Regency: Royalty in Fox’s realm

Co-prexies Harper, Parker aim for bolder material

When New Regency re-upped its deal with Twentieth Century Fox last week, it wasn’t just looking to keep a good thing rolling — the shingle was positioning itself to produce a larger number of films, more of which would be fully financed, a return to television production and stronger creative control than ever before.

In a time of shrinking slates and disappearing film financing, those ambitious plans make one of the longest-standing distribution deals in Hollywood — extended last week from 2013 to 2022 — even more of an anomaly.

On the film side, Regency co-prexies Bob Harper and Hutch Parker say they’ll look to fill what they perceive as a gap in more personalized, “bolder” material left by studios’ push for tentpole productions in the last few years.

“We’re in a position to actually take advantage of that downtick and make more product,” Harper told Variety.

Regency, which has earned Fox more than $5 billion since it began producing pics for them in 1998, has a library of 100-plus films that it can use as collateral for securing bank loans. Those loans, notably from JPMorgan, have allowed the shingle to bring more money to the negotiating table, a practice that’s becoming more and more common as studios look to partner for outside financing.

And more money, especially in Regency’s case, allows for more creative control and the ability to own more of the product.

“From a deal perspective, it’s not really different,” said Regency co-prexy Bob Harper of the reupped pact. “From a strategy perspective, that’s where you’ll see the distinction.”

That strategy, says Harper and Parker, will involve Regency taking more creative risks.

“In many ways it goes back to the roots of what Regency and (founder) Arnon (Milchan) was doing when he formed the company in the Warner Bros. days,” said Parker, referencing films like “L.A. Confidential,” “JFK” and other adventurous early Regency pictures.

Not fielding their own distribution operation lessens the pressure on Regency to churn out product. Starting last year, Regency upped the number of films it was willing to fully finance and also make per year.

But Parker and Harper are quick to point out that their capacity to finance movies doesn’t commit them to a slate.

“We’re not going to force ourselves to make five to seven movies if we don’t have five to seven movies that we want to make,” Parker said. That number would still be an increase from Regency’s average of three to four.

“We’re looking forward to greater number of films,” Fox topper Jim Gianopulos told Variety. But, he said, that increased number would not mean that the studio, which has more than a dozen on-the-lot production deals, would rely more on fully-financed or co-financed Regency Pictures.

“It’s a wonderful way to augment our slate,” he said.

Fox released close to two dozen films last year, with just four — “Love and Other Drugs,” “Marmaduke,” “Vampires Suck” and “Knight and Day” — from Regency.

Milchan, the Israeli-born mogul who launched New Regency in 1991 after a decade or so producing and financing pics like “Once Upon a Time in America,” signed the company’s first distribution deal with Fox in 1998 after seven years at Warner Bros. At WB, Regency produced five to six movies per year including “The Devil’s Advocate,” “A Time to Kill” and “The Client.” The outfit grossed hundreds of millions during that tenure.

When the time came to reup the distribution deal, WB balked, viewing the terms as too pricey. Milchan eventually found a home at 20th Century Fox.

This time around, Regency was ready to stay put, signing a 15-year agreement with the studio set to expire in 2013. The deal included a 20% ownership stake in Regency by News Corp., which reportedly shelled out $200 million in the deal.

Shingle’s re-entry strategy for television will mirror its model for film. Although Regency reports that it’s earned more than $1.5 billion from its television projects, the company has not been very active in the small screen world since Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” went off the air in 2006.

While Harper and Parker declined to give specifics, they did say that the production company will look to take more advantage of their creative relationships, especially in a time when the line between filmmakers and TV production talent has become less distinct. This time, Regency will focus more on financing the creative side of their projects rather than the production side.

David T. Friendly, who’s produced several films with New Regency including the “Big Momma’s” franchise, credits Regency’s attention to filmmakers so far with much of their success. Once, when Friendly had trouble pegging down a budget for a Regency film, he approached Harper and Parker for guidance.

“I said, ‘Just give me a number that you will make this movie for. Tell me what the movie is worth where you’re feeling comfortable.” And that number never changed. They stuck to their word and I think that’s all you can ask for as a producer.”

Up next, Regency’s sci-fi thriller “Now” and laffers “What’s Your Number?” and “Monte Carlo” will unspool later this year.

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