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Inside Move: Is Par closer to Newmarket nook?

1st round of talks productive enough to sked more meetings

While Paramount Pictures’ buyout of Newmarket Entertainment Group is not a done deal, its prospects have brightened.

Execs from both companies refused to comment, but the initial round of talks was productive enough to schedule further meetings.

For Par, such a deal would achieve Viacom co-prexy Tom Freston’s announced goal of bolstering the studio’s presence in specialty films beyond its 6-year-old Paramount Classics label. Par Classics, run by co-presidents David Dinerstein and Ruth Vitale, has focused on low-cost arthouse acquisitions.

Execs are being particularly tight-lipped — even with their own staffers — while they hammer out details. Par has been exploring bringing in an entity such as Newmarket to seed its new division after previously eyeing John Sloss’ Cinetic Media.

The Newmarket Films name has become somewhat synonymous with its hot-handed distribution whiz, Bob Berney. Since joining Newmarket in 2002, Berney has overseen acquisition and distribution of such indie breakouts as “Whale Rider,” “Monster” and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

“Whale” and “Monster” offer proof Berney can wage Oscar wars, while “Passion” shows Newmarket’s chops in handling a much-hyped wide release. Pickups such as upcoming kid rock docu “Rock School,” and 2002’s “Spun,” by vid helmer Jonas Akerlund, are in line with Freston’s desire for younger-skewing fare.

By absorbing Newmarket, Par would get more than just a distributor of finished films. Chris Ball and William Tyrer, co-founders of parent unit Newmarket Entertainment Group, are known as stealthy suits who have backed such commercial projects as “Cruel Intentions,” “The Mexican” and “The Skulls.” Since 1994, the company has in part backed 75 films through its film finance unit.

Newmarket also has Aaron Ryder’s Raygun Prods. in place as a film supplier. Ryder — who exec produced “Memento,” “The Mexican” and “Donnie Darko” for Newmarket — has been a key decisionmaker in the company’s acquisitions initiatives and is now producing pics for Newmarket and other banners, including Focus Features’ genre arm.

Upcoming pics on the Newmarket slate include controversial Kevin Bacon starrer “The Woodsman,” “Rock School,” Lukas Moodysson’s “A Hole in My Heart” and Anders Thomas Jensen’s “Green Butchers.”

(Dana Harris and Cathy Dunkley contributed to this report.)

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