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Sony emerges as probable MGM distrib partner

Deal includes 23rd James Bond pic

Sony has emerged as the last studio standing in the jockeying to make a deal for MGM’s distribution duties — including the 23rd James Bond pic. Paramount, Warner Bros. and Fox are all out of the running.

Studios had no comment Tuesday on reported details of a deal structure, but a person familiar with the situation told Variety that Sony and MGM are still hammering out particulars on a pact covering worldwide distribution of MGM titles and possible co-financing of upcoming films.

Sony co-financed and released MGM’s last two Bond movies, “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace,” and speculation has emerged that Sony will co-finance the next film, set for release on Nov. 9, 2012, along with David Fincher’s remake of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

“Royale” and “Solace” each grossed nearly $600 million worldwide. MGM has already been working up plans for a 2012 yearlong commemoration of the golden anniversary of the first Bond pic, 1962’s “Doctor No.”

An overall distrib deal would also cover the two completed MGM titles, “Red Dawn” and “Cabin in the Woods,” as well as DVD and digital sales from MGM’s 4,000-title library.

MGM obtained a $500 million cash infusion on Dec. 21 as part of its pre-packaged bankruptcy, which swapped $4 billion in debt for equity in the revamped studio. MGM toppers Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum have been discussing possible deals in recent weeks with Sony, Fox, Par and WB, but but Par and Warners decided this week to pass on continuing discussions.

MGM, which came to a standstill on feature production more than a year ago, tapped Spyglass president Jonathan Glickman last week to head its film business.

MGM’s DVD distribution deal has been with Fox since 2006 and expires later this year.

According to a person with knowledge of the matter, Paramount decided to bail out on talks for two reasons — MGM insisting on a distribution fee lower than 8%, currently the most advantageous rate; and MGM’s desire to partner with Paramount on several of Par’s franchise properties.

Warners is partnered with MGM on the two “Hobbit” films, with Warners assuming MGM’s share of producing costs — between $265 million and $275 million, according to the MGM bankrutpcy filing — in exchange for taking over the international distribution and home­vid on the films from MGM.

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