, and Wagner said they have yet to secure a new address.

(Pamela McClintock in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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