Imagenation renews Participant, WB ties

ABU DHABI — Abu Dhabi’s $1 billion production arm Imagenation can’t stop making deals.

In addition to the $10 million development pact with Walter Parkes and Laurie Macdonald that was announced Oct. 9, the deep-pocketed shingle has heightened its partnership with Participant Media, with whom it inked a $250 million joint fund last September.

Imagenation will co-finance Participant’s Jodie Foster-helmed, Mel Gibson starring “The Beaver,” along with Summit Entertainment, which will distribute the film in the U.S. and most international territories.

The two companies also are exploring ways in which a new-media distribution operation could be employed in the Middle East. The region has yet to maximize the revenues for pics released there due to a fragmented distribution network, censorship in some countries and high levels of piracy in many.

“You’ve got more than 300 million people in this region, with 60% under the age of 26. That’s a lot of people who are online, on Facebook, twittering and on MySpace,” Participant Media chief exec Jim Berk told Daily Variety. “We want to engage them and activate them and get them to respond to our films.”

Imagenation execs also have resuscitated the megabucks deal with Warner Bros. first announced in September 2007.

That deal originally earmarked $500 million for film production, a further $500 million for vidgames, as well as plans to build theaters and theme parks.

Aside from one greenlit feature — Robert Rodriguez’s “Shorts” — progress had been slow on the filmmaking side, leading some to speculate the partnership had stalled.

That is set to change, with Imagenation execs now in regular talks with Warner Bros. execs about identifying their next joint project. Those discussions are set to bear fruit before the end of the year.

The original deal — which predated the formal creation of Imagenation in September 2008 — has been reworked from the ground up by execs from both companies. Work on the 2.0 version of the Abu Dhabi-Warners pact was quietly completed in July of this year, with all of the real estate aspects now spun out, allowing Imagenation and Warner Bros. to focus purely on the film fund — which remains in the vicinity of $500 million — and the vidgame fund — which is now less than the $500 million first envisaged.

The two companies have already released five videogames — including “Watchmen,” “Speed Racer” and “Fear 2″ — and have a further 10-15 in development.

“We are in weekly discussions with Warner Bros., we have a good partnership with them, and we should know by the end of the year what our next project will be,” said Imagenation chief operation officer Stefan Brunner.

Imagenation execs also announced that they had inked a $75 million joint fund with Singapore’s MDA and Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment.

That deal, which will see the trio fund three to four cross-cultural English-language features a year over the next five years, is an extension to the $250 million joint venture announced with Amritraj last October.

No projects have yet been announced out of the initial deal, although the first greenlit projects to emanate out of the new pact are expected in time for the American Film Market in November.

“It’s a never-before-seen combination of Hollywood, India, the Middle East and Asia,” said MDA chief exec Christopher Chia. “It’s like a belt around the world.”

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