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Ex-Beacon prexy lights at Universal

Abraham joins Bliss, Newman to bow Strike

Producer Marc Abraham has parted ways with Beacon Communications CEO Armyan Bernstein and hung out his own shingle, Strike Entertainment with a four-year, first-look deal with Universal Pictures.

Joining partners in Strike are two former top execs at Beacon, COO Thomas Bliss and senior VP of development Eric Newman.

Abraham enjoyed a close relationship with U as prexy of Beacon, which had a first-look deal at the studio dating back to the fall of 1996. Under that deal, which ended late last year, Abraham produced such pics as “Spy Game” (with Douglas Wick), “The Family Man” and “Bring It On.” Abraham also exec produced “Air Force One” and “The Hurricane.”

Strike won’t have the same relationship with U, whose new transatlantic owners are loathe to give away foreign rights. U’s deal with Beacon called for the two companies to split production and P&A costs 50/50, with Beacon owning all territories for most of its pics.

Strike, which is financed partly by U and partly through foreign partnerships, won’t have the same degree of independence. But it will retain certain foreign territories, which will vary from project to project. The studio, said Abraham, “has been very supportive of us keeping a finger in the foreign market.”

Abraham said U is “making a significant contribution in all areas, from overhead to development to production.” Shingle’s development, production and business affairs divisions will be headquartered off the lot.

Abraham, who held equity in Beacon, called his parting from Bernstein “a clean settlement, satisfactory to us both,” and said the companies expect to collaborate on future projects.

Abraham will produce roughly 13 projects he developed at Beacon, including a remake of “Dawn of the Dead” and “Children of Men,” a project to be helmed by “Y Tu Mama Tambien” director Alfonso Cuaron.

“Universal wants to see big tentpole movies,” he said. “My goal is to bring them big movies that are also intelligent and finely crafted.”

Abraham told Daily Variety he chose not to shop his new company to other studios. “I couldn’t imagine making a deal anywhere else,” he said. “Universal’s demand for quality and their skills in the overall filmmaking process have always made our pictures better.”

Universal Pictures prexies Scott Stuber and Mary Parent called Abraham “a creative force with tremendous instincts for material. We’ve had a terrific relationship with him for many years and our first priority is to keep him in the family at Universal. His artistic sensibilities always result in quality projects with arresting and provocative content.”

Abraham will spearhead a staff of 11 to 13 people, with former Beacon execs Bliss and Newman taking leading roles. “I’m thrilled that Tom and Eric are joining me in this new adventure,” he said. “For over ten years Tom and I have forged a terrific relationship and I wouldn’t want to be doing something of this scale without him. Eric has the advantage of being younger and better looking, and we’ve had a great time putting pictures together.”

“This is an exciting venture for all of us,” said Bliss. “We have a vision for Strike, and the energy to fulfill it.”

Bernstein, who remains CEO of Beacon, is shopping for a new distribution deal. He’s in conversations with several studios, including Disney.