Donners shoot for Winchester

Prod'n co. pulls trigger on 3-year deal

The Donners Co., the partnership between director Richard Donner and his wife producer Lauren Shuler Donner, has made a three-year overall deal with Winchester Films to develop and produce a slate of films.

Richard Donner, who has directed films almost exclusively for Warner Bros. over the past 15 years with a cumulative gross of $2 billion-plus, is expected to direct a couple for Winchester.

Winchester Films prexy Hadeel Reda said the Donners’ deal will include overhead and development funding for Shuler Donner to begin aggressively acquiring books and scripts.

The Donner deal follows an overall Winchester pact made with Wind Dancer Films, which, with Icon, produced the hit comedy “What Women Want.”

The common thread, Reda said, is that both companies have displayed an ability to generate films with big commercial potential.

Winchester will handle international sales on all films generating from the Donner partnership, with Winchester acting as the output partner for the U.K. The two companies will work together to set up domestic distribution with studios on a per-film basis.

The U.K.-based Winchester scored its first hit with “Heartbreakers,” the MGM comedy on which it bought international rights while the film was in pre-production.

“The Donners have a great track record, and Lauren has shown a great taste for things commercial and offbeat, but always timely,” Reda said. “We are excited by the things she will option and develop, and we will be happy with one great film a year, and hoping for maybe two movies that Dick might direct.”

Shuler Donner has named Michael Aguilar prexy of production of the Donners Co., with Jeremy Kleiner named director of development. She said the Winchester deal is their first overall arrangement since the Donners’ long run at Warners, and gives them ample financing and the ability to work with various Hollywood majors.

“There are a bunch of books we’ll option to start things and it is a strong desire on our part and theirs to have Dick direct several movies for them,” said Shuler Donner. “We are very loyal.”

Shuler Donner has a producing track record that includes such films as “You’ve Got Mail,” “Any Given Sunday” and “X-Men.” The Donners are developing an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s time-travel bestseller “Timeline,” which Donner will direct. With a locked script by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, the film’s ready for a March start. While a U.K. location is likely, the need for horses in scenes and the hoof-and-mouth disease scare in Europe could create logistical complexities.

Shuler Donner also is prepping the Bryan Singer-directed “X-Men” sequel, being scripted by Zak Penn and David Hayter for a February start. “X-Men 2” is eyeing a Christmas 2002 bow.

Shuler Donner’s developing at Warners and Bel-Air Entertainment the Peter Howitt-directed “Vacation From Marriage,” as well as the Warners actioner “Constantine,” based on the DC Comics character Hellblazer, which Tarsem (“The Cell”) is directing.

Separately, Winchester Films has acquired U.K. indie distrib Feature Film Co.

As part of the deal, Feature Film marketing exec Laurence Gornall and sales exec David Shear will join the newly retitled Winchester Film Distribution under its chief Mick Southworth.

Feature Film chairman David Holloway, who sold the company to Winchester, will no longer be involved.