Robert Redford’s Wildwood Enterprises has inked a three-year development and production financing pact with Pan-European studio Eureka, an alliance of Germany’s Kirch Group and Italy’s Mediaset and Medusa Film.
The deal between Redford’s U.S.-based banner and the prototype European conglomerate is emblematic of the considerable upsurge in European investment in original, English-language productions. Many Euros are moving away from traditional output deals with U.S. producers, choosing instead to produce and own the content — a strategy that enhances their risk but also increases the chance for higher rewards down the road.
Under the terms of the deal, the European partners will fund development (including a large discretionary fund) and overhead expenses for Wildwood and Redford’s specialty label, South Fork Pictures. Though its investments are variable, Eureka — which, pending European competition clearance, will use the label Beta Theatrical Motion Pictures for the venture — will cover at least 50% of the production budgets on films produced by Wildwood/South Fork, in exchange for all rights outside North America.
Redford fully committed
Redford will serve in some capacity (either as director, star, producer or exec-producer) on every film produced under the pact. Wildwood was formerly based at Disney.
Last month, Eureka and Wildwood announced its first co-production, the $70 million Redford-helmed “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (Daily Variety, April 21, 1999). Redford also will star in the pic as well as produce along with Wildwood prexy Michael Nozik and Allied Filmmakers’ Jake Eberts.
Eureka’s Beta division is co-financing “Bagger Vance” with DreamWorks and Icon Entertainment Intl. DreamWorks has domestic rights, Beta is taking Continental Europe and Icon is handling the U.K. and the rest of the world.
Keeping options open
While Wildwood has talked with several U.S. studios and distributors about establishing a domestic homebase for the banner, sources said Redford and Wildwood prexy Michael Nozik decided instead not to lock into one studio.
“There is a strategic advantage to not being tied to one domestic studio,” said a source close to the Wildwood/Eureka deal. “This allows Wildwood the freedom to purchase material and develop it inhouse before taking a mature project, with Redford’s involvement, to a studio.”
Unlike on “Bagger Vance,” in which relationships were in place prior to the formation of the deal, Beta will handle all international rights on future films, after bringing on a domestic studio partner to co-finance the pics. The deal is described as extremely “flexible,” in that Wildwood and Eureka can, depending on the film, slice off some foreign territories (although Eureka will maintain its core distribution territories, namely Germany, Italy and Spain) to a U.S. major or bring in a sales agent to handle other areas.
Creative Artists Agency and attorney Barry Tyerman have spent the last few months structuring the deal on behalf of Wildwood and Redford. KirchGroup managing director Jan Mojto and his Mediaset counterpart, Maurizio Carlotti took point on Eureka’s negotiations.
Also in development under the deal are “The Battle of the Bulgers,” which Redford might topline and direct. Project is based on a George magazine article by Peter Maas with Mike Barnicle. Project is an Irish-American drama exploring the unwavering ethics of family, loyalty and honor set against a backdrop of politics and crime.
Wildwood also recently optioned and is developing “The Napoleon of Crime,” an acting vehicle for Redford based on journo Ben Macinyre’s book about the Victorian era’s most infamous criminal, Adam Worth, and his nemesis, detective William Pinkerton.
Eureka’s Beta Theatrical Motion Pictures arm was announced in March, as a creation of German production and licensing behemoth KirchGroup and Italian TV network Mediaset to produce and co-finance 20 to 30 pics with budgets in the $70 million range, a goal they intend to reach within three years.
Of these films, Beta is looking to invest in up to 15 U.S. films a year, for which they will put up half the budgets. It’s understood that Beta intends to align with other talent-driven U.S. production entities besides Wildwood.
Eureka also has an equity stake in Fox-based New Regency Prods. and a distribution arrangement with Spyglass Entertainment, based at Disney.
(Benedict Carver in Cannes contributed to this report.)