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Canal Plus near deal to join Working Title, U

Societe Generale in floor plan

LONDON — Working Title Films and its parent Universal Pictures are in final negotiations to bring aboard France’s Canal Plus as a financing and distribution partner for the London-based company’s production slate.

The deal is thought to involve Canal Plus taking a significant share of the European rights to Working Title’s movies, and could also give Canal Plus an equity stake in the company.

French bank Societe Generale is also understood to be part of the new structure. An announcement was expected today, although the deal is still being negotiated, and some major points remain to be settled.

Working Title co-chairmen Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner have been seeking to bring Canal Plus on board for several months, partly to cement the autonomy they have been granted under their deal with U and partly to preserve their European links.

For cash-strapped Universal, the agreement will take the Working Title slate off its balance sheet and help to minimize risk. For Canal Plus, it offers a fresh stream of high-profile international movies for its expanding Euro distribution activities and pay TV stations.

Universal acquired the London-based company last year as part of its takeover of Polygram, and recently inked new five-year contracts with Bevan and Fellner that give the duo the power to greenlight five movies a year with budgets up to $25 million. That deal will be preserved under the new structure.

Canal Plus has long wanted to get involved with Working Title, which has produced some of the most successful British films in recent years, including “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Bean” and “Elizabeth” as well as the upcoming “Notting Hill.”

Canal Plus last year offered U $280 million to buy all of Polygram’s international film operation, including Working Title, but the bid was rejected because it fell way short of U’s $400 million asking price.