Universal plans new world view

CANNES — Universal Pictures, currently in negotiations for Latin American and Spanish rights to Betty Kaplan’s “Dona Barbara,” has shifted its approach on the international front. The studio now intends to seek out more foreign co-financing and split rights deals, U chairman Casey Silver told Daily Variety.

To that end, the studio is hosting a luncheon Friday at the Hotel Carlton with 100 distributors from Europe, Japan, the U.K. and Australia.

The meet will mark U’s first formal attempt at developing relationships to secure foreign financing. It also reflects the current trend among Hollywood studios to help defray costs on big-budget projects.

With U’s recent announcement of its acquisition of October Films, the studio will almost automatically be thrust into the position of sharing rights on October’s arthouse fare as well. October plans to produce new product and to sell foreign rights to help finance the pics.

In past years, U has shared foreign rights on only two of its major releases: “Casino” with France’s TF1 and “Twelve Monkeys” with distribs in Japan, Germany, France and the U.K.

“The whole world is looking to do co-productions,” Silver said. “We don’t want to sit there and wait until they come. By going to Cannes, we’re saying, ‘We’re here to be taken seriously.’ We will be one of the first if not the first that people will come to with their interesting projects.”

The studio, Silver said, wants to co-finance its own big-budget projects, as well as invest in locally made pics, such as “Dona Barbara,” a Latin American production.

U also recently acquired Latin American rights for Alfonso Arau’s “Zapata.” Latin America theatrical distribution for the Arau pic will be handled by UIP, while homevideo distrib will fall under CIC’s domain.

“Dona Barbara” stars Esther Goris, a Latin American thesp who won the best actress nod at the Madrid Film Festival for “Eva Peron.” It also stars Juan Perugorria (“Strawberry and Chocolate”).

“The international marketplace is growing twice as quickly as the domestic,” Silver said. “Local territories have the ability to make fine products for those markets. It’s about opportunistically pursuing that as a revenue source.”

Universal has tapped a number of senior executives to work on co-financing deals. They include Silver; Chris McGurk, chief operating officer; John Gumper, exec VP of the motion picture group; Jim Burke, senior vice prexy of international operations; Marc Platt, president of production; Matt Wall, director of acquisitions; and Nadia Bronson, exec veep of international marketing.

McGurk added that U is planning a methodical approach to its international stab. “We’re doing this very carefully and intelligently to improve the profile of our pictures,” he said. “This is not a wholesale mandate to go out and get some money.”

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