Filmmaker enters three-year development deal

Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures has made a three-year development deal with CJ Entertainment, which will acquire and develop projects and co-produce them with 1492. CJ Entertainment, owned by the South Korea-based CJ Group, gets first crack at distribution rights in Korea, Japan and China and first rights to co-finance each project.

Deal makes CJ Entertainment the latest offshore company to align directly with a major filmmaker who once brought projects directly to studios. Major studios have been ditching those deals over the past several years, forcing filmmakers to look elsewhere to hatch new projects.

Columbus, who runs 1492 with Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe, has a separate development and funding arrangement with Reliance Big Entertainment, one of 10 pacts the India-based company made last year with the companies of some top stars and directors. CAA, which brokered the Reliance Big deals, matched 1492 with CJ Group vice chairman Miky Lee and CJ Entertainment CEO Katharine Kim.

The retreat away from overall deals by studios created an opportunity for ambitious companies like CJ Entertainment to invest in filmmakers whose movies have a global track record. From producing the first three “Harry Potter” pics to the “Night at the Museum” franchise to the upcoming “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” Columbus fits that bill.

“1492′s films have traveled extremely well across the world,” Kim said. “With this partnership, we look forward to bridging Hollywood and Asia by creating global films that will excite the ever-growing audience in Asia, and also introducing interesting Asian stories and talents to the global audience.”

To Columbus, 1492 has finally found a long-term partner after four years of searching, first with investors from Oklahoma, and then a major Hollywood player he wouldn’t name. That led to the introduction to Lee and Kim.

“This is the culmination of a long period of working toward some sense of financial independence, and in Miky and Katharine, we found partners who were compatible in the kind of films we want to make,” Columbus told Daily Variety. “It’s about being comfortable with the people you work with, and being able to shepherd projects that might slip through the cracks in the studio system, and finding franchises we can have an ownership stake in.”

CJ Entertainment’s funding gives 1492 the opportunity to allow projects to percolate at their own speed. Columbus said he takes an active hand even in 1492 projects he doesn’t direct.

“I started as a writer and I still write, whether I take a credit or not,” he said. “That is a strength of our company, allowing us to develop films at a more rapid rate. CJ will be the beneficiary of ideas that I would have taken to studios in the past. “

CJ Entertainment, one of the original investors in DreamWorks, is a powerhouse in Asian production, generating the top Korean box office hit “Haeundae” and Chinese hit “Sophie’s Revenge” in 2009. It recently announced a joint venture with T-joy to build a film studio in Japan.

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