Studio pacts with Indian co. Reliance
The emergence of Reliance as DreamWorks’ principal new financier marks the latest and most dramatic example of talent — and their agents — aligning with outsiders and using other people’s money.Beyond emerging as DreamWorks’ principal new financier, the Indian company closed development deals with seven Hollywood heavyweights. At Cannes last month, Reliance trumpeted deals with seven production companies headed by high-profile thesps (Daily Variety, May 19) and this week pacted to pay each company at least $1.2 million-$2 million to develop projects. The development-fund arrangements with the septet — Nicolas Cage’s Saturn Prods., Jim Carrey’s JC 23 Entertainment, George Clooney’s Smokehouse Prods., Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and Jay Roach’s Everyman Pictures — gives each enough coin to purchase material without a studio’s help. All of the players are repped by CAA. Reliance will commit funds based on its approval of a project’s concept, then gets the option to half-finance the film generated. It also will get distrib rights in India. It will be treated as a producer if it doesn’t want to add more financing to the projects. CAA represents the lion’s share of film gross players in Hollywood and thus has the greatest incentive to find alternative sources of financing and deal templates with studios at a time when the traditional first-dollar gross deal is becoming an endangered species. Reliance makes its Hollywood move after CAA guided another Indian conglom, UTV, to a deal to develop and potentially finance a slate of projects generated by Overbrook Entertainment partners Will Smith and James Lassiter and to be distributed by Sony. Then UTV followed with a bold deal with multihyphenate M. Night Shyamalan to co-finance thriller “The Happening,” just released by Fox. Under that arrangement, Shyamalan traded his first-dollar gross participation for 25% ownership of the pic’s copyright and a cash break arrangement that allows him to share 50% of the film’s revenue stream once UTV and Fox recoup budget and P&A costs. After a strong opening weekend, that deal looks like it could pay off for Shyamalan, who brought the film in at about $50 million. It has grossed nearly $70 million worldwide after six days. Reliance’s deals with Cage, Carrey, Clooney, Columbus, Hanks, Pitt and Roach will potentially give that talent the opportunity to fashion a finished script that can be shopped to studios along with 50% of the film’s financing. That will allow the talent to make the most favorable deal possible, because if a studio doesn’t want to pay a star or director’s usual gross deal, the package can be shopped to another studio. While CAA is steering Reliance at a deliberately measured pace, the Indian conglom likely sees the arrangement as getting its foot in the door. Reliance may well finance the films itself and make a distribution deal with a studio.