×

Meledandri, Universal team on deals

Illumination puts focus on family fare

Chris Meledandri’s Universal-based shingle has a name — Illumination — and a batch of deals.

Meledandri left Fox Animation nine months ago to put Universal into the family-film game; Illumination’s animated and live-action features will begin showing up in 2010.Work begins on the first animation project later this year, and by 2010, Meledandri said the company will generate two to three family films each year for U’s distribution pipeline.

Talent deals so far have been underwritten by Universal — several of the scribes signing pacts for pics were involved in recent Fox hits — but Meledandri and the studio confirm they will close a deal by later this year for outside coin that will co-finance both development and production slates.

Meledandri confirmed he made an exclusive deal with Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio to write two animated films, but wouldn’t divulge the specific projects they are scripting. The duo wrote the feature adaptation of “Horton Hears a Who,” which Fox releases March 14. The writers also will become consultants on Illumination projects for several years.

Other animated projects will come from scribe Dan Harris (“Superman Returns”), who wrote and directed “Imaginary Heroes”; and Genndy Tartakofsky, the “Samurai Jack” creator who was writer-director of the animated series “Star Wars: Clone Wars.”

Illumination also has made a deal by which the Hammer & Tongs team of director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith (“Son of Rambow”) will create an animated feature.

The shingle is finalizing a deal for a family film project with Jon Vitti, who worked with Meledandri on “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “The Simpsons Movie” and “Ice Age.”

“The Simpsons” vets Josh Lieb, Mike Reiss and Matt Selman are each working on live-action family scripts.

U chairman Marc Shmuger and co-chairman David Linde identified family fare as a prime growth opportunity, and enticed Meledandri to leave his prexy post at Fox Animation with the offer to build a company that makes him an equity owner with creative latitude.

“Universal is distribution partner and co-owner, but Illumination is an autonomous buyer,” said Meledandri, whose company will likely move onto the U lot later this year. “The structure allows me to work in concert with Donna Langley and Jimmy Horowitz’s group, as well as Focus or Rogue when appropriate. But the structure is that of a production company as opposed to a corporate division.”

Meledandri headed Fox’s animation group from 2000-07, and projects generated in that time grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. Fox permitted him to remain involved with “Horton,” on which he has exec producer credit.

During Illumination’s ramp-up, Meledandri named as head of creative John Cohen, his former Fox lieutenant who corralled the rights to “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” which was turned into a moneymaker by Regency and Fox 2000.

Janet Healy, the former DreamWorks Animation co-head who most recently headed animation for IDT Entertainment, has been hired to oversee production.

Meledandri said Healy’s experience — which includes stints at Disney and ILM — was important, because Illumination won’t build an animation studio as Fox did with Blue Sky Studios. There are enough independent shops, he said, to handle intricate CG animation, and Illumination will partner with animation studios on a pic-by-pic basis. Meledandri also hired Adrienne Moss to head business affairs and Tito Ortiz as creative exec.

“Chris is a key strategic component of our family film strategy,” Linde and Shmuger said in a statement. “We have been impressed by his ability to identify and develop family-oriented material, his great relationships within the animation community and his overall sensibility about what appeals to family audiences.”

More Scene

  • Angler Los Angeles

    Angler Is L.A.'s Major New Seafood Destination

    San Francisco transplant Angler is set to make a major splash in Los Angeles, as Joshua Skenes’ innovative seafood-focused restaurant opens in the somewhat unlikely location of the Beverly Center. Angler is the latest and the most ambitious restaurant to join a fresh crop of spots, including Cal Mare and Yardbird, on the recently refurbished [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler Set for Special Performance at New York Pride (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler is set to appear at New York’s Pride Main Event this Saturday (June 29) at the Javits Center. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, she’ll perform a song accompanied by composer Marc Shaiman, of “Hairspray” and “Mary Poppins Returns” fame. Her stage time is set for 11 p.m. Also scheduled to [...]

  • Magic Johnson, Larry Bird

    Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Robin Roberts Honored at 2019 NBA Awards

    The NBA went Hollywood on Monday night, mixing basketball legends with a star-studded list of presenters including Samuel L. Jackson, Tiffany Haddish and “This Is Us” star Justin Hartley at the 2019 NBA Awards. Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal hosted the third annual award show, which aired live on TNT, kicking things off with a surprise [...]

  • Naomi Watts and Gretchen Carlson'The Loudest

    ‘The Loudest Voice’ Stars Naomi Watts, Russell Crowe Talk Roger Ailes

    Roger Ailes may have been the force behind the creation of Fox News, but the late newsman’s legacy will forever be his atrocious sexual harassment of several of the network’s female anchors and producers. Showtime premiered its new limited series “The Loudest Voice,” which chronicles Ailes’ rise and fall, on Monday night at the Paris [...]

  • Billy Eichner Power of Pride Variety

    Billy Eichner on Taylor Swift's 'Calm Down' Backlash

    When Taylor Swift released her “You Need to Calm Down” music video, it seemed like every member of the LGBTQ in Hollywood was included — except for Billy Eichner. “I’m still not gay enough for Taylor Swift — or too gay — I don’t know what it is,” Eichner joked at Variety’s Power of Pride [...]

  • Bebe Rexha

    Mumford and Sons, Sting, Ciara, Bebe Rexha Light Up Cannes Lions

    There was no shortage of excellent music at the 2019 edition of Cannes Lion. The international gathering of creatives drew top music brands – among them: Spotify, Live Nation, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM/Pandora, VEVO and Universal Music Group – and a slew of well-known acts to stages across the Croissette, to villas above the city and onto [...]

  • Patrick Wilson

    Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace on Scary Stories From 'Annabelle Comes Home' Set

    Tales of spooky occurrences on the sets of horror movies like “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist” have circulated for years, and it looks like “The Conjuring” franchise is following in their footsteps in that regard. The cast of “Annabelle Comes Home” shared their unnerving stories from set at the film’s premiere on Thursday night at the Regency [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content