Gaumont, producer Wechsler pact

Upcoming films include Eva Mendes starrer 'Fire'

Strengthening its commitment to make English-language films, Gaumont has made a first-look deal with producer Nick Wechsler and aligned with him on several major projects.

Gaumont and Wechsler have attached Eva Mendes to play Maria Callas in “Greek Fire,” a script by Julian Fellowes about the volatile love affair between the opera singer and Aristotle Onassis. Wechsler is producing with David Seltzer.

The producer has also set “Dying of the Light” at the French mini-major, negotiating with Nicholas Winding Refn (“Bronson”) to direct an original Paul Schrader script about a CIA agent racing against the clock to complete a final mission as he feels the effects of Alzheimer’s. Wechsler is producing with Steve and Paula Mae Schwartz, his partners on “The Road.”

Wechsler is also teaming with Gaumont, 2929 Prods. and producer Guymon Casady on “Cartagena,” a Colombia-set action thriller, with Keanu Reeves in talks to star and Rupert Wyatt to direct.

The first-look deal came after Wechsler and Gaumont teamed on “Last Night,” the Massy Tadjedin-directed drama that stars Keira Knightley, Mendes, Guillaume Canet and Sam Worthington. David Gerson will be a co-producer on several Wechsler projects.

While one of the best known brands in Europe, the 115-year-old Gaumont had been better known for Gallic comedies than Stateside incursions.

Under chairman Sidonie Dumas and CEO Cristof Riandee, that is changing quickly. The strategy is to make each film with producers they trust, and then own all the rights and handle worldwide sales.

Aside from the Wechsler-produced films, Gaumont has several English-language projects with producer Alexandra Milchan that include the Alexandre Aja-directed Ian Jeffers-scripted futuristic drama “The Contractor,” and “Paranoia,” an adaptation of the Joseph Finder novel on corporate espionage that is being scripted by Barry Levy (“Vantage Point”).

Gaumont is also developing an action movie with James Wong (“Final Destination”).

At Cannes, Gaumont is screening the first footage of Joel Schumacher’s ensemble drama “Twelve,” produced with Radar and Original Media.

“We wanted to open up Gaumont to international movies,” said Dumas. “A few years ago, all the studios had specialty labels, but no more. So the development of our U.S. productions was perfect timing.”

Riandee said that he and Dumas gave the deal to Wechsler because of the similarity in taste that is reflected in a film like “Greek Fire.”

“This is a story of the impact that love can have on a star,” Riandee said. “Maria was so in love with Onassis that when their affair ended, she began to lose her voice, and there is a famous moment in Paris where she could not sing the third and fourth acts of an opera. Nick wanted to be more international, and we want to produce more U.S. movies. We have the same taste and have developed a very collaborative relationship, which is very important.”

Said Wechsler: “They can take advantage of my experience with U.S. distributors, and I can take advantage of their co-production experience. We both have relationships with international filmmakers, making this a perfect bridge.”

(Elsa Keslassy contributed to this article.)