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WB’s French connection

Five-year Canal Plus pic pact gives Reuther the reins

Warner Bros. and Canal Plus announced Monday a five-year co-financing pact to produce and distribute four to six mainstream motion pictures per year through a newly-created film company that will be headed by producer Steven D. Reuther.

The joint venture, which was the culmination of months of talks between WB in Burbank and Paris-based Canal Plus, lays the groundwork for what Warners officials say will be one of its most significant sources of films for the next several years.

Coming just weeks after the inking of joint production deals with Village Roadshow and Polygram, the Canal Plus enterprise underscores Warners’ increasing reliance on co-financing approaches to filmmaking following a yearlong run of costly box office flops.

“This new company will be the best financed independent film company around today and marks the most significant commitment we have made that illustrates the strategy we invented and have perfected over the years,” said Jim Miller, president of Warners worldwide theatrical business operations, and chief architect of the agreement with Canal Plus and Reuther.

Under the agreement, Warner Bros. will handle worldwide distribution of all the films in all media — including theatrical release, television and video — with the exception of France and Germany.

Reuther said the still-unnamed company would probably produce approximately 25 films during the five-year pact, with budgets averaging a U.S. industry standard $40 million each.

“We’re going to be competitive, and we know we’re going to have to pay for that,” said Reuther. The agreement also brings Reuther, most recently president and CEO of Douglas/Reuther Prods., back to familiar turf: From 1989 to 1994, he served as president of production at New Regency, which co-produced or distributed several motion pictures under a similar arrangement with Warner Bros.

Films will be produced under a mix of arrangements, with financing and distribution shared variously between Warners, Canal Plus and the new production company, according to a statement issued by Robert Daly and Terry Semel, Warners’ chairmen and co-CEOs.

Canal Plus’ premium channels across Europe will have exclusive pay-TV rights to the movies produced by the new firm.

Reuther said the new company will produce “mainstream films designed for a broad range of audiences and international dis-tribution.”

“I don’t produce just action films or romantic comedies,” said Reuther. “My taste goes all over the place.”

Warners has already handed Reuther the reins to his first project under the new agreement with Canal Plus: Kevin Costner-starrer “Message in a Bottle,” produced by Tig Prods. and Di Novi Pictures.

Reuther’s recent production credits include “Face/Off,” “The Ghost and the Darkness” and “The Rainmaker.” Other notable titles are “Pretty Woman” and “Dirty Dancing.”

The latest venture continues recent expansions of long-standing business relationships between Warners and Canal Plus. Two weeks ago, Time Warner acquired a 10% stake in Canal Plus’ digital TV platform, Canal Satellite. And Warners also has pay and pay-per-view output deals with the French conglomerate.

“We are delighted to further our business with Warner Bros. and have someone of Steve Reuther’s stature and talent at the head of this new venture,” said Pierre Lescure, chairman and chief executive at Canal Plus.

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