Kopelsons drop Fox, join Intertainment

Deal calls for minimum of 10 pics

In another striking example of Euro money linking up with Hollywood heavyweights, Munich-based Intertainment has agreed to fund $500 million of film production over five years from high-profile producers Arnold and Anne Kopelson.

The deal, which calls for a minimum of 10 pictures, is also a remarkable turn of events for the Kopelsons, who still have 18 months left on their five-year contract with 20th Century Fox — but haven’t yet made a film there.

The deal with Intertainment can’t get under way until the exclusive Fox deal ends. But Arnold Kopelson told Daily Variety Thursday he expects that toward the end of this year he will negotiate an early exit from Fox, although he said he hadn’t yet discussed that in detail with Fox officials.

In response to the deal, a Fox spokewoman said “we wish them well,” but Fox executives were not available to comment further. For Fox, an early exit could save them a lot of cash, as the Kopelsons’ first-look deal is said to be one of the most expensive in Hollywood, covering development as well as overhead at the Kopelsons’ spacious offices in Century City. On the other hand, after three years and millions spent on development projects, the move also comes as the Kopelsons are just beginning to get close to producing films that could contribute important box office coin to the studio’s coffers.

Intertainment has a distribution deal with WB, and the Intertainment pact could bring the Kopelsons back into a close relationship with Warner Bros., the studio the husband-and-wife duo departed — after making a string of hits including “Outbreak” and “The Fugitive” — to join Fox. The couple is also the production team behind WB’s action series “The Fugitive,” which debuts this fall on CBS.

Kopelson said he is now negotiating with his previous home to handle domestic distribution of the slate of Intertainment-backed films. Intertainment will distribute in the international arena.

The deal with the Kopelsons is the third major hook-up for Intertainment with a U.S. player: It has inked a 60-picture output deal with Franchise Pictures and a 10-picture output deal with Original Voices. In addition to the WB distribution deal, Intertainment has a Europe-wide theatrical distribution pact with Fox.

Intertainment’s U.S. deals have led to some modest successes, such as the Bruce Willis starrer “The Whole Nine Yards” and some misfires, such as last month’s John Travolta vehicle “Battlefield Earth.” Upcoming films include “The Art of War” with Wesley Snipes and the Jennifer Lopez pic “Angel Eyes.”

Familiar exec

In another twist to the deal, it was only a few days ago that Stephen Brown, a 10-year veteran exec with the Kopelsons’ production shingle, started a new job as head of Intertainment’s U.S. operation. That shift was announced last month (Daily Variety, May 11).

Intertainment CEO Barry Baeres and Brown will have greenlight authority over the Kopelson pictures.

But Kopelson said one attraction of the deal for him is that he believes his long-term relationship with Brown and the lack of a big studio infrastructure will mean a quicker start on getting pictures greenlit.

“Stephen and I think alike on material,” said Kopelson. “He’ll be able to call Barry and they’ll talk it over and we’ll have a greenlight. It’s truly a lot quicker than running through the studio system where of necessity you have to speak to a lot of people.”

In a cost-cutting atmosphere in which expensive studio deals for producers are getting harder to come by, the flood of European money is giving a select group of powerful U.S. producers a soft landing — and, potentially, the promise of more control over production purse strings.

Other projects

The Intertainment pact covers development and overhead funding, and also calls for Kopelson to oversee projects from other producers that could be backed with the fund.

At Fox the Kopelsons have been somewhat conspicuous for not having made a picture some three years into their deal there.

While the couple have many projects in development (and those projects will remain at Fox), Kopelson said: “I’ve been frustrated with myself because it took longer than expected to get my projects into shooting form because of writers not delivering what we expected them to deliver.”

The first Kopelson-produced pic to shoot for Fox will likely be the Adrian Lyne thriller “Unfaithful” with George Clooney expected to star. That picture was developed by Fox 2000 exec Carla Hacken and the Kopelsons were brought in by the studio to produce. Also, Rob Bowman is attached to direct “Riptide” and John Avnet is set to direct “Winner’s Circle.”

“My relationship with Fox is absolutely first-rate,” he said. “I’ve gotten total support from (Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman) Bill Mechanic, (20th Century Fox president) Tom Rothman, and (Fox 2000 president) Elizabeth Gabler.

“I’ll miss working with the Fox people when the time comes that I’ll be moving,” he said.

The Kopelsons’ side of the Intertainment deal was negotiated by John LaViolette of Bloom, Hergott, Cook & Diemer.

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