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Sony, Peters change nature of their deal

Sony Pictures Entertainment issued a statement Friday that says it has converted its deal with Peters Entertainment from an exclusive to a non-exclusive arrangement, and extended the pact for at least two more years.

The announcement sets the stage for Peters Entertainment to begin setting up movie projects at other studios, and was widely considered among top Hollywood dealmakers as the precursor to a move by Peters Entertainment into a production arrangement with Warner Bros.

WB president Terry Semel and Peters Entertainment head Jon Peters are close friends, and speculation has centered on a joint financing venture in which Peters would raise part of the production budgets from foreign sources and WB would raise the rest (Variety, Dec. 13). Sources said negotiations between Peters and WB could begin as early as June.

For Sony Pictures Entertainment, the conversion and extension of the Peters deal allows it to continue to actively and amicably manage the 25-30 projects it has in development at Peters En-tertainment, including four projects that appear close to production for Columbia Pictures — the Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson starrer “Money Train,” the gangster pic “Gangland,” the Jeb Stuart-scripted Steven Seagal vehicle “Fire Down Below” and “Mistress of the Seas.”

Peters Entertainment was set up as a result of former co-chairman Jon Peters’ severance from Sony Pix in May 1991, but it has yet to produce a project since its formation. It has spent as much as $ 20 million on development deals since its launch.

According to the terse announcement, “SPE emphasized that Mr. Peters remained a special and important member of its creative family, and the company expects him to be a rich source of exciting and diverse films in the future. The company will announce specific pictures that Peters Entertainment will be making with them shortly.”

The original Peters Entertainment deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment was set to expire on March 1, 1995. Under terms of the extension, the company will remain at SPE on a non-exclusive basis until either February or March of 1997.

The longtime partner of SPE chairman Peter Guber, Peters has been a controversial figure on the studio lot. The discretionary fund clout of his company has often overshadowed the efforts of producers with smaller deals, and it is said that he continued to draw a substantial portion of his $ 2.7 million annual salary under terms of his producer’s pact.

Under Peters Entertainment head Adam Fields, the company has a spate of top projects in development. Among them are the rights to novelist Lane Von Herzen’s “The Unfastened Heart,” screenwriters Dewi Ongra and Robert De Luxembourg’s treatment of the Don Juan story and the life of L.A. barrio boxing teacher Al Stankie, which is being penned by Chris Cleveland.

The new Peters Entertainment agreement was forged in a sensitive and secret series of high-level negotiations earlier this month among representatives for Peters and Sony Pix execs. It is said to contain triggers that would automatically lengthen the package beyond 1997. Other details could not be confirmed.