Lion tryin’ again

MGM slates up to 18 pics as distrib

MGM and its new CEO Harry Sloan are kickstarting the Lion’s next incarnation by inviting the press to lunch and unveiling an ambitious new slate.

Move will trigger a new flow of product — and the studio’s lavish Century City offices and screening room, built by former honchos Alex Yemenidjian and Chris McGurk, won’t go to waste.

After weeks of speculation, MGM is expected to unveil a slate of up to 18 pics to be distributed via the re-energized Lion. They will come from various indie labels, including the Weinstein Co., Bauer Martinez, Lakeshore Entertainment and possibly Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

An initial roster of 12-15 pics from the Weinstein Co. and Bauer is expected to be unveiled today. Projects from Lakeshore and Kimmel will eventually bring the tally to 18.

These initial deals would serve as the first chapter in the Lion’s initiatives, and the studio is still negotiating for further business with various indie producers, who may include Bob Yari and former CBS Entertainment head Jeff Sagansky.

Harvey Weinstein are expected to contribute up to seven titles that could include the Josh Hartnett starrer “Lucky Number Slevin,” directed by Paul McGuigan; writer-director Kevin Smith’s “Clerks 2”; “Stormbreaker,” starring Alex Pettyfer, Ewan McGregor and Mickey Rourke; writer-director Joby Harold’s drama “Awake,” starring Hayden Christensen; “Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask,” the latest installment in the Hannibal Lecter franchise; and John Madden’s “Killshot,” starring Diane Lane and Rourke.

The six Bauer titles are expected to include recent Sundance acquisition “The Darwin Awards,” starring Joseph Fiennes and Winona Ryder; writer-director David Ayers’ gritty crime drama “Harsh Times,” starring Christian Bale; writer-director Amy Heckerling’s romantic comedy “I Could Never Be Your Woman”; Richard Gere starrer “The Flock”; the thriller “Fragile,” starring Calista Flockhart; and writer-director Edward Burns’ “The Groomsmen.”

Lion could also have its paws on Kevin Costner starrer “Mr. Brooks,” from Tig Prods., and helmer Tony Bill’s “Flyboys.”

MGM is in the process of ramping up a marketing division, and it seems the indie players involved in the pact would have the option of using the studio to market films for them as well as simply rolling them out. The larger players, such as TWC and Lakeshore, would continue to market their own titles.

Deal with the Weinstein Company — which would be nonexclusive and not include any Dimension projects — would come to light after months of negotiation between TWC and Sloan.

Word first leaked of a possible partnership between the Weinstein Co. and MGM back in November, when the brothers were seeking a pay TV outlet and began exploring whether they might gain access to the Lion’s slots on Showtime.

MGM in turn needed to find pics to sustain its Showtime deal, which covers up to 30 valuable slots but can become a liability if they aren’t filled.

The Weinsteins will be reunited with Rick Sands, a 14-year employee of Miramax Films, who was brought over by Sloan from DreamWorks as chief operating officer last month.

Meantime, Sony will still keep its homevid relationship with MGM — which was purchased by a consortium of investors that includes Sony, Comcast and Providence Equity Partners –in rolling out any new Lion product on DVD.

MGM’s offices in Century City were designed in anticipation of a major release schedule from the Yemenidjian-McGurk regime that never came to fruition. Much of the space has been leased to other entities. One story going around the industry was that Yemenidjian wanted his elevator to go directly to his floor but then had only a brief period of time to ride it.

Under MGM’s new plans, the elevators will now see heavy traffic.

Reps for MGM and the various indie companies involved declined to comment on any specifics of the deal.

(Nicole LaPorte in Hollywood contributed to the report.)