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Boutique vision in focus

Sibling exex at the helm

Does talent run in the family? Certainly Hollywood has had a long and illustrious history of companies whose leadership dipped into their own gene pools for inspiration, the Goldwyn and Zanuck clans being only two of the more high-profile names that spring to mind.

So it is with ShoWest Producer of the Year Arnon Milchan, and the recent formation of his Regency Vision, the boutique arm of his Warner-based New Regency Films. Run by Milchan’s own dynamic sibling duo, Alexandra and Elinor, the main twist in this old Hollywood story of making papa proud is that the young Vision execs, both in their mid-20s, sold their powerful father on building a company that could handle the off-beat, or darker-toned projects that New Regency had neither the time nor inclination to produce.

Of course, with plans to keep budgets below $15 million, perhaps as low as $5 million, while still churning out two to three “Academy-type” films a year, the daughters Milchan may have to squeeze more pennies than Zanuck’s or Goldwyn’s famous offspring could have imagined.

The notion of a studio-based indie producing arthouse fare harks back a decade or so when classic divisions were all the rage (before the adult market was gobbled up by home video) with the majors. On the decline in recent years, today only Sony Pictures Entertainment has a proven specialized arm, with New Line’s Fine Line Pictures and Fox’s Searchlight Films striving to up the indie stakes for their parent companies. Disney-owned Miramax enjoys the kind of autonomy that separates its label from Disney’s signature fare in a relationship that’s truly unique.

But, according to Elinor Milchan, who handles marketing chores in New York with Alexandra overseeing production from Burbank, Regency Vision plans to stake out turf where few classics units have traveled. “Our model is how Miramax was in their early days,” Elinor explains. “We want to make small, director-driven films that are too difficult to release under a big commercial banner.” Echoes L.A.-based Alexandra: “With my knowledge of independent talent and Elinor’s past marketing experience with Warners, we hope to provide the kind of hands-on attention these films need, even though we’re still inside the studio system.”

Although the Milchan sisters want to exploit Warners’ massive distribution machine far more aggressively than past specialized units have, a glance at the company’s upcoming slate reveals work that would seem to fall well outside indie fare. Their first effort, “Goodbye Lover,” has a top-heavy creative team behind it that makes for somewhat strange bedfellows — Roland Joffe, Ellen DeGeneres and Buck Henry, among others — and a budget edging past $15 million. Other films in the company’s hopper — “Boyfriends,” executive produced by “A Time To Kill” director Joel Schumacher, “Crowded Room,” produced by former Warner Bros. president of worldwide feature production Bruce Berman, and an untitled David Caruso TV project with Nicholas Pileggi (“Casino”) co-producing and writing — came about via past relationships with Arnon and New Regency.

Observes Berman of “Crowded Room’s” rather complex history: “Arnon and I acquired the rights to the script James Cameron had developed over three years ago, when I was still with Warners. Because of the nature of the piece — about a man with multiple personality disorder — we knew it would be a tour-de-force for a big star, but would need to be done at a price.” Set to roll in September with Nick Cassavetes (“Unhook the Stars”) directing, the project, while hardly arthouse fare, is the type of darkly controversial film Vision wants on its slate.

Of his relationship with Alexandra Milchan, who is overseeing production on “Crowded Room,” Berman notes: “Some people may say it’s been easy for her because her father runs the company. But if you know Arnon, you know the deck is stacked against you the closer you are to him. He’ll demand even more from his daughters exactly because of the opportunity they’ve been given.”

“Goodbye Lover’s” first-time screenwriter, Ron Peer, agrees, describing both young executives as “focused and rather sweet; not at all like the kind of players Hollywood routinely serves up.” Optioned as a potential $2 million- to $3 million-dollar film from N.Y.-based Gotham Entertainment, “Goodbye Lover” was sniffed out by Alexandra Milchan and eventually brought to Roland Joffe via the director’s agency, William Morris. “It came together really fast,” Peer notes, “and without Alexandra’s efforts, it may have had a very different outcome.”

Lest any indies wanting to get their films set up at Regency Vision be confused, however, financial power ends at the tip of the senior Milchan’s pen. “Only Arnon can greenlight our movies,” Alexandra observes. “We feel very much that our work here is to open up creative doors that were unavailable to him at New Regency, except perhaps on a very small scale with films like “Six Degrees of Separation” or “The New Age.” Adds East Coast partner Elinor, “Everything goes through Arnon because it is his company. But the great thing about Vision is our ability to look at projects from people who would be reluctant to approach our father with a specialized film.”

With two bright and ambitious daughters to augment the king’s court, will there be tension afoot as to what movies eventually roll? Not likely. Born in Israel and raised in Paris, both women were equally immersed in the film business from a young age, and share their father’s passion — and frustrations — for getting movies made.

Concludes “Crowded Room’s” producer Berman of the direction Vision might take with Alexandra and Elinor at the helm: “I think it will be a true consensus. If there’s a split in passion for a particular project, the younger-generation Milchan will sometimes prevail, and sometimes it will be Arnon. Ultimately, the company will reflect a kind of mutuality of feeling; and the same concerns that all filmmakers have, indie or not, will come up: Who’s in the movie? What’s it about? And how much does it cost?”

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