Mandalay set to stock Sony pipeline

A Sharon Stone remake of “Gloria,” the 1980 John Cassavetes pic that grabbed an Oscar nom for Gena Rowlands, is being unveiled by Mandalay Pictures to foreign buyers for distribution at the American Film Market, which opens today in Santa Monica. A full slate of upcoming releases marks a turning point for the Sony-based production, financing and distribution company headed by Peter Guber.

“Nine Mandalay pictures will hit the screens in the next 15 months,” Mandalay prexy Adam Platnick told Daily Variety, emphasizing an aggressive push to fill Sony’s domestic distribution pipeline. The $15 million “I Know What You Did … ,” a teen suspenser starring Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Ryan Filippi and Freddie Prinze Jr. and written by “Scream” scribe Kevin Williamson, is also at the market and is pegged for an Oct. 24 release.

Sony worldwide marketing chief Bob Levin said, “Both Adam and (Mandalay marketing head) John Jacobs are great partners. It’s a very positive, collaborative and intense relationship. Mandalay is a very important contributor to Sony’s slate of films.”

For the short term, Mandalay is apparently responsible for a big portion of Sony’s major inhouse releases.

But also taking a global view that includes long-term distrib partnerships in six major territories as well as indie foreign distribs elsewhere, Platnick stated, “We are the pre-eminent supplier of A-plus-level product to the overseas market.”

The company’s outlook and production schedule was quite a bit more tentative at the time of the last AFM, however.

At this time last year, “Seven Years in Tibet” was in limbo, awaiting word from Brad Pitt as to whether he would star in the Jean Jacques Annaud epic, and the Barbet Schroeder-helmed “Desperate Measures” had not yet emerged from development. Ridley Scott’s “The Fan” was in post-production, and lensing was just beginning on “Donnie Brasco,” the Al Pacino/Johnny Depp Mafia drama.

The Scott picture struck out, but “Measures,” a thriller toplining Michael Keaton and Andy Garcia, has an Aug. 8 opening. “Tibet,” with Pitt, finally, and a score by John Williams, is set for Oct. 10, while “Brasco” bows this Friday to generally positive advance reviews.

The moment is pivotal for Mandalay, which has hit some rough spots in its first two years, including a highly publicized blowup last year over “The Double,” which would have toplined John Travolta if not for a falling out between the star and director Roman Polanski.

Mandalay’s relationship with Sony has also been tested. The company was initially set up with an equity investment from Sony Corp. of America after Guber’s exit in September 1994 from his post as chief executive officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

But the deal was turned over to SPE when an internal corporate shift gave Sony topper Nobuyuki Idea more say over the studio. Following the exit of Sony president Michael Schulhof, the terms of Mandalay’s deal underwent some changes. The agreement now puts Sony co-financing behind five to six Mandalay pics per year with the right to negotiate on a pic-by-pic basis on rights in territories outside Mandalay’s output arrangements.

With those questions out of the way (including a possible settlement of differences with Travolta, sources say), a new management team in place at Sony, partnerships in place overseas and a deal soon to close with London-based Coutts & Co. for as much as $100 million in financing, Mandalay is in an optimal position, according to Platnick.

“We have a fantastic working relationship with Bob Levin and (SPE distribution head) Jeff Blake on the domestic side,” he said, while also crediting Summit Entertainment for its ongoing role in foreign sales and servicing of output deals. Those include Entertainment Film Distributors in the U.K., Neue Constantin in Germany, Cecchi Gori in Italy, SKC in Korea, Village Roadshow in Australia and TriPictures in Spain.

Mandalay is in ongoing talks with several distribs in France, including TF1, Bac Film and AMLF, to open a Gallic pipeline. Japan remains wide open with films being handled by local distribs, including Nippon Herald, Toha Towa and JVC.

Mandalay pics hitting screens this year include “Double Team,” a Tsui Hark actioner with Jean-Claude Van Damme and tattooed hoopster Dennis Rodman (April 4); “Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables,” the classic tale directed by Bille August and starring Liam Neeson, Uma Thurman, Geoffrey Rush and Claire Danes (Christmas ’97); “Shut Up And Dance,” a Randa Haines pop hoofer starring Vanessa Williams a la “Dirty Dancing,” (mid-Feb. ’98) ; and “Wild Things,” an erotic thriller from John McNaughton starring Kevin Bacon, Robert Downey Jr. and Neve Campbell, skedded for spring break ’98 .

“Gloria,” in which Stone plays a streetwise Bronx woman who protects a young boy from the mob, is to be helmed by Scott Kalvert (“Basketball Diaries”) and shot on location in New York this summer for a summer ’98 release. Also greenlit, but as yet without a director, is “The Deep End of the Ocean,” based on the novel by Jacquelyn Mitchard, which has Michelle Pfieffer attached as a producer and star.

Other pics on the boards being shepherded by production head Todd Black are “The Intruder,” a thriller with helmer Philip Kaufman attached; “The Killing Game,” with director Marc Rocco on board; “Mr. Hawaii,” to be helmed by Steve Chase; “Freeze,” a big-budget pic set in the Antarctic to be produced by Gale Anne Hurd; and a feature based on the Flash Gordon comic strips.