At Cloud 9, the feeling is Mutual

Gary Levinsohn and Mark Gordon’s production and finance company has created a foreign sales division, and inked a multiyear equity partnership with four of its key foreign distributor-investors.

Their 18-month-old company, formerly known as Cloud Nine Entertainment, also has adopted a new name, Mutual Film Co. The moniker is intended to reflect the co-venture’s goal of allowing several investors to share the risk — and profits — of a portfolio of projects.

The four overseas partners, Germany’s Tele-Munchen, the U.K.’s BBC, Japan’s Toho-Towa/Marubeni and France’s UGC-Ph, will co-finance the development, production and international sales of feature films.

In return, the companies will receive distribution rights in their territories and an equity stake in the films on a worldwide basis.

Previously, Mutual had sought foreign investors on a picture-by-picture basis.

At home at Par

The company, which co-financed Paramount’s thriller “The Relic” and produced and co-financed the upcoming Morgan Freeman/Christian Slater starrer “The Flood,” is currently based at Paramount Pictures, where Gordon and Levinsohn have a first-look production deal.

The first project distributed by Mutual Films Intl. will be the Scott Rudin production “A Simple Plan,” directed by John Boorman.

The picture, which at one time was set up at Savoy Pictures, has had a tortuous development history. Par will domestically distribute “Plan,” which is set to begin shooting in January 1998.

The company also has obtained international rights to Terry Gilliam’s “Defective Detective.” Produced by Rudin, Atlas Entertainment and Mutual, the film is written by Gilliam and Richard LaGravenese.

The new sales arm will handle distribution rights to territories not represented by Mutual’s foreign investors.

In the past, Levinsohn typically set up deals in key territories and then turned additional sales over to an established foreign sales company such as Polygram Intl.

Mifed debut

Mutual Intl. will make its market debut at Mifed in October, headed up by chief operating officer Robert Lazarus, who joined the company in December after a six-year stint at Turner Pictures Worldwide.

Lazarus said the division will strictly be used to handle sales on films Mutual produces or finances. “It’s not our intention to be in the business of acquiring films so we can sell them,” he said.

Levinsohn said the decision to partner with a single distributor in each key territory, rather than finance each picture on an ad hoc basis, was “better for long-term survival.”

“Our commitment is to being part of a partnership rather than trying to find the highest bidder on every film,” he said. “For instance, Toho-Towa owns and controls 70% of the theaters in Japan. We made the decision that they can provide us with as good distribution as anybody else.”

The partnership also gives Mutual the ability to develop material and negotiate studio co-financing deals on behalf of all the partners.

For the foreign investors, the deal provides the opportunity to get in on projects from the earliest stages.

“To acquire event films for the Japanese theatrical market is getting increasingly difficult,” said Harumasa Shirasu, president of Toho-Towa. “(Mutual’s) unique skills, knowledge and relationships in the industry allow us access to major films that otherwise would be unavailable.”

Prior to the deal, Gordon and Levinsohn began production on “Saving Private Ryan,” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. Mutual is co-financing the film, which is produced by Spielberg, Gordon, Levinsohn and Ian Bryce.

“Ryan” is a joint production between DreamWorks, which will distribute domestically, and Paramount, which will handle international distribution.

The company will soon begin shooting “Paulie: A Parrot’s Tale” for DreamWorks. Gordon, Levinsohn and Mutual production president Allison Segan produce the film, about a wayward parrot.

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