Sony, Hunt teaming on prod’n pact

Former Castle Rock exec Jackson to become development chieftain

“Mad About You” star/exec producer Helen Hunt has hung out her production shingle at Sony Pictures Entertainment, with emphasis being placed on finding the actress film projects to star in and produce.

Hunt is bringing in her manager, Connie Tavel, as her production partner in the as-yet unnamed venture. Former Castle Rock Entertainment production exec Dana Jackson is coming aboard as the company’s development chieftain.

Hunt, who appears in James L. Brooks’ “As Good as It Gets” for Tri-Star Pictures this Christmas season, has been in the biz since 1973, when she made her film debut in “Pioneer Woman.”

Her breakthrough came in 1996, when she starred opposite Bill Paxton in Warner Bros.’ summer megahit “Twister.” Hunt also received an Emmy earlier this year for her performance as Jamie Buchman on NBC’s “Mad About You.”

Hunt’s production deal at Sony comes in the wake of the studio’s hot pursuit (and eventual loss) of Will Smith for a similar deal.

Sony executives have recently warmed to such housekeeping packages — a departure from previous practice, which had been to sever or downgrade virtually all talent-derived production deals.

In signing Hunt, Columbia Tri-Star Motion Picture Group vice-chairman Gareth Wigan said: “She’s truly remarkable in (“As Good as It Gets”), and she’s going to impress a lot of people in this business. But beyond that, I don’t know of an actor with whom I enjoy talking about story, about narrative and about the business of film more than Helen.”

The deal is also said to embrace episodic and longform television production, but only for Hunt to produce and/or direct.

In addition to serving as exec producer on “Mad About You,” Hunt will be directing three of the show’s segments later this season.

Sources said Hunt’s overall deal with Sony might be used to help the studio sign the actress to another year’s commitment to “Mad About You,” since Hunt’s contract is said to be up for renewal at the end of this season.

Hunt’s manager Tavel confirmed the deal Tuesday.

“We are really not looking for any particular kind of material with this company — only smart material that challenges and entertains,” Tavel said. “We feel it is time for Helen to explore her other talents, and this agreement is a perfect instrument to that end.”

contributor:Chris Petrikin and Jenny Hontz

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