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Calley sealed Centropolis

SPE hooks Devlin and Emmerich

Confirming they’d sealed a lucrative longterm deal for Centropolis Entertainment at Sony Pictures Entertainment (Daily Variety Feb. 18), Dean Devlin said Wednesday that he and partner Roland Emmerich will crank out between one and three “‘Godzilla’-sized” projects per year for the studio.

“There is no set number of pictures, but we’d like to be the main supplier of event movies for Sony,” said Devlin. “It really becomes how many we can work on without diluting quality. But we’re ambitious and looking at delivering at least one, and possibly two or three, each year.”

SPE prexy and COO John Calley added that he could easily see Devlin and Emmerich making their next 10 pics for Sony.

“We want to make them as comfortable as possible,” Calley said. “We’d be surprised if we don’t get more than one (major pic) per year, and ideally it will be more than that.”

At Sony, Centropolis joins such filmmakers as John Woo and Terence Chang, Wolfgang Peterson, Paul Verhoeven, James L. Brooks, Doug Wick and Ron Bass.

But with a rich discretionary fund to buy virtually any source material they want, Devlin and Emmerich will have free rein to bring in material.

Though their projects will be expected to carry big budgets, Calley said one of the reasons Sony inked the pair was for their economical approach to big pics. “They’re very efficient producers. They also don’t require that gigantic gross player to star in it,” Calley said. “They conceive of events that are affordable.”

Usually, Devlin and Emmerich write together, Devlin produces and Emmerich directs. But under the Sony deal, they’ll switch from time to time, with Devlin getting his turn behind the camera. He helmed second unit on “Independence Day” and “Stargate.”

“I will definitely make my directing debut under this deal, and Roland will produce it,” said Devlin.

Making an overall deal was considered a longshot even a month ago, because the duo felt they’d have better leverage on their big bucks offerings if they shopped them one at a time.

They changed their mind after “Godzilla,” feeling that they’d been treated better by Sony than by any of their previous employers.

“It would have been our number-one choice of place to make movies anyway, and Roland and I realized that over the last several years, we’ve been spending too much time thinking about deals and not movies,” said Devlin.

Calley said he’d like to think that Sony’s support played a role in securing the pair. Devlin and Emmerich were somewhat peeved over difficulties with 20th Century Fox during the making of “Independence Day.”

Centropolis, which will likely be housed on the Sony lot, is run by Devlin, Emmerich and Ute Emmerich, the sister of the director, who is executive producer on all the films.

The SPE deal, which sources said will include a backend payday of between 15% and 20%, is the culmination of a most unlikely partnership.

Though he’s the son of retired producer Don Devlin (“The Witches of Eastwick”), the 35-year old Devlin entered the business as an actor. Schooled alongside the likes of Sharon Stone under teacher Roy London, Devlin had a recurring role on the first season of “L.A. Law.” He left after three episodes to take a bigger role on a series called “Hard Copy.”

“I went from a great No. 1 show to the No. 78 show,” said Devlin, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise. That’s because he was soon free to join the cast of “Moon 44,” a low budget sci-fi film that Emmerich directed in Germany.

The son of one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of gardening equipment, Emmerich found his green thumb in film. As a student, he directed “The Noah’s Ark Principal” as his thesis.

But he wasn’t supposed to make an expensive feature, and his school sent it to the Berlin Film Festival hoping to recoup the department’s budget outlay. It became a big hit in Germany and led the now 42-year-old Emmerich to “Moon 44” and Devlin.

“The script wasn’t especially strong, and it was a $2 million budget, so I wasn’t expecting much when I went to Germany,” Devlin recalled. “But his camera work was exceptional, and he was so good with actors. He let me rewrite some dialogue, and when he was brought in to do ‘Isobar,’ he asked me to write a draft and we realized how much we liked working together. I gave up acting in 1990, and I don’t miss it, not even a little bit. I don’t call myself a former actor, but rather a reformed actor.”

They did “Universal Soldier,” followed by the surprisingly successful “Stargate.” Then they wrote “Independence Day,” which changed their lives. The spec featured a knockout premise tailor-made for a July 4 weekend opening. Within its opening pages, it even had the marketing hook, “The world ends July 4.”

Fox beat out several suitors to close a deal with their CAA agent Michael Wimer during one heated weekend. Featuring a guaranteed greenlight and fees north of $6 million, it was one of the biggest spec packages of all time, and proved a bargain: the $70 million film grossed north of $800 million worldwide.

While they haggled with Fox over the possibility of an “ID4” sequel, the duo agreed to redraft “Godzilla,” a film TriStar had halted, choking on director Jan De Bont’s $130 million budget. The duo ultimately will bring it in at around $100 million. Devlin would not comment specifically on the erosion of their relationship at Fox, the status of the “ID4” sequel or “Fantastic Voyage” remake. He did confirm that Fox’s TV division did much to end the relationship when, after a much-hyped launch, the Fox Network abruptly canceled their sci-fi series “The Visitor.” Said Devlin: “The making of ‘The Visitor’ was the worst professional experience of my life.”

Sources said that cancellation day fell on Emmerich’s birthday, and the only executive-suite consolation call came from Sony, where the duo had already become hooked on working with Calley.

“Because my father was a producer, he always talked about a certain type of executive he admired, and the kind of man he described I never met until I met John Calley,” said Devlin. “He’s not only a leader, but also a filmmaker and someone you can talk to on a business or creative level. He became a real mentor to us.” Though Devlin wouldn’t get into specifics about key man clauses, it’s clear that the Centropolis relationship centers on Calley. “It’s definitely his influence directly on us and also in the direction of the studio that turned us on to going there,” said Devlin.

Devlin doubted Centropolis would do much staffing up, though its low-budget division, Streamline, will be folded into the larger company.

Emmerich and Devlin are busy finishing the effects on “Godzilla” but will take almost no time off before moving on. As the opening weekend grosses for “Godzilla” are being counted over Memorial Day, they’ll be in Emmerich’s house in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, hashing out the next project.

“It has been a lucky spot for us, where we did ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Godzilla,’ ” said Devlin. “It’s a total immersion. There are no phones, no going out, we work from morning until night on the story and script. I can’t say it’s pleasant, but by the time we’re done, we’ve quizzed each other so much that we know exactly what we’re going to do and how.”