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Roth signs first star: Roberts

Exec targeting 5-7 pics a year

In his first deal since ankling his post as chairman of the Walt Disney Co. in January, Joe Roth has signed Julia Roberts to a multiyear pact with his as-yet unnamed company.

Though he may not have a company name, Roth certainly has a “name” in Roberts — and her attachment will only help his already accelerated plans.

Under the terms of the pact, Roberts, whose deal with Disney expires at the end of February, will star in and produce films for Roth, officially moving her Shoelace Prods. banner to Roth’s shingle.

“I am incredibly excited about joining Joe in this new venture,” Roberts said. “We have been friends and business partners for years, and starting this company seems a natural and a thrilling continuation of our friendship.”

She described Roth as “one of the most creative and forthright people I have ever worked with, and I look forward to the unfolding of this adventure together. Basically, wherever Joe goes, I go. Besides, we have the same initials,” she joked.

Setting the bar

“Julia and I have been involved professionally since she was 19 or 20 years old, when I was at Fox,” Roth told Daily Variety. “This is something that we both are really comfortable with. As I continue to put together a business plan with a slate of movies, who better to have as the first person to join my company? Julia sets the bar of the type of people I want to work with,” he declared.

“Not only is Julia the world’s biggest star,” Roth added, “she is a terrific person and a great partner whose loyalty is unbelievable. I’m honored to have the continued opportunity to help Julia develop movies for her to star in and produce into the future.”

Roth, who said he hopes to make five to seven movies a year but not feel the pressure to do 10 and be content to do three good ones, has also been exploring Internet and new-media ventures. As reported in Daily Variety (Feb. 15), Roth has been eyeing Artisan Entertainment’s marketing maven, John Hegeman, the guru behind “The Blair Witch Project’s” push.

As chairman of Walt Disney Studios from August 1994 through January of this year, Roth led the Mouse House to the top spot in industry box office market share for five of the past six years. Under Roth, Disney also created an industry record 18 films that have grossed over $100 million domestically, including “The Sixth Sense,” “Toy Story 2” and “Armageddon” — all of which have surpassed the $200 million mark.

Buena Vista’s billion

Roth helped Buena Vista Intl. become a market leader and the only company to gross $1 billion in each of the last five years.

His recent legacy is an industry-leading 17 Academy Award nominations, including best picture noms for “The Insider” and “The Sixth Sense.”

Roberts ties Tom Cruise’s record of eight $100 million domestic films, with “Pretty Woman,” “Sleeping With the Enemy,” “Hook,” “Pelican Brief,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Stepmom,” “Notting Hill” and “Runaway Bride.”

Roberts’ next appears is in Universal Pictures’ “Erin Brockovich,” which opens March 17 nationwide.

Her deal was negotiated by ICM.