Warner's deal with Zac Efron is only the latest example

Production deals are getting scarcer and leaner, but even in a tightfisted economic climate some studios are still willing to take a chance on youth — for the right price.

Warner Bros., notably, last month signed 22-year-old “High School Musical” star Zac Efron to a two-year production deal. The deal comes after Efron’s work on “17 Again” where he not only showed off his acting chops but his business savvy to the studio when heavily promoted the pic over several international territories.

And while it’s rare for relatively new talent to land such deals, Warners — perhaps with an eye toward its stable of DC Comics heroes such as the Flash and youth properties like Jonny Quest — is willing to roll the dice to be in business with a star of proven youth appeal and potential future drawing power.

David Thwaites, co-prexy of production for Phoenix Pictures, says from the studio perspective, pacts like Efron’s are all about getting in early on an actor’s career, when the costs are lower.

“It would make sense to make these deals now because it wouldn’t be as expensive as it would be down the road,” Thwaites says. “This would be making a clear investment in the future as well. … Warners is showing that they believe in Zac; with Zac being in the early part of his career, he can still be shaped and molded by them somewhat.”

Still, while child and teen stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Drew Barrymore have transitioned into producing and found success as they matured, the track record for youthful actors with production pacts has been modest at best. Alicia Silverstone, hot off her breakout success in “Clueless,” was signed to a production deal with Columbia Pictures for two pictures when she was just 18. The deal yielded just one film, when her first produced pic, “Excess Baggage,” underperformed at the box office.

These days, while “Twilight” stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson seem likely candidates for production deals, it’s worth noting that there are only a few young actors who can get a film greenlit based solely on their participation.

“It’s rare today that you can find an actor who has the goods to act and the business savvy that merits such deals,” says one agent. “Most young actors are still trying to figure themselves out and where they want their careers to go.”

And young thesps are generally more interested in stretching their wings with passion projects and quirky indie pics than in focusing on commercial studio fare.

Stewart and Pattinson captured B.O. gold with the “Twilight” pics, but their other recent projects — Pattinson in “Remember Me” and Stewart in “Adventureland” and “The Runaways” — don’t have the same kind of mass appeal as those films.

“It does depend on whether the studio’s and the talent’s interests are aligned,” Thwaites says of production pacts for teen and twentysomething thesps. “Sometimes a star just wants to make their passion projects while the studio wants those box office hits, and this can lead to unbeneficial outcomes for both sides.”

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