October’s harvest

Demme deal caps indie's active year of alliances, prod'n pacts

October Films, rounding off a year-long effort to establish itself as a major independent player, has struck an overall first-look deal with Jonathan Demme and Ed Saxon’s Clinica Estetico to finance and distribute between two and three pics per year.

In addition, October has formed an alliance with Hachette Filipacchi Prods. New York, an offshoot of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, to develop feature films. The two companies have subsequently signed a first-look deal with Harvey Keitel’s production outfit, the Goatsinger.

The two new pacts follow October’s deals with Beacon Pictures, Jersey Films’ arthouse unit Jersey Shore, and Rob Carliner and Robert Duvall’s Butchers Run Films.

The deals also come in the wake of October’s first forays into higher-budget film production, with its backing of Albert Brooks’ $20 million-$25 million “The Muse” and an untitled $20 million pic from Mike Leigh.

Status change

More important, it signifies what October co-presidents Bingham Ray, John Schmidt and Scott Greenstein believe is the company’s ascension to major indie status.

It was just a year ago that October and Universal execs gathered journos and sales agents in the Carlton Hotel to announce formally U’s acquisition of a 51% stake in October.

October is in Cannes this year with a number of projects in various festival sections, including Lars Von Trier’s “The Idiots,” Duvall’s “The Apostle,” Todd Solondz’ “Happiness,” Lisa Cholodenko’s “High Art,” and the release of the director’s cut of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil.”

In the past 12 months, October has:

  • Beefed up its release slate to a total of 15-20 pics per year. “Half will be financed by us on a worldwide basis and half will be acquisitions,” Ray says. Several will be split-rights deals with October taking domestic and perhaps one or two other territories;

  • Started to play with bigger budgets. Aside from the Brooks and Leigh pics, the three October partners said that they would go as high as $40 million, “if we had it covered” through foreign pre-selling and homevideo estimates;

  • Signed up high-profile film-makers and casts. Actress Anjelica Huston is directing October’s “The Mammy,” with “The Boxer” director Jim Sheridan among the producers. Robert Altman is directing “Cookie’s Fortune,” with a cast that includes Glenn Close and Julianne Moore, and Philip Haas is directing “Up at the Villa,” produced by Sydney Pollack and starring Sean Penn and Kristin Scott-Thomas;

  • Launched October Films Intl. and formed a joint venture with Good Machine Intl. to handle its product for foreign. “Our relationship with GMI starts with David Linde,” Schmidt says. “When he went to Good Machine, we decided to stay with him.”;

  • Launched a genre division, Rogue Films, headed by veepees Patrick Gunn and Matt Wall. The first release will be Trey Parker’s “Orgazmo,” followed by the Beacon pic “G’s Trippin.” In development is the teen project “Cherry Falls,” to be directed by Ken Selden;

  • Structured a $100 million financing arrangement with New York-based Westdeutsche Landesbank. Under its loan agreement, October finances its own overhead and has full operating autonomy;

  • Set up overall production pacts with Beacon, Jersey, Clinica Estetico, Butchers Run and Hachette. (Beacon, Jersey and Clinica will continue to make their higher-budget films at U, where they are all based.)

Under their new deal with October, Clinica’s Demme and Saxon will present, produce and exec produce projects for the indie. Demme may direct the occasional film.

October expects Clinica to furnish it with filmmakers such as Victor Nunez, who directed “Ulee’s Gold,” which Clinica exec produced.

Open-door policy

“We have an open-door relationship with U, and it’s a matter of finding the best home for each film,” Greenstein says.

The Hachette deal brings October together with HFM president and CEO David J. Pecker and Hachette Filipacchi Prods. prexy Michael Berman. The intention is to combine October’s film expertise with Hachette’s literary sources. No projects have been announced.

Beacon Pictures prexy Marc Abraham and executive vice president Thom Bliss says that Beacon hoped to produce one to two films a year for October, which has worldwide rights to the African-American comedy “G’s Trippin.” Beacon is developing another comedy, “Cheer Fever.”

“We’re betting on proven talent with a track record of movies across the board,” Greenstein says.

The company has also raided Miramax and Disney for executive talent, adding the likes of Greenstein and new marketing topper Dennis Rice.

Rice added

Rice was responsible for building Disney’s homevideo business and overseeing it and Miramax’s sell-through and rental campaigns. He will play a key part in enhancing October’s relationship with U, enabling it to better exploit ancillaries such as video and pay-per-view.

“People that we’ve set up are established players in the industry,” Ray adds. “We’re not taking a huge crapshoot here.”

He takes pride in October’s growth while pointing to the relatively small size of its staff, which is fewer than 50 people in both its New York and L.A. offices.

October is quite adamant about avoiding development costs. It prefers to let its production companies bring potential projects in for consideration.

“We don’t have to pay a lot of overhead,” says Ray. “We’re not making movies to support a huge infrastructure.”