‘Jack’ duo parties with Savoy

In a ground-breaking arrangement for African-American filmmakers, Savoy Pictures is finalizing a six-picture output deal that gives “House Party” and “New Jack City” producers George Jackson and Doug McHenry the power to greenlight their own pictures.

Savoy has already acquired Preston Whitmore’s spec script “The Walking Dead” for the producing duo. It will mark Whitmore’s directing debut after the sale to TriStar Pictures of his “No. 4.”

While financial details of the three-year pact could not be confirmed, sources said the duo will receive about $ 900,000 a year as an advance against their producing fees on movies delivered to Savoy.

Under terms of the deal, the producers have the authority to greenlight films , provided they meet certain budget and content requirements.

Budgets for pix produced by Jackson and McHenry at Savoy will range from $ 6 million to $ 12 million and, according to sources, the films cannot be period films and must be black-oriented.

The signing of Jackson and McHenry, who have been based at Warner Bros. for the past several years, represents something of a coup for Savoy Pictures, which to date has not had a significant number of films in production or development. With Jackson and McHenry, the company is assured of a number of moderately budgeted mainstream films.

In fact, Jackson and McHenry have long been front-runners to become the first African-American studio chiefs. They were reportedly pursued by Polygram Entertainment Group to head A&M Films and position A&M as a producer of urban titles. The producers have been publicly outspoken about a Hollywood system that creates few opportunities for minorities and women.

One reason the duo didn’t stay at Warners, sources said, was that they couldn’t get “New Jack City 2” off the ground. The project has languished for a number of reasons, including the studio’s reluctance to make the film due to violence that broke out when “New Jack City” opened.

Sources also said that the duo lost one of their biggest supporters when Mark Canton left Warners to take over as chairman of Columbia. However, Jackson and McHenry still have several projects in development at Warner Bros.

The relationship between the producers and “The Walking Dead” scripter Whitmore has been ongoing for some time. Jackson and McHenry are producing “No. 4,” which is contemplated to go into production at the end of the year.

In addition, Whitmore, who received $ 150,000 against $ 400,000 for the script, has a pay-or-play deal for his directing services.

Savoy execs and William Morris agents Arnold Rifkin and Jonathan Sheinberg, who brokered the deal for Jackson/McHenry, weren’t available forcomment.

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