Duo pacts for production, distribution

CANNES — Lionsgate and Eros Intl., the leading distributor of Indian movies, have set up a joint venture spanning distribution and production in India and North America.

Initial aim of the alliance is to better exploit existing slates and library content and to put more volume through the two companies’ respective distribution networks. Production, likely to involve movies in the $10 million-$20 million range, will follow.

“This is a 50-50 deal because both sides are bringing great things to the table,” said Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer.

“There are three good reasons to do this,” he continued. “We want to monetize our library and new film and TV content in better ways. Second, we want to monetize Eros’ properties in home entertainment in North America and together become a major aggregator of other people’s content and distribute library and formats in South Asia. Then, we also want to produce English- and Hindi-language movies together, both original and remakes.”

In addition, Lionsgate is committed to acquiring North America homevideo rights to 20 Eros titles, including “Eklavya: The Royal Guard” and “Gandhi My Father.”

Eros topper Kishore Lulla said Lionsgate’s handling of its titles in the U.S. takes Hindi movies beyond the nonresident Indian population and that Eros’ existing theatrical and homevid distribution operations in North America are not affected by the new venture.

“This is all about the bottom line. We really want to get our titles out better in the U.S.,” Lulla said. “And with a population of 440 million middle class in India, who are growing consumers of entertainment, there are expanding opportunities (for Western content). We will set up subscription VOD platforms, we will syndicate, we will dub.”

Pair said they are also in discussions that may lead to other content owners distributing titles through the joint venture, which will be headquartered in Mumbai and run in initial stages by existing Eros staffers. As it expands beyond aggregation, dedicated staff likely will be named.

“We are talking to a couple of banks and will eventually create a slate fund for production, but the point is to make films of the kind where most of the budget can be covered from our own distribution networks,” Lulla said.

“We will leverage our existing relations with top talent such as Shah Rukh Khan and, keeping budgets within limits, would like to make a better form of ‘Monsoon Wedding.’ ”

Feltheimer said the pair are considering Hindi remakes of pics including “Dirty Dancing,” “Employee of the Month” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” During his tenure as Sony Pictures’ top TV exec in the 1990s, Feltheimer helped launch Sony Entertainment Television, the longest-standing foreign TV operator in India. Eros was a distributor of its channels in the U.K.

“I realized that we needed to be back in India,” Feltheimer said.

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