Focus set to play ball

River Road inks first-look pact

Wealth from outside showbiz continues to make big waves in film production.

In this case, its out of left field, literally. Bill Pohlad, an executive board member of the Minnesota Twins baseball team, is entering a two-year, four-pic co-financing deal with Focus Features.

It’s the specialty division’s only first-look deal to include outside backing.

Pohlad’s shingle is the 16-year-old River Road Entertainment; all its features will be distributed domestically by Focus, which will handle international sales on some River Road titles through Focus Intl. The films to be made under the deal can come from either Focus’ development slate or from that of River Road.

Pohlad — whose father Carl is owner is the owner of the Twins and perhaps the richest man in Minnesota — founded the Minneapolis-based River Road in 1987. Over the years, it has produced documentaries on Prince, baseball great Kirby Puckett and Irish theater director Joe Dowling, as well as television specials with musicians Wyclef Jean and Bobby McFerrin.

Pohlad adapted and directed the 1990 drama “Old Explorers,” which starred Jose Ferrer and James Whitmore and was based on the play by James Cada and Mark Keller. Pohlad is a member of the Minnesota Film & TV board of directors.

River Road, which will now maintain an expanded presence in its Santa Monica, Calif., offices, has previously partnered with Musicland/Sam Goody on music programming for cable and with Northwest Airlines on its in-flight entertainment network. The shingle also owns Minneapolis post facility Hi-Wire, with clients that include national advertising agencies.

“Focus is always seeking out passionate and productive partners and in Bill we’ve found one,” Focus co-presidents David Linde and James Schamus said in a statement.

“Our partnership with River Road is different from traditional business models. As a creative collaboration, it provides us with a new source of quality films, further enhancing and expanding our worldwide presence.”

Pohlad added, “As we prepare our first slate of features at River Road, we are delighted to be entering into a partnership with the best specialized film company in the business.

“Working together with Focus, we will seek out talents from around the world and produce films that break ground creatively and are commercially viable as well.” CAA repped Pohlad in the deal.

Last year, Focus Features released Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” which earned three Oscars.

Now in release is Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things,” starring Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz. Upcoming are Francois Ozon’s first English-language feature, “Swimming Pool,” which will make its world premiere in the Cannes competition; Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson; and “Sylvia,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia Plath for director Christine Jeffs.

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