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Foreign presales to fuel Miracle, Firestorm slates

New venture will make studio pix at near zero risk

NEW YORK — Miracle Entertainment and Firestorm Pictures have formed an alliance designed to make studio films that offer the majors mid-level budgets and near zero risk, since the partners will provide most of the financing through foreign presales, as well as the P&A costs.

Miracle is run by CEO Tony Cataldo, while Firestorm is steered by Oscar-winning “Ed Wood” star Martin Landau and Richard Abramson, the former manager who steered the early career fortunes of Pee-wee Herman and moved into film financing and production. The Firestorm duo have structured their company to include, with the backing of insurance companies, a $125 million fund to finance the prints and advertising campaigns of the first five films.

The first two projects are “Alicia’s Book,” a thriller by scribe Stanford Whitmore about a journo who investigates the brutal murder of his former lover, a literary agent whose last project was written by an anonymous author who’s a career criminal. The film’s being produced by Pinchas Perry, Avi Lerner of Millennium Films, Landau, Abramson and Cataldo. Lerner has providing the financing.

The second film is “Funny Money,” an adaptation of the Ray Cooney comic play about an uptight man who finds $5 million in his briefcase and tries to elude drug dealers, his wife and the cops in order to spend it. The comedy will be directed by Leslie Greif, who wrote the script with Harry Basil. Both pics are being prepped for production starts next year.

Higher-end films

The synergy between Miracle and Firestorm came about after Cataldo took over Miracle and decided to steer it toward higher-end films. He then met Landau and Abramson, who brought the P&A fund, along with a bunch of promising development projects. Though they will start with the pair of pics, they plan to do many more, with Landau and Abramson moving into Miracle headquarters.

As for the equity/P&A investment, the partners said that these days, studios either make low-budget films or $150 million films. Getting studio financing for films between $15 million and $30 million has become a difficult mission. But to the insurance companies that Landau and Abramson hit up for funding, that budget level was attractive.

“There’s a dearth of these kinds of films, and you can get a lot of production and talent on the screen with legitimate backend deals,” Landau said. He wouldn’t disclose the insurance companies, but said they were of the blue chip variety.

As for the P&A component, Landau said he believes there is strength in funding that money themselves: “Studios are shy of cash now, and if they are making a decision on a $15 million film and have to put another $15 million in P&A, that’s a $30 million decision. We say we can put up the P&A, and some of the negative money, and now a studio only has to put up $5 million or $6 million for a $30 million movie.”